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Enduro

First Ride: The New High-Pivot Cannondale Jekyll

Enduro-ready at last

Basics

-165mm rear travel, 170 front
-29-inch wheels only
-Carbon frame only
-High-pivot suspension design


Pros

-Uncommonly stable
-Impressive value
-The faster you go, the better it works

Cons

-Less versatile than some long-travel 29ers
-Efficient, but uninspiring climber


Price

$4,400

Brand

Cannondale


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Cannondale isn’t top-of-mind in the long-travel or enduro categories, but it wants to be. So when it set out nearly five years ago to redesign the Jekyll, a model that’s already lived through many iterations, the brand picked three primary objectives to guide its design: bold, disruptive and fast. The result, which launches today, is seen here.  

It’s a stretch to even call it a redesign; the new Jekyll has little in common with its predecessor. The last time we saw this bike in 2018, it was making its 29-inch-wheeled debut and had 150 millimeters of travel that could be firmed up and shortened to 120mm by activating Cannondale’s proprietary Gemini travel-adjust system. The bottom bracket was high, the chainstays were long and it turned out to be more of an all-arounder than a bike that could truly perform under the legs of an aggressive rider. 

This is something entirely different, in aesthetics, of course, but also in ride quality and design intention. If the previous Jekyll politely climbed up the trail, fast and efficiently, then descended in an equally mild-mannered fashion, the new Jekyll is a throw-caution-to-the-wind trail-smasher that will make its way up to the top at its own pace, then jolt to life on the way back down. And to make sure it belongs in the Enduro category, Cannondale bumped the Jekyll’s travel to 165mm out back, paired with a 170mm-travel fork. 

The chassis is designed around a four-bar, high-pivot suspension system, and incorporates a couple unique frame features—the Guidler is the idler pulley with an integrated chain guide and the Gravity Cavity is the rear-shock pocket inside the downtube. With those features, Cannondale most definitely checked the ‘bold’ box. The new Jekyll, especially the Purple Haze colorway I tested, elicited more trailside conversations than any other bike in recent memory. Mostly, people stopped to ask if it was an e-bike due to the bulky Gravity Cavity, which is easily mistaken for a mid-drive motor. Or, to ogle the sparkly purple paint. Or, to inch up for a closer look at the idler pulley. Each conversation generally started with: “What is that bike?”  

So, what is it? Despite high-pivot bikes being buzzy right now, they weren’t when engineers were concepting this bike, but their hyper focus on developing a drivetrain that is uninfluenced by the suspension—and vice versa—ultimately led them down the high-pivot path. And while most high-pivot drivetrains are paired with single-pivot suspension, Cannondale stayed committed to its Horst-link platform in order to maintain active braking so the Jekyll wouldn’t sacrifice speed. 

It was also able to incorporate the Horst pivots into the size-specific approach it took with the Jekyll’s rear-center to ensure the rider’s center of gravity was optimized on each frame size, small through XL. Aside from its new silhouette, aided also by the trunnion-mounted Fox Float X2 shock, the Jekyll underwent significant geometry updates, landing on a 64-degree head angle, 77.5-degree effective seat angle and an average, 450mm reach (size medium). Its bottom-bracket height (348mm) and drop (30mm) are more in line with the industry standard; the previous Jekyll stood out for its unconventionally high BB, which hindered the bike’s performance in steep, technical descents, and put  it in category purgatory between full-on enduro and long-travel trail. 

This Jekyll breaks out of that limbo, and quickly earns its upgrade to a steed worthy of the Enduro World Series. And that’s exactly where it will be this season, under the power of racers Mitch Ropelato and Kera Linn. From my humble, not-at-all-a-racer perspective, this bike could not be more suited to a style of riding that rewards all-out descending and the type of climbing that’ll keep you well within the transfer cut-off times, but isn’t necessarily trying to get to the top of the next stage first. 

It is ridiculously stable, not a surprising attribute for a long-travel 29er—especially one with 435mm chainstays and a 1,227mm wheelbase (size medium)—but the Jekyll seemed to take that plantedness to a level beyond that of non high-pivot bikes with similar numbers. The high pivot’s rearward axle path ensures the rear wheel will get up and out of the way, and the Guidler seemingly does its job of isolating suspension from the drivetrain very effectively, allowing the suspension to soak up anything in its path. I felt those effects more when it came to small-bump compliance, like in a rock garden with successive small hits, rather than when picking my way through slow, technical sections. In this terrain, it was harder for me to discern characteristics that were directly linked to the high-pivot design. But on high-speed, wide-open, particularly smooth, descents, this is one of the most confident-feeling long-travel 29ers out there; the Jekyll will fly if you let it. It doesn’t feel as floaty as a hoverbike, or so plowy that it can’t steer when the terrain tightens up—it’s long, but maneuverable. It’s a lot of bike, but never overwhelming. The Jekyll’s plantedness comes at the expense of some playfulness, but with its length, it’s not exactly trying to be the life of the poppiness party. A bike like the Evil Wreckoning is going to offer more in that category, while the Specialized Enduro will trump the Jekyll in overall versatility, nailing that magical balance of feeling like a long-travel and short-travel 29er all at once. 

On that note, the Jekyll is only the second bike in Cannondale’s lineup to feature their “Proportional Response” approach to suspension leverage-rate curves. Each size has slightly different linkage kinematics to help assure that different-sized riders have a similar experience. The rate of progressivity increases in the larger frame sizes, with most of the difference focused before the sag point. The idea is to help smaller-sized riders get into the travel more easily and give larger-sized riders more support. Of course, different sized riders will run different preload settings, but Proportional Response takes into account the riders’ center of mass. Not only do taller riders tend to be heavier, their weight will  tend to be higher above (or behind or in front of) the neutral position where we set our sag, and will exert proportionately greater force on the shock. So, up until the sag point, the larger size Jekylls will increase their leverage rate more rapidly than will smaller-sized Jekylls. Similarly, larger-sized frames have slightly higher anti-squat values, naturally making it easier for taller riders to counteract the proportionally greater force their weight will be having on the suspension.

Climbing on the Cannondale Jekyll was far more pleasant than I expected from such a big bike. I set sag at 30 percent, expecting I’d need to firm it up, but I actually settled into the travel nicely; there was plenty of support and I never felt like I was sinking too low in the travel. It was surprisingly efficient, so much so that I rarely needed the extra pedaling support from the middle shock setting although I used it when grinding out a long fire-road climb. And, although it was efficient, it’s not particularly fast. Some of those long climbs felt like slogs, but not inefficient slogs. I wasn’t losing any of my power inputs to the suspension, it just didn’t feel particularly lively—it is a big bike, after all.

Speaking of particulars, the constant whirring sound of the idler pulley can be distracting, plus it will likely require some added maintenance attention. Also, the rear shock is snug in its cavity, so it can be annoying to finagle a shock pump in there. But overall this is a pretty dialed package, especially for $4,400—Cannondale made some smart spec investments, like choosing Maxxis Assegai and Minion DHR rubber, a RockShox Zeb fork and a Shimano Deore drivetrain. For $1,700 more, the Jekyll 1 nets Fox Factory suspension, Formula hubs and SRAM Code RSC brakes. It may come as no surprise, though, that Cannondale has faced some delays in bringing the new Jekyll to market, and we don’t expect to see them hitting store shelves until fall of 2021.

Cannondale has never been one to color within the same lines as everyone else, and the new Jekyll continues that heritage. It won’t be for everyone. But to the type of rider it is for, preferably someone who plans to line up at a few enduro races, it’s a compelling bike. Perhaps even disruptive.  

Photos: Anthony Smith