Review: Cannondale FS-I Carbon 4


Cannondale’s new entry level XC race bike, FS-I Carbon 4

Three things I would never expect of myself as a mountain biker:

– Pushing towards unatainable GPS records

– Seeking out and hammering climbs for the sake of it

– Wearing lycra

I found myself recently in possesion of a 2016 Cannondale FS-I Carbon 4, a ride which, to be honest, would sugggest this rider is venturing into the above mentioned realms. Not to say that I don’t have any competitive spirit, & of course we all ride XC trails, it is for the most part what is available in SG. It has been a good while since I have ridden a hardtail and I am not sure I ever pictured myself on a XC race machine like this. Certainly I was keen to find out exactly how fast this weapon was, and if I could keep up with it.

The FS-I Carbon 4 is built around Cannondale’s BallisTech carbon hardtail frame. Previous Lefty equipped frames have been criticised for needing a particularly long headtube for strength, but the new BallisTech layup has allowed Cannondale to reduce the headtube’s overall length, so you can get your bars very, very low. Assymetric rear stays offset the rear end by 6mm, allowing Cannondale to achieve remarkably short 429mm chain stays. All this helps put you, the rider, in a constantly attacking position on the bike, while the short stays make this an unusually sharp handling wagon wheel bike.

Cannondale’s new Lefty 2.0 is set at 100mm travel and provides a remarkably stiff front end, despite its appearance. Shimano Deore brakes and XT/ SLX shifting make up the drivetrain with Cannondale Si cranks. Stans Rapid 25 rims are shod with fast rolling Schwallbe Racing Ralph tyres. An in-house Cannondale cockpit rounds out the build with a Prologo saddle.

Riding the FS-I is, of course, a very different experience to my personal 5″ dual suspension bike. This bike wants to go fast, inviting you to grind out a bigger ring and push yourself. The snappy rear end delivers power to the rear wheel with amazing efficiency and it is perhaps no surprise that I hit personal records on all the climbs I usually ride on board the FS-I. The short chain stays mean that it still feels quite nimble in the tight and twisty stuff, (my main concern with previous 29er experiences), and the 69.5 degree head angle is slackened ever so slightly from classic XC race geometry, for a more compliant feel on descents. On the whole, it felt like a trail worthy race bike, which could be squeezed around tight corners and opened up on longer descents.

Shimano XT and SLX 2 x 10 drivetrain was predictably reliable and the stopping power of the Deore brakes was spot on, performing as well as my current Shimano brakes, without the price. This was my first chance to try out a Prologo saddle and, as much as it is personal preference, I was very impressed with the comfort level, particularly on a hardtail. Cannondale’s cockpit features a nice wide bar, with a comfortable back-sweep, though I found the grips to be lacking a bit. It’s difficult to convince anyone of the merits of Cannondale’s Lefty fork who has not actually ridden one. So, let’s forget which fork is bolted to the FS-I, and may I suggest that what you want on a race machine is precision and a rock solid lockout. The Lefty provides an amazingly stiff chassis with the compression adjustment you need to stomp that climb or punch that finishing sprint. Right on the money.

Subtle and sleek graphics finish off the cosmetics nicely, while cable guides allow for full length housing, a nice touch for those who live in a wet and muddy country, (anyone?). While Cannondale pitch this as a race bike with trail capabilities, make no mistake, this is a full on race bike. Jump on board and I’m confident you will see your lap times at Asrama drop. An entry level parts spec in some places allows Canondale to price the FS-I Carbon 4 very well for a thoroughbred, just with a bit less bling.

I have enjoyed my time on this little rocket, punching climbs and watching some GPS personal records fall. It may test your skills, but it is the sort of bike that will give you an exact response to any input you give. Put the power down and it just flies. But I’m not giving up my baggy riding shorts for lycra, not for any bike or for anyone.


The FS-I is available through [email protected], 33 Ubi Ave 3, and [email protected], 83/85 Frankel Avenue.

The FS-I retails at $5200.