Cannondale Lefty – the story of half a fork
February 18th, 2016
Cannondale Lefty – the fork people love to hate
If you’re reading this you probably fall in to one of three camps:
- You hate the single sided fork
- You love the Lefty
- You’re oddly curious.
Whichever one you are, you’ll probably be talking about it later on. Which means Cannondale made a good choice way back in 2000 when they launched it – as people are still chatting about it. Most conversation surrounding the Cannondale Lefty though, tends to be about how weird it looks; how bendy it must be and how it must surely be rubbish – as no one else makes something similar.
But there’s no such thing as bad press. The Cannondale Lefty fork is great bit of mountain bike marketing that draws as much attention now as it did in 2000.
And the truth is, most who try the fork are surprised by it’s performance – even those who dig heels in.
Whatever you think of the Lefty, you can’t help but get drawn in looking at one. The more you look, the less it makes sense.
We know we’re not alone in having a soft spot for the Lefty.
Why does it even exist?
We spoke to Clive Gosling from Cannondale, to find out a bit more about the crazy fork.
FJ: The Lefty is a radical design – where did the idea come from, and why did Cannondale choose to pursue it?
Clive Gosling: Well, it starts with the original Headshok suspension system from 1992, with 50mm of travel. As suspension travel demands grew, the ability for the unit to be housed in the head tube topped out at 80mm, and therefore we needed to look outside of the head tube. We already had the Moto 120 fork in 1996 – which was on the Super V DH4000 – but that was a regular telescoping fork and suffered all of the bushing/stiction/flex that was typical of any telescoping fork at that time (and many still today).
“The Moto FR (Freeride) fork was introduced in 1998 which was essentially two Headshok’s – one each side, offering 100mm travel. It was bombproof but weighed a bloody tonne!
It was so tough that there are still many of them out there today. They are still quite sought after for tandem use as they perform really well under load of two riders. This fork led to ‘team only’ versions with 150mm featured on the radical Cannondale DHF (Downhill Fulcrum) piloted by the likes of Missy Giove”
“In 1999, word has it that some of the mechanics were messing around with a MotoFR to prove how stiff it was. They chopped the lower in half and botched on a bolt through hub to the sprung leg, then rode it around the parking lot. The idea for Lefty was born and they wasted no time.
Brian Lopes won the slalom at Sea Otter that year on a Lefty, so it launched with a bang!
The rest is history!”
“Some people still have trouble getting their heads around the Cannondale Lefty because they can’t see that inside it’s a square leg in a square hole, rolling on four sheets of needle roller bearings. On the outside it’s hard to see what stops the fork from twisting but in all these years, we’ve never had a fork leg break. I don’t think any other brand can claim that!
At events we do get the usual questions, but we just get people riding them and then it all makes sense”
FJ: In a market where suspension forks are generally very good and the pricing is coming down – why are Cannondale still producing the Lefty?
CG: Because it’s still offers performance advantages. People often comment at demo events that they can feel the fork dive a bit in turns, that’s because the fork is still working under side load and not binding on itself, which is typical of telescoping assemblies. It would be a much easier path to whack on a Pike or 34, and at lower price points we do. But at the upper level we still know that a Lefty equipped bike performs better and that is why we continue.
Do you think Cannondale customers buy in to specific technology – like the Lefty – or do you think they buy in to the brand?
The two go hand in hand, a typical Cannondale customer is very similar to a typical Cannondale employee, passionate, they want the highest level of performance and don’t mind being a ‘bit different’ to the norm. Like I said before we occupy a unique space in the bike market of being a fairly big brand nowadays, but we still have the kudos and prestige held by smaller speciality brands. If someone is in the market for a Santa Cruz or Yeti, they might also consider a Cannondale. They probably wouldn’t buy a brand considered mainstream though, like those that may or may not being with an S or a T…
Why do you think other manufacturers have avoided producing a single leg suspension fork, other than British brand USE?
No one else can make a fork like the Cannondale Lefty. We have literally everything protected under patent. But we do make a ‘Lefty For All’ kit that allows Lefty to be fitted into practically any bike.
Lefty is a very popular fork for many Gucci 29’er XC builds for example. The USE fork was pretty decent actually – Scott Beaumont used to race it but because it was a typical telescoping tube inside a tube structure, it suffered the same issue of binding and stiction as regular fork designs.
What are the stand out features on the Cannondale Lefty Supermax?
It’s Lefty for a new generation of longer travel, more capable trail bikes. The bigger diameter legs and additional travel (up to 160mm on Jekyll) make it a far more capable fork. The damping is far more advanced too, designed to cope with what riders are doing on 160mm travel bikes these days.
What would you say to people that have reservations about the Lefty – perhaps on appearance/performance and even safety?
Ha, if they have safety concerns they should definitely get a Cannondale Lefty as you won’t find a stronger, stiffer fork. If anyone really has that thought, they better not get into a car or on a plane – as that same stub axle design is all they’ve got holding the wheels on!
They just need to ride it. A good, long ride on varied terrain. After five minutes people just don’t even notice there is only one leg. If they like it then great – if not everyone else offers the same front end as each other.
Feel free to follow the herd!
What do you think of the Cannondale Lefty?
Let us know below!