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Cannondale Habit 5 review

Cannondale’s Habit mountain bike is specifically designed for fun and flow, but can this affordable alloy version still deliver a good time?

Cannondale Habit 5
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Heavy and some spec flaws, but balanced handling, bombproof frame and truly awesome suspension makes it an outstanding play bike

For

  • Brilliant rear suspension performance
  • Balanced, agility biased handling
  • Rock-solid lifetime warrantied frame
  • Mostly decent spec for the price

Against

  • Heavy
  • Skinny rims
  • Ai awkwardness
  • Long offset fork
  • Short dropper post

There are loads of elements to good suspension bike design and while it’s weighty with some spec snags Cannondale has got most of them well dialled on the Habit 5. However, it’s the exceptional rear end performance that makes it an awesome play bike for the price. 

Design and geometry

The four-bar linkage, shock under top tube layout is probably the most proven in mountain biking. Cannondale’s decision to use it for the Habit after 30 years of resolutely following its own agenda is a big deal. To leapfrog brands that had been trying to perfect it for decades and produce one of the best versions we’ve ever used is the significant thing for riders. The work of suspension savant Luis Arraiz (Google 'K9 Industries' as homework if you want some insight) is a masterpiece of packaging. 

Cannondale has hyped up the Habit’s ‘Proportional Response’ designs as offering a centre of gravity/estimated rider weight-optimised suspension performance for each different frame size. The genius is that it’s done with exactly the same chainstay length and collection of linkages on all sizes so Cannondale doesn’t have to charge an arm and a leg to tailor to different arm and leg lengths. Even the shock tunes (props to Greg Jakubek for nailing those) are the same across all sizes. Luis Arraiz and his team have just subtly shifted the position and interaction (the kinematic) of each of the elements to alter the anti-squat and anti rise character for each bike size.

In terms of sizing the 66-degree head angle sits mid-pack for a 140mm suspension fork, 130mm rear suspension bike but the 74.5-degrees is slightly slack and 460mm reach compact for a large. BB drop is nicely grounded at 38mm and chainstay length is snappy at 435mm considering it’ll take a 2.5in tyre. There’s a flip chip to change the angles by half a degree and change ride height too.

Cannondale Habit 5

Beefy  asymmetric stays assure the rear is stiff and precise no matter how sideways the landing   (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

15.7kg complete bike weight shows the alloy frame is definitely on the solid side, but big block shock mounts, massive asymmetric chainstays and a lifetime warranty means this is a bike designed to take a battering. Practicality is solid too, with a screw-in bottom bracket, chain guide mounts and clamped internal cable routing so there’s no rattle to spoil your flow. There is one pain in the ass - literally - Cannondale has shifted the whole rear end sideways a few mm as part of their 'Ai' stiffness boosting strategy. Whether changing the spoke angle slightly actually does make a significant difference to wheel stiffness we don’t know (and there’s no way of checking without buzzing paint off the frame) as the Habit’s hindquarters are already seriously hench. It definitely makes sourcing a replacement/upgrade wheel more of a pain as you’ll have to get it re-built to fit and that’s more of an issue on this affordable bike with its thin rims. The chainring is also Ai specific.

Back to the weight, Habit also comes in carbon front end versions from £3,300 up and weighing 1.6kg less despite a similar spec, or a £6,000 full carbon version with Shimano XTR that’s 3.3kg lighter. If you want a mid-travel pinner then there’s a carbon mainframe SE version with a Lyrik fork and piggyback shock as used by Josh Bryceland and his mates.

Components and build 

For a £2,200 bike from a big ‘buy it in a proper shop’ brand, the Habit is rolling with a solid kit selection. We’d prefer a short offset fork rather than the 51mm fitted for a ‘more stable baseline but more sensitive steering’ double win but we’ve no other complaints about the RockShox 35. Its fluid yet controlled, it tracks well under braking or high G turns, and the damper gets you down most descents fine. Follow the air pressure guide, and it’s also really hard to set it up badly, which is important on what might be an entry point FS bike for a lot of people. The Fox DPS Float shock gives open, pedal and locked settings, too.

While it’s heavy SRAM SX Eagle gives plenty of wall-crawling scope for less seasoned legs and the Shimano hubs are as long-lived as you’ll ever find. The narrow WTB rims definitely cramp the style of the 2.5in WT Maxxis DHF front tyre though, pinching it down to 56mm (same tyre on a 30mm rim is 61mm, 35mm rim 63mm), but works OK with the 2.3in High Roller on the back.

A 780mm bar and 50mm stem serve up balanced steerage and Fabric FunGuy lock-on grips are a definite high point. At 100mm on small and 125mm on M-XL, the stroke on the Cannondale branded TranzX dropper posts are short though and the vertical lever is more awkward to use than a trigger style. too. Shimano’s cheap MT200 brakes need a long and deliberate burning in period to gradually turn absolutely no initial braking power into vague slowing down before eventually peaking at adequate control with white knuckle finger pressure.

Cannondale Habit 5

The 780mm bars and 50mm stem are finished with Fabric grips for optimal control (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride, handling and performance 

It says a lot about just how well the Habit rides that the first panic-stricken ‘no brakes’ entry into a relatively techy descent soon turned to gales of laughter. That’s because what this bike basically wants is as much speed and bravery/idiocy as you can give it. Actually it wants a bit more than that in a classic ‘mate who creates the most terrifying situations but most awesome memories’ character. It’s easy to pinpoint exactly where this bubbling undertone of subversion is coming from too. Despite a comparatively basic, conventionally mounted Fox Float DPS damper and skinny tyre on a skinny rim, the back end patters and sticks to the ground like it’s got damped carcass gravity rubber crushed onto the trail by a DH/e-bike amount of weight. Not only is it super sensitive and grippy off the top, but a big volume spacer as standard means it hovers in the mid-stroke most of the time for really predictable ride height and rider weight response. In fact, it takes a fair wallop to push the travel ring right through to the end of the stroke, but it never feels like you’re suffering because of that. In fact excellent chassis stiffness and solid overall feel means it loves to convert boulder backsides and big landings into forward drive and exit elation rather than flinching and floundering when things get seismic.

Relatively compact sizing and that initial easy ‘sit’ into the travel makes that Habit an easy bike to pop and chuck around despite its hefty weight. Because it lands so well you’re more prepared to push your skill set too, creating an upward spiral of confidence and speed that makes it a proper fun multiplier.

It’s much more than just an ear-to-ear grin gravity goon too. The 2.3in High Roller out back rolls quickly but still grips well on a broad mix of surfaces. The ‘Proportional Response’ kinematic means the suspension pedals really well even if you leave the shock fully open. Obviously the weight does impact how quick you’ll accelerate and get up climbs, but as long as you slide forward on the saddle to balance your weight then traction and tenacity certainly aren’t an issue. Feedback on smaller riders we know seems to confirm that ‘Proportional Response’ makes their Habit’s perform equally well too, though obviously that’s hard to quantify for sure.

While the back end drives the front end very hard the 35 for does a decent job of coping most of the way down most battering descents before the damping starts to stutter and choke. The front tyre doesn’t feel quite as confident as it would on a wider rim though and a shorter fork offset would likely reduce the occasional ‘tuck under’ scares, too. 

Cannondale Habit 5

The four-bar suspension system may be nothing new but Cannondale has hit the performance sweet spot (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict 

If you focus on the imperfections though, you’re missing the whole point that makes the Habit something special. Yes, you can find the limits of the front end when pushing hard and the brakes are borderline lethal until bedded in. The survival of the narrower rear tyre on a narrow rims says more about the suspension’s ability to suck up trauma than it does about the toughness of carcass and hoop. Having to re-dish any replacement rear wheel you might need is a big pain too. At its bombproof, superbly balanced heart, the Habit is one of the most sorted mid-travel frames we’ve ever ridden. That means there’s more than enough of that impeccable suspension performance and ‘ride it like a rental’ vibe to make it easy to gloss over the gripes and guarantee you a spectacularly good time every ride.

Test conditions

  • Temperature range: 18-3 degrees    
  • Trails: Mixed local woodworking from flowing singletrack to sketchy old school craggy descents 

Tech spec: Cannondale Habit 5 

  • Price: £2,200 
  • Discipline: Trail
  • Head angle: 66-degrees 
  • Seat tube angle: 74.5-degrees
  • Frame: SmartForm C1 alloy mainframe and swingarm   
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 15,7kg  
  • Wheel Size: 29-inch
  • Suspension (front / rear):  RockShox 35 Gold RL 140mm travel, 51mm offset/Fox Float DPS Performance Evol 130mm travel 
  • Groupset: SRAM SX Eagle 11-50T 12 speed gearing and shifter   
  • Crankset: SRAM X1 30T Ai chainset  
  • Wheels: WTB i23 rims with plain gauge Ai laced spokes, Shimano MT400 front and rear hubs 
  • Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF WT EXO 2.5in front and Maxxis High Roller EXO rear 2.3in tyres  
  • Brakes: Shimano MT200 brakes with 180mm rear rotors   
  • Bar/stem: Cannondale 3 780x31.8mm bar and 50x31.8mm stem    
  • Seatpost: TranzX 125mm dropper post  
  • Saddle: Cannondale Stage 3 saddle