2018 Cannondale Trigger 2
Size Tested: Medium
- Drivetrain: Sram X01 Eagle
- Brakes: Sram Guide RS
- Fork: Fox 34 Performance Elite
- Rear Shock: Fox Float X Performance Elite
Travel: 145 mm rear / 150 mm front
Blister’s Measured Weight: 29.2 lbs (13.24 kg) without pedals
Reviewer: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test Location: Boulder City, Nevada
Interbike’s Outdoor Demo was held at Bootleg Canyon, in Boulder City, Nevada, which is a little bastion of awesomeness about 25 minutes from the Vegas strip. There’s a mix of fast and flowy and legitimately techy terrain that’s a pretty decent venue for a demo.
Normally, Blister tries to get as much time on a bike as we realistically can so that we have time to play around with setup, get comfortable with the fit, and hopefully reveal any durability issues that might arise. But for obvious reasons, spending an hour or so on a bike at Interbike’s outdoor demo doesn’t give us the time to give a bike our usual treatment.
That said, there’s a lot of value in riding a bunch of different bikes, back-to-back on the same trails. Traits that might not be obvious when the bikes are ridden weeks or months apart become evident.
So in other words, back-to-back comparisons on great trails are useful, but don’t take this as the final word on these bikes, especially when it comes to maintenance and durability issues.
So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Cannondale Trigger 2
Cannondale has an interesting history — they went from being one of the dominant manufacturers in the 90’s to where they are now, which is … not particularly dominant. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but I think at least part of that discussion is that Cannondale had a long tradition of doing things their own way. They had their own head tube size. They had their own forks. They had their own cranks. They had special rear shocks. They had a dirt bike. If Cannondale thought there was a way to improve the bike, they did it, even if it meant making a proprietary piece of componentry that only fit on that specific bike.
And while that had the potential to make for a cohesive, high-performing machine, the reality was that the performance gains tended to be nominal (or non-existent), and both price and maintenance were significant issues.
In recent years, Cannondale has been trending away from their past proprietary-ness, and the Trigger is an excellent example of what Cannondale can do if they’re not caught up in being different for the sake of being different. It has a normal fork, normal cranks, a normal head tube, and while the rear shock is “special,” it’s a normal size so replacement isn’t an issue.
And you know what? Despite being a fairly “normal” Trail bike, the Trigger is a pretty damn good one. It’s the first Cannondale I’ve ridden in many, many years that I could actually see myself buying.
I rode the Trigger 2, which is one notch down from the top-of-the-line Trigger 1. The build is based around a Sram X01 Eagle 12 speed drivetrain, with the addition of some Truvativ Descendant carbon cranks. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on X01 Eagle drivetrains on various bikes this season, and it’s tough to argue with having a huge range of gearing and no front derailleur to fuss with. Yes, the 12-speed drivetrains are a bit fussier to set up (and keep dialed) than the 11-speed options. But I get a super easy gear for steep climbs and a pretty hard gear for fast descents — I like having my cake and eating it too.
Braking is handled by Sram Guide RS, which are some of the best trail-oriented brakes on the market. Shimano XT brakes are cheaper and it’s true that Sram had some quality control issues with a bunch of the Guide brakes. But the Guide’s have better modulation than the XTs and they’re far more adjustable. The RS lacks the contact point adjustment of the RSC’s, but it still has the bleeding edge system for bleeding the brakes, which is the best innovation in the world of brakes that I’ve seen in quite a while.
The Trigger 2 is rolling on Sram 900 hubs laced to WTB Frequency Team i29 rims. Rubber is handled by Maxxis, with a 2.3” DHF up front and a 2.3” DHR II in the rear. In all respects, that’s a solid wheelset with great rubber. No complaints there.
A Race Face Turbine dropper and some Cannondale-branded cockpit bits got the job done. While the Turbine dropper that I reviewed was a bit fussy, the one I rode on the Trigger was smooth and problem-free.
Suspension on the Trigger is handled by Fox front and rear. Up front is a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork offering 150 mm travel. The Performance Elite stuff from Fox is fantastic — it’s similar to the top-of-the-line Factory series, but it loses the Kashima coating. In terms of on-the-trail performance, it’s very close though, and the price is more palatable.
The rear suspension is a special Fox Float X unit sporting Performance Elite trim but with Cannondale’s Gemini system. Basically, this is similar to a variety of older Cannondale systems in that a remote on the handlebar allows you to switch between “Hustle” and “Flow” mode. In Hustle mode, the bike gets 115 mm of rear travel, while in Flow mode it bumps up to 145 mm. It’s worth noting, though, that thumbing the remote doesn’t affect the bike’s geometry, it just limits how far the rear suspension can compress. This also serves to reduce the volume of the rear shock in Hustle mode so as to avoid harsh bottom-outs in this short-travel mode.
Like a number of proprietary Cannondale contraptions of the past, the idea behind this iteration of the Gemini system is sound — it’s quick and easy to dramatically transform the bike’s rear suspension. The big difference here, however, is that the rear shock is a standard metric size (210 mm x 55 mm). So if and when the rear shock finally dies (everything breaks eventually), it’s not the end of the world, even if the Gemini version of the shock is no longer in production. You can replace it with any number of shocks that are offered in that size.
Fit and Geometry
Fit on the Trigger is decidedly modern, with the reach on the Medium I rode coming in at 439 mm, and the effective top tube length sitting at 602 mm. That’s on the long end of average these days, but not out of the realm of “normal.”
In terms of fit, at 5’9” I felt entirely comfortable on the Medium. I’d probably recommend that people 5’11” and above bump up to the Large, and people around 5’10” could probably go either way, depending on their personal preferences regarding bigger vs. smaller bikes. Around 5’7” is where I suggest someone look at the size Small.
In terms of the ride, there are a couple numbers that stand out on the Trigger. First, it has a decently steep seat tube angle (74.5°), which helps keep weight forward on climbs. Of course, the effective seat tube angle is a bit slacker, but I didn’t find the Trigger to be unwieldy on climbs, despite its short chainstays.
The head tube sits at 66°, which is standard-ish for a bike in this travel class. There are a number of comparable bikes that are a bit steeper, but the Trigger isn’t breaking into uncharted territories here.
What is a bit unique about the Trigger is its chainstay length — at 420 mm, it’s one of the shortest out there. Another number that jumps out is the bottom bracket height — at 345 mm, it’s on the tall side of things. Not “Josh Bender in 2002” tall, but taller than most other bikes in this category.
Like I said at the outset, based on the past decade, I’ve approached any Cannondale bike with a moderate degree of skepticism. And the Trigger was no different — I wasn’t sure what to expect, but some extra stuff on the handlebars (the Gemini remote) had me a bit nervous. And, y’know, the bike kinda looks funny — the shock placement looks weirdly high and forward.
But I’ll be gosh-darned, the Trigger’s actually a pretty fun bike.
So I’ll start with the easy stuff — that weird shock placement? It’s so the bike will fit a full-sized water bottle. Awesome. I hate wearing packs.
And the Gemini system? It’s pretty sweet. Yeah, I know, there’s a subset of the mountain biking population that has embraced these sort of things for years, and the basic functionality isn’t a new thing. But I hate proprietary crap even more than I hate unnecessarily changing “standards.” So what I like about the Gemini is that (1) it works well, but maybe more importantly, (2) I can replace it with an off-the-shelf unit if needed.
But yeah, thumb the remote and all of a sudden the Trigger has less travel. It climbs quite well in short-travel mode, and I actually liked it in smoother, pumpier situations as well.
And in “Flow” mode (the longer-travel setting), the Trigger is an entirely competent descender. It’s long and slack enough that it feels quite comfortable at speed, but those short chainstays are noticeable. When carving through turns, the Trigger feels less like it’s locked in on rails, and more like it wants to square things off and dart through corners. On the whole, this makes the Trigger feel a bit less stable than something like the Santa Cruz Bronson, but the Trigger is a bit happier in tight situations that require quick direction changes.
The short stays also mean the Trigger feels easier to whip around. Lofting the front end is easy, and it’s a good jumper. I think the stays also contribute a lot to the bike feeling really light — I have a tough time pinpointing this, but for whatever reason, the Trigger feels really easy to move around. I rode the bike before I weighed it, and I was actually surprised that it wasn’t lighter.
I’ve found some other Cannondale frames to be on the flexy side, but that wasn’t an issue with the Trigger. I wouldn’t say it felt overbuilt or class-leading in stiffness, but it wasn’t noticeably noodley.
The Trigger’s suspension is fairly active over small bumps, which helps it maintain traction when needed. But the suspension also stayed fairly active when pedaling, and there was some noticeable bob while climbing. I wouldn’t say it was horrendous, but it doesn’t firm up as much as some other bikes in this class. Of course, that’s with the rear shock in the 145 mm Flow mode — bumping it into Hustle mode made things noticeably more efficient.
Despite the suspension being fairly supple over smaller bumps, it didn’t feel like the Trigger was completely overwhelmed on bigger hits. I didn’t get too sendy with the Trigger, but the rear suspension felt adequately supportive, and I didn’t find myself bottoming out hard when I got it off the ground.
As I noted in the geometry section, the bottom bracket on the Trigger is a bit higher than average. I can’t say that I noticed this on the trails at Bootleg, although I tend to notice that sort of thing more on bermy, flowy trails (which isn’t what Bootleg has on tap). So I’m not inclined to draw any real conclusions here other than: if you’re militant about having the lowest bottom bracket, the Trigger probably isn’t for you. But if you pedal up lots of super rocky climbs where a low bottom bracket can be annoying, the Trigger might serve you well.
The Trigger might be the most compelling bike I’ve seen from Cannondale, at least since the turn of the millennium. It’s not that Cannondale went super crazy — in fact, it’s the exact opposite. They toned down their craziness, and in doing so, managed to produce a bike that’s consumer-friendly in its lack of proprietary components while still holding true to the design principles that Cannondale has long espoused. And more importantly, they did all that in a package that’s actually a bunch of fun.
I’d put the Trigger more in the category of “Go have a good time on your bike, no matter what the trail throws at you” rather than the category of “purebred race bike.” It seems like the Trigger is a bit less focused on all-out speed and destruction of everything in its path than something like a Santa Cruz Bronson or the slightly longer-travel Trek Remedy. And if you want to see where we’ve placed the Trigger against other comparable bikes, check out our 27.5” Comparison piece.
So if you like the sound of a more playful bike that has some slick features to make climbing and mellower trails more enjoyable, for the first time in a long time, I’d actually recommend taking a serious look at a bike from Cannondale.