- The Cannondale Trail 4 was a good, moderately-priced mountain bike
- The Trail 4 is no longer being made, replaced by newer models.
- Cannondale bicycles are not made in the USA but instead overseas.
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Finding a bike that can handle whatever trail you find is part of the thrill of MTB biking. The Cannondale Trail 4 is a bike that is more than capable.
The Cannondale Trail 4 is a modestly priced hard-tail mountain bike that is a good value for beginning off-road riders. The aluminum alloy frame is solid, with a front fork that handles most trails and moderate terrain. The bike is a 10-speed with Shimano shifters, derailleurs, and disc brakes.
Cannondale claims that the Trail 4 is best reserved for leisurely rides and gentle off-road trails, but frankly, where is the fun in that? Most mountain riders want a solid bike capable of handling almost any type of rocky, hilly terrain. Something about slaying a descent while dodging trees and boulders that gets an MTB rider’s heart pumping. The Cannondale Trail 4 is a bike capable of being pushed a bit harder than its internet hype suggests. With its athletic look, and solid, well-built components, the Cannondale is a serious hard-tail MTB worth considering if you start exploring off-road adventures.
What makes the Cannondale Trail 4 So Special?
There are many reasons the Cannondale earns its keep in the long list of entry-level mountain bikes. (The field is crowded in today’s market). Let’s examine some of those qualities.
The frame is made of a SmartForm C2 aluminum alloy that the manufacturer claims is both lightweight and durable. Aluminum alloy is standard for most modestly priced mountain bike frames, even though many higher-end bikes have switched to carbon fiber. Cannondale has decided to keep the aluminum alloy to provide stability and stiffness to the bike, helping to keep costs contained.
The bike comes in at 31.5 lbs, which is about average for an entry-level mountain bike. A lighter bike is easier to maneuver and generally moves faster. Yet, Cannondale is willing to err on the side of caution by betting that a couple of extra pounds will increase the average rider's confidence. (The extra pounds give the Trail 4 a more solid feel). The bike does perform admirably on off-road terrain, attacking inclines with a vengeance that might frustrate lighter mountain bikes. The weight adds a bit of chunkiness to the bike's handling and vibration, but these issues are more minor than major annoyances.
Most mountain bikes are built for riders that are less than 300 lbs. One of the neat things about the Cannondale is the availability of a 2XL size, built for men who are 6-1 to 6-5. (I like this because many bicycle manufacturers fail to realize that anyone above six feet tall might want to ride. There are a lot of us out there).
The Cannondale Trail 4 uses a rigid SR Suntour XCR-RL air suspension fork with a lockout feature for street riding. This high-quality suspension fork does a great job absorbing most up-and-down movement of rocky or gravel terrain while minimizing excessive vibrations. Combined with the 29-inch tires, the bike does better in rough places. While the bike won’t feel like you are riding on air, the suspension is adequate for most trails.
The Shimano Deore GS
The 10-speed drivetrain is strong enough to help transition between level ground and inclines or descents. (While in the past, mountain bike manufacturers have bikes with a lot more gears, most entry-level MTBs have settled down to 10 - 12). The Shimano Deore GS is the most popular groupset used on intermediate mountain bikes, and the shifting levers on the handlebars make it easy to move through the gear choices. (However, there have been some complaints about the shifting rattling a bit as gears were engaged, so be warned).
The Tires and Rims
The 29-inch double-walled wheel is designed for additional strength and provides the grip needed to navigate most road terrain. The 2.25-inch wide Schwalbe Rocket Rick tires are knobby enough to provide excellent grip on hard surfaces. (This type of tire is used for many XC racers, so it is delightful to have them on a bike at this price point).
Another thing to note is that the tires are built with K-guard, which uses kevlar as an additive to the natural rubber. This combination makes the tires almost bulletproof, so they resist puncture very well.
Cannondale uses Shimano MT200 hydraulic discs for its braking system. While this level is relatively common for entry-level mountain bikes, they aren’t as trustworthy or smooth as the MT500s. Some reviewers have mentioned that the braking power seems wooden. Since MTBs need to have good brakes (you never know what the next bend in the trail might bring), a decent stopping system can make all the difference between slaying the descent and crashing into a tree. The MT200 discs are fine, just not as good as what might have been on the bike.
A version of the Cannondale Trail 4 (the SE model) has done away with the Shimano brakes and replaced them with Tektro M275 system, which is a step down from the Shimano. However, Tektro does often have a better feel when engaging, so perhaps Cannondale was listening to their riders' input and decided to take a hard look at their hardware.
The Bar, Grips, and Seat
The rest of the components, including the straight handlebar, grips, and seat, are all manufactured by Cannondale. The handlebar allows for increased comfort and is positioned well enough to help absorb bumps and rocks. I love the athletic look that the handlebars and grips give the bike. It looks like it was built for mountain racing, which is very rad in my book.
If you search for a Cannondale Trail 4 (not the SE model), you will need help finding one. For some reason, Cannondale still has the picture of the Trail 4 up on its website, but there is no price listed. The folks at Cannondale suggest contacting a local bike shop to check availability. This signals that the company is phasing out this tried and true model. (If you are dead set on securing a Trail 4, then the best place to look might be on eBay for a gently used one).
In fairness, the Trail 4 SE has many of the same features that the original Trail 4 had on it, and much of the review above will apply. The SE model's cost hovers under $1000 - while the Cannondale Trail 8 is significantly less (around $645), and while it is only a seven-speed, it has many of the same components used in the Trail 4 and Trail SE models.
What is Wrong with the Bike?
Every bicycle owner wants to ensure that there is value for the money before investing in a bicycle. It all comes down to performance, and the Trail 4 does deliver. We would like some things. While most complaints are minor, they are worth considering.
The Company Might be American, but the Bikes are not.
Cannondale has dual parent companies - Pon Holdings, out of the Netherlands, and Dorel Industries, out of China. The bikes they offer are made in the Far East, Taiwan, China, and VietNam. The truth is that many mountain bikes are made overseas and are branded with American names.
There is a Tuning Problem
While the Cannondale comes fairly well-assembled out of the box, there have been some issues with needing to have the bike tuned at a local shop. This is a good idea (a bike shop can custom-fit the bike to your size and riding habits and give the bike a good once-over to ensure everything is working correctly). But the downside is that bike shops don’t do that service for free. It will mean opening your wallet further than many beginning riders might want.
What Is the Future of Mountain Biking?
Statistics show that recreational riding by youth ages 7 - 17 has dropped 49% over the last couple of decades. Most current sales of bicycles are e-bikes, and while the electric bike market is expected to double to 60 - 80 billion in the next five years, standard pedal pushers like the Trail 4 are quickly fading. Most bike companies recognize this trend and are converting to offering more e-bikes on their websites.
Where Can I Buy a Cannondale Trail 4?
Unfortunately, since the Trail 4 has been out for several years, it may be challenging to find one brand new. Many retailers, including Cannondale, have been offering more recent renditions (Trail 4 SE, Trail 5, 7, or 8) as alternatives. While these suggested bicycles have many of the same components that made the Trail 4 so universal, it’s hard not to feel cheated by the disappearance of a relatively close-to-perfect entry-level mountain bike.
It is best to contact your local bike shop to see if there is any availability or if they would allow you to check out one of the more recent models we mentioned above.
What is the Bottom line on this Bike?
Here is a quick summary of what we liked and didn’t like on the Cannondale Trail 4.
- A solid aluminum frame with great tubing and welds.
- A 10-speed gearbox is enough for navigating a trail
- The air-suspension fork is adequate for mountain terrain
- Not made in America
- Very hard to find - might consider a Trail 8 instead
- Cannondale has some costly bikes, which makes us wonder how much they care about the average rider.