The Habit has long been Cannondale’s mid-travel trail bike. In 2023, the range is split in two, with the Habit 3 and Habit 4 sporting 130mm travel with 140mm forks, and the Habit LT 2 and Habit LT 1 featuring 10mm more at either end. The bike has been brought right up to date, with a new geometry that places it slap-bang in the middle of the thoroughly contemporary bell-curve. Cannondale claims each size of bike has been tuned for the corresponding rider heights, with adjustments made in both the geometry and suspension kinematics to suit. At £2,950, the Habit 3 is the cheapest bike in my Trail Bike of the Year test. The spec list might not have the bells and whistles of the pricier bikes, but it’s the ride quality that takes precedent in this test.
Cannondale Habit 3 frame and suspension
It’s great to see Cannondale update its trail-ready Habit for 2023. Cannondale’s SmartForm C1 alloy is used for this 130mm-travel bike. This hydroformed construction provides flowing lines along all the tubes. The top tube drops towards the seat tube, giving standover height, with a little brace to offer support. The down tube curves along from the head tube to the belly of the bike, aiding fork crown clearance, with ample weld seams. The kinked seat tube enables Cannondale to place the rocker pivot just where it wants it.
SRAM’s NX and SX Eagle drivetrain is heavier than more expensive groups, but performs well when new. The frame has guided internal cable routing, a Universal Derailleur Hanger, ISCG05 chain guide mount, and down tube and chainstay rubber protection. A four-bar suspension linkage, with its chainstay-located rear pivot, completes the picture. The asymmetric rear triangle offers stiffness, and a svelte rocker link drives the shock. Cannondale says its Proportional Response philosophy alters suspension kinematics, as well as geometry, across the sizes, to ensure all riders get the same bike feel on the trail.
Cannondale Habit 3 geometry
The Habit 3’s design is contemporary, but not radical. Cannondale has updated the Habit with a shape that’s right up to date, without going to the extreme – suitable for a bike of this style and price point. The size-large bike I tested has an ample reach of 480mm, which is pretty long in the context of a 130mm-travel bike. This is paired with a 65.5-degree head angle. That’s middle of the road and slack enough to ensure stability, but steep enough to aid snappy handling. The seat angle is 77.3 degrees at my 75cm saddle height.
Cannondale has given the bike 29in wheels, though the XS size gets 27.5in hoops. The chainstay lengths change with bike size, from 43.4 to 44.5cm. It’s not a huge change, but it’s good to see some lengthening on bigger bikes because it should help keep handling characteristics more comparable across sizing.
|Seat angle (degrees)||71.5||71||71||72.3||72.5|
|Seat angle – effective (degrees)||77.5||77.5||77.5||77.5||77.5|
|Head angle (degrees)||65.6||65.6||65.6||65.6||65.6|
|Seat tube (mm)||360||380||400||445||500|
|Top tube (mm)||527||563||590||617||654|
|Head tube (mm)||100||110||120||130||140|
|Fork offset (mm)||37||42||42||42||42|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||16||38||38||38||38|
|Bottom bracket height (mm)||342||341||341||341||341|
Cannondale Habit 3 specifications
RockShox’s Pike fork has a decent trail-focused chassis. At £2,950, the Habit 3 is one of the cheapest bikes in my test this year, and this is reflected in the spec list. Suspension comes from RockShox, with a 140mm Pike Select fork at the front, with its more basic Rush RC damper, and a deluxe Select+ shock. SRAM’s NX and SX gears are specced, with a 30t chainring combining with the 11-50t cassette to get you up steep inclines.
The SRAM DB8 brakes aren’t as good as equivalent stoppers from Shimano. SRAM also provide the brakes, in this case the new mineral oil DB8 stoppers with 180mm rotors at each end. This is contrary to the spec list on Cannondale’s website, which lists the G2, so check with your retailer if this is of importance. A Stan’s rim is a nice tubeless-ready touch. The wheels are wrapped in Maxxis tyres – a low-profile and fast-rolling Rekon at the rear, and a Dissector at the front, both in 2.4in widths with the standard EXO casing.
Cannondale-branded componentry gave nothing to complain about. The inclusion of Torque Caps on the hubs is a really nice touch from the product manager. It makes getting the wheel in the fork and the axle seated nice and easy, and theoretically boosts stiffness too. Cannondale’s cockpit is well-shaped and its TrailShroom grips comfortable.
Cannondale Habit 3 ride impressions
The Habit is stable in the air and boosts lips well. This bike was tested as part of our 2023 Bike of the Year test. It was compared to seven of the best trail bikes, listed below. I took all the bikes to the same locations and trails for some dedicated back-to-back testing on a wide variety of terrain. From hand-dug tracks in the woods to trail-centre laps and BikePark Wales’ rocky runs, I ensured the trail bikes were exposed to every type of trail such a bike is likely to be ridden on. Riding the bikes back to back, usually with four in each testing session, ensured I was able to pick out the finer performance points of each one.
Cannondale Habit 3 climbing performance
The Habit climbs well. The Habit, like many trail bikes these days, climbs pretty well. The steep seat angle puts your body in a good position over the cranks, leading to an efficient-feeling pedalling position. With a long-ish top tube, the seated position feels roomy, so moving your body back and forth to balance the competing demands of rear-wheel traction and front-wheel directional control is easy. You’re centred nicely between the axles, so that balance is easy to find.
Stand up on the pedals and you can get the suspension to bob up and down. It’s not overly distracting, and there are bikes in this year’s test that perform worse in this regard. Still, if I was going to head up a long, smooth climb, I’d be flicking the compression switch on the shock to quell any complaints. On more technically challenging climbs, the suspension does a good job of helping the bike smooth the way over rocks or roots. However, the Rekon rear tyre’s relatively low tread depth compromises grip both in the mud and over slimy roots.
The Maxxis Rekon is a fast-rolling tyre that adds zip to a bike. On the flip side, the rear rubber gives the bike noticeably more zip along fire-road and tarmac climbs, with less speed-sucking drag than noisier rubber would provide. This helps give the Habit some pep in its step.
Thanks to the fast-rolling Rekon rear tyre, the Habit absolutely rips around trail centre loops. The minimal rolling resistance helps the bike pick up speed quickly on groomed surfaces, and jabs at the pedals result in suitably quick spurts of speed, too.
Cannondale Habit 3 descending performance
The long geometry adds stability over marginal terrain. The Habit turns quickly, giving the bike a real zing as you push through twisty woodland tracks, while the pop on offer makes it fun to pull into the air and look for a landing. At the front, the Dissector tyre does okay on these surfaces. Its central tread roll fairly fast, and so long as you can lean the bike onto its shoulders, the tyre digs in and grips reasonably well.
However, there is a dead zone between the central treads and the shoulder treads, thanks to the gap that runs along the length of the tread pattern. To get the best out of this tyre, on the front, you really need to commit to the turn. Therefore, it feels like an odd spec choice – the Dissector is far more commonly found on the rear of bikes.
I like the Maxxis Dissector on the rear of a bike, but it’s not suited to the front in my opinion. On muddier and rooty or rocky trails, the Dissector also fails to shine up-front. The gap between the treads is noticeable, especially because the rim seems to pinch the tyre in a little more than desired, and grip levels don’t inspire huge confidence. At the back, the Rekon feels vulnerable on more techy terrain.
Additionally, the low tread height limits braking prowess. The geometry of the bike is great, however. The long reach and moderately slack head angle work together to give a decent blend of agility in twisty terrain, along with an ability to carve long corners – get the aforementioned shoulder treads up-front engaged into the dirt, and it’ll rail with the best of them.
Cannondale’s stable geometry leads to decent cornering characteristics. The rear suspension is also effective. It’s pretty well supported, so the bike doesn’t wallow through berms, nor does it feel soggy under power. It stays in its mid-stroke well over choppy tracks and when you do encounter larger hits, it ramps up without trying to blow your feet off the pedals. There is a bit of a mis-match in feel between the front and rear suspension, though. I couldn’t get the (relatively) budget fork to feel as plush and composed on rocky trails at the bike park, leading to a bit of a stuttery ride.
RockShox’s Deluxe shock sits in the middle of the bike. I preferred running around 30 per cent sag at the rear to help the rear wheel track the ground better under braking. This may have exacerbated the disparity in feel, because it helped make the rear end feel really plush in comparison. On steep terrain, a better set of mountain bike tyres would really help the Habit. The fork, though not as smooth on rocky chatter, does offer decent support and a trustworthy chassis. The geometry puts the front wheel well ahead of your weight, boosting confidence.
The DB8 lever is chunkier than SRAM’s G2 brakes, and uses mineral fluid, rather than DOT 4. The spec list on Cannondale’s site and my test bike differ in the brakes department. While I’m not overly sold on the SRAM G2 R that should appear, I’d take it over the DB8s that appeared on my test bike. They’re not hugely powerful and have a wooden feel. I’d also like a longer dropper post on the bike.
How does the Cannondale Habit 3 compare to the Marin Rift Zone XR 27.5?
The Marin Rift Zone XR 27.5 has a more attractive spec list than the Habit 3. Both the Cannondale and the Marin come in at similar prices, however it feels as though Marin has done a better job in the speccing of its bikes. The Marzocchi Z1 is a lovely-feeling fork at this price, and the Float X a better shock overall. The pair of Assegai tyres on the Marin is also better overall than the Dissector/Rekon setup on the Cannondale for riders looking to tackle more aggressive terrain. However, trail centre heroes may prefer the Habit’s faster-rolling setup. The Cannondale pedals better and the bike is calmer at speed, thanks to its bigger hoops and greater overall length.
Cannondale Habit 3 bottom line
Front and rear ends felt a little mis-matched in performance, with the frame out-performing the fork. With a change of tyres and brakes, I feel the Habit would sing on all but the roughest of tracks, boosting grip and ultimately confidence, and making the most of the geometry on offer. A simple damper upgrade to the fork would be my next relatively cheap change. The bike performs best on fast and flowing tracks, with twists and turns, and jumps and berms. It has a light, whippy and agile feel, which is playful too.