When Cannondale unveiled its MX400 motocrosser to the world approximately one year ago in Indianapolis, it introduced Cannondale’s unique ability to evolve beyond conventional design — something it has proven time and again in the bicycle world. Specifically, Cannondale’s reverse cylinder head, steering head air intake, nearly horizontal, linkless rear suspension, handbuilt aluminum frame (incorporating an engine oil reservoir in the left spar) only hint at the innovation Cannondale will bring to motorcycle design.
Next up for Cannondale? Suspension. In the bicycle world, Cannondale already has a well-deserved reputation for suspension innovation. Its HeadShok suspension system, including the radical HeadShok Lefty shown here, contains significant design innovations which are both functional and elegant. Cannondale’s HeadShok front suspension systems don’t incorporate conventional telescoping-blade forks, because, according to Cannondale, telescoping-blade forks suffer from relatively poor handling and poor small bump response.
Cannondale’s HeadShok front suspension overcomes the handling and small-bump absorption problems associated with conventional forks, according to Cannondale. The first problem — poor handling — results from conventional forks tendency to twist and flex, something overcome by Cannondale’s HeadShok system (at least to a great extent, according to Cannondale). The HeadShok design utilizes flat sided sliders, rather than conventional round sliders. The second problem — poor small-bump response — results from conventional forks use of bushings that cause stiction (the age-old problem associated with conventional telescopic forks). Here, Cannondale’s HeadShok system incorporates, rather than bushings, small, cylindrical needle (or roller) bearings (four sets of 22 bearings each). According to Cannondale, stiction is virtually eliminated by this design, resulting in a far more responsive fork that is “better at following the contours of the ground, dramatically improving traction and handling”.
Cannondale’s web site references laboratory tests to support its contention that the HeadShok design also results in increased tortional stiffness and sideload stiffness. These characteristics, coupled with HeadShok’s reduced stiction, result in far superior wheel tracking and, thus, handling and cornering. According to Cannondale, HeadShok equipped bicycles steer more precisely than conventionally suspended bicycles.
Why doesn’t the MX400 feature a HeadShok design in its suspension systems. Probably because Cannondale wanted to get the bike to market quickly, and wanted to use the operating machine as a basis for testing its new, motocross-specific suspension designs.
If you doubt Cannondale, and its motocross suspension development partner Ohlins, are working hard at innovative motorcycle suspension designs, simply read Cannondale’s February 18, 2000 press release in which it admits “the two companies [Cannondale and Ohlins] have been working throughout the months since [at least a year ago] developing a proprietary front fork and rear shock absorber for the Cannondale motocrosser”.
Sometimes it takes a relatively small, engineering-driven company to “think outside the box” and move industrial design in a new direction. Decades ago, a young man from Japan named Soichiro Honda had a small company that did precisely this. The motorcycling world better take Cannondale seriously.