Canadian company Cannondale always did things differently. In the early days of mountain bikes, their bikes were definitely outliers, featuring weird wheel size combos and huge aluminum tubes. And later, with the advent of suspension, they continued to be weird, making head tube mounted shocks and one sided forks.
Of course, they’re not really Canadian. They were one of the first American East coast mountain bike builders, headquartered in Connecticut. After going bankrupt in 2003, they eventually fell to the Quebec-based Dorel Industries, who also own Schwinn, Mongoose, and GT.
They are definitely important in the vintage scene, their unusual approach to bikes making them popular and cool.
Here’s the kind of crazy that Cannondale started with. 26″ front wheel, 24″ rear wheel, fat aluminum tubes, rollercam brakes. I read somewhere that the theory was; small rear wheel = short chainstays = more traction. Except these chainstays look crazily long. They could easily be 2″ shorter. I expect it would handle like junk though if you shortened them that much. I looks like an overgrown BMX bike.
By the early 90’s, the mismatched wheels were gone, and Cannondales got sexy. The Omega was an ahead of it’s time bike, sold from the factory as a customized bike with Cook Bros, Grafton, and Mavic parts. Finding one today with the original parts would be quite an accomplishment.
The weirdness never fully left the lineup though. Right through the late 90’s, you could buy a short, steep, high bottom bracket forest shredder called Beast of the East. A highly focused bike to be sure, but a cool one.
When it was time to get with suspension, they kept it weird with the Headshok. The shock was housed in the headtude of the frame in an attempt to avoid the flexiness of telescopic forks everyone else was using. It should have provided for much more precise steering.
However, it meant you were stuck with Cannondale’s stem options, as the headtube was now 1.5 inches. It also pushed the front end of the bike up a lot. Not good for racers. I don’t think the Headshok ever went beyond 80mm either, because 100mm just pushed up the front end too much.
Cannondale continued to make with the weird as they moved out of the vintage era. They made their own disc brakes – which were not good – the Headshok was replaced by the Lefty “fork,” they developed an electronic lockout for suspension, there was the Scalpel full suspension bike with no pivot, they designed oversize pressfit bottom brackets, and on and on.
And finally, The Beast of the East lives on. Reborn last year as a 27.5+ bike, and it looks like a good bike.