Cannondale Cannibal 440

Cannodale Cannibal

The smallest manufacturer in the test had its hands full trying to compete with the best the multi-billion-dollar conglomerates put out, but the Cannibal finished right up there. How, you ask? The company cheated.

It simply didn’t use the same rulebook when it built its machines. The Cannibal started with the only aluminum frame, the only fuel injection and Cannondale’s own unique powerplant to drive the whole thing. Impressive stuff from a Pennsylvanian bicycle manufacturer.

Now in its second iteration, the Cannibal actually had performance downgrades in the past year! Shocks were now lower-spec and tires were multipurpose Carlisle Trail Wolves, instead of the Oehlins shocks and ITP tires previously used. In the meantime, Cannondale was working on subtle upgrades to the reliability of all its machines, as it hoped to shed a somewhat tainted image from its beginnings in motorsports.

These things still haunted the psyches of our testers, with many wondering aloud how they could fix a fuel-injected, electronic-ignited, aluminum-framed, unique-engine beast like this one should anything go wrong. The complexity of the Cannibal was daunting to some, compared to the simple motorcycle-based powerplants of the others.

Duning on the Cannibal was best accomplished by experienced big-dune addicts. At 432cc, the motor had to sacrifice some grunt for a top-end rush, but rush it did. Experienced riders had little difficulty keeping the motor in the powerband for the ultimate thrills, but even they occasionally tired of putting so much effort into a ride.

Less accomplished riders simply stalled frequently; a lightweight flywheel conspired with a high-strung motor to cough and die at low rpm in the power-sapping sand. On the up side, both high-speed hillclimbers and surfer boys were satisfied with the Cannibal’s combination of solid handling and high-revving power. Well-damped suspension kept things under control at all times, whether sliding or jumping.

Unlike the Maxxis doughnuts on the Polaris, the Carlisle meat on the Cannibal were not bad in the sand, giving a good combination of bite and slide without digging too much.

Cannondale Cannibal 440
Cannondale Cannibal 440

On the MX track, the Cannibal was at home. It may have a stablemate named the Moto, but despite a more rounded attitude, the Cannibal was the quad to beat on the track. Light handling, perfect suspension damping rates and that same high-strung motor combined to let you know what the Cannibal evolved from.

While the rest of the bunch started life as playthings and got made into competition machines, this quad went the opposite route. The only troubling thing on the track was with all the high-rpm revving we were doing, the Cannibal produced all kinds of interesting engine noises. That said, we never had problems with the powerplant–or anything else–during the test.

While the Predator was the terror of the turns, the Cannibal and Z/KFX were dueling for second. The Cannibal had no equal in the whoops; its light weight, balance and, most of all, its shocks made for the smoothest sailing when the terrain was the roughest. Jumping was the same story; controlled flights and landings meant the consistently best jumps.

Trail riding had a similar split between the aggressive and nonaggressive, with a few more supporters dropping off. The annoying habit to easily stall when not kept in the powerband was especially frustrating in technical trail situations. Still, its good damping was evident on rough patches, as it felt only a bit too tightly wound. Open trail riding was much more the Cannibal’s thing, but it was outjuiced there by the bigger machines like the Predator and DS 650.

Casual riders felt the Cannibal was impractical, given its high-intensity ride and stall-happy motor, while more experienced riders were split on its trail worthiness.

Cannondale Cannibal 440
Cannondale Cannibal 440
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