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Cannondale E440 E440

 A quick ride on the American-made dirt bike

By John "Dirtclod" Schoefield

I'm a sucker for stories like Cannondale.

Like most people, I root for the David's of the world. To this day, I get a craving for a glass of raw eggs every time I hear the theme from Rocky. (The first Rocky, mind you. By the end of Rocky 5, I was hoping in the next sequel the producers would find some way for Rocky to kick his own ass.)

Unfortunately, in the corporate world, the little guys don't slay the giants. You'll usually find them floating face down in some industrial waterway.

That's precisely the reason I find myself rooting for Cannondale. 

After all, they are going up against a market absolutely packed with reliable, high performance dirt bikes. All from companies that are years ahead in R & D and manufacturing know-how.

But bless Cannondale's mulish over-budget heart, they haven't given up.

While I offer my condolences to those who bought the earlier bikes (Please send your flames to: martha.stewart@livingmagazine.com), the new Cannondale requires no qualifier or apology.

They are, without question, a striking motorcycle. Although, how it strikes you is another matter entirely. Its silver, metallic plastic and matching seat cover looks a little Battlestar Galactica to me. But after a while, it went from weird to cool.

Aesthetics aside, there is one thing you can't argue about once you are next to it. The build quality and equipment specification on this E440 is truly impressive. The welds on the twin-spar aluminum frame are works of art. The suspension is Swedish-made, cubic-dollar Ohlins front and back. The handlebars are alloy with a Magura hydraulic clutch and a collection of top-notch switch gear bolted to them. The headlight and taillight are lightweight Acerbis units. The instrumentation is provided by Trail Tech's trick-looking Panoram Enduro Computer.

It's totally "pimp" as the kids say.

I couldn't wait to get started. The bike, on the other hand, could. Between a cold bike, a small, lightweight battery and my room temperature I.Q., I couldn't get the thing to fire up. On the positive side, I was successful in draining the battery. No big deal, right? Just kick the bike over. Well, apparently the engineers were so confident in the electric starter that they didn't put a kick starter on the bike. Neat, I thought, Cannondale might want to start marketing a line of walking shoes to go with the bike because that's how you'll be getting out of the backcountry to civilization. But a small pair of jumper cables and a car battery and the silver beast roared to life with surprisingly loud bark. Once warm and on the trail, it should be noted, it started without fail the rest of the day.

Throw a leg over it and you'll notice two things. First, it's impossibly thin. Karen Carpenter thin. The second is the riding position. It's relaxed, open and tall. Not as high as those Manute Bol of motorcycles, the KTM 640 or XR650L, but definitely up there.

Once you're rolling on the E440, the 432 cc fuel-injected powerplant pulls strong. It features good torque and meaty midsection, and continues to pull strong high into the rev range. The power is definitely in the ballpark of the other high-performance four strokes. 

Overall, handling was excellent. This bike stopped and turned as well as any woods bike I have ridden. The Pro-Action-tuned Ohlins were set up firm for aggressive riding, but their action was very plush. And infinitely adjustable.

Gripes?

The seat. If you want to experience the finest in hardwood furnishings, sit on the E440. Really. Imagine getting your prostate exam at a lumberyard. Okay. I'm exaggerating. Hopefully, someone like SDG or IMS will make a softer replacement. Until then, there will be a lot of riders packing their pants with ice after a long day on this bike. 

The kick stand. A thin, tippy little thing better suited to skewering cocktail franks than holding up a 250lb motorcycle. 

The TrailTech Panoram Computer. This zoot little speedo and trip computer worked for most of the day and then went a little screwy, filling every window of LCD display with the number four.

The price. As you can imagine all that quality stuff doesn't come cheap. 

It's priced in the same ballpark as a good, used space shuttle. Right around $8,000 out the door. 

Overall, there are little nits that pale in comparison to the accomplishment the bike represents. Think about it. A scratch built American motorcycle, that for practical purposes is every bit as good as the Yamaha, Honda and KTM. Those folks in Bedford, Pennsylvania have built something they can be proud of. And with the "Made in USA" on the swing arm, it means we can be proud of it, too.

Cue the Lee Greenwood, please.

See you in the dirt.

Note: The bike owner would like to extend his sincere appreciation to South Sound Cycle in Olympia for their knowledge and their commitment to the Cannondale product line. As we all know, customer support makes all the difference in the world. He would also like to note that it starts much easier since he put in a hotter plug.


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