Two of the grandest names in Mountain biking are Cannondale and Trek. Both companies are renowned for producing high-end bikes that are at the cutting edge of mountain bike technology.
If you are looking for a new mountain bike and have narrowed it down to these two companies, then well done, you are already well on your way to purchasing a fantastic bike. But from this point on the choice can be difficult. Cannondale v Trek mountain bikes is a comparison that many top mountain bikers have faced over the years and there is no right or wrong answer, both companies are at the very top of their game.
This article aims to help guide you towards making the right selection to find the bike that exactly fits your needs.
In the first section, I will look at the history of the two companies, then do a comparison of some of the most popular bikes that they produce.
Let’s start with an interesting fact – Cannondale was founded in 1971, not as a bicycle manufacturer, but as a manufacturer of precast concrete housing.
Joe Montgomery and Murdock MacGregor, the men behind the company, were both innovators in whatever field they turned their attention to. Later, when they were joined by Ron Davis, a like-minded inventor, they turned their skills to developing several revolutionary products, including air-conditioners and an internal combustion engine fueled by ammonia.
Even the company’s venture into the bicycling market wasn’t straightforward, its first product wasn’t a bike, but a lightweight bicycle bag that took the market by storm. This eventually led them to bicycle manufacture, and how! Once it had turned its innovative skills to the cycling market, the company never looked back.
Since then, Cannondale has produced high-end bikes that are innovative both in design features and the materials used, becoming pioneers in the use of carbon fiber to produce ultra-lightweight bikes.
These days the bikes are manufactured in China, although the quality and design ethos hasn’t changed and their bikes are still regarded as being amongst the best in the world.
Although best known for its mountain bikes the company manufacturers a wide range of bikes including road bikes, kids bikes, and electric bikes.
Despite producing high-end mountain bikes that retail around $13,000, the company also produces mountain bikes to suit every budget from $600 upwards.
Trek Mountain Bikes
Trek was formed in 1975 by Dick Burke and Bevil Hogg and immediately the company targeted the high-end of the steel touring-frame market. Despite having taken a more traditional route to become a bicycle manufacturer, the company was instilled with the same innovative ethos as Cannondale.
Trek bikes went onto win the Tour de France 7 times amongst numerous other professional cycling trophies and were once bike supplier to the now-disgraced Lance Armstrong.
From concentrating solely on high-quality steel frames, the company soon diversified into producing aluminum and carbon fiber frames. Although the company had dabbled in the mountain bike market, it wasn’t until 1993 when they acquired Gary Fisher Mountain Bikes that it really began to make its mark on the discipline.
Gary Fisher was one of the original inventors of the sport and one of the best-known names in the fledgling sport. With the acquisition of this company Trek instantly became one of the big names in Mountain Biking.
Similar to Cannondale, most Trek bikes are now manufactured abroad, primarily in the Netherlands, Germany, and China. Since 2010, Trek has also been concentrating on making its product eco-friendly through several manufacturing and recycling innovations.
Trek currently manufactures a huge range of mountain bikes with a price range that matches that of Cannondale, ranging from around the $600 mark up to around $13,000.
Cannondale vs. Trek – The Bikes: Head-to-Head
I have been lucky enough to own bikes from both manufacturers in my time, and I would struggle to pick a winner! Much of it’s going to come down to personal preference and what features you put importance on. But that’s what we are here to do, so let’s give it a shot.
To be fair to both manufacturers we are going to compare equally priced models that cost around $1,000. This price range is great for beginners and intermediate cyclists who are still struggling to decide which is the best option for them.
Cannondale Trail 5
A great bike for everything from mountain trails to the work commute.
- Alloy Frame
- Shimano Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- Suntour XCM front fork with 100mm travel
- 29” Wheels
- Micro-suspension built into the rear triangle
The Cannondale Trail 5 is one of the best bikes on the market for those wanting to get started in the sport. Despite being one of the lowest-priced of Cannondale’s mountain bike range, it is still crammed full of innovative design and quality components.
The bike is designed to be as comfortable on the road as it is on the roughest downhill trails. The Suntour suspension fork and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes combine to give you superb control on downhill runs aided by the groundbreaking rear triangle which is designed to act as a micro-suspension for the rear of the bike.
Take the bike on the road and it performs as well as some road bikes that cost twice the money. The gears are seamless thanks to the microShift rear derailleur and shifters, and the Prowheel Charm 30T crank.
Lookswise, the bike is understated and simple, yet there is still a beauty underlying this simplicity. I think it looks like a stunning bike whose pedigree shines through.
Cannondale Trail 5 Pros and Cons
- High-quality components
- Great geometry
- Hydraulic brakes
- Great suspension
- A single small front ring inhibits speed on flat runs
- Some people have said it looks unremarkable
Trek Marlin 7
Another bike that is versatile enough to be used as an everyday commute.
- Aluminum alloy frame
- RockShox front fork 100mm
- Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes
- 30lbs weight (medium-sized bike)
- Rack mounts
These two bikes symbolize the problem that many riders have when selecting between Cannondale and Trek bikes. The two bikes are so similarly specced that it becomes difficult to differentiate between them.
The Trek Marlin 7 is another bike that is equally at home on the road or the mountain trails.
For road work the RockShox suspension locks, helping to increase pedaling efficiency, it also has rack mounts for longer road trips and commuting.
On the trails, the RockShox suspension with 100mm travel levels out the roughest of trails, and the Shimano hydraulic brakes give you all the stopping power you could ever want. The Drivetrain is more than competent too, FSA Alpha Drive cranks and a Shimano derailleur make sure the power is delivered smoothly and the gear changes are seamless.
When it comes to looks, the Cannondale Trail 5 (in my eyes) had an underlying beauty. But I think the Marlin 7 is simply stunning, in particular, the “marigold to radioactive red” fade color scheme is a delight to the eyes.
Trek Marlin 7 Pros and Cons
- Highly versatile
- Trek lifetime warranty
- Kickstand and rack mounts
- Hydraulic disc brakes
- Lightweight design
- Small front ring
- No rear suspension
Cannondale vs. Trek – The conclusion
Okay, so time to put my money where my mouth is and choose a winner. There is so little to choose between the models that this isn’t the easiest of tasks and ultimately the choice is going to rely on the slenderest of margins.
These are both models that contain technology, design, and equipment features that a few short years ago would have meant spending thousands of dollars to get bikes of this quality. Both bikes are fantastic for beginner and intermediate level riders, and both double as more than capable road bikes.
So, how do I choose a winner? As I say the slenderest of margins will sway the call. Even the looks of the bikes are factors worth considering. The Cannondale Trail 5 has an understated appearance that some will find boring, whereas the Marlin 7 I think is simply stunning, in this category the Trek bike is the winner.
However, I am not usually one to call things by how they look, some of my best bikes have been as ugly as sin, and yet I loved them. So, I will discard that as the deciding factor.
Where does that leave us? Both bikes could have come out of the same design meeting, but for me, one feature on the Cannondale Trail 5 means that I will ultimately pick the Trail 5 as the outright winner. It is the micro-suspension incorporated into the rear triangle, whilst it isn’t suspension in the commonly understood term of the word, it does give it the slightest of edges over the Trek Marlin 7.
But I am nit-picking, these are both fantastic bikes from amazing companies who have done much to improve the sport of mountain biking.
What about the competition?
I have heard many riders discuss the Cannondale v Trek topic as if these are the only two bike brands on the market. So, I’m going to chuck in a wildcard and see what a thousand bucks gets you from a different manufacturer.
Royce Union RHT Lightweight Mountain Bike
A highly-specced and underrated mountain bike.
- 29” wheels
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
- 22-speed Shimano drivetrain
- Suntour XCT front fork with 100mm travel
- Lightweight aluminum frame
The Royce Union RHT Mountain Bike deserves its place at this table. This is another bike that is rugged enough to hit the trails, yet with a performance that is refined enough that it is also comfortable as a road bike.
Built around a lightweight aluminum frame, the bike features all-round hydraulic disc brakes a Suntour suspension fork, and a Shimano SLX drivetrain with an alloy 3-piece crank. The wheels are WTB Alloy rims with quick-release hubs on both the front and rear.
The brakes and suspension system are designed to provide precise control on the trickiest of descents, but the bike is also engineered to perform perfectly as an everyday runaround.
Royce Union is no “new kid on the block” either, they have been manufacturing quality bikes since 1904, and whilst they aren’t as well known as being the innovators that Trek and Cannondale are, this long heritage means they certainly know how to make bikes.
They made not have the reputation within the sport that Cannondale and Trek offer, but Royce Union RHT Lightweight mountain bike deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as its more famous cousins. This one is one of the best mountain bikes under $500.
Royce Union RHT Lightweight Mountain Bike Pros and Cons
- High-quality components throughout
- 3-piece alloy crank
- Dual hydraulic brakes
- Great Suspension
- Limited clearance between the pedals and wheel
- Can be difficult to assemble