CANNONDALE QUADS

History of America's revolutionary performance quad

— From the beginning until today —

 By the staff of Dirt Wheels: 

The Cannondale was an American-made quad that had all of the latest high-tech features incorporated into its design. This is what it looked like after ATK took over Cannondale’s inventory.

When it comes to fast street bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs and UTVs, the United States has always been the country to have sold the most machines. It was American riders and mechanics who developed and improved these machines; however, they were made somewhere else. This caused everyone to wonder, “Hey, how come there isn’t an American manufacturer building the high-performance vehicles we want?” Cannondale wondered about that, too, so they boldly set out to be that company, using the latest in American technology and ingenuity.

Cannondale made its fame from building mountain bikes here in the USA, and they were one of the top brands in the bicycling world. Around the late 1990s rumor had it that they were going to take their expertise into the dirt bike and ATV categories as well. We all applauded Cannondale and looked forward to finally having an American company build the kind of machines we were used to buying from Japan.

The whole world took notice when the all-new Cannondale FX400 first appeared on the front cover of our May 2000 issue.

GETTING STARTED

The engineering and development of these high-tech dirt bikes and quads took longer than one might expect, based on so many new ideas being mixed into the design. After starting with a Folan engine, Cannondale decided to design their own. The single-cylinder engine was set to have four valves operated by dual overhead cams, which certainly wasn’t unusual for a high-revving performance engine, but Cannondale wanted to go strictly with fuel injection, which was uncommon for dirt bikes and quads. Another first was turning the head around to have the intake in front and the exhaust in the rear.

One of the top Cannondale quad enthusiasts is D.J. Stander in Iowa. Here is his current collection lined up in order and proudly posing for a photo.

Along with new innovations in the engine, the frame being made of aluminum was another first for the off-road world too. Since Cannondale bicycles were known for their strong, lightweight aluminum frames, they naturally wanted to continue that philosophy with their motor vehicles as well. So, with all of the new things being molded together into one package, you can imagine the amount of engineering and testing that was required to make sure it all worked. Perhaps Cannondale underestimated the amount of time that would take, because it seems like their financial planning didn’t go far enough before payments on big loans were being called in.

Here is the two-wheeled version of the Cannondale. It began with some glitches, and as those issues were being worked out, the party suddenly came to an end.

There were investors and lenders who wanted money, and Cannondale had to rush their machines to production and to dealers to get some cash flow. The problem is that the dirt bikes and quads could have used a little more time to work some bugs out. The first arrival of the dirt bikes didn’t get glowing reviews because of handling and suspension issues. The FX400 quad, however, didn’t have those issues. Fast riders had no problem adapting to its turning and carving mannerisms, but the quad’s motor did experience some of the same durability problems that affected the dirt bike’s engine.

There were four models of the 440 that Cannondale offered—the Blaze, Cannibal, Speed and Moto. Here is Gary Godwin’s moto that came with nerf bars for racing.

Cannondale was aware of these problems, and they seemed eager to keep their customers happy by offering recalls and free updates. No matter how much the company struggled to succeed, though, they just couldn’t overcome the money issue. The good news story of the decade came to an end in 2003 when Cannondale filed for bankruptcy. The Dirt Wheels crew was bummed, along with everyone else, that this dream was never able to fully materialize.

Brian Cassatt in California proves that his Cannondale quad is fast and can run up front on a racetrack with the best. It may have Honda 250R plastic, but it’s all Cannondale underneath.

THE STORY CONTINUES

Okay, so what happened after bankruptcy? Well, the good news is that ATK bought the remaining inventory of Cannondale. ATK was a smaller-cottage motorcycle company putting dirt bikes together using other manufacturers’ engines. They became the source for any parts that the 8000 Cannondale owners might need. Not only that, but ATK pinpointed the reliability problems and offered update kits to cure them.

Is this a back room at the Smithsonian Museum? No, it’s how D.J. Stander gets his prized collection of classic Cannondales to fit in his garage.

The original Cannondale 440 engines were known to vibrate, and ATK offered a new crankshaft that was better balanced and held together well. The original piston had a short lifespan, but the new ATK piston was stronger and lasted three times longer. The original gearbox had too big of a gap between fourth and fifth gears, and ATK offered new gears with closer spacing. The original clutch hub made a lot of noise, and ATK’s new one fixed that. ATK also sold new linkages to make the transmission shift smoother.

Without the plastic bodywork, you get a clearer picture of the aluminum frame’s anatomy and the intake on the front side of the engine. These belong to J.T. Frank, with one of them having a 495cc big-bore stroker kit modified by engine builder Tim Matczak.

Many of the original Cannondale owners had complaints about hard starting and erratic throttle response at low revs. That was traced to the fuel injection, and ATK’s remapping of the ECU cured that problem.

If you’re looking to restore and hold on to a classic quad, the Cannondale would be a good one to search for. It’s only going to increase in value. John Mullen has no plans to sell his Cannibal 440 here any time soon.

It was the May 2000 issue of Dirt Wheels when the first Cannondale quad appeared on our cover, and it was a hot topic for only three years. Today, 18 years later, you may still occasionally see these machines out on the trail. The main reason why is that there are many enthusiasts who make it a point to keep this part of ATV history alive. It’s truly a hall-of-fame quad based on the significant contributions it made to ATV’s high-performance ideology. You can say it was the machine that sparked Yamaha and Honda to come out with their 450 quads, which triggered other manufacturers to do the same.

Back in the 2000-to-2003 era you would regularly see Cannondale quads at the racetrack. As a new machine, it took some time for racers and mechanics to make it reach its full potential.

FOR MORE INFO

Don’t be gun-shy if you see a used Cannondale 440 quad for sale. Yes, it may require some more effort and money to bring up to par than a Japanese machine, but the resources are there to make it possible. For general information that Cannondale owners share, go to
www.cannondaleriders.com.

For Cannondale parts, accessories and an engine exchange program, a good place to check out is www.blackwidow-ok.com.

For Cannondale parts, owner’s manual, parts manual and service manual, go to http://atkusa.com/parts/atk-cannondale/.

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