Firstly, as an update from this first post, and after 3 years of MX400 ownership, things have moved on a bit, so don’t forget to click the Cannondale MX400 tab in the menu to enjoy my full journey to date when you’ve read this first one below👍
Back to 2020 now: As an individual, I’m actually happy to get off the ‘mainstream train’ at ‘Quirky Station’ and either do, or have something, that’s just a little bit different to everyone else. I’m certainly not on my own here either. I have bought and sold bikes just because they ‘were’ mainstream, and here’s a recent example. The range of trials bikes that Yamaha used to make carried the ‘TY’ name and went from a 50cc engine to a 250cc engine. However, the UK did not get the 125cc version. I found a really good one in Switzerland with unused toolkit as well, and imported and registered it in the UK. It sold ‘well fast’ and to someone who had the full range of TYs except, guess what? A 125cc. Whilst the little Yamaha was a great bike, it was too mainstream for me to keep. I like a bit of ‘quirky’ every now and again. If you’ve ever read my stuff on the sister-cycling blog to this one, you’ll know that I like quirky. And Cannondales!
‘If’, and hypothetically, I was in a Moto-confessions box, I would be asking for forgiveness for buying a motorcycle that a lot of the hardcore Moto-X community would class as a ‘no-hoper’, pure junk AND which should have been made better in the first place. A lot better. I would expect as a judgement, some serious penance. Maybe.
I’m not an expert level Moto-X racer. I’m pretty average at it. That is, when I last raced in a competitive event, sometime towards the end of the last century, I was pretty average at it. Here’s the scene; The weather is fine and dry. It is a Sunday. The location is North Wales, UK. I am riding a 1979 Honda 250 Red Rocket. Everyone else is riding bikes that are ten years-ish younger. The bike passes scrutineering. However, as I head to the start line for my race, there is an issue with the bracket that holds the clutch cable onto the engine. In short, I have no clutch. I push the bike to the start line and get bar-to-bar with the two riders alongside me. There are about 30 riders in the race. My only hope when the start tape is raised is to rev the bike, bang it gear, and hope. I do all of these things and get to the first corner well before anyone else. This is the first time I’ve ever had the ‘hole-shot’, in anything. I am surprised, and so is every other rider who suddenly thinks there’s a seasoned professional in the race who’s going to kick their asses/bottoms/arses on an old bike. Half of the surprised, and now very focussed pack pass me by the second corner and then I spend the rest of the race in a ‘mid pack, average placing’. In summary, I’m of average rider skill and like quirky bikes. BTW, that Honda was perfect without a clutch, although the gear lever did nearly wear through my boot after 20 laps.
Anyway, and more recently………I got off the ‘mainstream train’ at ‘quirky station’ on the North East coast of the UK where there was a year 2001 first generation, Cannondale MX400 for sale, which only 335 were ever made, and most have been sent to the crusher by now. I love these bikes and I’d even committed to buy it before I’d seen it. The seller, Steve, had two of these unusual Cannondale bikes, the other one being the second generation X440 type, and he needed ‘shed space’ so was selling one of them. In total, Cannondale only managed to produce 1728 of the 440 motorcycle before ‘it all went horribly wrong’ for them, and less than 20 ever made it to the U.K. Steve’s advert for the bike had enough information and images for me to commit to the deal.
My wife said “what are you going to do with it?”. I replied with “I’m keeping it and going to ride it. For now at least”.
The bike’s location was in a town on the sea front, so my wife and I jumped in the van, drove north and spent a few hours on the beach prior to collecting the bike, looking for glass. Sounds a bit weird doesn’t it? However, there’s a story behind it. There was a very big glassworks in this town and they used to dump all of the reject glassware out in the North Sea. However, many decades later, the glass gets washed up on the pebble beach as small, colourful bead-sized objects that have been polished smooth by the sea. When we got to the very long beach, we were greeted by the spectacle of seeing people walking very slowly and staring at the sand and pebbles, or people sitting down and filtering through the sand and pebbles. They were all looking for glass. Some people had little bags which obviously held their prized hoard. Everybody gave each other space on the beach, and not COVID-19 related space either. It was like the beach was full of dectectorists who were using their eyes and fingers instead of metal detector technology. Needless to say, we got into the game. It is very relaxing and challenging, and crucially, we came away with some small fragments of glass for our new, emerging sea glass collection.
We arrive at Steve’s place. Steve is the owner and seller of the Cannondale. We greet COVID-style and head off round the back of Steve’s house. Steve is the owner of two sheds. One has my future Cannondale in it and the other is a magnificent wooden shed with green peeling paint. I complement Steve on his soulful shed and he explains its fascinating history to me, and then opens the door to show me inside. Steve, like any shed owner, looks proud of his shed and it’s contents. He holds the door open and I walk in. The place is amazing inside, and packed with interesting Moto stuff. I look beyond a Yamaha Moto-X bike under restoration to see a magnificent, Italian superbike behind it. Steve gives me the low-down on the bikes in there. Someone else’s shed is always very interesting isn’t it.
Eventually, we move to the other shed to reveal the reason for my visit. The Cannondale is at the entrance and I notice that there are lots of other bikes under covers, but try to focus on what I’ve come to collect. The bike looks like it did in the photos and Steve talks me round it and the spares that he’s included in the deal. Steve provides an apology as the electric starter that he’d recently renovated with a new clutch, now wasn’t starting. He demonstrated this and we listened to a spinning starter motor and no engine noise. I’m a little bit disappointed, but Steve indicates where the issue is, and offers to knock some cash off the price, so we had agreed. The deal is done and we collectively put the bike in the van. Steve recommended a specialist Cannondale MX company in the USA (the country where my new acquisition was originally manufactured) called Black Widow ATV (link in sidebar) for parts sourcing, and the person who is the global guru in these bikes. We bid each other goodbye and the van is pointed south and homeward.
There’s a great story behind these (potentially) groundbreaking Cannondale MX400 bikes and if you don’t know it already, just watch the YouTube feature by 999Lazer on it (Link below). This post isn’t for telling the life story of my bike. However, it is about why I bought it. Firstly, my bike is from the first production batch and made in early 2001. Secondly, it doesn’t appear to have had a hard life or clocked up many Moto hours. Thirdly, I just love the product design principles that Cannondale took with this bike, which appeared to be; question everything, predict and invent the future, push the boundaries of performance, and sell a lot!
However, there are a number of design contradictions. The whole cassette gearbox slides out with the removal of a few bolts for easy access on race day. Great! Removing a simple thing like the battery requires a whole journey into the depths of the bike. The seat, side panels, radiator shrouds and petrol tank all have to be removed. Not great, especially as the battery is well known to run out of power trying to start the bike. To countermeasure this issue, there is even a ‘live bolt’ to jump start the bike when the battery is flat! I’ve added a trickle charger cable to it so that I can leave the battery where it is down in the depths of the bike and charge it easily.
I’m pretty sure that the exhaust pipe is tuned solely for loudness and not power. That design criteria of ‘keep it compact’ has the cylinder reversed so that the exhaust goes straight out the back. However, the header pipes are too short and not really designed for a ‘tuned exhaust length’. It’s bloody loud and the header pipe is also routed a bit close to the plastic battery box as well, which has seen some mild re-moulding due to the heat.
The electric starter issue has led me to the global guru of Cannondale engine mastery, Ken at http://www.blackwidow-ok.com I soon learn that the part that has failed is the one part associated with the starter motor and its clutch that sits waaaaaaaaaay down in the depths of the crankcase, and as it turns out, is not so simple to replace without some engine work. I’m considering options on this fix, so I’ll be bump starting the bike until it’s sorted.
Since I’ve had the bike, it’s had a thorough clean, check over and some cosmetic touches like new stickers (or decals dependant where you come from) and I think it looks really great. When Steve advertised the bike, it had a mass of interest from people who probably are the few ‘mainstreamers’ that want a quirky bike, but stopped in the purchase process just after enquiring and before buying. This is common with things that are a bit unique, have an interesting story to them, and may be classed as a bit quirky. The mass market does like mass market products. I, on the other hand, appreciate something that has a soulful story to it, is architecturally significant, and is a design classic, even if it doesn’t start how it should.
As a previous Ducati owner, I know the highs and lows of owning a sexy bike that doesn’t always do what it should and when it should, and this Cannondale falls into the same category. So, if I’m going to keep it, what am I going to do with it? Race it? Just polish it in the shed? Take it to shows? The answer is on two levels. Firstly, I want to get it working as it should, so that means I have to research it, learn about it and fix or update it. This is the type of shed challenge that is perfect as I don’t have to rely on the bike to get me to work or to go out on to collect the weekly bread order. The second level is, I’m going to do some form of (very mild) competition on it, like a local hill climb for example. Just the thought of it deafening the watching crowd as it tears up a big hill is exciting.
This brings me to the sound that this bike makes. I wear a helmet which is one of the more sound-proofed on the market. However, the noise of this bike finds its way into my brain and bones. It’s an experience, and it goes like this;
1. Engine fires and the first noise is from the air being sucked into the air filter behind the front number board and then through the frame to the engine.
2. All of the moving stuff in the top of the engine gets going and sounds really angry that they’ve all been woken up with a thrashing. Even though it’s water-cooled, it’s noisy.
3. The silencer on the end of the short exhaust pipe, doesn’t.
4. When accelerating through the gears, the above orchestra gets synchronised and the noise is both loud and exciting. The sound is unique and I like it, a lot.
At this point, you’re either convinced that I’m a bit weird and have bought a piece of non-mainstream MX junk, or your excited for me even though you wouldn’t have bought it, or you now want one as well, and will start looking for one. Except, there aren’t so many around. Cannondale only ever made 1717 of these bikes, so they have exclusivity. Nice huh?
I’m not sure a bicycle company will ever try to build a world-beating MX bike ever again, so I think I have really got off the mainstream train, changed platform to get on the quirky, exciting train, and onto somewhere in a different direction. Watch this space for more MX400 news and progress……..
All photos by the Author.
Link to the 999Lazer video on my bike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGeesNlaKA8