When did you last see or hear a Raven? I’m not talking about seeing or hearing the 1970s-80s British Heavy Metal band, Raven. This was the band set up by the two Gallagher brothers, and not Noel and Liam from Manchester, UK, who also started the globally successful band, Oasis, a bit later in the 90s, but John and Mark Gallagher from Newcastle, UK. Anyway, this isn’t about the band.
I’m actually talking about the bird that carries the name. If you have ever heard or seen this special bird, it will most likely have been somewhere up in the mountains. The unmistakable ‘cronk, cronk’ call is usually the first evidence that one is around, and then you’ll see one or two of them wheeling around in the sky, or being chased off by smaller birds defending their nests and young ones. These are not urbanites, they like the wide open spaces, or the big mountain ranges or forests.
These black, iridescent shiny birds are represented in many ancient and cultural mythologies. They represent darkness, but also strength and intelligence (FYI – they have the largest brain of any bird). The Raven appears as a symbol on coats of arms, like the Isle of Man, or as the official bird of the Yukon Territory. The kings of Butan in the East Himalayan Region also have a Raven on their crowns. In a place close to my heart, North Wales, in the UK, the ancient god, Bran the Blessed’s name, when translated to English, means Raven.
The Common Raven, or Corvus corax, to quote it’s Latin name, is also known as the Northern Raven, and is a large all-black bird with a big, strong bill or beak. You can find them easily across the Northern Hemisphere, and at maturity, the common raven averages 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and they weigh in at 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds). Because of its size and flight agility, the Raven has few predators. Unusually, ravens will pair up with a mate for life, and defend a large territory of anything up to 70 kilometres. Outside of the breeding season, Ravens behave in a sedentary manner, and often seen soaring and gliding high up in the sky, their silhouette clearly looking distinctively cruciform in shape. They can even live up to 21 years old in the wild.
Ravens are also known for some spectacular, playful, ariel display shows, and even known to lock talons with each other in mid flight. In winter, it is possible to get flocks of up to 50 or 60 in an area where food is plentiful. So, in summary, the Raven is a special bird, which is maybe why Cannondale, back in 1997, christened their groundbreaking, award winning design, aluminium and carbon fibre mountain bike, The Raven. Just like the bird it was named after, Cannondale claimed in their marketing that this bike had a skeleton and a skin that performed different functions, and were created from different materials. So just like the bird it is named after then.
It’s funny what drives the names of bikes, but I think the naming of this bike is easy to understand, especially when you know a bit more about the bird it was named after. The Cannondale Raven was a carbon dream of a bike back in the late 1990s, with a futuristic, bird like look about it, just like a Raven, obviously. What made the Raven special was that its main frame was built around an aluminium ‘spine’ onto which a carbon fibre thermoplastic shell was added. This made it very light in comparison to anything else out there.
However, the competitive advantage Cannondale hoped for with the weight savings started to become the weakness as frames started breaking at a staggering rate, which then led to a full product recall. You have to take into account that this bike was primarily made as a cross-country bike, but in the late 1990s, any full suspension bike was being used to hammer down anything and everything. Downhill or even Freeride bikes hadn’t evolved to what they are today, so the Raven couldn’t take what Cannondale, or its customers, hoped it would take, or been able to predict the sort of stuff riders were taking on. Recalled bikes had frames strengthened and from that point on, consumer confidence was lost a little in the Raven. Some dealers sold them at huge discounts just to get rid of them. However, it is a really great bike, and used the way it was intended, it performs really well, even today.
I found my bike in Switzerland, and it has clearly had an easy life. There are no cracks or evidence of damage to the bike at all. This bike was made in September 1998, so it is a relatively early one. Looking at forums and general information about it, the Cannondale Raven clearly has a global following. Just like all design classics that never quite made it when companies hoped they would, the Raven is starting to become a sought after bike. I haven’t had to do much work on mine apart from a new bottom bracket, new saddle and a good servicing and polishing. However, seeing it standing in the sunshine, something didn’t look quite right. I looked at the original brochure on the vintage cannondale https://vintagecannondale.com website and I saw what was wrong. The tyres. Whilst I had some perfectly good performing tyres on it, they were all black, had a modern day tread pattern and big writing on the side walls. What I needed was something a bit more retro, and which actually did a modern-day-job of gripping as well as looking good.
A few posts ago, I’d had the pleasure of testing some Terra One Rider T1, prototype tyres that look and perform really well on vintage bikes just like my Cannondale Raven, and excitingly, I’ve had a pair sent to me by their designer, Terrance Malone, to test some more. The pair that I now have are different from the pair I originally tested as they have an Aramid puncture protection belt under the tread. (FYI – Aramid is used in bicycle tyres as well as things like ballistic-rated body armour, marine hull reinforcement and as an asbestos substitute. It is a heat resistant, high performance, synthetic fibres product also used in the aerospace industry and the military). The tyres complete the whole Raven look. They do work really well. They are also now available to buy through the Indegogo crowdfunding site here https://igg.me/at/rideterraone
Riding the Raven feels like it’s as slim as it looks. Whilst by modern day standards, the handlebars are very narrow, they do actually work well at guiding the bike (accurately) where you want it to go. Looking down at that aluminium and carbon frame, and seeing the bold Raven logo on the shiny carbon background, it does make you think of the bird that I described a few paragraphs ago. Being an early version of the bike and not the top-of-the-range specification, my bike has rim brakes as apposed to disc brakes. This isn’t an issue as long as you ride within their limitations. Apart from these brakes, everything else works together just fine. The suspension maintains traction and takes out the ferocity of the bumps. I can lock out the front Headshok suspension for fast climbing, so it accelerates super-quick on the hills with those Rider T1 tyres as well.
So, we have a 22 year-old, design classic bike that rides well, with modern day, retro looking Terra One Rider T1 tyres, and named after a striking bird. That sounds like all the perfect ingredients for success. I do wonder though, if in the future, Cannondale will ever bring out another, technologically ground-breaking mountain bike called the Raven…..probably not.
All photos by the Author……and spookily, there were Ravens ‘cronking’ in the woods at the time that these photos were taken.