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Written: July 7th, 2002
Written by: Ron Golden
Bike: 2003 Cannondale X440
OK, here goes, a short review of the 2003 "dealer demo" that I picked up last month. Let me preface my comments by admitting to a 30 year long preference for 2-strokes and a history of getting in endless jabs at friends with "heavy and hard to start" 4-strokes.
I purchased the bike from an e-bay auction. With Cannondale gone bankrupt and the price of bikes dropping faster than Martha Stewart stock, I thought I'd give one a try, especially at less than ˝ the price of a 450 EXC. (…..Luke….come over to the Dark Side…..)
Didn't have too much time to try it out after I picked it up, other than stopping at a friend's house and ripping around an old corn field for a few minutes. Since none of us had ever seen a Cannondale up close we gave it the "once-over." We all had to admit that the components were top notch and the bike seemed to be well thought out and put together. Everybody drooled over the quick removal seat.
I did have the opportunity to ride Bruce McCrary's 2002 E440 the week before (thanks again Bruce for all your help that weekend!) and was interested to see how the "X" compared. The quick "toot" around the corn stubble revealed an engine that was rough and stumbled in the low RPM's, but pulled strong from probably around 5-6,000 RPM on up. I was amazed at how stable the front end was and how easy it was to do feet up power-slides around the field.
The next week, I took it to a local Hare Scrambles about an hour east of Toronto. The flyer had said "sand and loam" conditions, it should have read "swamp and roots." Although I picked up the "X", it won't be seeing any MX, other than the occasional section of a H-S loop.
The first thing to figure out was the dead engine start. Since this was essentially going to be a "shake-down" cruise, I planned on taking it easy and see how it went. Hit the "ON" switch and "bumped" the green button when the starter's flag went up for the 10 second warning. At the drop of the flag, I hit the starter button and it fired in a couple of revolutions. Dumped the clutch and got off the line about mid-pack. I don't ever expect to get the hole-shot with the e-start, my KTM (200 EXC) would be fired up; clutch dumped and off before the kick start hit the foot peg. Not complaining, mind you, I'll take the e-start any day when I'm stuck on the side of a hill, or "baffed out" part way through an event (which quite often happens!)
Accelerate through the start area, through the ditch then a "switch-back" right hander leading into an immediate uphill. Cracking the throttle open at the base of the hill rewarded me with a coughing engine, that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and an immediate grab for the clutch to pick up the rev's. This would be the trend for the day. Keep it "on the pipe" and it would run just fine, get in the tight woods and it would blubber and stutter. I wondered if this was just the difference between the E and X map, since Bruce's bike didn't exhibit any of this poor performance down low.
I tried to compensate for the low RPM performance by being more careful not to crack the throttle open too fast, carry a bit more speed into corners and liberal use of the clutch exiting corners. There were several wet, rooty, rocky sections which the 'Dale would absolutely leap through if the rev's were kept up. I was amazed at how nimble and precise the front end was for a machine of this size and weight. The suspension, especially the forks just blew me away with how well they sucked up everything from small wet roots to drop offs. I had backed off the compression dampening significantly and the rebound by a few clicks from the MX settings originally on the bike. (The dealer had the suspension re-valved, but I don't know by whom.) If you want THE hot set up for the woods, talk to Bruce McCrary on where he had his forks done. Absolutely the best suspension I've ever tried in my 30 years of riding.
There were a few real bog sections on the loop which got progressively worse as the day went on (see attached ,photo ….No that's not my 'Dale buried up the cases.) Every lap you would find a few poor souls stuck there, tugging against gravity and suction to free their machines and themselves from the muck. I cranked up the throttle, leaned back and prayed that I would not become one of them. The X never let me down, but I pity anyone behind me as spectator's later told me that the "roost" I was sending up was tremendous.
In the end, I managed to finish 7th in my class (Veteran), which is about where I think I would ended up on my KTM. It was the worst event I'd ridden all year, on a bike that wasn't running well. I told one of my buddies afterwards that "if someone had told me a month ago that I'd be ridding this event on a 260 lb 4-stroke, I'd have said they were nuts!" The reality of it is, I can't say that the bike "felt" any heavier than the KTM and there was no doubt that the brute force of the engine had pulled me through stuff that the 200 would have choked on.
Since riding the first event, I've purchased Optimum Control's Maintenance and Diagnostics kit and re-mapped the ECU. Things are way better than they were, but not quite there yet. Just ran another H-S yesterday, which I will try and update everyone on (if there's any interest) plus let people know how the tuning is going.
Want to say in closing that the help and support of people I've received from this site and 'Dale owners in general has been tremendous and makes me confident that I made the right decision to purchase the bike.
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