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2002 CANNONDALE CANNIBAL

 




When we first rode the Cannondale FX400 last year, we were amazed with the high level of performance the machine provided in stock trim. Over the following months it became evident that the machine had issues that needed to be addressed.
Two problems quickly rose to the surface—the first being the sticker-shock price of nearly $8000, and the second being a less-than-friendly, somewhat twitchy front-end design. Later, reliability issues made themselves known, and recalls from the factory set a somber tone. In spite of the nagging problems with the machine, all it took was one ride on it to know that Cannondale was really on to something.
So now here we are, it’s 2002 and Cannondale is back with a new and improved line of ATVs. The first machine we’ll be testing is the new Cannibal. For those of you not familiar with the Cannibal, it is Cannondale’s "price-point" model. Despite the price, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a stripped-down version of the FX400. A few corners have been cut in an effort to keep costs down, but you may be surprised at the amount of improvements that have been made.

QUESTION ONE: HAS THE FRONT END BEEN FIXED?
Yes. Probably our most serious complaint with the FX400 was with its sketchy steering. The front-end geometry provided the machine with an unstable feeling at all speeds except at idle. All it took was a handful of throttle through a whoop section to make you hold on to the bars tighter than G.I. Joe with his Kung-Fu grip. The Cannibal has no such bad traits.
While the changes made to the front end aren’t drastic ones, the end result is greatly improved steering. Updated ball joints and steering tie rods increase the suspension’s range of motion, and new and improved spindles are found up front.
Two changes that seemed to have made the biggest difference, though, are the updated A-arm bushings that help smooth out the front end, and a revised steering column geometry that mounts the ties rods closer to the steering axis on the column. The end result is that you get a machine with much smoother and more linear steering.

QUESTION TWO: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ’01 FX400 AND THE ’02 CANNIBAL?
You have a few minutes? Aside from the front-end fixes we stated previously, there are quite a few noteworthy changes, steel-body shocks will now be included on the Cannibal in place of the high-end Ohlins. The amount of travel will remain the same, but the shocks have been re-valved to work with the new, improved bushings (there is less stiction with the new bushings). This helps give the suspension smoother action throughout the range of travel.
• It took Cannondale some time to find a good replacement shock for the Ohlins, so early versions of the Cannibal shipped with the more expensive Ohlins for the same list price. So if you’re looking for a bargain, pick up an early model.
• The Cannibal is equipped with a new MC1000 ECU (the engine’s computer brain) along with GP Control’s fuel management system. The GP Control system allows the user, or your local Cannondale dealer, the ability to toggle between three different fuel/ignition maps. If you purchase the accessory handlebar mounted GP Control system, you can change between the three maps on the fly with the push of a button. An access port on the side of the engine allows you to interface with the GP Control management system via Windows or Palm OS if you have GP’s software. You will even be able to alter the engine map. Be careful if you don’t know what you’re doing—which you probably don’t.
• One big improvement over last year’s model is a revised throttle body plate. Last year the FX400 included a 15-degree throttle body plate that gave the liquid-cooled, high-tech 432cc powerplant a very on/off throttle hit. Many riders felt it hit more like a two-stoke than a four-stroke. This year Cannondale switched over to a five-degree plate that makes the throttle more progressive and smoother. In the end you have much more controllable low-end power without sacrificing any top end. In addition, the MC1000 fuel injection system is now equipped with an idle air bypass that re-routes air for better cold starting.
• A Magura hydraulic clutch is used on the Cannibal. The benefit of a hydraulic clutch over a standard unit is improved lever feel along with easier lever pull, and there is less maintenance involved with a hydraulic unit. In addition, Cannondale has also improved other areas in the drivetrain. Higher-rate clutch springs provide longer life and better feel, and new steel plates last longer than their predecessors.
• The engine is basically the same as last year’s powerhouse, with some minor improvements. There is now increased oil flow to the main crankshaft bearing which will help provide added longevity. In the head, higher-rate valve springs allow less valve float at higher rpm, while sintered iron valve seats add increased durability. A magnesium engine cover and a magnesium head/valve cover help to lower overall weight.
• Two service friendly items have been added as well—an externally replaceable right main bearing seal, and a crankcase oil level window can now be found on the side of the engine case.
• The transmission has been updated slightly as well. There are now closer tolerances between the gears that help reduce tranny noise. Previous Cannondale owners complained of a "whining" tranny condition, and this should address that situation.
• Other improvements include new softer seat foam with a more ergonomic shape, and injection molded plastic is now used throughout, including the fender hood, knee guards, and foot basket. A total of five pounds has been shaved off the already featherweight machine just by using the injection molding process. In addition, new and improved abrasion-resistant graphics are used on the plastic. In case you haven’t noticed, the new Cannibal is shod in red plastic, whereas the other models in the line come with light gray plastic.
• The Cannibal is equipped with steel handlebars in place of aluminum, and Cannondale will be selling the machine with some type of radial tire that has yet to be determined. As with the shocks, the early Cannibals shipped with the more expensive ITP tires, so start looking around for the early models.

QUESTION THREE: HOW MUCH LESS IS THE CANNIBAL THAN THE FX400?
The new and improved Cannibal is cheaper by $1000. The FX400 has a list price of $7995, compared to the Cannibal’s $6995 tariff. That’s $1296 more than the Honda Sportrax 400EX and $496 above the price of the Yamaha Raptor 660R. This price reduction puts Cannondale back in the ballpark, and with the many improvements made, it makes it a much more attractive buy than its predecessor.

QUESTION FOUR: DOES THE CANNIBAL FEEL LIKE A STRIPPED-DOWN MODEL?
Not at all. As a matter of fact, the improvements made from the original FX400 to the Cannibal more than make up for any cost cutting. The only significant changes made in the savings department are the inclusion of the low-tech shocks, the steel handlebars, and the non-radial tires. If you look at all the improvements done to the machine, though, it’s quite easy to overlook the "downgraded" equipment.

QUESTION FIVE: HOW DOES IT JUMP?
Very well. The Cannibal is very neutral in mid-air, and thanks to its relative low weight, it’s actually very easy to control. Any time we came up short on a tabletop or set of doubles, the Cannibal’s suspension soaked up the jarring hits well. Thanks to its fast-revving four-stroke engine, if the nose is pointed down off a jump, a quick stab at the throttle helps bring it back skyward.

QUESTION SIX: HOW DOES IT TURN?
In comparison to the FX400, the new Cannibal is vastly improved in the steering department. Gone is the unpredictability, and in its place is a smoother, more progressive steering feel. One complaint we had with the FX400 was that when we were riding hard and the terrain got rough, or whooped-out, we didn’t like how quickly it went from terrific to terrifying. The fixes Cannondale made to the front end really make a big difference in both performance and predictability.

QUESTION SEVEN: HOW USEFUL IS THE GP CONTROL SYSTEM?
More than you might think. One of the machines we rode was equipped with the GP Control system, and toggling through the three different engine maps on the fly was an interesting experience. If you’re smart enough to pick the right engine map to best suit changing track or terrain conditions, you can effectively alter the engine’s characteristics to your advantage.

QUESTION EIGHT: HOW FAST IS THE MOTOR?
Fast enough. It was already on a par with a Raptor 660R, and that’s with only 432cc. The ability to adjust the shape of the powerband makes it an even more effective weapon.

QUESTION NINE: HOW MUCH DID WE RIDE IT?
Not enough. Although we put in about 100 laps at Los Angeles County Raceway, Cannondale still hasn’t handed over a quad to us for unlimited testing. Until that happens, our jury is still out.

QUESTION TEN: WHAT IS OUR FINAL ANSWER?
We hate to use the phrase "night and day better" to describe the Cannibal because it sounds so cliché, but the new machine is very close to making that statement completely accurate.

WHAT DO THE TOP RIDERS THINK?
l For the testing of the machine, the staff of ATV Action shredded the Cannibal, plus we brought along last year’s Pikes Peak winner Bobby Parr to put in a little seat time. Also out there doing some testing on his own was GNC Pro rider Kory Ellis. We sat down with both riders after the session and compared notes. Here’s what they had to say about the machine.
Pikes Peak Winner Bobby Parr. "I was really impressed with the machine. I jumped on one of the Speed versions with the Ohlins and then jumped back to the Cannibal with the non-adjustable shocks and I was surprised to see that the suspension doesn’t feel too compromised. The only place I noticed where it might need some work is when I was jumping over the double-double section. When I hit the second set of doubles, it seemed like the rear shock would rebound a little too fast and it would want to pitch the rear-end of quad up in the air a bit. Other than that, I liked riding it better than the Speed (the next version up). The suspension is softer on the Cannibal; that makes it handle better in the turns. In comparison, the Speed felt more rigid and it felt more tippy in the turns.
"The engine runs really strong. Other than getting used to the unusual noises it makes, it accelerated really well. It has enough low-end power to do those short double-double sections with ease. I found myself short-shifting the machine quite a bit due to the strong low-end—it really pulled out of the turns very hard. And on the long back straightaway, it surprised me by how it got up to top speed so fast.
"The things I didn’t like were pretty minor. The handlebars felt like they were placed a little tall and the plastic around the fuel tank area felt a little too wide—it was beating up my knees a bit. I just wasn’t used to the width of the machine. Other than that, I enjoyed putting in laps on it and think it’s a very competitive quad."
GNC Pro Rider Kory Ellis. "I think the Cannibal’s a really great quad. I think it’s better than a Raptor or a 400EX, actually. It handles better than anything out there, and the Cannibal is faster than anything in stock form. It is more comfortable to ride, in my opinion. Everything about it feels better to me. In stock form, it’s a better bike to start with if you plan on racing—you don’t have to really modify it like you have to with the other quads out there.
"Powerwise, it hangs with modified 250Rs and 330s. The engine is a little loud, but there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s just the way the Cannondale sounds. On the track it handles really well. It’s like riding a modified 400EX, only it has more power. I found that it’s really predictable in the air when jumping. Overall, I think it’s the best sport quad out there right now."
Kory will be campaigning a Cannibal sponsored by a Cannondale dealership in the 2002 GNC series. l

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WARNING: Much of the action de­pict­­ed in this magazine is potentially dan­gerous. Virtually all of the riders seen in our photos are experienced ex­­perts or professionals. Do not at­tempt to duplicate any stunts that are be­­yond your own capabilities. Always wear the appropriate safety gear.
Copyright 2012 Hi-Torque Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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