Razor-sharp as usual on epic rides, the new Scalpel boast a new trail-oriented geometry
As cross-country races become more technically demanding, manufacturers are developing ever more versatile models aimed at merging high-speed cycling prowess with improved technical capabilities. Cannondale, which is known for its verbal creativity in labeling riding styles, call it XXC – cross-country with an “X Factor”. The Scalpel are the standard-bearers of this trend, and demonstrate a relatively “extreme” geometry combined with a relaxed riding position relative to other cross-country models, but without compromising agility, climbing ability, and overall performance. Sounds like an impossible task – hence our great interest in finding out how it actually works in the field. We got to test the “Race” model, one before the top-tier “Black”.
At first glance, this is without a shadow of a doubt a very impressive bike. The sexy carbon chassis, Lefty fork, Hollogram cranks, and black finish with a touch of green, all give this steed seductively good looks. But what draws the eye more than anything else is the super-sexy Enve carbon wheelset. The design maintains the curves of the previous Scalpel model, but the top tube is more delicate and elegant. The link between rear shock and the frame without the spindle also creates a more pleasant appearance.
For this test, I also let a more technical and less epic-oriented rider take the Scalpel out for a ride and give his opinion whether the bike can cater to wider audiences.
Light, stiff Hi-Mod carbon frame
Single pivot suspension with Zero Pivot seatstays offers 100mm of travel
Lefty 2.0 Carbon fork with 55mm offset and hydraulic remote lockout
RockShox Monarch XX rear shock with hydraulic remote lockout
Enve Carbon M50 rims built on DT-Swiss Lefty C-36 hubs
Frame and suspension
The new Scalpel is designed around the same general platform of its predecessors – a seemingly-simple single-pivot suspension producing 100mm of travel, which is controlled by a rocker in charge of the leverage ratio. Up front the Lefty, Cannondale’s flagship fork, provides similar travel. The Race model’s frame is made of the manufacturer’s signature Hi-Mod carbon fiber, which is of higher quality – with denser fabric and lower weight – than the lesser models. The rear triangle is made of flat and flexible seatstays whose function is to sustain the end of the movement that the suspension produces, replacing regular bearings. Similarities aside, the new scalpel is nearly 300 grams lighter than its predecessors – in fact, lighter than its main rivals, the Specialized Epic and Trek Top Fuel.
The renewed model comes with a head-tube angle of 69.5 degrees – one-and-a-half degrees slacker than the previous model – and the top tube has been extended by 0.3 inches. Stems are short on all frame sizes, and chainstays have been shortened from 17.5 inches to 17.2 inches (435mm).
Unlike many other manufacturers, which now use a 148mm-wide rear axle to shorten the chainstays, Cannondale managed to engineer the Scalpel’s especially-short chainstays by creating a generally asymmetric rear triangle which remains 142mm wide. In order to achieve this, the seat tube was shifted significantly to the left, and the chainstays are in an asymmetrical position to allow inward-and-to-the-right entry, in order to maintain a reasonable chain line. This also provides plenty of room to slap on wide tires.
The Scalpel’s figures are entirely modern and taken from the “Long and Slack” approach to mountainbiking, rather than the frugal cross-country standards. All this did not affect the reach of the rider on the bike, because Cannondale, which manufactures its own forks, increased the Lefty’s offset from 50mm to 55mm. Thus, the company’s engineers were able to create a bike which is long and slack, as aforementioned, but with a reasonably short wheelbase and normal reach. Additionally, they also changed the location and structure of the rocker link and rear shock, which now allows inserting a second water bottle into the frame. The cable routing of the new frame is internal, as is today’s standard, with several smart options – including for a dropper seat post, and an integral and very elegant storage spot for Di2 batteries where the shock connects to the top tube. Other important news out of Bradford include 27.5-inch wheels on the size Small using exact same geometry, and three women’s models based on the middle-sized wheel.
Which parts stand out?
The Shimano XTR components worked flawlessly on our test bike. Even the X1 11-speed functioned very well; except for extreme cases of pedaling on fast descents – especially on paved roads – where the lack of a bigger chainring was noticeable, there was no shortage of gears (the bike came with a 32-teeth chainring and a 11-42 cassette). The Scalpel comes with Schwalbe Racing Ralph front tire and the excellent Maxxis Ikon on the rear; both did a good job.
Two spec choices seemed a bit odd to us: the first is the fitting of a non-too-light and rather simple XT cassette on the Scalpel, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of its top-of-the-line spec. Although the requisite XTR cassette currently comes only with a 40-teeth big cog, a “compromise” in the form of a SRAM XX1 cassette, for the sake of appears and also a wider transmission ratio, would have been very welcome both by us and also the paying customers.
The second choice that caused some hesitation, at least for me, was the 760mm-wide handlebars. This is the acceptable width in the world of trail bikes, and is even considered narrow for a modern All-Mountain bike, but is far from trivial for riding cross-country. While the bars did inspire confidence and add maneuverability on twisty singletrack, on long rides on plains, and especially when standing up to suddenly accelerate, they felt too broad – especially with average rider proportions like mine. While it is “heartbreaking” to replace a component in a bicycle designed by the concept of “system integration”, according to which all components complement one another, it seems that in this case I would seriously considering swapping the handlebars, or chopping them down by 20mm.
760mm handlebars proved too wide for a marathon/epic bike for our taste
On the trail
The initial impression we got from the Scalpel Si Race is of a lightweight and stiff ride (10.7 kg for a size Medium with XT pedals), with a slightly more upright sitting position when compared to other competitive XC bikes. This unusual position is caused by the Lefty fork. You can lower the height using a stem with a lower rise, and perhaps by reducing spacers, but the truth is I am used to riding in this position because it gives a significant advantage on the more technical trails. 760mm wide handlebar also adds to the sensation that this bike comes from the trail and All Mountain realms. Despite this tendency, already after the first few kilometers the bike proved to be exceptionally fast. The light weight and stiffness were reflected in the agility and capability for quick accelerations. The rear suspension, which was tuned for approximately 20% sag, was adequately hard but without compromising comfort and excellent pedaling efficiency.
The Scalpel comes equipped with hydraulic shock and fork locks from the handlebar with two modes – locked and open. In the former mode, the suspension locks up completely. However, the suspension proved so efficient that it allows the rider to remain in the open mode almost in all conditions without having to lock the fork and shock. In fact, I engaged the lockout only while riding on asphalt roads. The bike also proved impressively efficient when standing up and accelerating out of the saddle, despite the width of the handlebars dampening the effect.
But you will really start grinning once you point the Scalpel towards the nearby singletrack trail. Here the riding position, excellent suspension, and fantastic agility and responsiveness all come together to truly shine. The combination of excellent climbing ability and stable behavior on turns and descents made us feel like we were riding a much longer travel rig rather than a competitive cross-country racer. On many singletrack trails, I found myself improving Strava times going both up and down. While climbing, the excellent suspension glues the wheel to the ground, and the stable steering allows you to choose good lines and stick to them.
Point the bike downhill and the suspension still works very well. The frame’s lateral stiffness, combined with the Enve wheels, allow you to select and stick to accurate lines and turn with confidence. You’ve probably read a lot about the Lefty fork; here, too, it proved itself to be an excellent fork with exceptional lateral stiffness. The relatively high riding position also instills confidence when going downhill on more technical sections.
Finally, the ability to insert two bottles into the frame is a significant improvement over the previous Scalpel models. On a size Medium frame, I was able to ride easily with two 600ml bottles, though it is best to use a side-opening bottle cage for easier access while inserting and removing them. This may seem like a minor detail, but in reality it is one of the basic requirements of marathon bikes, and the Scalpel finally steps up to Specialized Epic standards with two bottles inside the frame.
And now for the big question – is the Scalpel Si Race also suited for non-marathonists?
A non-epic rider’s perspective – by Erick Feldman
I cannot call myself a cross-country rider and certainly not a marathon man, but I have to admit – I’ve had my eye on the Scalpel series since the beginning of the new millennium. After riding the Scalpel Si Race during the launch event in Italy, I was curious to test the new machine outside Cannondale’s test track and in much less forgiving conditions. I also wanted to see how it holds up against my usual riding style ride, which is more technical than epic endurance riding.
The first thing I did once I took the bike was (despite cries and objections) to install a dropper post. Once upon a time this would have been considered a terrible violation of the XC code, but today Julien Absalon gets on and off his BMC using a KS adjustable seat post, and almost all modern XC frames have an integrated option to install one, it has been much more forgivable and sometimes even acceptable. The Scalpel’s upright position, relatively wide handlebars, and addition of a dropper post make the technical rider feel right at home on the bike, despite its super-efficient and light-weight 100mms.
The sense of speed is not new to the Scalpel; strictly speaking, in terms of speed, pedaling efficiency, and the ability to produce and preserve inertia, the Scalpel bear no great news, except of course in the weight department. The Scalpel is and remains a fast and efficient bike even when the shocks are fully open. But in terms of technical capabilities – the reason for which I was called to write this paragraph – the new Scalpel is big news indeed! During my test ride, I tried to challenge it on most available technical sections a non-marathoner rider can find: tight, quick turns on speedy singletrack, rock gardens, drops (not always low, not always with landing on slopes…) and especially fast descents. The sense of euphoria from the launch event in Italy repeated itself even on the dry, loose trails of early August.
The brilliant geometry of the Scalpel, with the extreme head angle, short chainstays, relatively upright position and roomy cockpit feeling bring out technical abilities usually reserved for much larger and slower rigs. The combination of such speed and weight with a relatively big security envelope makes the the Scalpel a crazy, hybrid fun machine – eating up plains and climbs with peak efficiency, and going wild on the downhills.
This part of the test may not represent the designated purpose of the Scalpel (at least not for long), but nevertheless I still did not feel I was truly challenging the bike, both in terms of suspension/fork and in terms of tires. Those not riding/competing in marathon races would benefit from installing a dropper post (100mm travel is more than enough) in order to unleash the Scalpel’s true inner beast.
After about 500 km of riding on diverse terrain on the Scalpel Si Race we can summarize and say the new model does its job in the best possible way. It provides a delicious mix of marathon and trail, while performing like a first class racing machine. The Race model we tested, with almost top-of-the-line wheels and components, certainly stands behind its title and can compete with the best of them at the highest level.
I believe that economic considerations will lead most riders to settle for a less prestigious model, which will include lower-grade wheels and components that will inevitably be a bit simpler and heavier. Note also that the frame in the Race model we tested is made of Hi-mod technology carbon, which comes only on the Carbon 1 or higher models, and is slightly lighter than the frames on lesser models. However, we are convinced that this configuration will retain the Scalpel’s behavior and its performance, and will allow fast and fun times, including competitive riding, for those who choose to purchase it.
|Dimensions:||(size M frame)|
|Head-tube angle:||69.5 degrees|
|Seat-tube angle:||73.5 degrees|
|Chainstay length:||435mm (17.2in)|
|Weight (with XT pedals and sealant):||23.6 Lbs|