CANNONDALE SCALPEL SE
Words by Mike Wirth / Gooseworks
Many would argue that building a great cross-country bike is one of the most difficult engineering problems in the cycling world. A proper XC bike must not only be able to handle the rigors of increasingly gnarly cross country trails and racetracks but also shave weight to appease the gram counting converted roadie crowd, all while maintaining enough stiffness that it doesn’t feel like a noodle on the trail. Cannondale’s flagship Scalpel has done exactly that during its nearly two decade run as a formidable XC platform that has influenced modern cross country bike design. This newest version of the Cannondale Scalpel looks to add more than just a low number on the scale and some irrelevant stiffness numbers from lab tests to their catalog. The latest iteration of the Scalpel looks to keep Cannondale and their riders pushing the limits on trails of all kinds, and maybe add a few podium finishes along the way.
The new Cannondale Scalpel comes in several different configurations to cater to specific rider needs. The configuration that caught our eye first is the Scalpel SE, shown here. The bike takes Scalpel’s trail capability and kicks it up a few notches bumping the travel from 100mm (front and rear) to a plush 120mm (front and rear) and slacking out the headtube angle even further. Larger volume 29” tires and a dropper post combine to deliver incredible speed and all-around capability. At just over 1,900 grams complete with shock, Cannondale claims the new Scalpel frame is lighter than cross country bike offerings from the likes of Trek, Scott, and Specialized. Our size extra-large test bike tipped the scales at 26.3 pounds with Shimano XTR Trail pedals and no bottle or spare kit mounted.
Suspension Design: The key to the Cannondale Scalpel’s suspension performance is Cannondale’s new FlexPivot suspension. The new system is basically a four-bar suspension linkage, something that is not new to the mountain bike world. Cannondale claims that a typical four bar suspension design has a roughly 200-gram weight penalty compared to other designs with the same travel. The new FlexPivot utilizes durable carbon fiber flex zones that act just like a Horst Link’s pivots, without the added weight or flex of bolts and bearings. This also allows the bike’s suspension and overall frame-feel to be custom-tuned, by size, via Cannondale’s Proportional Response construction techniques. Cannondale claims the FlexPivot suspension delivers both weight savings and suspension performance – providing a ride that is ultra-light, with incredible grip, acceleration, and control.
COMPONENTS THAT STAND OUT:
The RockShox SID Select is impressively lightweight but makes absolutely no compromise on stiffness, steering precision, or overall front-end control. With the large 35-millimeter stanchions and Torque Cap axle configuration, the Scalpel corners with authority, and makes it easy to find the limits of the small-knobbed Recon front tire, which could easily be swapped for better front-end traction if you’re the kind of rider that prefers shralping corners to strapping a power meter to your cranks.
At $5,500, the fact that Cannondale was able to find room in the budget for carbon wheels is impressive. The Hollowgram wheels are built with DT-Swiss hubs and Hollowgram rims that, while silghtly narrower than what we’d expect to see on a trailbike, held up nicely for our test with adequate stiffness and responsiveness.
The new Scalpel also gets Cannondale’s new STASH Kit. Built into the downtube under the water bottle mount, the STASH kit has everything needed for fast trailside repairs including a Fabric 8-in-1 mini tool in a quick-draw holster, a Dynaplug tubeless plug kit, and a place for a CO2 inflator or small mini pump. The kit is well thought out and makes it plain to see that you’re seconds away from a ride or race saving repair.
The execution of the kit itself left something to be desired, with the multi tool getting stuck easily, and the C02 strap coming off in our hand the first time we affixed a cartridge. Minor hiccups aside, the kit kept our spares out of the way but not out of reach, which is a nice touch on any test bike. It also is securely mounted and includes a nifty, looped zip tie inside the downtube to keep the kit or any of the internally routed cables from rattling. Like any real XC bike, there is room for two full sized bottles in the frame. Nice!