The first thing that came to my mind as I clipped in and started pedaling up the street was “this thing is incredibly light.” With a frame weight of just 1910g, the Cannondale Scalpel sits comfortably near the top of the list as one of the lightest and most capable XC bikes on the market today. What really intrigued me was that the Scalpel is claimed to be one of the lightest XL frames as well. It’s safe to say that all of us came in with high expectations… and were not disappointed.
At the time we received our bikes, Garrett, Emma, and I were staying in Bentonville, Arkansas for our second weekend of racing on what is arguably the most physically demanding course in the UCI Circuit. The course was packed full of jumps, drops, fast corners, and square edge rocks, making it the perfect testing grounds for our setups.
My Setup: I set up my suspension for my weight according to Cannondale’s recommended settings. I found it interesting that Cannondale only recommends running the shock at 10 percent sag, as opposed to my previous bikes where I usually sat in the 15 – 25% range. I set my compression and rebound to the recommended settings as well. I usually find them to get me pretty close to dialed. I switched to Maxxis 2.4 Aspens (my favorite tire combo) at 20 PSI front / 21 PSI rear. Higher pressures are required in order to withstand the many harsh impacts throughout the course.
As soon as I hit the course, I felt right at home on the Scalpel. It was actually hard to restrain myself and take it easy on the descents as I got to know the bike because of how confidence inspiring it was. I was already getting PRs within the first couple of laps. One thing that surprised me was how efficient and supportive the suspension platform felt. Contrary to what other reviews stated, I found that the suspension had minimal bobbing while traversing flat sections of trail, leaving me only reaching for the lockout lever on the smooth climbs with ample traction. The descents were a different story. As soon as I hit anything bumpy, the bike would soak it up and propel me forward with ease. I kept pushing the Scalpel harder and harder through the techy sections, the occasional twang of the carbon wheels hitting a rock would give me a gentle reminder that I was still riding a 100mm travel XC bike. The Sram AXS Wireless drivetrain and top of the line components worked flawlessly, as you would expect from any race bike.
My only uncertainty was the bottom bracket height. The Scalpel’s bottom bracket sits around 10 mm higher than most 100mm travel XC bikes on the market. Looking at the numbers, this had me worried that it would put my center of gravity too high around corners. This didn’t seem to be the case while riding. It definitely positioned me higher than I would like to be in the tight sections of trail, but it didn’t feel too high. I appreciated having the extra clearance when navigating over obstacles like rocks and logs over the trail. Would I change it? Yes. Being as tall as I am, I like to get my weight as low as possible in the corners to maintain traction. Is it a problem? No. If I’m precise in the corners, it doesn’t affect my speed and is certainly worth experiencing less pedal strikes on the trail.
Time to address the elephant in the room: the iconic Lefty Ocho. This is the one thing that turns many people away from the Scalpel before even trying it. I have to admit, we were all hesitant when first looking down to see one half of the fork missing, but with just a few pedals down the road, I could tell they put some serious engineering into this thing. It sits between the Fox 34 SC and the Rockshox Sid Ultimate in terms of weight, but the stiffness is what makes the Lefty so sought after. That, paired with the 55mm offset made the whole bike feel incredibly stable down the gnarliest descents.
The last thing I really liked was the Cannondale Stash tool kit. The Scalpel came out of the box with the kit installed in the frame. The kit included a multi tool, Co2 strap, and Dynaplug, all easily accessible from a cut-out portion of the frame under the water bottle cage. That way, if disaster struck, I could always be prepared. There was also an option to remove the kit for races with a tech zone, which I chose to do for the Arkansas course.
I’ve been riding the Cannondale Scalpel for a few months now and can truly say I love it. Emma and Garrett can testify the same. It got me to the finish line of my best UCI result yet and I cannot wait to keep riding it for the rest of the season. After some proper strength testing on multiple mountain ranges and crashes on all sorts of terrain, the Scalpel has shown no signs of damage outside of normal wear and tear. I can tell that Cannondale really thought of everything when it comes to the overall design of the bike. A huge thank you to Brick Wheels for the outstanding support. I can speak for all of us in saying we couldn’t do it without them, and It’s amazing to know that if something does go wrong, we can be confident that Brick’s amazing mechanics and staff will have our backs / bikes 🙂