You’re looking for a lightweight full-suspension that climbs like a rocket and descends even faster, aren’t you? And realistically speaking, it should be comfortable when going uphill, but in the same time stiff enough, as not to waste too much of your energy, shouldn’t it? These criteria shrink the number of mountain bikes that would fit in the picture, and amongst the one that do, Cannondale’s Scalpel stands as one that can make all these requirements look easy as pie. Once you know that a quarter of your duty has already been done by the bike itself, you probably want to find out what a show it put on during our testing session.
Frame/On the trail
Having a 29er carbon full-suspension mountain bike at hand, the target became clear on the spot: high mountains, with over 1.000 meters of elevation gain. I had in mind the path I had to follow so routing was a problem quickly solved. In approaching the ride, a bike like the Scalpel does much good to your morale, a thing also worthy of consideration if you have performance ambitions in your mind. Basicly, it feels like something different when riding which such a well built machinery, that also supplies your powers with a much-needed boost.
Once you have comed to terms with the single-arm Lefty fork, you’re good to go and to start tackling more demanding trails. However, if you are still in the process of getting used to this fork, you’ll encounter different kinds of feelings, but the component’s performance will soon make its point. In fact, given that the Lefty has seen production so many years, it’s quite clear that Cannondale’s prodigy does walk the walk, not only does it mark its presence by its appearance.
Scalpel’s geometry can be named sporty thanks to its 71 degree head tube angle, that offers great agility, and to the 73.5 seat tube angle, that allows reaching the needed leverage to efficiently climb. Even steep segments can be handled sitting. The longer stem implies a more aggressive position, which in turn makes you faster, something naturally considering the Scalpel isn’t made for joy rides. The rear shock, a Rock Shox Monarch RT3, works just lovely, seeming to have an acute sense of trail since it doesn’t work more than it should when climbing. And together with the suspension fork, they both run very well when the time comes to descend, so much so that the 100mm of travel can do just fine even on all-mountain trails. Basicly, I don’t see what more would you need.
Having big wheels doesn’t take its toll on agility. Well, not necessarily, anyway. The frame is usually adapted to this wheel size (and Scalpel’s is!), and if you never tried out a 26 inch mountain bike, and took this 29er as a first ride, no difference will occur whatsoever. You’ll feel that everything is how it should be and nothing in this world could provide further agility to this bike. Maybe the 700mm-wide handlebar contributes to this outrageously accurate control also.
And to end this carbon frame’s presentation, because thoroughly presenting it would last a couple of days, we’ll just mention that it features a 1.5 inch head tube, full carbon rear triangle, 12mm thru axle and PressFit bottom bracket.
In the title we’ve mentioned the word “Custom”, because the Scalpel we got to test (and unfortunately had to return) isn’t quite a series model in regards of its specifications, but a mix between the Scalpel 2’s frame and Scalpel 1’s components.
We’ve already mentioned the Lefty XLR’s 100mm travel, but must stress the fact that its performances are simply imposing respect with every single uneven meter of ground covered. A plastic shield protects the fork from incoming rocks, an add-on that would have made sens on the down tube as well.
Regarding the brakes, the Avid Elixir 9 pair performs very well, the carbon brake levers offering essential modulation, that I think could be slightly improved. Anyway, the front 180mm rotor provides the necessary stopping power.
The Mavic CrossMark tires have a good rolling speed, but not a similar grip in corners, the small knobs being useful only for reaching high speed. I think the bike could have used larger knobbed tires even on uphill, where grip was, again, lost.
If you have nothing against this Scalpel’s price, you’ll find out after the first ride why does it have the price tag it has. My only objection would be the 11-kilogram weight, slightly more than this price range is acustomed to, but then again proportional with the price. To better describe this custom Scalpel I would say that it has all the features of a top dog, and everything you could humanly desire from a mountain bike. Including personality!
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