Wil From FLOW Tests & Reviews The 2021 Cannondale Scalpel

Few of you reading this won’t already be familiar with the Scalpel name. First launched in 2001, the Scalpel emerged as a very lightweight, very efficient, and very short-travel full suspension XC race bike designed to woo elite riders away from their hardtails. Cannondale believed that full suspension could be faster, and the Scalpel was its 80mm travel ticket to World Cup glory. That first model, with its soft-tail suspension design that relied on carbon flex-stays and a tiny shock that sat vertically behind the seat tube, was an iconic bike for Cannondale and also incredibly innovative for its time. As well as its hybrid alloy & carbon construction, it featured the original Lefty (a head-scratching, bamboozler of a product in its own right), and it came with tubeless wheels, disc brakes and a 2×9 drivetrain. It doesn’t sound like much now, but at the time, that was proper cutting edge stuff.

2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 211.06kg
– Smooth, comfortable and traction-rich suspension
– The Lefty Ocho is a dead-brilliant performer
– Powerful and efficient riding position
– Dual water bottle capability
– The neat STASH tool system
– The Lefty Ocho is heavier than its competitors
– Razor-sharp handling isn’t as planted on the descents
– Wheel removal is a bit faffier than usual
– Slow engaging rear hub

What’s Changed?

It’s been four years since the last Scalpel launched at the Cairns World Cup in 2016, and as you’ll see, a lot has changed since then. At its core the Scalpel remains as a lightweight 100mm travel XC race bike. It shares a familiar shape to its predecessor with a top tube mounted shock and dual water bottle capability, and it continues to be built around 29in wheels and the bizarre single-sided, single-crowned Lefty Ocho. Go a little deeper though, and you’ll discover a new suspension layout with a quirky flex-stay, modernised geometry, and an entirely new carbon fibre layup that Cannondale states is 200g lighter than the old frame.

Flip That Link

The big performance story with the new Scalpel is its new suspension design. The upper shock link no longer swings from the top tube like it did on the old frame. Instead, the rear shock is driven by a tiny alloy link that mounts to a forward strut partway up the seat tube. It doesn’t sound like much, but it has completely changed the suspension behaviour. The new Scalpel has a much higher starting leverage rate (2.85:1 rather than 2.23:1), and it’s vastly more progressive too.

Like the latest Habit trail bike, the Scalpel also gets a size-specific approach to suspension kinematics. This means there’s actually a different leverage ratio, anti-squat and anti-rise levels for each of the four frame sizes. The designers achieve this with slight variations to the location of each pivot point – the shock dimensions and alloy link are the same for every frame.

Hold On, Where’s The Pivot?

The Scalpel uses a one-piece carbon swingarm, but Cannondale says it’s now built around a Horst Link four-bar suspension platform. As you’ve probably spotted already though, there are no actual bearings anywhere near the rear dropout. Instead of a traditional pivot, there’s an incredibly thin section of carbon fibre along the chainstays. This concentrates about 6-7° of flexion at a specific point just forward of the dropouts, emulating a Horst Link pivot.

Doing so in this fashion however, means that the Scalpel isn’t lumped with the usual weight penalty that comes with a typical four-bar suspension design.

Flex stays are of course nothing new. But where the new Scalpel differs from its predecessor, and indeed most popular XC full suspension bikes on the market like the Specialized Epic, Trek Supercaliber, Canyon Lux and Scott Spark, is that the flex doesn’t occur through the seatstays. According to Cannondale, putting the flex point on the chainstays creates a more active suspension system that is less influenced by braking and pedalling inputs, compared to a traditional single-pivot arrangement. Doing so in this fashion however, means that the Scalpel isn’t lumped with the usual weight penalty that comes with a typical four-bar suspension design.

Flow’s Verdict

Cannondale has built an absolutely ripping XC speedster in the new Scalpel. It is no doubt a sharp handling machine, but if you’re eyeing off a position on the podium, you’re likely to appreciate the near-telepathic steering. Competitive types and long distance haulers will also love the dual bottle capability and neat STASH tool system. There’s also good versatility in the chassis with the option to fit a dropper post, a 120mm fork and up to a 2.4in wide rear tyre. If any of those float your boat though, and you tend to buy your own champagne rather than win it in races, then it’ll be worth taking a good look at the Scalpel SE. If it’s raw speed you’re after though, then the Scalpel Carbon 2 has that in spades.

While the lovely carbon frame is significantly lighter than its predecessor, the new Scalpel is more technically capable thanks to its vastly improved suspension performance. The active design means it isn’t quite as snappy at the pedals as some of its competitors, but on rough terrain, the Scalpel is smoother, more comfortable and it builds speed incredibly well. Add in the superb Lefty Ocho and the modernised geometry, and you have a technically proficient handler that thrives on taking the more challenging route both up and down the mountain. Thumbs up to Cannondale, because this bike is an absolute corker.

For the full article please visit Flow Mountain Bike.

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