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Long Term Test: 2017 Cannondale Scalpel-Si

The Sharpest Scalpel Yet?

The Cannondale Scalpel has enjoyed a long history as one of the most recognized names in cross-country racing.  First introduced in 2002, the Scalpel has been reworked a few times, moving to a more traditional linkage system for rear suspension in 2013.  I’ve personally raced a Scalpel since then, and when word came out that an entirely new design was being released for late 2016/early 2017, Pete’s Garage was one of the first in line to secure a couple examples for long term testing.

We’ve enjoyed putting a few hundred off-road miles on the Scalpel-Si Race, which is just a step under the top-shelf Scalpel-Si Black.  Right out of the box, the Race edition is a lightweight cross-country contender set up nicely for Midwest racing.  Cannondale has done well with Enve wheels on its high end cross country bikes, and continues this formula with carbon Enve M50 rims front and rear.  Hubs are bombproof DT350 rear and Cannondale Lefty front, creating a confident, lightweight, and responsive wheelset. Drivetrain and brakes are XTR, with XT rotors given the lack of a 6-bolt rotor option in the XTR lineup.  Crankset is the proven Cannondale Hollowgram Si, just short of the superlight SiSL but still a very light and efficient setup.

Changing the Scalpel to the Scalpel-Si involved much more than adding a couple letters.  Si stands for “System Integration”, meaning that the frame, fork, wheels, and drivetrain are designed from the ground up to work as a harmonious unit.  Cannondale takes this concept farther than most manufacturers, logically specifying 27.5” wheels for the men’s small and all women’s sizes and 29” for men’s medium and large.

Up front, the ever-popular Lefty fork has been redesigned with more offset to help compensate for a slacker head tube angle.  This helps to keep steering lively yet stable and predictable, and first debuted last year on the F-Si.  In back, the asymmetric Ai offset chain stays shift the hub slightly to the drive side, improving chain line while allowing the rear wheel to be evenly dished and therefore stronger.  Closer to the bottom bracket, the drive side chainstay tucks up above the bottom bracket shell, allowing for increased tire clearance and reducing mud buildup around the bottom bracket while shortening the chainstays.  If needed, the frame can accommodate a traditional 2x setup with front derailleur.

Other details have been attended to, including internal cable routing for the rear derailleur, rear brakes, rear shock lockout, and dropper post (if desired). The Scalpel-Si also has room for hiding a Di2 battery if needed.  One big improvement over last year’s Scalpel (or just about any other cross country frame for that matter) is that the engineers at Cannondale have been able to find room for two full size bottles mounted on the down tube and seat tube as the gods intended.  It’s a small but very important detail, and one that can keep a racer from resorting to a hydration pack or saddling a significant other with hand up duty. The rear suspension linkage has been drastically reworked, adding a carbon (instead of cast aluminum) linkage for reduced weight.

On the trail, the improvements are obvious and tangible.  The previous Scalpel was a very competent setup, but often left the rider aware of the weight and handling tradeoff that were necessary in order to gain the benefits of full suspension.  The Scalpel-Si, on the other hand, feels like the lightweight race rocket that it is while also feeling planted and stable.  The front end tracks as it should and the new rear suspension setup allows a more linear response with excellent rebound control.  The newer geometry makes the most of 100mm of travel front and rear, with progressive travel soaking up all but the biggest bumps.

Scalpel showing off its bottle abilities

My long-term test wrapped up with the 105-mile Marji Gesick in Marquette, Michigan.  It’s a long day of lunacy, with largely unrelenting and technical singletrack broken by short periods of pavement, two-track, and endless jump lines.  Much of the second half of the race is dominated by challenging terrain including steep drops, roots, and rocks.  Cannondale claims their bike is “built for XXC”, meaning that it’s been developed to handle the more technically challenging terrain currently seen on UCI and Olympic courses.   The Marji Gesick course gave me nearly 12 hours with which to contemplate the Scalpel’s strengths.

First off, having an efficient frame was critical.  The light weight of the Scalpel-Si Team (ours weighed in at 23 pounds 1 ounce after tubeless conversion) is amplified over a long day in the saddle and 13,000 feet of climbing.  When climbing, the Scalpel-Si was very efficient, delivering good power even when the suspension was left unlocked.  In fact, given the gnarly nature of most climbs, the suspension was simply left unlocked all day with no noticeable loss of power transfer.

The Cannondale is most at home on the flowy fast singletrack ubiquitous in the Midwest, but was equally capable when conquering rock obstacles or steep drops.  I found that even at the end of a long day, when mistakes become more frequent due to fatigue, the Cannondale continued to inspire confidence and allowed me to ride clean when normally I’d be at least a little sloppy.  At the end of my 12 hours at Marji Gesick, which coincidentally was also more or less the end of my summer, I was left wanting more trail time with the Scalpel-Si.  I’m sure Cannondale will continue to innovate in the years to come, but this does seem to be the pinnacle of XC evolution.

Highs

  • Snappy handling, impressive climbing, tight geometry
  • Predictable steering
  • Internal cable routing
  • Room for two bottles
  • That gorgeous Lefty

Lows

  • 32 tooth front ring (most racers on most courses will want to switch to 34)
 

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