A fast, efficient pedalling bike, but it could be so much more
Cannondale Scalpel SE’s extra travel front and rear, and components like 150mm dropper post, makes it a different animal to its race stablemates.
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As such, the Scalpel SE retains the slender flex stays that run seamlessly into the top tube, where an injection moulded carbon link unites both halves of the frame. And it’s the 5mm longer stroke shock that pump rear wheel travel up from 100mm to 115mm. This gives a very low leverage ratio, which is why we were able to run shock pressures in the 115psi region.
Another defining feature of the Scalpel SE is that it’s the only model in the extensive Scalpel range not to come with the new single-crown Lefty Ocho 100mm suspension fork. Instead, the Scalpel SE gets a Fox 34 with 120mm travel. Where the taller fork and 1.5in external reducer cup slackens the head angle by one full degree to make the steering response more controlled than the pure XC version.
But that’s only half of the geometry story, because by increasing the fork travel, Cannondale has also jacked up the BB height to a whopping 352mm. And given that the Scalpel frame is already quite short, the extra height just makes the bike feel more nervous and less capable than the travel numbers suggest.
With the correct amount of sag on the Fox Float DPS shock, we never managed to use the last 5 -7mm of shock stoke. We’re not sure if this is due to the extra spring force in the stays at end range travel or the modified progression rate of the longer stoke shock, but either way the extra travel on the Scalpel SE is just something to brag about, as it’s difficult to access out on the trail.
So even though Cannondale has done a good job with the shock tune, the stronger EVOL negative air spring giving the Scalpel rear end some much needed sensitivity, it still tends to dance over rather than absorb all but the biggest impacts.
We had no such issue with the fork however. With 34mm upper legs and Step-Cast lowers, the Fox 34 Float is a great choice on the front of any short-travel 29er, as the extra steering precision and confidence it provides over a 32mm fork is instantly apparent. The Fox fork was super sensitive to small bumps and with only 120mm of travel it offers a tighter more supportive mid-stoke than longer travel 34s’ with the same Grip damper cartridge.
There is only one letter separating the Guide T brakes on the Cannondale from the Guide R brakes on the Kona Hei Hei, but there’s a discernable difference in performance, the brakes on the Cannondale having a heavier lever action and less snappy response.
The real sticking point with the build kit on the Scalpel SE though is the DownLow 150mm dropper post. Or, to be more specific, the super slack seat tube angle that puts too much torque though the post causing it to bind when in the fully extended position. As such, the only way to lower it is to slide your butt onto the nose of the saddle… far from ideal when dropping into a sketchy descent.
When we tested the standard Scalpel last year we said that that the frame sizing and geometry felt a little dated. One year on and that’s even more apparent as the increased travel of the SE version makes the bike feel shorter, taller and less stable.
The stubby 60mm stem doesn’t help matters either but increasing the stem length to grow the cockpit would just be a Bandaid fix. What the Scalpel SE desperately needs is some extra length in the frame. It also needs a steeper seat tube angle or at the very least a dropper post that can handle the bending forces without binding.
On the face of it the Scalpel SE should be the most capable bike in Cannondale’s short-travel 29er range. It has 20mm more travel up front and 15mm extra on the rear than the regular Scalpel, and it also gets a beefy Fox 34 fork and a fatter 2.4in front tyre to bolster handling. But upping the travel has actually had the opposite affect on the bike, making it ride taller and feel less stable, further highlighting shortcomings in the sizing and geometry. It is still a fast, efficient pedalling bike, but it could be so much more if Cannondale just updated the sizing and geometry.