Cannondale sharpen Scalpel, reintroduce Jekyll for 2011

Plus new Claymore big-hit bike, rigid 29er and Lefty forks

Cannondale have wasted little time putting the know-how of famed German frame designer Peter Denk to good use, launching a radically lightened Scalpel full-suspension racer, a reborn Jekyll all-mountain rig, and a 29in-wheeled version of their feathery Flash carbon hardtail for 2011.   

Scalpel sharpens up and slims down

Incredibly, Cannondale have managed to cleave about 350g (0.77lb) from the already light 2010 Scalpel thanks to a drastically redesigned chassis that reportedly weighs around 1,565g (3.45lb, frame and shock).

Rear wheel travel has been reduced to just 80mm, making it even more of a purpose-built racer than before, while jumps in rigidity reportedly give it a 24 percent improvement in stiffness-to-weight over its nearest competitor, the Merida Ninety-Six, and a whopping 40 percent gap over other competition such as Trek's Top Fuel and the Scott Spark RC.

The basic formula carries over – it's still a nearly all-carbon structure with engineered flex zones in the chain- and seatstays instead of conventional pivots – but last year's monocoque front triangle has been replaced with a sleeker tube-to-tube design that Cannondale claim to be stiffer and stronger by virtue of the straighter tube surfaces, thinner walls and more refined individual tube layups.

Down below, the old aluminium shell and bonded-on chainstays have been replaced with a new one-piece all-carbon assembly similar to that used on the company's road-going SuperSix while the new seatstays boast a moulded-in bridge for improved rear triangle stiffness. 

However, Cannondale haven't made the move to use carbon exclusively throughout. The dropouts and post-mount disc tabs are still aluminium – Cannondale say it's nearly as light as carbon but more durable and resistant to heat build-up from the brake calliper – as are the shock linkage, its seat tube-mounted anchor point, the BB30 bottom bracket sleeve, headset bearing seats, and direct-mount front derailleur posts.

Naturally, the new Scalpel range continues Cannondale's history of component integration, with 100mm-travel Lefty forks and 2x10 BB30 cranksets (with the exception of the XTR model) featured across the board plus tubeless-ready Schwalbe tyres. Cannondale will offer the Scalpel in four models for 2011 with identical carbon frames and 2x10 drivetrains across the board, and with availability beginning this autumn:

  • Scalpel Ultimate (US$9,599; 8.4kg/18.5lb): Top-end model with Lefty Speed Carbon SL w/XLR fork, SRAM XX group with Hollowgram SL crankset, and DT Swiss XCR 1.2 carbon-rimmed wheels.
  • Scalpel 1 ($7,1999; kg/19.84lb): Lefty Speed Carbon SL w/PBR fork, Shimano's upcoming XTR Dyna-Sys group paired with an FSA SL-K 386 crankset, Magura Marta SL brakes and Mavic Crossmax SLR wheels.
  • Scalpel 2 ($5,099; weight unavailable): Alloy Lefty Speed w/XLR fork, SRAM X9/X0 transmission and FSA Afterburner 386 BB30 cranks, Avid Elixir CR Carbon brakes and Sun-Ringlé Black Flag Pro wheels.
  • Scalpel 3 ($3,949; weight unavailable): Shimano SLX/XT transmission, FSA Afterburner 386 BB30 cranks, Avid Elixir R brakes and custom DT Swiss wheels.

Cannondale's new Scalpel frame cuts travel to 80mm and weight to 1,565g (3.45lb)

At least for now, Cannondale say there are no plans to develop a less expensive aluminium frame variant, saying it would be too difficult to replicate the new Scalpel's more highly integrated carbon structure in welded metal. Cannondale vice president of research and development Chris Peck doesn't rule out the possibility of a 29er version, though – an assuredly potent combination that we'd certainly like to see in the near future. Consumers will be able to purchase bare Scalpel frames for custom builds.

Jekyll nameplate returns bigger and better with new split personality

The other major introduction for 2011 is an all-new 150mm-travel Jekyll 'OverMountain' bike – a moniker that Cannondale say better describes the bike, as they reckon it offers dramatically more efficient climbing than most 'all-mountain' machines yet better downhill performance, too. Key to the two-faced personality is a dedicated pull-style shock co-developed with Fox Racing Shox.

Cannondale's Jekyll Ultimate is touted as big and burly but at the same time a capable climber

Unlike other travel-adjust rear shocks currently available, the new Dyad-RT2 literally is two separate shocks – each with its own damping circuitry and positive air chamber – tied together with a central sub-body that selects between the two and also houses the independently adjustable single negative air chamber.

In so-called 'Flow' mode, the full 150mm of travel is available and both positive air chambers are activated to provide a higher-volume and more linear feel. Only one damping circuit is active, which uses a traditional shim stack to provide a proper ride feel for descents and faster sections of trail. When tied to the flat-progressive frame linkage geometry, the result is a coil-like feel with supple small bump performance and well-controlled big-hit capabilities that can take full advantage of the stable 67.5-degree head tube angle.

The Fox Racing Shox Dyad-RT2 rear shock is essentially two shocks tied together with a central chamber that selects between the two

Switch to 'Elevate' mode via the handlebar-mounted remote, though, and the oil flow is diverted to the other damping circuit exclusively and only one positive air chamber is available. Travel is thus reduced to 90mm, spring rate increases significantly and sag is reduced by about 40 percent for a better climbing position.

As with the 'Flow' setup, the 'Elevate' uses a traditional pyramid-style shim stack – not Fox's Boost Valve technology as featured in its inline products – but with an additional preload shim to lend some pedalling platform. Cannondale haven't otherwise tried to squelch suspension suppleness in Elevate mode, preferring to make maximum use of the 90mm of available travel and coupling it with the linear portion of the linkage ratio for a good ride quality and better traction on technical climbs.

The Jekyll's Dyad-RT2 shock is complicated in layout but simple to operate with just a two-position handlebar-mounted remote to worry about

The relatively small air chamber volumes (compared to conventional shocks) will require unusually high inflation pressures – around 300-400psi in most cases – but Cannondale will include a special pump with each bike. The internal design suggests good reliability, with only four dynamic seals in total – all of which are constantly in contact with lubricating oil – and lots of surface area and high oil volumes throughout for good heat dissipation.

Bolted around the innovative Dyad-RT2 shocks is a pair of equally impressive frames – one in carbon, and another in alloy. The carbon Jekyll places a high priority on toughness with special high-impact fibres throughout the entire monocoque and tube-to-tube frame that are augmented with high-modulus plies only in key areas for stiffness.

The co-moulded carbon fibre and aluminium linkage is widely spaced for maximum rigidity

Lest riders be scared away by carbon fibre in this application, Cannondale say their in-house testing has shown the carbon Jekyll frame to be stronger than an equivalent alloy one and more dent-resistant than a steel one. Of course, it's also extremely light, with a claimed weight of 2.62kg (5.78lb) including the chunky rear shock, which weighs 560g on its own and makes the frame-only weight all that more impressive. 

None of this would mean much without stiffness, so there's also a gargantuan-sized down tube, straight 1.5in head tube (with corresponding enormous joints), large-profile chain- and seatstays, box-section dropouts, and through-axles front and rear. The linkage itself a particularly trick piece with co-moulded carbon fibre and aluminium construction, exceptionally wide anchor spacing, inboard-mounted cartridge bearings, and 15mm pivot axles which are securely clamped at their outer edges to eliminate the possibility of twist.

Cannondale's choice of a two-ring Hollowgram SL crank on the top-end Jekyll Ultimate is testament to the chassis' claimed climbing abilities

Even the dropouts use two cartridge bearings each to further cut down on flex. Denk says all of this yields excellent overall frame stiffness but also better 'centre stiffness', which he claims is a better indicator of handling response and feeling "connected" to the trail. He says frames that display different frame and centre stiffnesses can still measure identically on a bench test. 

Given Cannondale's long history with forming aluminium, it should come as no surprise that the identically-featured alloy Jekyll is a promising-looking beast as well with septuple-butted and hydroformed alloy tubes, welded clamshell-style hollow dropouts, and a welded clamshell-style hollow linkage that ends up weighing just 8g more than the carbon version. Carrying over from the carbon Jekyll are the 142x12mm rear through-axle, identical pivot systems, and straight 1.5in front ends, plus the Dyad-RT2 rear shock.

The entry-level alloy Cannondale Jekyll 5 is far from cheap-looking

Cannondale will offer three carbon Jekyll models and three alloy ones, all with surprisingly cross-country oriented build kits in spite of their relatively long travel – perhaps to further emphasise their touted climbing performance:  

  • Jekyll Ultimate (US$7,999; 11.5kg/25.4lb): Top-end model with SRAM XX 2x10 transmission, Hollowgram SL BB30 crank, Avid X0 brakes, Fox 32 Talas FIT RLC fork, CrankBrothers Cobalt wheels and RockShox Reverb seatpost.
  • Jekyll Carbon 1 ($5,349; 12.1kg/26.7lb): Shimano XT/XTR 3x10 transmission, FSA SL-K BB30 cranks, Avid Elixir CR Carbon brakes, Fox 32 TALAS FIT RLC fork, Sun-Ringlé Black Flag Pro wheels and RockShox Reverb post.
  • Jekyll Carbon 2 ($4,249; 12.2kg/27lb): SRAM X-7/X-9 3x10 drivetrain, FSA Afterburner BB30 cranks, Avid Elixir CR brakes, Sun-Ringlé Black Flag Expert wheels, Fox 32 TALAS RL fork and fixed-length seatpost.
  • Jekyll 3 ($4,049; 13.3kg/29.4lb): Top-end alloy bike with 3x10 Shimano SLX/XT transmission, FSA Afterburner BB30 cranks, Avid Elixir CR brakes, DT Swiss/Formula wheels and Fox 32 TALAS RL fork.
  • Jekyll 4 ($3,5499; 13.8kg/30.5lb): SRAM X-7/X-9 3x9 transmission with Truvativ Firex non-BB30 cranks, DT Swiss/Formula wheels and a non-travel-adjustable Fox 32 Float RL fork.
  • Jekyll 5 ($2,999; weight unavailable) will come with a SRAM X-7 3x9 transmission, Truvativ Firex cranks, Avid Elixir 3 brakes, DT Swiss/Formula wheels, and a RockShox Revelation Dual Air fork.

Jekyll models are expected to be available by the end of the year. Bare frames will be offered as well. Want more? Cannondale will also introduce a women's-specific version of the alloy Jekyll called Scarlet with smaller-diameter and lighter tubes plus lower standover heights as well as a harder hitting 180mm-travel variant called Claymore with far beefier frame construction, revised geometry for faster and more aggressive riding, and dual Dyad-RT2 shock positions for customised handling.

Cannondale will also launch a longer-travel version of the Jekyll called Claymore

New 29er hardtails

Cannondale's 2011 bike range will also see updates to the 29in-wheeled version of the feathery Flash carbon hardtail, new alloy versions based on the carbon design, plus a new fully-rigid all-alloy 29er singlespeed. By all accounts, the Flash Carbon 29'er frame is a big-wheeled copy of the company's ultralight 26in-wheeled Flash, with similar tube profiles and carbon construction technique throughout, the same SAVE seat- and chainstay shaping for extra rider comfort out back, and lightweight alloy dropouts and post mount disc tabs (for 160mm rear rotors).

Frame weight climbs a bit on account of the larger wheels but is still a stellar 1,050g (2.3lb) in the top-end Hi-Mod form. All-new alloy versions are on tap as well with many of the design features of the carbon frames – such as the flattened stays and especially wide seat clusters – but in more economical welded aluminium construction.  Cannondale will even offer a fully rigid 29er singlespeed for 2011, which uses a suspension-corrected Fatty aluminium fork for those who want to feel every bit of the trail. 

Cannondale's fully rigid Trail SL3 29er singlespeed should appeal to purists with its new alloy frame based on the carbon Flash 29'er

Internal changes lend a more refined ride to Lefty forks

Cannondale's innovative Lefty fork range will carry over mostly unchanged in terms of chassis design – a good thing in our eyes, as it already offers ultralight weights, surprisingly outstanding stiffness and unmatched small bump compliance – but internal updates will lend a more controlled ride plus more customisation and tuning potential.

Key changes include a new internally adjustable low-speed compression circuit to cut down on brake dive plus a newly adjustable-volume version of RockShox's Solo Air system to dial in the desired spring rate progression. In addition, a new XLR variant of Cannondale's PBR damper will finally allow remote lockout capability via RockShox's hydraulically actuated X-Loc lever (but unfortunately without the adjustable blowoff threshold).

The associated integrated stem/steerer tubes get an upgrade for 2011, with a newly adjustable system that offers 15mm of height adjustment while also shedding 15g and boasting more knee-friendly surfaces.Going away entirely are the DLR and RLC damper-equipped Leftys.

The new Lefty Speed Carbon SL w/XLR fork on the Scalpel Ultimate includes a remote lockout

So how do the new bikes ride?

We didn't have a chance to sample either of the 29ers or the Jekyll at Cannondale's 2011 launch due to time constraints, but to say that the Scalpel Ultimate was an eye-opening experience would be an understatement as little can prepare you for what an 8.4kg full-suspension bike actually feels like on the trail.

Climbing and sprinting performance are simply remarkable thanks to the shocking lack of mass and the excellent overall chassis rigidity. We found ourselves flat-out attacking the climbs surrounding Deer Valley, Utah and aggressively accelerating on even steep pitches is notably easier than usual.

Rear suspension performance is somewhat of a mixed bag based on first impressions, though, as the carbon rear end's built-in spring rate and relatively firm shock valving make for a very firm feel almost regardless of shock pressure. Even though we ended up using the full travel on our test ride, the rear end of the Scalpel still feels a bit more like a softail than a proper suspension rig, especially on rougher rock garden areas. 

The tiny alloy link drives a short-stroke RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock

Hard pedalling with the rear shock platform turned off yields noticeable suspension squat, although to be fair it somehow doesn't seem to have a negative effect on pedalling.

Handling is razor-sharp and downright frenetic at times on account of the hyper-accurate Lefty fork and steepish frame geometry, which closely mimics that of the Flash hardtail save for a half-degree slacker head tube angle, a 20mm-higher bottom bracket and just 2mm of extra wheelbase – even the chainstay length is identical.  

Combined with the firm suspension that has a tendency to skip through rough corners, the result is a lightning-quick machine that rewards the attentive rider but penalises ones who fall asleep at the wheel. In other words, it's best to focus on catching the rider ahead of you, not the surrounding scenery. If your aim is going fast the new Scalpel looks to be an enticing new option – but those looking for something that can serve double duty as a trail bike may want to look elsewhere.

The Scalpel Ultimate is a lightning-quick machine that rewards the attentive rider

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