Cannondale Scalpel 3 £3000

Fun, fast and slightly unusual looking

BikeRadar score 4/5

Pivotless suspension isn’t new, but Cannondale’s Scalpel was for a long time the sole survivor – only for Lapierre to launch one for 2013. Originally built with an aluminium chassis and flexy carbon inserts, the new Scalpel is carbon all over – and there’s no alu option. But clever material or not, is the whole pivotless idea just a dead end?

Ride & handling: A precision instrument for dissecting trail sections at silly speed

No two ways about it – the Scalpel is a fast bike. But there’s much more to building an effective mile-muncher than just shedding weight. Where it scores is in offering lower weight than any full-sus rival, plus better comfort and traction than any hardtail.

The lack of pivots and the taut chassis contribute to a feeling that the pedals are directly connected to the rear wheel. The Scalpel surges forward with each stroke. On climbs we found ourselves delaying – or even skipping – downshifts, feeling the rear wheel hugging the trail as we left heavier, longer-travel rivals in our wake. It gives the best of both worlds: hardtail liveliness with a hint of full suss comfort and control.

What it very definitely isn’t is an 80mm full-susser; ride this bike like one and you’ll likely be disappointed. Say what? Well, the way the chainstays flex means there are effectively two springs at work: the stays themselves and the shock. Plus the stays flex midway along, a place you’d never put a pivot.

So it’s a compromise, and one that struggles to deliver the 80mm of promised travel. The shock fidgets around under normal pedalling loads, while the fork is a little stuttery. But funnily enough, each end complements the other. Throw in perfectly balanced weight distribution and a front that simply won’t be thrown off line, and it just works.

Frame & equipment: Fork and shock aren't class-leading, but no full-susser is lighter

Cannondale claim a frame-and-shock weight of less than 1.6kg. That’s seriously light for a frame offering 80mm of travel.

In part it’s down to the pared-to-the-bone rear end, which relies on the chainstays’ flat mid-sections for vertical movement without lateral flex. Cannondale’s BallisTec carbon construction probably also plays a role – it uses extra fibres in areas that need additional strength. The Scalpel 3’s all-up weight of a hair over 10kg (22.3lb) puts it well ahead of any price-equivalent full susser; you simply can’t buy a lighter bike.

Kit isn’t class-leading, but an SLX and XT-based transmission is great and the Lefty fork is in keeping with the Scalpel’s quirky design; a RockShox Monarch shock holds up the rear. Neither shock nor fork are exceptional, but the Lefty is noticeably stiffer and better-steering than conventional rivals – it can pull to one side when locked out, mind. Wheel removal requires a 5mm Allen key and for the brake calliper to be pivoted out of the way, which is awkward, but the pay-off is limitless mud clearance.

A few years ago Cannondale unwisely tried a 100mm travel Scalpel. In its 80mm form it makes a lot more sense, delivering blistering pace in the hands of skilled riders – though clumsier ones may feel short-changed.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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