Cannondale Scalpel 4 review£2,444.99

Lightweight racer hampered by its suspension

BikeRadar score3/5

Cannondale’s second-generation Scalpel race bike has been winning World Cup cross-country races since it first appeared, and this uncompromising speed machine is a real race special. But can Cannondale’s purist racer do the job for everyday trail use?

It’s certainly light for an alloy full-suspension bike, but the actual suspension benefits are so limited that Cannondale’s excellent race hardtails seem a much better option.

Ride & handling: Light and fast, but stiff suspension and whippy back end reduce control

With arse up high and pushed forward on the steep seat tube and hands right down on the narrow flat bars, the Scalpel is a proper ‘old skool’ racer.

The cockpit and relatively slack head angle also create a stable, straight line favouring steering character designed for flat-out riding, not singletracking.

Despite the very low weight, the head-down position actually feels surprisingly sluggish to begin with, and high pressures are essential to cut irritating pedal bounce from the springy rear stays.

Set up like this, neither the 1.5in stroke rear end nor the Lefty fork feel remotely plush, with the notchy fork causing noticeable chatter and skip over the small stuff.

They do take the sting out of bigger lumps and keep you on line off small drops but overall control certainly doesn’t match the Scalpel's Fox or RockShox forked rivals.

Twangy 24-spoke wheels and the whippy back end undermine the phenomenally stiff front end tracking too, although a naturally more cautious feel meant we rarely actually crashed.

Cannondale’s lefty fork is a super stiff unit: cannondale’s lefty fork is a super stiff unit
Cannondale’s lefty fork is a super stiff unit: cannondale’s lefty fork is a super stiff unit

Frame: Neat looking alloy chassis for race whippets

It’s the carbon fibre Scalpel that’s got the medals and the full featherweight upgrade potential, but this alloy chassis is still unique in many ways.

There’s a massive headtube to handle the single legged own-brand Lefty fork and the down tube swells gradually towards an oversized BB30 bottom bracket (although you only get a conventional chainset on this version).

Unbridged seatstays mean masses of mud clearance and the flat carbon chainstays flex vertically to replace a rear pivot.

Scooped dropouts, smoothed welds and symmetrical cable clips complete a neat looking race whippet frame. 

Equipment: Frame deserves better – especially at this price

The 23in shimmed flat bar definitely dominates the handling but even with a riser bar, the Scalpel isn't a trail bike by any means.

The super-narrow 2.1in Continental tyres are proper mud cutters, but at the expense of comfort.

Avid Elixir brakes and Shimano SLX/SRAM stop/go kit are workable, but the whole setup seems low-rent when it’s hanging on the alloy – rather than carbon – frame.

Flat fl ex stays remove the need for a rear pivot: flat fl ex stays remove the need for a rear pivot
Flat fl ex stays remove the need for a rear pivot: flat fl ex stays remove the need for a rear pivot

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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