With its colour co-ordinated tall carbon rims, huge mainframe front end and massive single carbon leg Lefty fork double clamped onto an oversized single piece stem/steerer the Scalpel is outstanding both aesthetically and in terms of tracking accuracy.
Frame and equipment: race-bred repertoire
Add a steep steering angle and narrow handlebar to skinny, minimal tread Schwalbe tyres and you're definitely riding a razor sharp race bike.
It’s pro honed speed credentials are further underlined with Cannondale’s own super stiff HollowGram Si crank in the BB30 oversized axle standard the firm pioneered. Together with the tough front end this gives an inspiringly solid feel underfoot when you brace yourself between bars and pedals for maximum torque.
The remote control suspension is set up for uncompromised power delivery too. The Rock Shox Monarch XX rear shock and Lefty are linked together hydraulically so a single press of the ‘Full Sprint’ plunger on the bars means instant and total lockout of both ends of the bike. Despite an average rather than advantageous overall and wheel weight as far as flat-out full sus racers go, this equips the Scalpel with a split-second edge when it comes to snap acceleration on short sections of smoother surfaces.
Head angle is steep, bars are narrow and treads are minimal
Ride and handling: hard to strike a balance
With no intermediate increased low speed compression damping setting on the Monarch XX shock there’s a very obvious contrast between on and off. Unless you deliberately run the shock over pressured so you lose any subtle, supple traction benefits, the back end also has a noticeably soft and bouncy feel under power.
While it’s passively plush and comfortable it’s not particularly impressive in terms of sustaining speed by sucking up blunt impacts from steps, rocks, stutter bumps and so on. Because it doesn’t let the wheel get out of trouble vertically that well it makes it’s tendency to twist and squirm off line more obvious, especially if you add power at the same time and pull it further out of shape. The naturally firmer, stiffer initial feel of the Lefty also makes it hard to achieve a good front to rear suspension or even create a level (rather than nose up) ride feel too.
It would be unfair to be too harsh on the overtly soft or hard character of the Scalpel without mentioning the FS-i Carbon Team hardtail. It's 1200g and £500 lighter for an identical spec – and has exactly the samew forgiving yet ferociously responsive ride character we struggled to find in the Scalpel, plus a slacker, more trail friendly steering feel. If we were casting an eye over Cannondale’s whole XC stable, it would be our choice.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.