Cannondale Scalpel 3 review

Fun, fast and slightly unusual looking

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £3,000.00 RRP | USD $4,100.00

Our review

The uniquely quirky concept and design work surprisingly well, offering low weight and great grip
Skip to view product specifications

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?

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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.

The lefty is an exceptionally stiff fork that contributes greatly to the scalpel’s low weight:
Seb Rogers

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.

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

Product Specifications

Product

Name Scalpel 3 (12)
Brand Cannondale

Description S, M, L, XL sizes
Seatpost Cannondale C2
Front Wheel DT Swiss XCR 1.7 custom rim, Lefty SL hub, DT Swiss butted spokes
Tyres Schwalbe Racing Ralph, 2.1in
Wheelbase (in) 43.5
Top Tube (in) 23
Seat Tube (in) 17.25
Chainstays (in) 16.7
Bottom Bracket Height (in) 12.5
Weight (lb) 22.3
Weight (kg) 10.1
Stem Cannondale OPI, 100mm
Shifters Shimano SLX
Seat Angle 73.5
Bottom Bracket SRAM BB30
Standover Height (in) 30.5
Saddle Fizik Tundra 2
Rear Shock RockShox Monarch RT, air
Rear Derailleur Shimano Deore XT
Head Angle 69.5
Handlebar Cannondale C2 alu riser, 680mm
Front Derailleur SRAM X7
Frame Material BallisTec Hi-MOD carbon
Fork Cannondale Lefty Speed PBR, air, 100mm
Cranks SRAM S1400, 26/39T
Cassette SRAM PG1030 10-speed, 11-36T
Brakes Avid Elixir 7 hydraulic discs, 160/160mm rotors
Rear Wheel DT Swiss XCR 1.7 custom rim, DT Swiss XCR 1.7 hub, DT Swiss butted spokes