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Cannondale Mountain Bike (MTB) Buyer's Guide: From Full Suspension to Lefty Bikes

From the Lefty forks to the high-pivot Jekyll, Cannondale mountain bikes push the envelope with cutting-edge tech. This guide helps you pick the right bike for your trails. 

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

Cannondale can never be accused of playing it safe. From CAAD aluminum frames to Lefty mountain bike forks to the $30,000 Fulcrum DH, Cannondale bikes have always been radical. This is driven by an engineering ethos that produced proprietary technology and novel designs that have offended some, but also captured the hearts and minds of many forward-thinking cyclists.

Though it got a start with touring bags and road bikes, this scrappy Connecticut brand went on to sponsor arguably the premiere factory mountain bike team of the '90s. During mountain biking's heyday, legends like Missy Giove, Myles Rockwell, Tinker Juarez, and Alison Sydor all raced and won aboard Cannondales.

In this overview, we’ll cover Cannondale’s line of current mountain bikes, from lightweight, hardtail XC bikes, to trail-shredding enduro race bikes. Once you find the Cannondale that best suits your riding needs, The Pro’s Closet has you covered.

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Cannondale mountain bikes

Cannondale F-Si / Scalpel HT

Cannondale F-Si

Wheel size: 29"
Suspension travel: 100mm front

The F-Si is Cannondale’s hardtail cross-country race bike. It’s not necessarily official, but F-Si supposedly stands for: “For those with serious issues.” It’s a joke, but it gets at the core of what the F-Si is all about. XC racers who obsess over having the most efficient, agile, and lightest race bike possible are the type to be drawn to an all-out race machine like the F-Si. With the Lefty Ocho fork (some entry-level models will come equipped with a standard fork), Ai Offset rear end, and ultra-light carbon frame, it will be hard to beat on fast XC terrain. For 2022, the F-Si has been replaced by the Scalpel HT (not shown above), which has dropped seat stays and a slacker head tube angle.

Who it’s for: XC riders who want the lightest, most efficient bike, or who ride less technical terrain.

Cannondale Scalpel

Cannondale Scalpel

Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: 100mm front / 100mm rear

The Scalpel is Cannondale’s full-suspension XC bike and it has been in production for nearly 20 years. With the Scalpel, Cannondale has always prioritized creating the lightest and most efficient full-suspension bike possible to give its riders an edge on rough and technical courses. The latest Scalpel uses more progressive geometry, with a slacker head tube for confidence on descents. The new FlexPivot suspension employs thin, flexible carbon plates near the axle that act as pivots without the added weight or maintenance of bearings. Combine this with Lefty Ocho fork, and you have the ideal recipe for coming out on top in tough races.

Who it’s for: XC riders looking for the lightest, most efficient full-suspension race bike available.

Cannondale Scalpel SE

Cannondale Scalpel SE

Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: 120mm front / 120mm rear

The Scalpel SE is Cannondale’s short-travel trail bike based on the ultra-fast Scalpel XC race bike. It has been beefed up with 20mm more travel and trail-oriented components to make it more capable than the standard Scalpel on descents. The Scalpel SE can be considered Cannondale’s “downcountry” bike, a cross-country bike that is aimed more at downhill performance than maximizing efficiency. It will hold its own in XC races, but it will be more versatile for trail riders who enjoy big rides on technical terrain more than racing.

Who it’s for: Marathon XC racers and riders looking for a more capable “downcountry” XC bike.


Cannondale Habit

Cannondale Habit mountain bike

Wheel size: 29” / 27.5+
Suspension travel: 140mm front / 130mm rear

The Habit is Cannondale’s mid-travel trail bike that is as comfortable pedaling uphill as it is shredding back downhill. It’s an all-rounder to suit the majority of riders and the widest range of terrain. Modern trail geometry and an efficient 130mm of travel mean it can handle anything from all-day cross-country adventures to the occasional gnarly downhill track. Frames come in carbon or aluminum, and a flip-chip allows riders to adjust geometry to run either 29" or 27.5+ wheels (27.5+ versions are dubbed the "Bad Habit"). If you’re looking for a quiver-killer bike that will feel comfortable and capable on any ride, the Habit is a top choice.

Who it’s for: Trail riders looking for one bike to handle everything from flow trails to technical downhill tracks.

Cannondale Jekyll

Cannondale Jekyll

Wheel size: 29” / 27.5”
Suspension travel: 170mm front / 170mm rear 29" - 150mm front / 150mm rear, 27.5" - 170mm front / 165mm rear

The Jekyll is Cannondale’s enduro race bike. It provides the most suspension travel and the longest and slackest geometry in Cannondale’s mountain bike line-up. Its number-one priority is maximizing downhill speed by smoothing out the gnarliest terrain. For 2022, the Jekyll was redesigned with the much-hyped high-pivot suspension design and increased travel to 170mm. It's currently only available with a carbon frame and 29" wheels. Older models are available with either 29” or 27.5” wheels and an alloy or carbon frame.

Who it’s for: Enduro racers and riders looking for the most downhill capable bike that can still be pedaled uphill.


Cannondale Lefty forks

An overview of Cannondale mountain bikes wouldn’t be complete without some comment on the Cannondale Lefty fork, Cannondale’s most iconic mountain bike component. Traditional mountain bike forks have two legs, the left side containing the spring (air or coil) and the right side containing the damper, which controls how the spring behaves. The Lefty takes these two components, and combines them together into the left leg, hence the name “Lefty.” 

Lefty Ocho fork

Consolidating the fork components into a single leg reduces weight, which is essential for cross-country applications where the Lefty shines. But more importantly, the upside-down design and use of needle bearings improve the fork’s stiffness, reduce stiction, and eliminate bushing bind. This makes a Lefty more comfortable and controlled compared to a traditional cross-country fork.

The latest version of the Lefty, the single-crown Lefty Ocho, is found on the F-Si, Scalpel HT, and Scalpel cross-country bikes. There is also a short-travel 30mm Lefty Oliver Gen2 fork currently used on the Topstone Carbon Lefty gravel bike. 

The Lefty is a divisive product and there is a lot of history and technology behind it. If you’d like to learn more, check out “Should you ride a Lefty fork?” for an in-depth guide to all things Lefty.

Lefty fork or not, there are plenty of Cannondale mountain bikes worth riding. Hit up a TPC Ride Guide at (866) 401-9636 to discuss our current Cannondale selection and find the ride that suits your MTB needs. 

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