The Scalpel has long been one of the world’s fastest XC bikes, and the Scalpel SE rides exactly how you expect a quality XC bike to ride. It’s light, snappy, efficient, and fast. But there's one major difference. The SE version has had its travel increased to 115mm in the rear and 120mm in the front. This helps extend the bike's capabilities beyond just pure racing, making it better suited to today's riders who want to both race their bikes and rally them hard out on real-world trails.
The Scalpel is equipped with the distinctive Lefty 2.0 PBR fork. Its weight is comparable to other high-end XC forks but it has the advantage of being much stiffer. This is especially noticeable when comparing it to other 120mm travel XC forks, which are almost always too noodly feeling to me. It’s an “upside down” fork with the stanchion at the bottom. The thicker portion of the fork is higher up near the headtube, where the greatest amount of leverage acts against the bike. This stiffness leads to a more solid front end, letting you push harder when the terrain gets faster and rougher.
Thanks to the added stiffness and needle bearings, there’s overall less stiction to impede the fork’s movement, meaning the fork enters its travel more easily. The Lefty is easily one of the nicest XC forks over small bumps that I’ve ever felt. The only downside, beyond the divisive looks, is the proprietary nature. They are harder to service, and often required a qualified mechanic. If something goes wrong, it’s just more of a hassle to fix. Sometimes that’s simply the price of progressive tech.
The SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain is solid, and the huge range of the 10-50t cassette allows you the option to run a bigger chainring for flatter races and sprints.
The bike comes equipped with 29" Stan’s NoTubes Arch MK3 wheels, which are a solid all-around option. The moderately wide 26mm internal width suits many wider (2.25-2.35”) XC tires very well or even beefier trail tires if you wish. A nice feature is also the ability to run two water bottle cages, a rare feat for most modern full suspension bikes.
My favorite piece of kit on the Scalpel is the included dropper seatpost. Cannondale isn’t living in the past, and they know that modern riders are descending on their bikes faster and harder than ever. At this point, a dropper is almost a necessity, and it’s fantastic that Cannondale specs one right out of the box. Not only that, the Scalpel has fairly modern geometry. The 68.5° head angle puts it on the more progressive end of XC style bikes. It's comfortably slack enough to let you push a bit harder in steep and technical descents.
The geometry and dropper post, paired with the boosted travel, make the Scalpel SE truly trail worthy. It's capable of handling much more than your average XC bike in downhill situations. With the extra travel, I could descend hard, then climb back up just as fast. All this comes together to make a bike that's more than a racer, but a good everyday trail machine as well. It fits neatly into that ethereal new category of "down-country" bikes, meant for those who like to pedal hard and ride as fast as possible in every direction, up and down. If that's you, then you're the type of rider that can make use of the Scalpel SE's speed.
Bruce is a writer who loves getting his bikes dirty, trying new tech, and riding tough trails that make him suffer for hours at a time.