Cannondale Scalpel SE LTD
Mountain Bike - First Impressions
Dubbed by Cannondale as a “high-speed trail slayer”, the Scalpel SE Mountain Bike takes a proven cross-country recipe and amps up the fun factor. Building on the success of its race-oriented sibling, this SE edition sees the suspension travel bumped to 120mm both front and rear, and features a well thought out parts specification that has it rolling on plush 2.35” tyres and equipped with a short stem for agile handling.
The changes don’t stop here, however. A trail-bike inspired geometry overhaul improves pace on all gradients, with the relaxed 67-degree head angle delivering stability and confidence in equal measure.
From marathon racing to laps of your local woodland, this article highlights the impressive capability of the Cannondale Scalpel SE. Its unique frame design, forward-thinking specification and exclusive technology compound towards making it nothing short of a missile, regardless of whether you’re hunting KOMs or smiles on the trail.
Out of the Box
With sleek lines and a sublime colourway, this bike carries with it a certain gravitas. The aesthetic is purposeful, and the boutique specification nods towards its race-worthy heritage. Sitting atop its product family tree, the model I have been riding is the Cannondale Scalpel SE LTD Lefty, which comes equipped with a premium SRAM X01 drivetrain, carbon HollowGram wheelset, and svelte, SRAM Level TLM disc brakes.
Initially, I worried the bike had been poached in transit, with the lightweight box being seemingly devoid of any weight resembling that of a mountain bike. The frame's flowing design extends through to the cockpit, which sees tidy MatchMaker integration to eliminate handlebar clutter.
The attention to detail is exceptional, with neat protection decals preventing frame rub in all the key areas. A protective strip sits above the lower pivot, preventing stones and debris from becoming lodged in the gap, and a minimal chain guide offers security without disrupting the clean styling.
An integrated wheel sensor syncs seamlessly with the accompanying Cannondale app, providing key ride metrics and service interval reminders.
Cannondale Lefty Ocho Fork
As a rider with a penchant for inadvertently destroying components, at first the diminutive, single-sided stature of the Lefty Ocho suspension fork left me in a near cold sweat. Sporting only a single crown, the Ocho is a departure from the Lefty’s of old and is one of the lightest cross-country suspension forks on the market. A keyed system prevents the upside-down design from twisting, and although unconventional, this fork is tipped as one of the most robust in its category.
The Missing Pivot
Wide and sturdy, the tubeset inspires memories of short travel 4X bikes, a thought mirrored in its responsive, snappy ride quality. At the heart of the frame is its unique suspension design, which utilises a virtual Horst link in the form of a chainstay FlexPivot.
Reducing the need for a bearing pivot eliminates excess weight, with the carbon FlexPivot being lighter and stiffer than traditional designs. Although slender, its wide width ensures lasting durability, with its maintenance-free design being key to the Scalpel SE’s supple suspension performance.
On Trail Performance
The local rolling hills of the South Downs proved to be a prime testing ground for the Scalpel SE. After a short setup process that involved using Cannondale’s recommended suspension pressures, I hit the trails for a shakedown.
While conservative when compared to the current trends for long, low and slack geometry, the cockpit feels roomy, with the 780mm wide handlebar alluding to its SE designation.
Following on this bike’s genre-defying “down-country” specification, I fitted my go-to choice of flat pedals. The nearby chalk terrain is notoriously slick, but all hesitancy melted away after an initial more tentative lap, mostly spent ogling the bizarre-looking Lefty fork.
Lively and engaging, the short travel platform feels sporty, with punchy acceleration that leaves you with no doubt of its race-bred heritage. The undulating terrain saw great use of the dropper post, a welcome spec addition that fit well with the bike’s tradition-breaking theme. With enough room to fit two bottle cages, the tall front triangle allows for pack-free riding, even over longer distances, and an aftermarket STASH tool kit nestles in the downtube for trail-side repairs.
On technical climbs where many bikes would be fighting for traction, the Scalpel SE pulls no punches. The virtual Horst link platform delivers glue-like rear-wheel grip, resulting in fewer dabs and endless PRs, with its exceptional performance imparting an addictive quality to its ride. The bike’s ultralight weight helps in this regard, with the spritely carbon HollowGram 25 wheels allowing the user to carry momentum up the climb.
The low weight also makes unweighting and lifting the front wheel up and over obstacles a cinch, permitting trials-esque moves up seemingly impassable sections of trail. Sustained climbs are also the Scalpel SE’s forte, with the accessible lockout switches on the fork and shock offering a stable, efficient platform for fast fire-road climbing.
It didn’t take long before the Scalpel SE had removed all my preconceived ideas of how a cross-country bike should handle. The slack head angle and increased fork offset add a slight vagueness at slower speeds but come into their own for fast, flowing descents. Plush and responsive, the SIDLuxe Ultimate rear shock and Lefty Ocho make for a potent combination, with the fork’s unique needle bearing design imparting a buttery smooth feel on the trail.
The hesitancy I had with the Ocho was unfounded. It offers confidence-inspiring support and a level of stiffness that quickly dissipates any worries associated with its unorthodox appearance, as well as providing a suitable range of tuning options to suit a wide range of user preferences. The fast-rolling Maxxis tyres quickly pick up speed, with their modern, 2.35” carcass offering surprisingly manageable levels of traction in dry conditions.
Blurring the lines between cross-country and trail, the Scalpel SE is exceptionally versatile. Skilled riders will certainly appreciate the precision on offer. The 120mm of suspension travel and lightweight build reward careful line choice, as opposed to offering the ability to plough through obstacles. The lightweight EXO tyres could spell disaster on rocky terrain but are well suited to the bike’s intended purpose.
A burlier front tyre would allow for more commitment through turns, particularly on the loose chalk surfaces where I found myself riding, but this is by no means essential for enjoying this bike.
Supple, fun and lightning-quick, the Scalpel SE is an exhilarating ride that has truly made me reevaluate my personal bike choice. While capable, it still firmly sits in the realm of cross country, albeit this may be all many riders need.
In a world of 170mm+ super-enduro bikes, this is no doubt the faster option for much of the UK's ever-expanding trail network, injecting ludicrous speed and wanderlust into each and every ride.