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Field Test: 2021 Cannondale Scalpel – Deceptively Fast

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Cannondale Scalpel Hi-MOD Ultimate

Words by Sarah Moore, photography by Margus Riga
The Scalpel has been in Cannondale’s line-up for almost twenty years now, with the first version launched in 2001 and the latest update to the frame happening back in 2016 – right before the Olympic Games in Rio. While it didn’t see podium success there, the timing of the latest bike’s launch in May was obviously planned with another Olympic cycle in mind, and with hopes that Cannondale Factory’s Henrique Avancini could win a medal for Brazil in Tokyo. With those dreams postponed, Cannondale settled on Pinkbike’s cross-country Field Test instead. Or something.

With a 68° headtube angle, the Scalpel is a degree and a half slacker than the previous generation, designed with the increasingly technical World Cup courses in mind. Other key geometry numbers include a 74.5° effective seat-tube angle, a reach

Scalpel Hi-MOD Ultimate Details

• Travel: 100mm rear / 100mm fork
• Carbon frame
• Wheel size: 29″ *all sizes*
• Head Angle: 68°
• Seat Tube Angle: 74.5° (effective)
• Reach: 435mm (size M)
• Chainstay length: 436mm
• Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL
• Weight: 21.97 lb / 9.97 kg (w/o tool)
• Price: $12,000 USD

that is a full 10mm longer than the previous generation at 435mm for a size medium, and 436mm chainstays. The Scalpel we’re testing is available in carbon only and comes in four sizes, from small through extra-large. All models come with 29″ wheels.

Cannondale has engineered their own on-the-frame storage stash into the Scalpel, there’s room for two water bottles, and tube-in-tube cable routing should make maintenance easier. Cannondale also employs their “Asymmetric Integration” offset drivetrain to give more tire clearance by moving the drivetrain 6mm to the right. Additionally, the left-side dropout on the rear wheel is open, meaning you don’t need to pull the thru-axle out to remove the wheel, thereby saving you time if you flat. Pretty clever.

There’s also a 120mm down-country version of the Scalpel (with a RockShox SID fork instead of the Lefty Ocho) that Mike Levy rode, so stay tuned for that Field Test video.


When you first sit on the Scalpel, with its relatively short stem, wide handlebar, and slightly more upright position, it feels closer to a modern trail bike than a race-y cross-country rig. It doesn’t have the super-aggressive, stretched position that we’ve come to expect from cross-country bikes in the past but, as it turns out, stretched doesn’t always mean fast. While this more upright position (that can be altered with a different bar or stem, of course) makes it a touch harder to navigate through the tight trees and corners on our test course, it was no slouch on the climbs. In fact, I had my fastest ascent on it!

The quick time was likely because, while it might not be quite as easy to choose your line initially at slow speeds, the rear suspension is much more forgiving if you don’t end up on the ideal line. Although it doesn’t feel like a thoroughbred racehorse chomping at the bit on the climb, it’s easy to get it to claw up technical ascents, even when you’re fatigued and have come to a near stop. There’s also no rigid, abrasive climbing feel that we’ve come to associate cross-country bikes (I’m looking at you, Lux), and that means you can stay in the seat and pedal for longer on climbs and across rough traverses without being bounced off line. The Scalpel proves that a bike doesn’t have to feel harsh to be fast on the climbs.


On the descents, the 68-degree head tube angle means it doesn’t feel like you’re going to fly out the front door at the slightest mistake. The modern cockpit and wider handlebar also help with confidence and create a stable feeling coming into steep sections with more speed. The handling feels much more confident on steeper descents since you’re further behind the front wheel. That being said, I didn’t gel with the handling on the Scalpel as well when cornering. The bottom bracket sits 7mm higher than the Epic, and 11mm higher than the Supercaliber, which could be part of the reason why it felt like I was sitting on top of the bike rather than in it. That sensation made it harder to really push into and rail corners.

When the trail gets rough, the Scalpel’s 100mm of rear suspension works well, and it was much less exhausting on descents than the 60mm-travel Supercaliber or 100mm Canyon Lux. It absorbs the bumps instead of making you absorb them with your body. The active suspension is the plushest feeling of the cross-country bikes I rode for this Field Test, and it would make it a great choice for long days in the saddle, without sacrificing anything on a shorter Olympic cross-country distance. In other words, the Scalpel is impressively well-rounded.

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