For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
The Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 2 mountain bike commands attention with its unorthodox full suspension, no rear pivot and only one fork leg design. With the rider always in mind, Cannondale creatively discarded unnecessary bulk from the Scalpel Carbon 2 with these simple eliminations.
Written by: Aaron Hersh
These unusual attributes, combined with the fact that the Scalpel is an aluminum/carbon mix at a price dominated by full-carbon bikes, shows that this Cannondale has something to prove. Despite being constructed with a supposedly inferior material, the Scalpel Carbon 2’s agility and versatile geometry make it an ideal top-shelf mountain bike for the fun-seeking trail rider and racer alike.
Although the Scalpel Carbon 2 is somewhat pricey, Cannondale kept the price competitive without sacrificing performance. In comparison to other bikes in this ultra-competitive price range, Cannondale spent the bulk of the cost on critical components and saved on others, making this particular model an example in balanced cost.
For example, Cannondale built the Scalpel Carbon 2 with a mixed SRAM drive train featuring both X-9 and X-0 components. Rather than charging for all marquee-level components, Cannondale kept the price down by selecting an X-9 front derailleur, cassette and shifters rather than the pricier X-0 components, which Cannondale used only on the rear derailleur. The X-0 shifters execute crisper gear changes than the X-9 shifters on the Scalpel, but this difference is barely perceivable on the trail and far more obvious at the cash register. The aluminum seatpost and handlebars save a few more bucks too. The kit is finished with an FSA Afterburner BB30 carbon crank that adds a little flash and stiffness to the Scalpel Carbon 2.
The Scalpel Carbon 2 rolls on DT Swiss XCR 1.4 Custom rims laced to a DT Swiss 240 rear hub and Cannondale’s proprietary Lefty SL front hub. Wrapped in Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires, these light but sturdy wheels are eager to accelerate up the trail and still able to rip through slippery corners.
The Lefty Speed Carbon fork is light, responsive and unmistakably distinctive. Although it is hard to believe that a single-leg fork is able to withstand abuse on the trail, the Lefty fork has proven its toughness and reliability since Cannondale released the first single-leg fork more than 10 years ago. Although the Lefty Speed Carbon is most known for its looks, it really shines when the trail turns rough. It eats up rocks and roots to keep the Scalpel Carbon on track. The Lefty Speed Carbon’s lockout setting is rock solid as it firmly secures the fork in place to save power on smooth terrain and makes quick work of fire roads.
Frame and Ride
The Scalpel Carbon frameset is quick and agile on the trail but still able to absorb big hits. The rear triangle is linked directly to the frame and flexes instead of pivoting behind the bottom bracket. The result is that the carbon rear end can withstand the constant bending without softening or breaking. This design saves weight by eliminating the bearings about which the rear triangle would usually rotate. Although I expected this linkage to be hesitant to conform to the trail, it was just the opposite. The rear wheel moves freely and can absorb major impacts that would flummox other four-inch bikes. The rear wheel is so eager to move that it can slump a bit under serious pedal force. Thankfully, the RockShox Monarch 3.1 rear shock dampens this effect and minimizes unwanted motion.
The front wheel is swept out far in front of the rider, which stabilizes the bike, helps it stick to steep climbs and lets it float over rocks. This subtle geometric adjustment allows the Scalpel Carbon 2 to forgive mistakes on the trail, much like a longer travel bike, without sacrificing any of its racing-inspired design. It thrives on any type of terrain.
The Scalpel is designed primarily as a fast and aggressive race bike, but its even balance and predictable steering make it both an efficient trail cruising bike and racing machine. Although the Scalpel Carbon 2 isn’t made entirely from black gold, its versatile ride and well-reasoned component specs give it a leg up over many all-carbon bikes.