The landscape of XC has changed. Courses are often strewn with as many rocks, drops and sadistic spectators as World Cup DH tracks, and races can be won or lost on them.
The Cannondale Scalpel SI was designed with those sections in mind, but aims to make as few compromises as possible to its XC M.O. We applauded some simple updates like the longer reach, shorter stem and shorter chainstays. Less simple was Cannondale's new OutFront Steering Geometry. The Scalpel's head angle is nearly 2 degrees slacker than its predecessor, but it responds as quickly. The generous 55-millimeter fork offset reins in the floppy, delayed steering that can plague slack XC bikes.
It's easy for Cannondale to make subtle geometry tweaks to the iconic Lefty, but this year saw a significant redesign to its air spring. We rode both iterations back to back, and we noticed the quieter, smoother action of the new guts. The modern Lefty is simpler and more reliable than ever, but the skeptics in our test crew argued that traditional forks are still simpler and their track record shows they're still more reliable. But even the skeptics agreed that this bike absolutely rips. It's quick, light and balanced. The 100 millimeters of rear travel has just enough ramp to feel neutral in the climbs, and it stayed that way even when we put the power down. We experimented with using the smooth, clean, stealthily routed Full Sprint remote, which locks out both ends simultaneously, but we all abandoned it once we discovered what a capable climber the Scalpel is without it.
Most remarkably, the Scalpel succeeds at its mission of being confident and fun in rough sections. It gives timid riders an edge over anyone on more narrowly focused XC bikes, and skilled riders can push it nearly as hard as they would a short-travel trail bike. After they make a couple upgrades, that is.
The time-tested Stan's rims and primarily Shimano XT build stood out, as did the relatively wide 760-millimeter bars. The Racing Ralphs used Schwalbe's SnakeSkin protection, but this bike deserved beefier tires. It also deserved a dropper post. We routed a RockShox Reverb for testing, and we can't imagine the Scalpel without it. An XC bike this versatile has a lot of potential, and we hope it's a sign of things to come.
Q&A with Cannondale
Was the more aggressive “XXC” concept inspired by a particular rider, designer, or course?
The evolution of Scalpel to what it is now was really driven by the continued technical build up of the World Cup XC courses. Our racers at that level are certainly pushing for more capable machines but you'll find they actually switch back and forth between our F-Si hardtail and the Scalpel-Si as they share some of the same geo. The changes in courses have been happening over the last few seasons. XC is becoming way more spectator friendly and exciting and these bikes and the tech built in them are up for anything thrown at them.
There are still skeptics of the Lefty out there. But it seems to be getting updates and refinements often. What new tricks are there up the Lefty's one sleeve that might win over riders who are on the fence?
2Spring is the newest spring system that is available for all Model year 2017 Leftys. We are also offering it to past year models (back to 2013). This new spring provides much better small bump compliance. It takes much less force to compress the fork at the top of the travel. This, as well as a much quieter fork with longer lasting internals is proving to be the best version of Lefty to date.
We'll probably be dropping a dropper post on our test bike immediately, which we thankfully can. Are any of your team riders running droppers on courses that could use them?
We have riders that use them for sure but none of our Cannondale Factory Racing squad has used one in a UCI XC race. We do see this as the future and know it's a want for marathon and casual racers/riders. In a continued effort to make sure we dot all the "i's" on this bike we actually made a special Di2 sheath so if you wanted to run a dropper and Di2 you can still keep your battery hidden. It goes in the top tube and connects to the shock eyelet.