Review: Cannondale Scalpel Si Carbon 3
Cross country race bike gets boost from Lefty Ocho
Cannondale has been involve in cross country racing since the early days of the sport. With decades of experience on the World Cup circuit, the company has always had a focus on making purely race-focused machines.
The Scalpel Si, it’s current dual-suspension cross country race bike, sticks to that single minded focus. With 100 mm of balanced front and rear travel, with a bar-mounted dual lockout, the Scalpel Si is intent on going as fast as possible. But, with modern XCO courses being more demanding, the 2019 Scalpel Si is also quite a capable bike when it comes to getting back down the mountain once you’ve raced to the top.
2019 Cannondale Scalpel Si Carbon 3
The Scalpel Si Carbon 3 comes in near the middle of Cannondale’s 2019 range. It is a race-ready mix of high end parts, and sharp component selection to maximize performance without getting into the lofty price range of its World Cup team-edition bikes. I’ve covered the build of the Scalpel Si Carbon 3 in detail already, but the bike comes with Hollowgram carbon fibre wheels, a full carbon fibre frame, and a mix of SRAM XO and GX Eagle components.
For 2019, the Scalpel Si Carbon 3 also gets Cannondale’s eye-catching Lefty Ocho fork. The newest generation of the always-innovative company’s single-sided fork sheds weight by going single crown.
All together, the bike comes in at a fighting weight of 25.5 pounds, for an XL frame (no pedals). While the team issue bikes push that weight closer to 20 lbs., the Scalpel 3 puts its minimal extra weight in the right places. Lightweight carbon wheels and a solid frame make the bike quick to accelerate as soon as you get on the gas.
While the bike has the option to run a dropper post and 2x chainrings, the 3 level build comes with a XCO-focues rigid post, and 1x drivetrain.
Cutting climbs down to size
Whether you’re chasing podiums or hunting KOM’s on your local climbs, the Scalpel will be right there with you, nudging you to go just a bit faster. The Scalpel pedals well with the shock in open mode, even through hard efforts. Over technical terrain, roots and rocks, the suspension lets you carry forward momentum instead of bouncing around on the trail. Lock the suspension out, and the bike jumps forward, whether climbing or sprinting for the line.
With it’s quick acceleration and svelte weight, the Scalpel encourage me to go faster up every hill. It’s quick acceleration and impressive traction while climbing rougher trails was an excellent fit for the more awkward, steep and twisting trails in the upper reaches of Victoria’s Hartland bike park. When you hit wide open and smoother ascents, the lockout gives makes sure every Watt turns into forward progress. With the bar-mounted remote lockout switch, it was easy enough to switch between suspension modes that I often found myself locking the Scalpel out for smoother sections of trail, knowing it was easy to switch back to fully active quickly.
Cannondale has made an effort to make the Scalpel Si Carbon 3 a more competent descender in order to keep up with the changing World Cup courses. The Head tube angle is a more relaxed 69.5-degrees, which isn’t the slackest out there, but is comfortable enough when the going gets steep.
For what is explicitly a cross country race bike, the Scalpel is quite fun to descend on. It happily carries speed through corners and is happy to go as fast as you like down technical terrain. Often I found the limiting factor to be how comfortable I was descending with a high post, and on light weight racing tires, than whether or not the bike was outgunned.
The limit to the Scalpel’s descending chops seemed to be mid-sized drops, which are no longer completely absent from cross country courses. Having the post sky-high definitely makes the suspension work harder in this scenario, so adding a dropper post for more technically demanding courses could be a way to make the bike more comfortable. The initial sensitivity of the suspension did ramp up well when faced with bigger challenges, though.
The new Lefty Ocho is impressively smooth, especially through the initial part of it’s travel. Especially across rolling terrain, this made the bike carry more speed, more comfortably.
As a life-long skeptic of the single-sided approach to fork design, I was impressed with how stiff, and normal the fork felt even in the new single-crown design. I quick to forget it wasn’t a normal fork, until I looked down at my stem.
The Lefty Ocho is designed with a full lockout to make sure every bit off effort you put into the Scalpel is put to good use. Should you hit an unexpected obstacle mid-effort, or forget to unlock the fork, the Ocho’s lockout circuit is designed to open up during larger impacts. The lockout blowoff threshold is only temporary, though, and the fork will return to being fully locked after whatever you hit has passed. For riders who want more support, Cannondale also offers Ramp Clamps which you can add to the air chamber to increase the progression of the air spring.
Cannondale's instantly recognizable Lefty fork
The Lefty Ocho comes with an integrated stanction protector, with sag-measurments set on the back
Fox DPS Performance EVOL shock, with remote lockout
Schwalbe's Racing Ray paired with a Racing Ralph out back
SRAM XO rear derailleur added a bit more snap to the mostly GX build
Scalpel 3 build
The mix of Cannondale’s own HollowGram wheels and SRAM parts made for a reliable build that was always working. Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph / Racing Ray combo was very fast rolling, and an excellent set of race tires. As can be expected from the very lightweight rubber, they were a bit easier to flat on rockier terrain, but made up for that with their speed, and the grippy Addix Speed rubber compound.
In it to Win it
Cannondale’s Scalpel Si Carbon 3 is a bike that is happiest going fast, and designed to maximize speed on the cross country course. With the XXC geometry and updated Lefty Ocho fork, it’s as comfortable on the descents and weaving through trees as it is sprinting up your local test hill.
If you’re looking for a bike to chase podiums at your local race series, or just to go as fast as possible on, definitely put the Scalpel Si Carbon 3 on your list. Then start making a list of witty responses to the inevitable “looks like you lost half your fork” comments. The bike’s vibrant colour and distinctive Lefty Ocho fork attracts attention, and you can count on getting plenty of questions around the trail head, or after you cross the finish line.
Cannondale’s Scalpel Si Carbon 3 has an MSRP of $6,900.