First Ride: Cannondale Scalpel SE

First Ride: Cannondale Scalpel SE

Call it cross country, down country, trail... call it whatever you want. The Scalpel SE is a hell of a mountain bike no matter what niche you put it in.

Building a great cross country bike is one of the most difficult engineering problems in the cycling world. The finished bike must not only be able to handle the rigors of increasingly gnarly cross country trails and racetracks, but also shave grams like it’s being shot into space, all while maintaining enough stiffness so that it doesn’t feel like a cooked spaghetti noodle on the trail. Cannondale’s flagship Scalpel has influenced modern cross country bike design by trying to solve that complex problem since its introduction in 2001. This newest version of the Scalpel looks to add more than just a “me too” bike with low number on the scale and some irrelevant stiffness numbers from some lab tests to their catalog.

What's New and Exciting: FlexPivot Suspension Design

The FlexPivot is a unique way to shave weight without compromising performance.

The key to the Scalpel’s suspension performance is Cannondale’s new FlexPivot suspension. The new system is basically a four bar suspension linkage, something that is not new to the mountain bike world. Cannondale claims that a typical four bar suspension design has a roughly 200-gram weight penalty compared to other designs with the same travel. The new FlexPivot utilizes durable carbon fiber flex zones that act just like a Horst link pivots, without the added weight or flex of bolts and bearings. This also allows the bike’s suspension and overall frame-feel to be custom-tuned, by size, via Cannondale’s Proportional Response construction techniques. While others sacrifice performance to save weight, Cannondale claims the FlexPivot suspension delivers both – providing a ride that is ultra-light, with incredible grip, acceleration and control.

When the trail points down, the Scalpel handles tech sections with aplomb. It does have its limits, though.

Technical and Weight Details:

At just over 1900 grams complete with shock, Cannondale claims the new Scalpel frame is lighter than cross country bike offerings from the likes of Trek, Scott and Specialized. Our size extra large test bike tipped the scales at 26.3 pounds with Shimano pedals and no bottle or spares kit mounted. Cannondale’s Ai offset drivetrain delivers clearance for big 2.4” tires while keeping the chainstays short for traction and agility. Scalpel’s progressive geometry has evolved even further to a headtube angle that is a full degree and a half slacker and seat tube angle that is one-degree steeper compared to the outgoing bike. This, combined with Lefty’s extra-long fork offset, creates the latest version of Cannondale’s OutFront geometry giving riders more stability and confidence when things get rough, while keeping the steering responsive everywhere else.

The Scalpel comes in several different configurations to cater to specific rider needs. The configuration that caught our eye first is the Scalpel SE, shown here. The bike takes Scalpel’s trail capability and kicks it up a few notches bumping the travel from 100mm (front and rear) to a plush 120mm (front and rear) and slacking out the headtube angle even further. Larger volume 29” tires and a dropper post combine to deliver incredible speed and all-around capability.

While suspension is the hero of the Scalpel story, the bikes also get Cannondale’s new STASH Kit. Built into the downtube under the water bottle mount, the STASH kit has everything needed for fast trailside repairs including a Fabric 8-in-1 mini tool in a quick-draw holster, a Dynaplug tubeless plug kit, and a place for a CO2 inflator or small mini pump.

FIRST RIDE IMPRESSION

When we first heard about the new XC bike from Cannondale, we were excited to see an invitation to ride it with the Cannondale crew as part of a global launch party. A few short weeks later, the Coronavirus reared its ugly head and cancelled any bike trip travel plans in any of our riding futures. The need for a new bike to explore our home trails in a new way became very clear. We tasked the Scalpel SE to solve our quarantine boredom by turning dull fire road miles into fun adventures. It succeeded.

Short punchy ascents are made easier with a suspension design that works to keep traction

Our size XL test bike fit true to size and proved remarkably simple to set up with a balanced 20% sag front and rear. We never had to fuss with pressure much during our test. The bike provides an impressively snappy feel right after the first pedal stroke that screams acceleration and climbing prowess before it hits dirt. On smooth singletrack and fire roads, the Scalpel provides a supple smooth ride that’s efficient feeling thanks to the steep seat angle and slightly forward feeling weight distribution. The shock and fork have compression switches to firm the ride for climbing, a feature we used often on smooth ascents. For technical climbing though, the Scalpel prefers to keep the suspension open and working, and allow the wheel to remain connected with the dirt for increased traction. Where other cross country bikes have sacrificed suspension performance in the name of weight savings, Cannondale somehow seems to find the best of both worlds with he Scalpel, designing a bike that will feel road bike fast when “locked out,” yet improve technical climbing prowess with a suspension that works to propel you to the top of the hill with traction. Nice.

When the trail points downhill, the Scalpel handles technical sections with aplomb. While our test riders were used to bikes with more travel, they appreciated the Scalpels sharp handling manners and active suspension design that handles the trail just like its name suggests: like a surgeon’s blade. It’s precise so that the rider knows exactly where the cornering edges are on the tires, and while capable, it will let you know when you’ve hit a limit. We found ourselves reaching for the “long travel” mode more than once, only to remember that while the descending capabilities of the Scalpel are impressive, they are more limited than those of a bike designed to handle more aggressive descents.

FROM THE GOOSEWORKS TEST RIDERS

When we first spoke with the Cannondale crew about the new Scalpel SE, they were hesitant to pigeonhole it into one niche of riders it could cater to. You could call it a “down country” bike, which is to say it’s a cross country bike designed to also handle technical descents. We suppose that makes it a perfect bike to go cross the country on trails with? Whatever genre you want to put the new Scalpel in is fine. What’s clear to us after only a few short weeks riding is that this is an exceptionally capable platform, and we’ll be using it to explore the deep back country trails we never thought we could access. Stay tuned for a long term review in the coming months to see how it fares.

From Cannondale:

The new Scalpel will be available in 8 models including Scalpel SE as well as a Women’s Scalpel Carbon 2 and Women’s Scalpel Carbon SE. Scalpels will range in size from S, M, L, XL, and the women’s models will be available in S, M, L. For more information on the all-Scalpel, visit www.cannondale.com. Be sure to also follow Cannondale on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Ride GOOSED Product Test: Archer D1X Trail Electronic Shifter

GOOSED Bullet Points

  • Works with any shifter/derailleur/cassette combo
  • Shifting is precise and quick, even under load
  • Not a sizable weight penalty
  • Unit tucks neatly out of the way
  • Tuning each individual gear takes more time than setting up a cable derailleur the first time
  • No on-the-bike fine-tuning adjustment. All must be done through the connected app

Archer Components is a small technology company in Scotts Valley, California, a town that’s sandwiched between the high-tech hub of Silicon Valley and some of the absolute best trail riding in the world near Santa Cruz. It’s no wonder they borrowed technology from the former to improve performance in the latter. And while their new D1x Trail shifting system may look small, the power it gives riders made us eager to bolt one to our drivetrain to see if upgrading to electronic shifting could benefit us.

Tech features: The D1x Trail shift system works with the existing derailleur on your bike and replaces the mechanical shifter that’s on your handlebar with a servo motor mounted to your frame. That motor is controlled with a handlebar-mounted remote that is connected via Bluetooth to tell the servo when to pull the short length of the cable to move the derailleur. The D1x is a fully programmable system that allows the rider to fine-tune each and every shift point by using the Archer app on any smartphone or tablet. The D1x system comes with everything you need to replace your mechanical shifter and all but a tiny length of shift cable and housing with the electric unit. Our system, with batteries installed and all mounting hardware, tipped the scales at 249 grams (49 grams for the three batteries), replacing our SRAM X01 setup that weighed 186 grams. Archer claims the system holds a charge for up to 80 hours of ride time or up to 150 hours in the low-power mode. The system sells for $389 and can be purchased directly from Archer at www.archercomponents.com or through any local bike shop.

Setup: Installation of the D1x system begins simply enough with removing parts like the mechanical shifter, cable and housing. Our Canyon Strive test bike has well-executed internal routing, but having a wireless setup means there is less clutter and no need to spend time hopelessly fishing for the cable from the inside of the frame. The D1x uses a very short bit of cable to connect the shifter unit to the derailleur, which proved easy to measure and attach. The shifter unit is then strapped to the frame using specially molded straps that bolt to the shifter. The setup is easy to use and tucked neatly under the chainstay of our test bike without any clearance issues from the frame or wheel. The remote is even easier to install and mated seamlessly with our SRAM Matchmaker shifter mount.

Once on the bike, the real work begins. The D1x is a fully programmable setup, which means two things: First, it means it will pull exactly how much cable you program it to for each and every cog on the cassette, no matter which cassette or derailleur you are using. It also means you must go through each of those cogs using the Archer app and set those shift points. Thankfully, Archer makes this process relatively easy with a step-by-step setup wizard. After about 10 minutes of fumbling on our own, we followed the steps found on Archer’s YouTube channel, which made sense of all the settings and adjustments quickly. After about an hour of work, we were ready to hit the trails. For a competent home mechanic, this setup would be relatively simple.

On the trail: The Archer system shifts the drivetrain with ease when it’s set up properly. Under load, it feels every bit as responsive as a cable-driven system with no delay. Our first ride out, a few of our gears made noise, which necessitated some fine-tuning. Since there are no finetuning buttons on the shifter or remote, even small adjustments must be made with the app. On the trail, this means stopping and connecting via the Bluetooth system. It’s not quite as easy as turning a barrel adjuster but still makes mid-ride adjustments relatively quick. Once we dialed in the shift points so things were running smoothly, we experimented with the “over-shift” function, which tells the system to pull or release the cable slightly more than necessary to make a crisp shift and then return to the set running position. This improved shifting and eliminated even slight hesitations between gears. Our only suggestion would be to include some type of adjustment that can be used without connecting a smartphone, but that may come with future generations of the product. During our test, we also inverted the shift buttons just to try it. The remote is comfortable to use for both up and downshifts, although one of the buttons is always going to be slightly more difficult to reach. We set ours up to shift down with the closer button for technical climbs, but changing this is as easy as toggling a switch in the app. The batteries last longer than we expected, even with the nearly 600 shifts we averaged per ride (the app has a nifty odometer that stores this info). We found ourselves remembering to remove the batteries to charge them every few rides, although you could certainly go longer. Push it too long between charges and you may find yourself without any juice, though. Archer has thought of this and includes a get-me-home gear setting in the app, which allows you to put the chain anywhere in the cassette—a nice feature for anybody who doesn’t want to grind his way home in the tallest gear because of a dead battery.

The Archer D1x Trail works well. It doesn’t come with a sizable weight penalty, and it’s easy enough to install for a home mechanic. It took us a couple of rides to program it to suit our preferences, but the precise shifting, clean cockpit setup and freedom from internal cable routing proved worth the trouble. It’s arguably the most versatile shifter we’ve ever tested because it will do basically anything you tell it to do. When the adjustability is harnessed and dialed in with the app, the Archer D1x Trail makes shifting as easy as pressing a button—literally.

The Archer D1x electronics are all internally sealed and claimed to be waterproof, although there is a large hole in the shifter that obviously can allow some water to penetrate the system during stream crossings or bike washing. We experienced issues with the system shutting off on two separate occasions, both after washing our bike with a hose. After removing the batteries, which were wet to the touch, we were able to manually dry the system with a hairdryer to restore its function. We can’t say for sure that the water damaged the electronics or not, as they returned to normal function once dried. We will say that this system likely isn’t designed for riders who like to get super muddy, nor for those neat freaks who insist on pressure washing their bike every ride. Price: $389

Ride GOOSED Product Test – SiDI Defender 20 Shoes

Shoes for Godzilla Ballet Riders

Sidi’s Defender 20

GOOSED Bullet Points

-Single ratchet closure system works flawlessly

-Sticky rubber on a stiff sole is great for on and off bike performance

-Simple, understated good looks that will last

Sidi was founded in 1960 by craftsman and avid rider Dino Signori. Dino’s first pairs of performance footwear were manufactured by hand in Italy, adhering to traditional methods, and finished with a stamp of his initials “SiDI.” Today, Sidi cycling shoes are synonymous with quality construction. The Defender 20 came about last year when Sidi sought to build a shoe that would work for a very wide range of riders needs. We strapped a pair of these to our feet to see if Sidi could design a shoe that would work for rugged trail adventure riding, long grinding cross country miles, and all the off the bike steps in between.

Tech Features: The Defender 20 is a mountain-specific shoe that is designed with both on the bike performance and versatility in mind. The upper is built with a synthetic material called Politex that uses several overlapping layers of PVC and fabric that are compressed together to offer strong resistance to laceration, stretching and fading. The Defender 20 uses Sidi’s Techno 3 fit system that dials in fit along the entire length of the shoe, adapting the upper to the shape of the foot for a customized fit. The closures are held together by an all new proprietary Sidi Wire material that is non-binding for on-the-fly adjustments. Like most SIDI small parts, the Tecno 3 system is serviceable and replaceable. The sole is Sidi’s Outdoor Rubber, which provides grip on variable trails, and mates to a molded and reinforced heel cup to keep your heel in place. Our size 45 test shoes tipped the scales at 996 grams with Shimano SPD cleats mounted. The Defender 20 sells for $225 and can be purchased at any Sidi dealer.

Field Test Results: When we set out to review cycling shoes, we expect to compromise certain creature comforts in the name of performance, or vice versa. We know that super-light XC shoes that are incredibly stiff and efficient on the bike will also make you feel like a baby giraffe trying to learn to walk on a sheet of glare ice. And those clod-hopper flat-pedal shoes that are so comfortable off the bike will leave you pining for that extra bit of power from the upstroke if only you’d chosen to ride clips. The defender 20 skips both of those pitfalls and delivers on a shoe that’s stiff and efficient, with a firm sole that feels like it’s delivering every bit of power to the pedals. The upper is form fitting and molds to the foot nicely, a feature that’s even more noticeable with the easy-to-use, single-buckle wire closure. Just a quick spin of this “buckle” dial cinches the shoes closed with no noticeable binding in the wire, or bunches in the tongue, which stays neatly in place even on long rides. Thanks to the molded heel cup, you don’t need to run the closure system overly tight to keep the heel in place. The insole is thin and firm, because Sidi relies on the excellent contours inside the shoe to cradle your foot, not simply put a cushy sponge under it for comfort. The outsole is aggressive enough to provide off the bike traction as well as any other shoe we’ve tried on rough terrain, even compared to flat pedal shoes with sticky rubber. The Defender has an airy ventilation system that makes it a solid choice for summer heat, but makes it less than water resistant. Overall, the construction is rugged but refined. Well made, but not overbuilt.

It’s rare that we find a product that ticks all the boxes for such a wide range of riders. It’s even more impressive when that product isn’t the most expensive one on the planet. At $225, the Defender certainly isn’t a bargain shoe, unless you take into account that we’ve seen other Sidis in our collection last the better part of a decade. The Defender 20s left us feeling we didn’t compromise a thing, uphill or down, on the bike or hike-a-bike. They use a smart blend of features and top-notch construction to deliver all the goods you need on the mountain, and we expect them to be on our feet for many trail miles to come.