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.


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.


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 Be sure to also follow Cannondale on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.