Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate

Words by Mick Ross | Images by Flowtographer

The not-so-minor details

Product

Cannondale Scalpel 29er Carbon Ultimate

Contact

Cycling Sports Group
www.cannondale.com

Price

AUD10,999.00

Weight

9.60kg

Positives

About as premium as it gets. Stunning finish backed up by a beautiful ride and efficient performance.

Negatives

Limited stem options leave bar height higher than most in class, tall gear ratio and the sad fact it was not ours to keep.

Flow: ‘Hey guys, we’d love to test a 2013 Cannondale Scalpel, what do you say?’

Cannondale: ‘Sure, how about the Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate?’

Flow: ‘What, like the eleven thousand dollar one!?’

How lucky can you get? The offer to review and test one of the most incredible bikes available, the Cannondale Scalpel Carbon 29er Ultimate had us feeling excited and quite honoured.

To test this magnificent machine we took the Scalpel to the four day stage race in West Oz – The Cape-to-Cape. ┬áThe Scalpel was more like a performance enhancing advantage than just a bike to ride. [private]

Not only just a pleasure to ride, this was also the most photogenic bike to ever roll into the Flow studio. It sure is stunning.

Performance And Looks To Match

Cannondale and high end bikes go hand in hand, be it on the road or off it. The American brand is blessed with a strong cycling heritage and a wildly innovative reputation that so many brands will never come close to. From our view point down under, we have noticed Cannondale go through some ups and downs, changed hands in Australian distributorship and international direction. Manufacturing finally made the shift from the U.S.A. to Asia and they look to be back on track, and since, their carbon frames have reaffirmed the brand at the top of the savvy cyclists wish list.

Locally Cannondale bikes frequent the race track more than the back country trails with lightweight race bikes like the Flash and Scalpel. These carbon beauties are well known to be some of the lightest on the market and are the choice of those who both appreciate a fine riding carbon frame and have their head around the Lefty suspension.

Wide bars, single sided fork leg and a curvy chassis.

We were very impressed with the Scalpel’s performance both during the race and when we got it out to our home trails. What really blew us away was how easily it climbed loose trails. Even with fairly skinny 2.1″ tyres the rear wheel traction was in abundance!

And for a 29er, even in size large, we were able to flick it around tight single track turns with ease. Also it’s sharp but not too much of a handful at speed, magic? Not, just quality workmanship.

The original 26″ Cannondale Scalpel used a flex stay arrangement (where the actual frame flexes slightly to remove the need for a suspension pivot) but with the bigger wheels a pivot is needed. The back end is very tidy indeed.

A Syntace X12 (142x12mm) rear axle is neat and user friendly. Doing away with quick release skewers and open dropouts to achieve a lighter section without compromise of strength.

Aluminium is a rare sight on this bike. This tight little one-piece linkage plate swings on big alloy axles to drive the supple and well balanced Fox shock.

The seat tube sits off-centre to allow for a generous main suspension pivot and a direct mount front derailleur. There are beautiful shapes wherever you look.

It’s all about the Lefty. Cannondale’s own suspension system is whacky for the untrained eye, but what it offers in the way of steering precision, weight savings and supple feel is well and truly worth a look in.

Cannondale’s own stem and steertube system is unique and effective. We ran the shortest and lowest combination but still it was significantly taller in the front end than other comparable bikes. The headtube also has the ability to swap spacers around in the headset for two head angle settings. We ran it in the slackest setting.

The Lefty

For 2013, the premium Lefty Carbon 100 XLR has undergone a serious makeover. Gone is the big rubber boot and in place is a more traditional looking round inner leg and seal. The key to the Lefty’s stiff and precise operation is the needle bearings inside, and this new version uses a hybrid of needle bearing and bushes (bushes are found in traditional telescopic forks).

The forks performance improved over time as the compression and rebound felt very slow to begin with. Whether is was caused by an oil flow restriction or simply the bedding in of the bushes and seals is unknown, however it did improve. Lockout is via a Rockshox XLoc, and it fit neatly within reach of the left thumb. Not only did the fork feel smoother than Leftys of the past, the damping properties impressed us. With less brake dive and unsupported compression damping this Lefty is the nicest we have ever ridden.

How to make any bike better – fit Enve wheels. The best rims money can buy. We fitted the Enve tubeless rim strip and the Schwalbe tyres sealed up with Stans seelant without a worry.

Cannondale’s own cranks adorn the Scalpel, the Hollogram SL with Truvativ X-Glide chain rings and BB30 bottom bracket bearings. With 42/28 tooth chainrings we found the gearing a little too hard at times. This ratio would suit a 26″ bike fine, or flatter terrain, but we couldn’t help but think that some riders would wish for a slightly lower range.

When forking out $11000 for a mountain bike you’d expect the best components money can buy, and that is what you will receive here.
A Shimano XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur works flawlessly and quietly, the Magura MT8 brakes were a pleasant surprise and handled the job very well, and a DT Swiss 240 rear hub is about as reliable and fast as is gets.

With Shimano, Rockshox and Magura components mounted on the handlebar there is no integration, but the fit in our hands was always fine and ergonomic.

Braided carbon saddle rails and a hollow pin/link chain are the small details that all contribute to the crazy low weight.

Do We Have To Give It Back?

We had to give it back, which was a massive shame. Premium components aside, this bike is simply the ultimate race bike. Thankfully the Scalpel does come in other price points, in carbon or alloy versions, so there is a Scalpel for many more budgets.

The sharp and zippy geometry of the bike lends itself so well for the race track, or the rider looking for one of the most efficient rear suspension bikes around.

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