The Cannondale Scalpel has become one of the most potent XCO and XCM bikes in the world. We’ve been riding some recent models and have been consistently impressed. But we figured instead of giving you only our opinion, we’d ask James Reid to give his opinion. And some owners of this bike.
For those few who may not know who James Reid is, here’s a summary: James is a retired mountain bike racing pro (2016 was his last season). During his relatively short racing career (he’s only 27 now), James won multiple South African and African XCO championship titles (Under-23 and Elite), as well as two South African XCM championship titles (Elite). He also represented South Africa in XCO at the Rio Olympics.
Reid raced XCO, marathons and stage races at the highest level. He understands the importance of a high-performance bike and gear. He also recently completed his MBA, so has a brain to match his physical prowess. Here’s his take on the Cannondale Scalpel Si3:
James Reid in the colours of Team Spur.
I have always sat on the sideline wondering about Cannondale bicycles. To me, the loud graphics, sharp colours and likeable professional riders associated with the brand screamed edgy appeal, but I had never had a first-hand experience.
As a brand, it’s refreshing to see Cannondale play off that mountain biking’s origins of non-conformity, asymmetry and drop-dead style – like the hipsters at the back of the lecture not paying attention but acing exams. Recently I took a 2019 Cannondale Scalpel Si Carbon 3 to The U, a three day stage race known for the technical nature of its course and breathtaking views, determined to get to know the riding experience behind one of the world’s most popular mountain bikes.
The Scalpel Si Carbon 3 comes in near the middle of Cannondale’s Scalpel range. It is a race-ready mix of high-end parts, and sharp component selection to maximise performance without getting into the price range of its World Cup team-edition models.
It’s been a few years since I raced fast and I am enjoying the chance to independently test bicycles on an ad-hoc basis with varying levels of fitness. The U is quite the testing ground – a utopian moonscape of sandstone rock formations, fynbos and citrus plantations as the backdrop to a Disneyland of mountain bike trails designed exclusively for the discerning mountain biker.
Make no mistake however, Picket-Bo-berg (a reference to the small farming community inhabiting the area above Picketberg), is mountain biking nirvana on the strict assumption that you know how to ride a mountain bike. Fifty kilometres on these trails are easily equivalent to 80km or 90km in a traditional South African off-road race, with more requirements than fitness to go fast and have fun – strength and finesse being front of mind.
Without much technical practice beforehand, I looked to the test bike for forgiveness and grace strictly without sacrificing speed. Knowing it was a somewhat impossible task, my expectations were high as we ripped our way around the 13km prologue on Friday afternoon in the fading Karoo heat. With the sum total of a short car-park setup, I was immediately struck by the integration of the suspension – as I came to appreciate on the scattered minefield of awkward rocks and narrow alleys.
The ‘Si’ in Cannondale Scalpel Si stands for System Integration, and for me was the highlight of the entire experience. Cannondale has, over the years, clearly put an extensive amount of research and development cost into thinking about how their suspension systems works together on all pitches and at any speed.
The star performer is undoubtedly the Ocho front suspension, the eccentric, seemingly unbalanced front suspension without its predecessor’s double-crowned clunky look. It is both a surgeon’s instrument and racer’s kryptonite, carving up trail and stiffening completely shut when required. I have high standards for suspension and I had brought them down somewhat given the task at hand, but the suspension system and its integration continuously overdelivered.
As the weekend progressed, I had more of a chance to open the bike up, chasing Oliver Munnik on a machine equipped far more suspension-wise in comparison to my thoroughbred racing knife. It was refreshing to ‘hang ball’ tucked-in behind him for the most part, moving fast through difficult terrain as a net beneficiary of some of the highest quality precision engineering in the world.
The mix of Cannondale’s own HollowGram wheels and SRAM’s latest XO1 parts made for a reliable ammunition, which continued to deliver under pressure. Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph / Racing Ray combo is fast rolling, but not the first pair of racing tyres I would have on for terrain like Picket-bo-berg. After the fourth plug towards the end of Day 2, I found my first gripe with what was otherwise a flawless machine.
The geometry is unique – 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 Headtube angle is a relaxed 69.5-degrees, which isn’t the slackest out there, but is comfortable enough when the going gets steep. I found adequate punch heading uphill and trust on the downhill – helped by the combination of standard wide bars (760mm), a higher BB and balanced weight distribution.
After three riveting days of racing where we topped the Team category, I must admit I’m impressed. The bike oozes a tantalising mix of speed and style, and calls for its pilot to continuously give more. The Cannondale’s Scalpel Si Carbon 3 is a bike that is happiest going fast, and designed to maximise 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.
The nitty gritty
Since it was introduced, to gasps and shaking heads back in 2000, a Cannondale with a Lefty fork has gone from being a novelty to being a serious contender for one of the best XCO/XCM race bikes there is. Cape Epic stage wins, overall podium finishes as well as XCO World Cup podium finishes and a XCM World Title, are all the confirmation needed.
When you buy a Cannondale Scalpel Si, you’re buying into some proprietary technology, which would normally come with a caveat, such as ‘not everyone can service this’, or ‘parts are hard to come by’, or ‘beware the cost to service that bike’… But there’s none of that, with Cannondale dealers able to carry out maintenance on site.
What do owners of this bike say?
Cannondale Scalpel Si 3 Owners have their say:
Have one, and love it. Lost my front shock at about 3000km, but was replaced without any issues by Cannondale. – Dewald Goosen
What a bomb! Handles like nothing else… So forgiving and responsive at the same time. What a machine…. – Dirk Obersholster
Sublime ride, stiff and responsive on both ascent and descent…the Ocho shock is next level. PS: and the colour is just sweeeet! – Neil Penrose
I have a softtail and a hardtail and it’s such an awesome bike to ride. I never had any issues besides normal wear. The Ocho fork is the best. – Salie Mitchell
It’s definitely a race-ready bike out of the box! It’s got the new Lefty Ocho, mind blowing performance! You get a carbon wheelset, so you don’t have to upgrade your wheels. Some minor upgrades, like a carbon handlebar and seatpost, and you have a RACE MACHINE. –Martin van der Westhuizen
This my fourth Scalpel so I’ve got some history. What a phenomenal ride quality you get from this bike, traction and handling is even better than the old Scalpel.
It’s very forgiving if you make a mistake and quick to respond if you need it too, and oh boy does the Lefty Ocho reward you with superior responsiveness. I did note that if you go with recommended pressures, it tends to be a bit bumpy, drop it 10psi and you will know the true performance from the Ocho.
As for the tyres the bike comes standard with, not so impressed. The new Schwalbe compound tends to crack and after only four rides had to get replaced after having to stick four plugs in the back tyre.
Overall this is a game changer of a bike and its perfect for everyday riding and weekend races. – Tiaan Jordaan
Brazil’s Henrique Avancini claimed the 2018 XCM World title on his Cannondale Scalpel.
Full specs of the Cannondale Scalpel Si3 here.
Ideal for: Marathon Racing | Marathon Stage Racing | XCO Racing
Ideal rider: Highly Committed | Competitive
Price: R79 999-00
What about the Ocho suspension fork?
I’ve blabbered on and on many times about how there’s a lack of ‘out there’ products in the mountain bike world these days; you know, something that makes you go ”Holy shit balls” when you see it. But then Cannondale comes up with this thing. The Ocho is a single-sided, single-crown fork that’s supposed to be both lightweight and relatively torsionally stiff. Now we’re talkin’. Full Pinkbike review here: https://www.pinkbike.com/news/cannondale-lefty-ocho-review-2018.html