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2011 Cannondale Scalpel – Redesigned Full Suspension XC Race Rocket

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Cannondale’s premiere full suspension race bike, the Scalpel, gets a full makeover for 2011…and does away with the aluminum versions.  For 2011, there’s only full carbon fiber frames.

At the core of the Scalpel’s design is the Zero Pivot flexing chain- and seatstays that provide the rear wheel travel. The frame uses one small link to drive the shock, and the link is where Cannondale’s director of technology Peter Denk designed in the leverage ratio. While the SAVE stays may not look terribly different, the Scalpel’s rear wheel travel gets reduced to 80mm travel for 2011, down from 100mm. 80mm doesn’t sound like a lot these days, but when you consider it’s getting 3″ of rear axle travel with no pivots, it’s pretty amazing…and keep in mind, this is a straight-up race bike. The Left fork remains at 100mm.

One of the most noticeable visual differences between old Scalpels and the 2011 model is the bottom bracket area. Older models had a full aluminum BB shell that was bonded to the chainstays. For 2011, the BB area is full carbon and is molded as one-piece with the chainstays, so there are continuous fibers running throughout. This reduces weight and makes it stiffer and stronger. Building on that, they widened the bottom bracket shell to 73mm BB30 from previous 68mm wide design.  This allows for wider stay placement for more lateral stiffness.

This new Scalpel embodies Cannondale’s Si (System Integration) philosophy that eschews off-the-shelf parts in favor of components and frames designed together to maximize stiffness and minimize weight. This includes their forks, stem, crankset/bottom brackets and the associated frame sections.

The result is a bike that’s easily 500g (1.1 lbs) or more lighter than other lightweight, full suspension XC bikes using the lightest commonly available parts.

Lots of photos, specs and details behind the break…


The frame is full carbon fiber save for strategic placements of aluminum, including the direct mounts for the front derailleur, shock mount linkage inserts and link, dropouts and disc brake mounts.


While some manufacturers are molding their rear disc brake mounts out of carbon, Cannondale chose full aluminum mounts that are bonded to the carbon stays. Denk says this improves heat transfer and dissipation, and that too much can damage the bond between bosses and the frame on carbon bikes. As an example of why this is pretty important for frame safety and longevity, Denk said if the bosses become even slightly loose from heat and you held the rear brake while stopped on an uphill, as the bike wanted to roll back it could rip the bosses right out of the frame.

Cannondale took inspiration from their Flash hardtail when designing many of their 2011 models, and on the Scalpel, it shares the thin, shaped seatstay bridge. Other similarities include a massive downtime (60mm in this case) and generally similar tube shaping throughout.


The 2011 Scalpel uses a direct Mount, E-Type FD that allows for a continuous seat tube, which helps better transfer rider power. Two cable holes are located behind the seat tube for proper cable routing between different brands of front derailleurs. It comes with a plug and cable “worm” to be used to seal gunk out.


The 2011 Scalpel’s frame uses tube-to-tube construction, so different size bikes are made via different size tubes and different carbon layups cut and mitered to create the front triangle. Each tube is molded separately, individually laid up, then joined and overwrapped at the joints with specific layups to put more strength in the higher stress areas.

The bent top tube is actually two straight, thinwall tubes connected with a reinforced bend area where the shock mount is. This, again, saves weight while building strength into high stress areas.  The design also puts the shock compression forces directly inline with the front part of the top tube, which pushes forces straight into a tube. C’dale says this allows for a lighter frame build than on bikes that would have to use additional angles and gussets to combat suspension forces.


The rear triangle is the same on all sizes, with linkage placement in relation to the BB being the same on all sizes.


All of Cannondale’s new mountain bikes use a two-sided “sandwich” derailleur hangar. The design increases stiffness, which they say is more important with new 10-speed drivetrains that require more precision.

Further increasing stiffness is their Si (System integration) Head Tube. It’s a straight 1.5″ headtube with Pressfit bearings and designed around their Lefty fork, but adapters are available for those that want or need (read: sponsorship) to run something else.


Other Si touches are the BB30 bottom bracket with Cannondale’s Hollowgram SL cranksets. These cranks are hollow aluminum created by machining out each side, then bonding them together. Compared to hollow forged cranks we’ve seen from others, there is a significantly more material removed on the Hollowgrams…which is why they weigh in more than 100g lighter than SRAM XX cranks (they use XX rings on the Scalpel Ultimate, other cranks and/or rings on various other models). These are the same Hollowgram SL cranks that they use on their high end road bikes.


All together, the frame changes and System Integration result in a bike that’s extremely light. A large frame is just 1365g (3.01lbs) without shock. With a Fox RP23 shock (226g) the module is 1591g (3.5lbs), making it considerably lighter than it’s XC racing competition. But it’s also stiff, coming in from 7% to 25% stiffer using the Zedler test than some of the top XC race bikes (in a study done by an independent publication).  And, lest you worry that it’s fragile, there’s no rider weight limit, and the Scalpel is tested to the same standards as their long travel bikes.


Scalpel vs. Flash – Choose Your Race Weapon
If you’re the type of racer that has money to burn and likes to have a quiver of bikes such that there’s always the right tool for the job, Cannondale made the Scalpel and Flash bikes very similar. Top tube and chainstay lengths are the same, Scalpel has 0.5º slacker HA, 20mm higher BB, and 2mm longer wheelbase, so switching between the two for various races won’t require you to get used to different handling characteristics…just grab the bike you want and rack up some podiums.

For 2011, all Scalpel models share the same Hi-Mod carbon frame, they’re all 2×10, use 160mm F/140mm R brake rotors and all are tubeless ready. The frames have guides for rear shock lock out if you add one. (Weights below are for Large size bikes w/o pedals)


Scalpel Ultimate
– Lefty Speed Carbon XLR
– SRAM XX group, including brakes
– Rockshox Monarch RT3 shock
– Hollowgram SL BB30 crankset (42/28 XX rings)
– 1200g DT Swiss XCR 1.2 carbon wheels
– color matched FSA parts
– Fizik Antares Tundra2 carbon rail saddle
– green and black
– 8.4kg (18.51lbs)


Scalpel 1
– Lefty Speed carbon PBR
– Shimano XTR 10-speed
– Fox RP23 w/ Boost Valve
– Magura Marta SL Carbon brakes
– FSA SL-K 386 BB30 (42/27 tooth)
– Mavic CrossMax SLR wheels
– Fizik Tundra2 saddle and seatpost
– black and white
– 9.0kg (19.84lbs)

2011-cannondale-scalpel-mountain-bike-02Scalpel 2
– Lefty Speed XLR
– SRAM XO/X9 shifters/derailleurs
– Shimano XT 10sp cassette
– Rockshox Monarch RT3
– Sun Ringle Black Flag Pro wheelset
– FSA Afterburner 386 cranks ( 42/27 tooth)
– Avid Elixir CR brakes
– low rise bar on lower models, flat bar on upper models.
– New C’dale seatpost
– gray, black and red


Scalpel 3
– Lefty Speed PBR
– Shimano SLX / XT
– DT Swiss XCR wheels, Lefty front hub
– FSA Afterburner 386 cranks ( 42/27 tooth)
– Avid Elixir R brakes
– New C’dale seatpost and saddle
– white and black

U.S. market bikes are made in China and assembled in Bethel, CT for mid- and high end bikes. European bikes are assembled in Holland. Lefty and BB30 parts are made in Bedford, PA.

A note regarding the weight: We did a five hour ride on the Scalpel Ultimate, which will be recapped in a separate post, but here’s what I’ll say about riding a sub-19lb full suspension bike: If you haven’t ridden one, there’s no way to accurately say that it “won’t feel right” because it’s too light. It will, however, take a bit of time to get used to.


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13 years ago

turn off spell check!

13 years ago

Wow. Good thing they moved production out of PA. The bikes cost SOOO much less now. Oh, wait–no they don’t. They do make more $$ on them though so I guess that’s good.

13 years ago

What is the total bike weight of the Scalpel 2 and Scalpel 3 ???

13 years ago

The geek in me loves these from a design/weight weenie aspect, but I’ve ridden a couple bikes close to this light (18.0lb hardtail and 19.25lb full suspension) and while I’m sure these particular rigs would ride a bit better, I just dont think they have any place beyond a very groomed race course. Sure you can climb like a rocket but on a decent, you spend your whole time battling to keep the bike on track and every little rock you hit sends you skipping across the trail. I found myself replacing parts to add weight. I still have the hardtail and seem to have hit a sweet spot of about 20.25lb where the bike is still nimble, climbs like my roadbike but is steady and tracks thru anything technical or sloping downward which makes me faster all around!

Red Line
Red Line
13 years ago

The bikes are assembled in Bedford, PA. Do your homework…

13 years ago

Suicide..you are absolutely right, the bike is a lightweight missile , I rode the Ultimate at Park City but it was so fast and for a less than expert level rider..me..very skittish, experts like Jeremiah Bishop though can’t make enough speed with this though.

Steven La Vinger
Steven La Vinger
13 years ago

I would like to say that the Scalpel Ultimate is the best bike I have ever ridden. I have had many many bikes and this the best one ever, bar none…. I took this Babe on the Downieville 1 2 3 trails and it performed a perfect run into the best ride of my life, days to remember forever riding the dirt trails for us to love & enjoy.. The shocks were totally dialed in, wht 18lbs out the door.

13 years ago

Does anyone know when Cannondale’s new model year bikes are available?

John P
John P
13 years ago

Hey I’m drooling. Always wanted a Scalpel, never could afford one. Lefty has a bad rep. on our very rough courses in South Africa. Users complain it’s more in the shop than out on the course – still want one though!

Carlos Alberto
Carlos Alberto
13 years ago

estoy interesado en una bici de montaña Cannondale XC. Gracias

Heiko Gossmann
Heiko Gossmann
13 years ago

Hi there!
Can you give me rear shock details like size and required bushing for Scalpel 2011?

Isaac Brown
Isaac Brown
13 years ago

Do you have the weight yet for the 2 and 3?

Clint Laird
Clint Laird
12 years ago

I recently got my ’11 Ultimate, i was a little worried about the rear end on the downhills and staying on the ground for the climbs. I have to tell you, this is the best bike I have ever ridden. there was no rear wheel skipping on rocky descents and it was glued to the ground on climbs. I have been a hardtail fan for years (decades) and I am convinced that this bike is the perfect mix of limited rear wheel travel and light weight. To be fair, I live in Florida so I do not need 4-5″ of travel so I cannot speak for all types of terrains around the country.

XC Pilot
XC Pilot
12 years ago

Looks good, but don’t be fooled! I made the mistake of buying a 2011 Scalpel 1; £5000 of problems, distress and inconvenience. This bike is way too fragile, especially in conditions that are remotely wet. My bike started to fail in a number of areas after its third ride (first time wet); Chain Stays, Bottom Bracket and Lefty Strut. Best of all, Tri UK, the retailer, and CSG, who now own Cannondale, have both washed their hands of this shabby product. Yes, its light and rides OK, but unless you are sponsored, ride only in the dry and have a mechanic on tap with a spare bike and van full of components, think twice about blowing a lot of cash on something that will rapidly turn to scrap.

11 years ago

I own a 2011 Scalpel 1. I can honestly say its the best bike I’ve ever ridden.
Sadly the listed weights above, are as usual, under-inflated. My medium Scalpel 1 with all stock parts comes in at just under 21 lbs. Still super lightweight by today’s standards, but its not 19.**lbs.
They probably measured a small frame with no air in the tires, and other shenanigans.
The other issue is durability… there is no issue!
I’ve read a few posts saying that these frames are fragile. BullSh*t!!
I’m a pretty big guy at 5’9″, 220lbs. I ride this bike pretty aggressively, with 2 foot jumps and drops regularly. No cracks, fractures, etc. Never so much as heard a peep from the frame. Super stiff & strong frame. The Lefty fork is very very stiff laterally too, even better then my Fox talas fork on my All-mountain ride. Oh, and still haven’t needed to service it. Its smooth as new. I’m pretty sure all the negative comments are from competitive bike makers who just cant compete with the light weight, and competition leading design.

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