Launched earlier this year, the all-new 2017 Cannondale Scalpel is the brand’s flagship full suspension racer. It was completely overhauled to create a faster, more capable bike in every regard. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to put the XL 29er through the ringer at Charlotte’s U.S. National Whitewater trails during Cyclofest to see how it would handle some very fast, very familiar trails…

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

One of the biggest changes for the 2017 model is the geometry. Cannondale made the head angle slacker and adjusted the fork’s offset to simultaneously stabilize the bike at high speed and make it nimble at low speed. It’s simple in theory, and it works…once you get used to it. After riding a few other bikes the same day, including the similarly categorized Norco Revolver, it took a few minutes to adjust to the Scalpel’s handling. Once I got used to it, though, it was really fun experimenting with just how poor of a line I could choose and watch the bike pick its way through unfazed.

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

The other big difference between other bikes in the category is Cannondale’s asymmetric frame and wheel design. Pivots, tubes and even the rear wheel’s dish are all off center (of normal) in order to build a stronger wheel, improve tire and chainline clearance, and keep everything in line.

2017 Cannondale Scalpel Si full suspension race mountain bike review

There’s no “flat mount” standard for mountain bikes yet, but they’ll be ready if one comes about.

After a solid ride, one thing’s clear – the Scalpel likes to go fast. There’s 100mm travel front and rear, and the front felt more supple than the rear. Over successive roots, the back end ripped across them at speed, but if I hit it wrong and had to poke through them, it felt a bit harsher than some other bikes. The tradeoff (upside) is that laterally and torsionally, this bike feels more like a hardtail than any other full susser I’ve ever ridden, so when you go to sprint, it’ll get up and go. That stiffness means it can get pinged around like a hardtail, too, but generally not at expense of traction. It’s simply letting you know this is one XC bike that’s not meant to be converted to a trail bike.

Check our launch coverage for the full design and tech story and models and specs.


  1. I’m curious about some other’s take. I rode this exact bike at a demo session for about 15 miles several weeks ago immediately after jumping off of an Ibis Ripley (non-LS). I preferred the Scalpel’s geometry, as I’m a xc racer, but I preferred the Ibis’s ‘mindlessness’, meaning I could just point it down or up and I never once had to worry about slipping while going up or down super rooty sections. While, with the Scalpel, even after letting some air out of the tires, I had to employ a lot of skill to keep the tires maintaining traction. My thought is to try the Scalpel with 35mm rims (the Ripley had 41mm rims on) and see how that changes the ride. Thoughts?

    • I put 21mm ID rims on my scalpel . Wide rims are a joke, they don’t work unless your tires are HUGE.

      Best thing I have ever put back on my bikes in the past year was skinny rims.

      • Yeah, I think the MTB world got screwed by road here. The ride quality of say, the HED C2 rim compared to a ksyrium or something was dramatically better. So, OF COURSE it will do the same thing off road…

  2. Not knowing how the two bikes were set up, I would guess that one was more XC Racing and the other was aggressive trail set up. A full race bike w/ steep angles, light weight w/ smaller everything (rotors, rims, bars, etc…), will ride completely different then a more relax angled w/ slightly larger everything (rotors, rims, tires, etc…). Since I do not race, I tend to ride as light as possible trail bike (not xc racing) but put on a few key items like (FT: 200 rotor, wide bars, big rims/tires, long grips). The bike is light but rides way better w/ the extra beef). It’s all in your personal setup.

  3. Thanks! to rephrase: how can a bike like the Scalpel or Top Fuel be set up to have that mindless aspect when it comes to climbing and descending super technical sections? Would rider rims and tires be the ticket? I don’t think the geometry of the Ripley is what accounted for the tons of traction on the climbs and descents, nor was it the DW-link, since the more XC Pivot Mach4 carbon rode very much like the Scalpel (not great in the technical sections) whereas the Mach4 Trail with it’s wider rims and bigger tires rode more similarly to the Ripley.

    • You can’t. it’s handling is inherent to its overall design, not something as simple as rim or tyre choice.

      For what it’s worth, a friend who races XC bought the Scalpel (a model or two back) precisely because it handles like this, in fact the warning issues with the bike was that it’s a XC RACE bike and will handle in a manner many riders may not like.

  4. Interesting – I rode the Scalpel back to back with the Pivot 429 at Interbike. Even though both are XC bikes, the Scalpel felt almost to harsh, and had more of the riding on top of, rather than “in” the bike feel. The Pivot felt responsive -and- fairly comfy. May be because I’m 6’5″ and the Cannondale was sized slightly smaller.

  5. Sounds like the rear end is still too progressive, making it more like a hardtail that takes the edge off than a true full suspension bike. Front and rear should feel balanced.

  6. Canondale needs to hire an engineer who actually understands statics and dynamics when designing their suspension bike. The drop link design they choose does very little to stiffen the bike torsionally and laterally. By mounting the swing link onto the seat tube below the shock like the Titus Racer-x, Specilized Epic, Piviot Mach 429, you get a link that stiffens the suspension in the inital part of the stroke which corespondingly improves bike acceleration and allows you to run lower shock pressure settings. It all shortens the link which also helps reduce lateral and rotational deflections.

    Canondale introduced their first suspension bike in 1991. You would think after 25 years they would have figured out how to do it right. Canondale, really has no excuses any more as most of the patents on bicycle suspension has now expired.

  7. Tyler, thanks for the review. I’m considering this same bike and at 6’1″ am really between sizes. I noticed you’re riding an XL without an extreme amount of seatpost showing. Just wondering how you liked the cockpit and longer top tube?

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