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2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike

Vital Rating: (Very Good)
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Cannondale Scalpel SE 1
2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike 2021 Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike
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Is It Trail Enough? 2021 Cannondale Scalpel SE 1 Tested

The revised Cannondale Scalpel SE gets a more relaxed geometry in the name of being trail-worthy, but is it enough?

Rating: Vital Review
Is It Trail Enough? 2021 Cannondale Scalpel SE 1 Tested

Downhill bikes that are like motorcycles. Enduro bikes that are like mini-downhill bikes. Trail bikes that perform like enduro bikes. Cross-country bikes with rad geometry like trail bikes. Is everyone trying to step it up a notch? Well, no, not really, but it just feels that way. Take the Cannondale Scalpel, for example. It is a bike with pure cross-country racing running through its fibers. Now consider the new 2021 Cannondale Scalpel SE. Cannondale decided to sprinkle a little extra something special on the XC bike while bumping up the front and rear travel to 120mm, thereby slacking out some of its angles. Add a Shimano XT build, and a sweet integrated tool system and you have a trail-ready cross-country race bike. Wait, what did we just say? Did Cannondale go too far with this? Did they nail it? Grab some pork rinds, and let's dig in to find out what we thought of the new 2021 Cannondale Scalpel SE.

Strengths

  • Lightweight
  • Super fast, carries speed well
  • Efficient
  • Integrated tool storage
  • Ready to race
  • King of the lunch ride
  • Feels great when putting forth max effort

Weaknesses

  • Easily overwhelmed in moderately challenging terrain
  • Hard tires struggle for grip with XT braking power
  • Bike builds speed quickly but is a challenge to maintain control
  • Feels great when putting forth max effort

Highlights

  • Full-carbon frame with Flex Pivot stays
  • 29-inch wheels
  • 120mm (4.7 inches) front and rear travel
  • Internal cable routing with guide tubes
  • Integrated upper chain guide
  • Size-specific dropper posts on all trim levels
  • Wheel sensor connects with Cannondale app to track ride metrics and service reminders
  • Integrated tool and tire plug kit
  • Two water bottle mounts inside front triangle
  • Rubber chainstay and Flex Pivot protection
  • Factory clear frame protection throughout
  • MSRP: $5,500 USD as tested

What Changed on the Cannondale Scalpel?

Cannondale instituted a host of updates for the new Scalpel. We immediately noticed the main pivot was now tucked inside the front triangle, just above the bottom bracket, and a small fender keeps out the grime. The Scalpel keeps its flex stays in the name of weight and simplicity. The shock linkage has been reconfigured and now pivots off the seat tube. Compared to the prior Scalpel SE, the 2021 model has a one-and-a-half-degree-slacker head angle, a lower standover, and increased reach. Slacker, lower, longer, relatively speaking.

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One of the coolest new features on the Scalpel SE is the integrated tool kit and Dynaplug Racer kit. Stashed in the downtube of the Scalpel frame is a Fabric multi-tool that is accessed by pulling a rubber tab. Held in by a clip on the non-drive-side of the bike is the all-new Dynaplug Racer kit that features two pre-loaded plugs should riders slash a tire. There is even a rubber strap to hold a CO2 cartridge or small pump. A water bottle will mount on top of it all, giving riders the ability to carry two, full-sized bottles inside the front triangle.

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Geometry

Compared to the standard Scalpel line, the SE series runs 20mm more travel front and rear. This results in a naturally slacker head and seat tube angles. Compared to the new wave of trail bikes and aggressive cross-country offerings, the numbers seem conservative, perhaps even dated. We did a bit of digging and found the Scalpel SE's geometry to be on par with competitors like the Specialized Epic EVO and Scott Spark. It would seem the longer-legged cross-country race bikes have clung to a more traditional geometry that other models have left in the rear-view mirror.

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On the Trail

Timing for the arrival of the Scalpel was spot on. Many of the cross-country trails were running well and we've always fancied a speedy steed to attack the network of trails on Peavine Mountain in the Reno area. A network of winding singletrack can have riders string together all sorts of loops, including the coveted lunch-lap! Our traditional loose-over-hard pack conditions were in full effect, and the Scalpel was eager to scoot up the hill.

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Getting accustomed to the Scalpel's geometry took some fidgeting and personal adjusting. The 74-degree seat angle had us sliding the seat forward mid-ride and struggling to keep the front end in check on super steep sections of climbing. We would come to learn that keeping in the taller gears, standing and attacking any punchy climb was the way to go on the Scalpel. The Cannondale was pleasantly deceptive in its efficiency. For some reason, after all of our time aboard longer-travel, 30-plus-pound brawlers, we thought cross-country bikes were supposed to do most of the work for you. You know, like an e-bike, but lighter. Either way, we felt like we were working just as hard aboard the Scalpel. We decided to look at some GPS data of favorite loops ridden on other bikes. The Scalpel was moving up the hill just fine, much faster than we realized, actually. The light, efficient bike had us flying. While the effort felt familiar, the speeds were much faster, and that's pretty darn cool.

Low-angle descents have the Scalpel flying like a low-altitude projectile. This bike is fast.

Heading to the southern end of town put us in more technical climbing terrain and the Scalpel blew us away. Give this bike a mess of rocks and ledges to navigate and it seems to sail over anything, straight to the top. We aren't going to say climbing is fun, but aboard the Scalpel, the techy bits inspired a chuckle or two.

Low-angle descents have the Scalpel flying like a low-altitude projectile. This bike is fast. No doubt the cross-country racing heritage that lives in the DNA of the Cannondale is best expressed in acceleration and momentum. On the flip side, anything beyond winding, cross-country loops will have the Scalpel SE grasping for control. Even some of our favorite trails became a handful aboard the Scalpel SE. Maybe we are getting soft, but after several rides we felt compelled to swap out Cannondale's 60mm stem and the front Maxxis Ardent Race tire for something a bit more..."trail" worthy. We installed a 50mm stem, 770mm wide bar, and replaced the front tire with a 2.3-inch Maxxis DHR II to help offer a bit more real-world feel to the Scalpel. After all, there were no Tuesday-night races going down, and the Scalpel had more to offer on the downhills. Plus, we wanted to have some fun with this bike. After threading in our trusted flat pedals we dubbed our Scalpel the "DK" edition. That's Drift King.

Our minor mod took the Scalpel from something that was novel to something that was practical. Instead of living on the razor's edge in corners, we now felt more confident to come in hot and hang on. This kind of hooligan joy made it feel like the golden days of our youth, getting loose on the same bikes we used for the local race series. While we typically avoid making modifications to test bikes, this was minor and brought to light more the intention of the Scalpel SE.

Cannondale dubs the SE as a race bike with a real-world appeal. We like that mission, but feel like the classic brand could have pushed the bike a little further. After the tire and stem, a taller dropper would be the next on the hit list. A 5-foot 9-inch tester with a 30-inch inseam, on a medium bike, had the 125mm dropper sticking out of the frame enough to warrant the option of a 150mm dropper. For sustained descents, we would pull the Fabric multi-tool out of the frame, drop the post and party-on to the bottom. We know this is more preference than objectivity but if the room is there, we say go for it.

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In summary, the Scalpel gets up the hill in short order, so long as that hill isn't too steep. Technical climbs and rolling terrain are this bike's specialty. The downhills are best kept on the mellower side, but otherwise, tame terrain becomes more interesting due to the Scalpel SE's propensity for speed.

Cannondale Scalpel SE Builds and Pricing

The Scalpel SE line comes in three trims, each available in one color. You can check out the full Scalpel line HERE.

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Scalpel SE 1 - $5,500 USD

  • RockShox SID Select+ fork, 120mm
  • RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ shock
  • Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain
  • Shimano XT 2-piston brakes
  • Hollowgram carbon wheels

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Scalpel SE 2 - $4,000 USD

  • RockShox SID Select fork, 120mm
  • RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ rear shock
  • SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain
  • Shimano MT500 brakes
  • Stan's Crest 1 wheels

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Scalpel SE Women's - $4,000 USD

  • RockShox SID Select fork, 120mm
  • RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ rear shock
  • SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain
  • Shimano MT500 brakes
  • Stan's Crest 1 wheels
Have a rival on the local circuit? Want to crush your buds on the climbs? The Scalpel SE can be a great tool to slice them up.

Cannondale Scalpel SE 1 Parts Check

Our Scalpel SE 1 came with a full Shimano XT build, sans the cranks and chainring. Our 12-speed drivetrain was stellar for the duration of the test. Shimano's ability to shift up (down the cassette) multiple gears played to the Scalpel's strength of accelerating to warp speed. Our XT two-piston brakes worked perfectly.

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The Maxxis Max-speed Ardent Race and Rekon Race tires certainly roll fast, but they aren't much for grip. With our DHR II in place up front, confidence soared, but the rear Rekon Race was easily overpowered up and down the hill in the dry, desert conditions.

RockShox's new SID suspension stayed stiff and efficient, keeping the Scalpel tracking well through chatter. Admittedly, we were sometimes at the fringe of the Scalpel's comfort level, but the suspension never felt harsh or like we were clapping it out.

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When it comes to dropper seat posts, we're spoiled. OneUp, PNW, and others make posts that are fast and have light action. The Cannondale DownLow post was a bit slow and took noticeable effort to actuate. It did, however, go up and down every time we hit the lever.

What's the Bottom Line?

In the pantheon of bike genres, the Cannondale Scalpel SE is trying to be yet another niche. It is billed as a race bike that can go deep in the mountains. We wish Cannondale would have pushed the concept further. In its stock configuration, we would still peg it as a cross-country race bike. For those wanting to get after it on the local race scene, here is your steed. With a couple of easy changes, very little of that racing pedigree is lost, but some real-world capability is expanded. Have a rival on the local circuit? Want to crush your buds on the climbs? The Scalpel SE can be a great tool to slice them up.

Head to Cannondale.com for the full line and details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Climbing: 4 stars
  • Descending: 3 stars
  • Fun Factor: 3.5 stars
  • Value: 4 stars
  • Overall Impression: 3.5 stars - Very Good

About the Reviewer

Brad Howell - Age: 40 // Years Riding: 25 // Height: 5'9" (1.75m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

Brad started mountain biking when a 2.25-inch tire was "large," and despite having threads, bottom brackets sucked. Riding in the woods with friends eventually lead way to racing, trying to send it at the local gravel pits, and working in bike shops as a wrench to fix those bikes. Fortunate enough to have dug at six Rampages and become friends with some of the sport’s biggest talents, Brad has a broad perspective of what bikes can do and what it means to be a good rider. The past few years Brad worked in the bike industry and got to see the man behind the curtain. These days, though, he just likes riding his bike in the woods with friends.

Photos by Brad Howell // Video by John Reynolds and Brad Howell

Specifications

Product Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 1 Bike
Model Year 2021
Riding Type Trail
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
Small, Medium, Large, X-Large View Geometry
Size Small Medium Large X-Large
Top Tube Length 580 602 625 648
Head Tube Angle 67° 67° 67° 67°
Head Tube Length 95 105 115 125
Seat Tube Angle 74° 74° 74° 74°
Seat Tube Length 430 440 480 520
Bottom Bracket Height 344 344 344 344
Chainstay Length 436 436 436 436
Wheelbase 1125 1148 1172 1196
Standover 755 757 758 760
Reach 410 430 450 470
Stack 592 602 611 621
* Additional Info Measurements are in mm unless otherwise noted
Wheel Size 29"
Frame Material Carbon Fiber
Frame Material Details Full BallisTec carbon with FlexPivot and tube-in-tube internal cable routing
Rear Travel 120mm
Rear Shock RockShox SIDLuxe Select+, 2-position
Fork RockShox SID Select+ RL DebonAir, 44mm offset
Fork Travel 120mm
Head Tube Diameter 1 1/8-inch to 1 1/2-inch tapered
Headset Integrated sealed bearing, tapered
Handlebar Cannondale 1 Riser, carbon, 31.8mm, 9° sweep, 4° rise, 780mm width
Stem Cannondale 1, 7075 alloy
Grips ESI Silicone 32mm
Brakes Shimano XT hydraulic, 180/160mm rotors front/rear
Brake Levers Shimano XT hydraulic
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters Shimano XT, 12-speed
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur Shimano XT, 12-speed
ISCG Tabs No
Chainguide Integrated upper guide
Cranks HollowGram BB30a
Chainrings OPI SpiderRing, 34 tooth, Ai offset
Bottom Bracket Cannondale Alloy Pressfit 30
Pedals N/A
Chain Shimano SLX, 12-speed
Cassette Shimano XT, 10-51 tooth, 12-speed
Rims HollowGram 25 S, Superlight Hi-Impact Carbon, 28 hole, 25mm inner width, tubeless ready
Integrated Cannondale wheel sensor
Hubs Front: Formula, 15x110mm
Rear: DT Swiss, 12x148mm
Spokes DT Swiss Competition Race
Tires Front: Maxxis Ardent Race, 29x2.35", EXO, MaxSpeed
Rear: Maxxis Recon Race, 29x2.25", EXO, MaxSpeed
Saddle Fabric Scoop Flat Elite, cro-mo rails
Seatpost Cannondale DownLow Dropper - 100mm (S), 125mm (M-L), 150mm (XL)
Seatpost Diameter 31.6mm
Seatpost Clamp Standard single bolt
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 12x148mm
Max. Tire Size 2.4"
Bottle Cage Mounts Yes, 2 inside frame
Colors Stealth Grey
Warranty Frame: lifetime of the original owner
Swing arms, chainstays, seatstays, and shock links: five (5) years from original retail purchase
More warranty info
Weight N/A
Miscellaneous

STASH Kit – A Fabric 8-in-1 mini tool in a quick-draw holster, a Dynaplug tubeless plug kit, and CO2 inflator, all stashed neatly under your water bottle.

FlexPivot – The key to Scalpel's suspension performance and light weight. These patented carbon plates create virtual Horst Link pivots while being stiffer and lighter than bearings. Durable, flexible, and completely maintenance-free.

Integrated Cannondale App connectivity – An integrated wheel sensor delivers accurate speed, route, and distance info, registers your bike, reminds you of needed service and more. All through the free Cannondale App.

Ai (Asymmetric Integration) – Cannondale's offset drivetrain delivers big tire/mud clearance while keeping the chainstays short for traction and agility. It also creates a stiffer, stronger rear wheel.

Price $5,500
More Info

www.cannondale.com

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