Review – Cannondale Scalpel SE 2

We tested Cannondale’s Scalpel Si in April of last year. It immediately impressed us as a quick and lightweight cross-country weapon; however, it was specifically designed to be a race bike first and a trailbike second. Fastforward to 2018. Cannondale has introduced a second version of the Scalpel dubbed the Scalpel SE. It is meant to be an all-around package worthy of the everyday trail rider who still wants a lightweight machine but with more trail capability. With the Scalpel Si still fresh in our minds, we got ahold of the SE for a long-term review on our local trails. After long days in the saddle, we were convinced that the SE was ready to get rowdy.


Cannondale’s purebred race bike the Scalpel Si was made for dedicated cross-country riders and racers. The SE version also excels at efficiency but offers some extra suspension. Cannondale designed the Scalpel SE to be a lightweight, go-to trailbike for the everyday rider. With its light frame, 29-inch wheels and sporty geometry, the SE fits a comfortable range of riders.


Taking cues from its higher-performance brethren, the SE has a full carbon fiber frame and rear triangle using Cannondale’s burlier BallisTec layup. The frame has fully internal cable routing and will work with mechanical or electronic drivetrains with two different cable guides. If riders opt to go with a Di2 drivetrain, Cannondale offers an integrated battery housing that slides inside the top tube. An added bonus of the frame design is room to run two water-bottle cages inside the main frame. The front triangle uses an oversized 1.5-inch head tube for extra support and stiffness on the trail. Like the rest of Cannondale’s machines, the SE uses a PF30 bottom bracket shell for more responsive pedaling.

The rear triangle has 12×142 spacing with Cannondale’s Asymmetric Integration (Ai) offset that pushes the drivetrain over 6 millimeters for more tire clearance. The SE has 115 millimeters of rear travel with 120 millimeters up front on a Fox 34 Float fork. Similar to the Si, the SE has the same LOCKR suspension design that uses a thruaxle-type system for a snug and secure fit. While the Si geometry was optimized for cross-country racing, the SE is a little longer and a little slacker, but not overly so. Our test bike uses a 68.5-degree head angle that wedges it between a dedicated trail ripper and an aggressive XC race bike. Cannondale offers two versions of the SE, with our test bike being the lower-priced option at $4500. The higher-end version gets a slight step up in component spec and a Lefty PBR fork.


Our test bike is the entry-level version of the SE but has a dialed component spec for the money. The Fox Performance suspension was plush and allowed for plenty of adjustment. We are big fans of SRAM Eagle drivetrains, and the GX gave us a wider range of gearing and consistent shifting.


Moving out: The SE comes stock with wider riser bars and a short stem for a very trail-worthy fit. The stack and reach felt comfortable and sporty. If you are at an in-between height, you may want to test ride two different sizes before committing.

Suspension setup: Setting up the fork, we ran the sag a touch softer at about 20 percent, with 2 volume reducers for a more progressive feel. The EVOL air spring allows riders to run slightly lower air pressures for added small-bump compliance. The fork also has a broad range of low-speed compression, but most of our test riders left that adjustment with a few clicks. In the shock, we ran 25-percent sag with four clicks of rebound for general trail riding.

Climbing: On the climbs, the Scalpel SE showed its XC roots with a very efficient pedaling platform. With the suspension in firmer settings, the frame was stiff and responsive, especially when pedaling hard out of the saddle. On steep technical climbs, our test riders were able to shift their weight comfortably to power over rocks and roots.

Descending: With some extra suspension and a dropper post, the SE seemed up for just about anything. The sportier geometry gave the SE a lively feel that was responsive and could be flicked over bonus lines without a second thought. Our test riders wouldn’t say that the SE feels limitless, but we did find that the SE could handle more technical terrain than we were expecting. The rear suspension was efficient on the climbs but equally active when descending. The compression damping didn’t feel harsh off the top of the stroke and fell into a range that didn’t feel overly progressive.

Cornering: Even though the chainstays are marginally longer than those on the racier Si, the SE could be whipped around through switchbacks and banked turns in a snap. The front end of the SE didn’t require any extra effort to lean over and held a line comfortably.

Braking: Our test bike came stock with SRAM Level TL brakes that fit the overall intentions of the Scalpel SE. On our cross-country singletrack, they had enough power to control our speed while not overwhelming our test riders.


Overall, the build kit and suspension tune on the Scalpel SE were dialed, but some of our test riders would have appreciated a longer dropper post than what came stock. If you want to shed a bit of weight, a lighter wheelset and carbon handlebars will make a serious difference in the climbing abilities of the SE.


Once we wrapped up our testing, the verdict was unanimous— the Scalpel SE is a solid bike for just about any trail rider. The component and suspension packages make it a worthy choice, especially with its competitive price tag. If you want a bike that isn’t fussy and just wants to be ridden, the Scalpel SE should be near the top of your list

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