Cannondale had a high-level meeting between the race team’s management, its research and development leaders and the marketing staff to determine where they should position their upcoming dual-suspension XC racer. It was no secret that dual-suspension is the future of cross country racing, but it was also a fact that the greatest amount of resistance to the movement was harbored by top World Cup racers. Cannondale wanted their racers to compete exclusively on dual-suspension. The Volvo/Cannondale team argued for both hardtails and suspension bikes–so they could hedge their bets by cherry-picking the events where they would use monkey motion.
SORRY, NO HARDTAILS THIS YEAR
In the end, it was decided that the team would ride exclusively on dual-suspension. To implement this provocative decision, Cannondale’s development group imported Christophe Sauser, the team’s stand-out XC racer, to act as a reality check, and to insure that Cannondale’s final product would indeed be competitive at the highest level of World-Cup competition.
MEET THE SCALPEL
The Scalpel incorporates the best attributes of previously successful cross-country suspension designs: flexible, pivotless chainstays and dropout journals; a lightweight, butted aluminum front section; a curved, dropped top tube; a short-stroke air shock; remote lockout; and a linkage system. None of these features should be earth-shattering news to mountain bikers, but the sum of this list, as rendered by Cannondale, results in an impressively performing machine.
We figured that you would be as excited as we were to view the Scalpel, so we compiled a list of the top questions that our MBA staffers asked when we brought home the photos–oh, and the answers too.
Question 1: How light is the Scalpel? To quell our curiosity, Cannondale had an unpainted, medium-sized Scalpel (which we were welcome to ride) hanging from a scale that read slightly under 22 pounds. To squeeze out the grams, the Scalpel uses radically-butted aluminum frame tubes; magnesium alloy for the dropouts and linkage arms; and even a titanium tube for the shock pivot shaft. (Remember, this is a disc-brake-equipped race bike too.)
Question 2: What about that lockout? Up front, the team bikes will use the carbon fiber and titanium version of Cannondale’s Lefty strut. The 3-pound, 85mm-stroke slider has the previous year? handlebar-actuated electric lockout. A thumb-operated cable on the right-side handlebar locks out the Fox shock. The untested rear lockout was problematic throughout the weekend but you can bet that Fox will have the system up and running before the Sea otter!
Question 3: What’s up with that pivotless rear suspension? Cannondale named its flexible chainstay system EPO and, although it is supposed to mean something like ?elevated pivot orientation,? it is really just a catchy marketing acronym. Nylon/carbon fiber composite chainstays, molded with flattened centers are bonded between the aluminum bottom bracket and magnesium dropouts. Conventional aluminum seatstays drive a seat-tube-mounted linkage that delivers 70mm (2.75 inches) of rear-wheel travel from a custom-made Fox Float-R air shock.
The oddly shaped chainstays forces the tubes to flex in the middle. This reportedly causes them to act like a very short swingarm–making the initial suspension travel supple, and to firm up in the latter part of its stroke. The fact that the upper section of the suspension relies on a linkage means that the Scalpel is not completely pivotless, but the partial absence of bearings and pivots does make for a very lightweight system.
Question 4: Why is the seat tube so lumpy looking? To simplify its construction, and reinforce the upper part of the Scalpel’s seat tube, Cannondale plans on forging the upper two-thirds of that frame member in one piece. Presently, the part is machined as a single unit–including the shock mount and lower linkage pivot. The lower section is a straight-gauge tube, welded in place to accommodate different length frames.
Question 5: Can I get one? Yes. Cannondale says production version that weigh 23 pounds will be at dealers by late Spring or early Summer. The word is out that a team-color scheme and a ball-burnished version will be offered, in small, medium, large and extra-large sizes.
Question 6: How does it ride? The lightweight, industrial-looking Scalpel has conventional racing geometry. The medium-sized bike we tested had a 71-degree head angle, 73.5 degree seat angle; 23.25-inch top tube and a 12.25-inch bottom bracket. The Scalpel feels every bit like a pro-level XC machine. It climbs effortlessly and steers very quickly. Its steepish seat angle positions you high over the bike and keeps your back relatively flat. Sorry all you free riding types–you won?t find riser handlebars on the Scalpel.
Tubeless tires make the Cannondale fly over hard surfaces, and when you add its minimal-travel rear suspension, result is a surprisingly supple ride that never hints that you may need a lockout device. The Scalpel makes it easy to transition in and out of the saddle, and begs you to climb in big gears. This is a good thing, because there are no easy gear ratios in its 2 X 9-speed transmission.
The 85mm-stroke Lefty is the star of the Scalpel’s suspension show. The rear pivotless tail end may impress a World Cup hardtail convert with its moderately smooth ride, but not a suspension-savy trail rider. The rear end runs out of cushion quickly and sends occasional spikes through the saddle.
Make no mistake about it, the Scalpel will outperform any hardtail under power–or during hard braking. There is, however, a tendency for the suspension to stiffen up under power which causes the rear tire to hunt for traction. The same tendency is apparent, but less noticeable under braking.
Overall, the Scalpel gets a big pair of upward thumbs–not just from MBA, but from Team Volvo/Cannondale as well. Even Mister Retro himself, Tinker Juarez, had good words to report after putting some time on his personal version. Cannondale has promised to send us a long-term test bike shortly. Until then, watch the World Cup series–it should be an interesting year for the remaining hardtail riders.
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