It’s not unusual for everyone to admit that they are wrong occasionally, but to say you have to eat your words is a more serious admission. Well, the time has come as the 2017 Cannondale Scalpel SI has me going back on my “I will never go back from 27.5 tires to 29.”
Before I explain why let me set the stage. In the past the 29er bikes I have ridden were fast, but cumbersome in steering. Not the best mountain biker in the world making sharp turns at speed was always a challenge. Every bike felt just too big. Enter the world of 27.5. With just a slightly compromised approach angle to obstacles, and slower climbing or rolling speed due to tire size, the 27.5 set up proved to be nimble, easy to steer and more controllable. On these bikes I found myself taking on harder rides, going faster downhill and lap times on courses like the Epic Rides 24 Hour in the Old Pueblo went down despite being slightly slower on climbs. With 3 years of proof a switch back to 29er seemed unlikely.
The past few years has seen a change in the XC races introducing more technical elements and bikes have had to change to keep up. Enter the all new Cannondale Scalpel SI. Sure the Scalpel has been one of the best XC bike on the market for year. Full suspension race rig that just wants to flat out fly. The steep angles on the old bike placed the rider very forward for racing and cross country trail rides, contributing to the slower steering. In 2017 the head angle has been slackened to 69.5 degrees and there is a 55mm offset to keep the trail numbers in line and not give this a relaxed steering feel that comes with slacker head angles.
Like it’s hardtail sibling, the Scalpel now has the AI offset, or asymmetric integration where the rear triangle is shifted 6 mm to the drive side, same with the chainring allowing for shorter chain stays and stronger wheels. The wheel is also re-dished to keep things in line and all is done by using a standard 142x12 hub. The dish on the wheel is important to note if you are considering a different set than what comes with the bike.
The new shock and swingarm placement actually allows for the use of two water bottle cages inside the main triangle, although admittingly on the medium bike used to test, it is still a tight squeeze. In the rear there is an all new Flexstay rear triangle configuration that is pivotless which allowed for a few grams of weight saving and helps the bike track better.
The first ride I experienced on this bike was in Utah at a Cannondale dealer camp prior to model year release. Everyone said this bike is different, it is a must ride so I thought why not give it a try. On the first 3 mile ride on a tree riddled rock covered loop I found that this bike not only didn’t feel like any previous 29er but low and behold, it handled like a 27.5. Long time Cannondale rider and mountain bike legend Tinker Juarez happened to be at the same camp and I was eager to hear his impression of the new Scalpel as he had just taken his first ride on the bike that day. He told me that previously he never liked the scalpel and preferred the hardtail bikes for their responsiveness and handling. This one however, he was going to race.
With all this information on hand I was excited to get home and try one on the rides I know well. The first ride felt good and I thought, yeah it is like I remember, a good bike, but is it different enough to be comfortable to ride. True test came on two laps of the 24 Hour course. Having ridden this countless times each dip and turn was anticipated. Muscle memory reminded me where the tight turns would be on a 29er vs a 27.5, but low and behold, they weren’t there. Ok so they were there but it didn’t seem like it.
As usual the 29er wheels rolled over every rock and obstacle like they weren’t there and the only thing slowing me down was me. After two laps on my favorite course I looked at the bike and said, you win!
Some say, maybe you are just a better rider than you were. After I stop laughing I can admit that no, the bike really makes a difference. Even in parking lot rides when going from an old to a new Scalpel the feel is completely different. This bike blurs the lines between the 27.5and 29 differential. Of rouse for me it is different at 5’7” than someone who is 6’2” but the benefits would be the same.
There are eight different build levels of the men’s Scalpel ranging from an alloy version ($2,999) to the ultra luxury build Black Inc version ($11,999). Medium through XL are 29er and the small frame is 27.5. The women get just 2 version this year both carbon and with 27.5 wheel builds only, xs though med. Each bike is equipped with the Lefty fork which adds a certain level of stiffness to the steering that is a whole different topic of discussion but suffice it to say, I would not want any other fork on these bikes.
Now not only is Cannondale the brand that I turn to as a go to brand, it is also the brand that has made me eat my words! Never say never.