The outlaw among race bikes

Cannondale Scalpel HT Review

Cannondale Scalpel HT 2023 – the outlaw among race bikes

Cannondale is pushing the limits of the race bike genre with its Scalpel HT. We clarify how the hardtail performs off-road and whether the world needs a new approach for race hardtails.
Cannondale Scalpel HT 2023 Test
The Cannondale Scalpel HT breaks with the conventions of the cross-country genre. But is this reorientation even necessary?
It’s impossible to talk about the Cannondale Scalpel HT without first taking a peek into the world of the mountain bike industry. The bike industry is a wonderful, colourful bunch. With a lot of creativity in product development, design and marketing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract interest to your own products. Because the customer is constantly bombarded with awesome content. Some companies try it a bit clumsily with brightly painted frames, others dig deep into their pockets to achieve omnipresence in the media on all channels. However, these attempts by the competition should not elicit more than a weary smile from the Americans at Cannondale. When it comes to attracting attention, the boys & girls from the states know how to do it right. Since 1971, they have combined the courage to do things differently with technical innovations and authentic athletes. And this is exactly where the big mountain bike universe comes full circle to our test bike, the Cannondale Scalpel HT Hi MOD 1. Because it doesn’t matter whether you’re at the marathon starting block, on the single trail or in front of the ice cream van: this bike is bound to attract attention. If you think the one-legged Lefty fork is the only unique selling point of the Scalpel HT, you should read on.

Check out our in-depth Cannondale Scalpel HT video

Cannondale Lefty Ocho- fewer fork legs- more travel- more fun?

The single arm concept of the Lefty fork has divided the bike community into two camps for decades. There are those who adore this extravagant concept and of course there are the doubters. Can one arm withstand the stresses of biking? With a good dose of self-mockery, Cannondale launched the new Lefty Ocho with the marketing slogan “Suspension of disbelief”. But behind the concept of the Lefty fork is more than a funny marketing slogan. Leaving aside self-mockery and the courage to be different, there are many reasons for this concept from a technical point of view.
Cannondale Scalpel Hardtail
They say you can’t buy style. But with the Scalpel HT you can at least buy a stylish bike.
Cannondale Lefty Ocho 110 mm travel
The Lefty Ocho fork is strongest, when it is under bending force while braking. In the area of the fork crown.
Lefty Ocho quick release brake mount
The brake caliper of the new Lefty fork can be removed with a flick of the wrist on the quick release. In the past, you had to loosen two allen screws to do this. This makes changing wheels on the Lefty child’s play.

The Lefty Ocho is more rigid than conventional forks due to its design

Like a branch that gets thicker toward the trunk of the tree, the Lefty “gets thicker” toward the frame of the bike. A major weakness of classic cross-country forks is their low rigidity. Because, according to the laws of physics, the highest forces act when riding, braking and steering, normal cross-country forks are very delicately dimensioned. The usually installed 32 millimeter stanchions and the slender fork crowns squeal, especially under the load that occurs when you step on the brakes hard. Thanks to the upside-down concept, the Lefty fork is constructed most voluminously when braking (because of the lever arm of the fork). And you can feel that. Cannondale came up with something special for the torsion that cannot be avoided in the lower part of the fork.

The Lefty Ocho uses needle bearings

With normal forks (especially when braking), the fixed upper part (stanchion tubes) with the movable lower part (casting/slider tubes) can slightly jam up. This significantly increases the friction when compressing. Unlike usual these sliding surfaces on the Lefty are equipped with needle bearings. This means that the friction of the fork remains constant even under load. On the trail the Lefty Ocho responds very sensitively, even under extreme loads. To get away from technical jargon, the Lefty felt super fluffy during our field test.

Many options and good instructions speak for the Lefty Ocho

The handlebar lockout blocks the fork completely, and the recommended settings via the app or the table printed on it were perfect for us. The setup of the Lefty fork can also be adapted to individual preferences via the separately adjustable compression level. And with 110 millimeters of spring travel, it also offers a little more reserves than the standard 100 millimeter cross country forks. But does more travel actually fit into the Cross Country concept of the Scalpel HT?
This is how the Canndondale Scalpel HT performs on the trail
With 110 millimeters of travel and a flat geometry, the Scalpel HT is definitely the outlaw among race hardtails.

Cannondale shows great sensitivity when it comes to the geometry and alignment of the Scalpel HT

How much of a different approach can a cross-country hardtail take? With 110 millimeters of travel on the fork and a flat 67 degree steering angle, Cannondale is clearly redefining the limits in the endurance segment. Striking: When it comes to reach or top tube length, the Americans tend to be on the conservative side. Bikes like the recently presented Scott Scale or the Cervelo ZHT-5 are significantly longer here and thus convey a sportier seating position. What doesn’t go together at first glance turns out to be a well thought-out concept when riding the Scalpel HT.

The Scalpel HT feels like slipping into your house shoes

The first thing you notice is that the Scalpel HT’s seating position has a touch of comfort. The pressure on the hands and wrists is significantly lower than with other current racing hardtails. In test mode, we change bikes almost every day. And every time we swung back onto the Scalpel HT, it felt a little as if we were slipping into our house shoes. You don’t have to have core muscles like a professional athlete to sit on and feel comfortable with this bike. This fact also reveals the actual character of this bike. The Scalpel HT can win races, but it’s not a“die-hard racer” of the old school. It caters more to casual racers with a confident handling on singletrack to sweeten the after-work ride or extended trail tour. The good but not excellent weight of 9.6 kilos (without pedals in size L) and the chainstays that grow with the bike also match our impression that riding fun is an important development goal for the Cannondale Scalpel was.
Canndondale Scalpel HT frame
On hardtails, the rear triangle is usually of little importance. Not so with Cannondale.
Cannondale Scalpel HT chainstays
Since the chain stays grow with every frame size, this ensures a balanced load distribution between the rear and front wheels.

Chain stays that grow with the size ensure a homogeneous load distribution in all sizes

Chainstays that grow with the frame size are not a given in the bike industry. The individual rear triangles for each frame size significantly increase the effort involved in the construction and production of carbon frames. But they improve the riding experience, especially for tall bikers. Because if the rear end grows with the main frame, the weight distribution between the front and rear wheel remains balanced even in sizes L and XL. If the rear stays the same, the handling of a bike – especially for tall riders – feels very rear-heavy. We definitely didn’t have that feeling with the Scalpel HT. In combination with the ample 110 millimeters of spring travel and the slack steering angle, the Scalpel HT conveys a safer driving experience than many of its competitors, even on rougher terrain. Does that mean, it is actually looking into the target group of scalpel fully riders?

Fully VS. Hardtail – Which Cannondale Scalpel is the better?

The comparison between hardtail and fully comes to mind since they both have the same name. And a closer look at the geometry tables of both bikes reveals: yes, the Scalpel Fully was definitely a role model during the development of the hardtail. The Scalpel Fully (without the addition SE) is a bit more sporty. The seating position and equipment of the Fully are aimed at regular racing use. And under the butts of Henrique Avancini, Alan Hatherly and Manuel Fumic, it’s also proven to be extremely good at it. The Scalpel Hardtail, on the other hand, wants to appeal more to those bikers who are put off by the additional weight and higher service volume of a fully. It wants to be a bike that you can swing your leg over at any time, with the certainty of a carefree ride, having a good time on the trails. The equipment on our test bike also fits into this approach.
Canyon Neuron old vs new. The differences.
The directness, the lower weight and less maintenance are still strong arguments for a high-end hardtail in 2023.

High-end hardtail without electronics – well, almost without

The mechanical Shimano XTR 1×12 gears and the Shimano XT brakes with 180 mm brake discs not only worked very well during our test, but also had a pleasant side effect. Because with the gear cable routed inside, the hour before the ride is simply much more relaxed. We enjoyed not having to worry about the battery level of the gears. And the Shimano XT brakes simply do what you expect them to do. They decelerate first class and relax the hand with thought-out ergonomics. The rigid seat post fits into the carefree, low-maintenance image of this bike. But the Scalpel HT can’t do without electronics either. The inconspicuous Cannondale Wheel Sensor in the front wheel is proof that the Americans are not opposed to the trend towards electronics on bikes on principle.

What can the Cannondale Wheel Sensor do

The most important thing first: The Cannondale Wheel Sensor does not have to be constantly charged. With a standard CR 2023 button cell, the little guy supposedly lasts a year between the spokes. The exciting question, however, is: What can the Cannondale Wheel Sensor do? If you have paired it with the Cannondale app, the app automatically spits out information about your bike. In addition to the serial number (good against theft), there is also a detailed and, above all, individual setup recommendation for the Lefty fork. It can also record every ride and tell the bike owner when it’s time for a chain change or fork service. And when you do this, you can also check in the app which spare parts are needed. Data on the seating position can be saved if necessary. And a possible complaint can also be processed via the app. In addition, if you couple it with a GPS speedometer, it increases the accuracy. If you don’t have a GPS speedometer, you can use your own mobile phone with the wheel sensor as such. With this app, Cannondale is one of the very few brands that creates real added value for its customers on a software basis to deliver. The combination of app and wheel sensor is a successful aid for those who want to use it. The good thing: If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Useful, unintrusive and stress-free – that’s how electronics on the bike are fun, even for those who aren’t tech nerds.
Cannondale App and Wheelsensor
With the app, Cannondale is raising the bar for the entire industry. Because the app is useful, not overloaded and works intuitively.

Details on the Cannondale Scalpel HT

In addition to the geometry and the whole concept of the bike, it is also worth taking a detailed look at the frame. With 1000 grams (in size L), Cannondale doesn’t set a benchmark in terms of weight, but doesn’t show any weaknesses either. The recently introduced Scott Scale has also not overly exaggerated lightweight construction. This shows: Durability and function are also becoming increasingly important for race bikes. Bucking the trend, Cannondale does not route its cables through the headset, but via classic, albeit somewhat small, service hatches in the down tube. The biggest changes to the predecessor FSI. The rear end of the Scalpel HT is no longer asymmetrical (AI), which allows the use of any commercially available rear wheel. A bit unfortunate, but manageable: The 27.2 seat post reduces the selection of standard telescopic posts.
  • Bottom bracket: Pressfit 30 (PF30-83)
  • Wheel size: 29 inches
  • Rear wheel installation dimensions: 12×148 (NOT asymmetrical)
  • Seatpost: 27.2mm
  • Cable routing: through the down tube
  • Carbon frame weight: 1000 grams (size L)
  • Bottle holder: space for 2 bottles
  • Special feature: Growing chainstays
  • Derailleur hanger: UDH (Sram Egale Transmission compatible)
Cannondale Scalpel Hardtail
Cannondale traditionally routes its cables through the down tube and not through the headset as most companies currently do.
Cannondale Scalpel HT Rear Wheel Thru Axle
The rear wheel mount is open towards the bottom. So you can remove the wheel in a flash without having to remove the entire thru-axle.

The most exciting alternatives to the Cannondale Scalpel HT

Even though the Scalpel HT follows a very unique approach that we have not found anywhere else among race hardtails, it cannot escape comparison with the competition. An exciting competitor is definitely the freshly presented Scale RC from Scott. In addition, in the cross country genre, it is always worth taking a look at the Orbea Alma. Click on the widget below and compare the models. You can find a complete market overview and more information before buying a cross-country bike here.

All Scalpel HT models including prices and availability:

Only our innovative test system from bike-test.com combines in-depth information with a full market overview. No matter in which price range you are considering buying a new bike, you will find the right one under these links. By the way, we have also tested all Cannondale children’s bikes on kids-bike-test.com. (but sorry it is only in german language) If you are looking for a bike for your offspring, just drop by.
Cannondale App and Wheelsensor
The Cannondale Scalpel HT – a special bike.
ride better bikes editors choice
We analysed the entire mountain bike market on bike-test.com. We mark the best or very special bikes in a price range and category with our RIDE BETTER BIKES – Editors Choice logo. Our holistic view of the market and the look at the details of the bike makes this award unique on the market and underlines the quality of the awarded bikes.
Cannondale Scalpel HT Hi Mod 1 - RIDE BETTER BIKES Editors Choice
Only bikes that stand out from the crowd and really impress us on the trail deserve our Editors Choice award. With the Scalpel HT, Cannondale is breaking new ground in the field of race hardtails. We think it’s about time that companies left the narrow barriers of race bikes and breathe new life into these puristic bikes. Cannondale’s progressive approach ensures a lot of fun off-road and makes the Scalpel HT more than just acceptable on trail-heavy tours.

Conclusion on the Cannondale Scalpel HT

With the Scalpel HT, Cannondale is impressively proving that in 2023 you can still stand out from the market with your own approach to hardtails. The Lefty Ocho fork not only makes the bike exclusive, but also gives it moreconfidence on the descent with 110 millimeters of spring travel and really good functionality. This is where the Scalpel HT outperforms its competitors. With its flat steering angle and not too sporty seating position, the geometry breaks with the usual conventions of cross-country. And this decision was not only made consciously by the product managers, but also strictly followed. The Scalpel HT is a fun-oriented hardtail that doesn’t shy away from occasional races. But it feels most comfortable on extended single trail tours. The mechanical gears, the strong Shimano brakes and the classic cable routing through the down tube appeal to all those who are looking for a carefree bike.
In this article, the author Ludwig Döhl has incorporated his experience from more than 100,000 kilometers in the mountain bike saddle.

About the author

Ludwig

... has spent more than 100,000 kilometers in the saddle of over 1000 different mountain bikes. The essence of many hours on the trail: Mountain bikes are awesome when they match your personal preferences! With this realization, he founded bike-test.com to assist cyclists in finding their very own dream bike.

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