Long term update Sept 2014 – I originally wrote the below post when I had ridden the Scalpel half a dozen times… Back in August 2013. Fast Forward 12 months and my view is quite different, so take the below with a grain of massive sea salt. Its possible I was also drunk when I wrote it…
I have now sold the Scalpel, mainly as it was fragile, unreliable and made more noise that a Play mate of the month party. Yip, it won’t be missed and its back to the goodness of Santa Cruz full time.
Its been a while since I have let the bike nerd out of the cage to foam at the mouth about kit, so since there is faaaark all else going on here, this is a prime opportunity to rave on about another piece of premier cycling technology. If you don’t like bikes your eyes may glaze over from this point HERE.
Firstly I should qualify this by saying I can’t be accused of being an early adopter when it comes to Mountain Biking kit… As I also struggle with personal change, I was initially very resistant and sceptical of 29er bikes. I had been riding, racing and having fun on 26ers for 20 years, so why would I want to get on something that looked ridiculous big and unwieldy, especially if singletrack is the gear you like to be on the most?
Then, I saw the photo of this in the catalogue… The Cannondale Scalpel Ultimate 29er:
I mean LOOK at that! Usually I hate on Product Managers, but the baseline spec of this thing had pretty much every part that I would have hand picked to build an XC mountain bike weapon… With one glaring exception (I shall elaborate on that later). Sure, the price was slightly anatomy shrivelling, but as one Wellington hard man once said to me (you know who you are): “Mate, Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”. Regrettably this saying stuck in my young mind and I have been applying it to bike purchases ever since. Turns out it happens to be right on.
Sure, I could have got the Team or Scalpel 2 model, but I would have forever hated the paint scheme (fire that MF Paint department) and there was no way I was paying money for a bike with a full SHAM/SCAM kit on it. Plus, the biggest selling feature (aside from the FULL Black Ops colour scheme)? Its called the Ultimate!
Everyone had raved on about these bikes, so I was looking forward to trying mine out for the first time when I got it earlier this year. Not only was it a first ride on a new bike, but my first 29er. I still remember that first ride… It took me literally the first section of the BT MTB track to work out that there are 3 main ways to cheat on an MTB:
- Come from eastern Europe and take enough EPO to kill a donkey
- Be French and cut the course
- Buy a 29er
Yes, the only way I could describe what its like to ride this bike is that its like cheating… Even now that I have logged (a paltry) 360km’s on it in total, I still come to the same conclusion: Its fast, but quite fragile.
You don’t need a Brain to get the performance that the Scalpel can surgically deliver, let alone if you start to look at how beautifully its made and how good the ride is. I respect that if you’re German or Dutch the only good 29er is a hardtail, but then again you do like riding your bikes on gravel roads a LOT (supporting evidence: Crocodile Trophy cuntery)… eventually you will come around.
As you will note from previous gear rants (this one is looking suspiciously like my report on the Evo…), I tend to be all emotion and very light on facts about ‘why’. As I can’t really be that technical on why its so good (Dok is shaking his head in disgust), lets allow our feelings to flow:
The good shit
- Its embarrassingly light – to the point where I worried about it being fragile, and that’s how they feel to be honest. I have ridden it badly downhill (as in, thrashed it like its a DH bike) enough now to know that its solid in theory, but I’m not sure if long term I have that much faith in it. Indeed I have seen a number of these crack now, so perhaps consider what you’re using it for long term
- It has no 29er shitness – As in, I didn’t really know I was on one until it started to smash everything in front of it like Gozilla with a yeast infection. It turns in, rails, is nimble and spins up quickly. People who bitch and moan about Carbon 29ers must have not ridden one in the last few years. This thing will roll over terrain in a way that means you need to fully retrain your brain on how to ride XC
- Its fast – Obvious really (if it was slow and shit I would have sold it by now), but the mofo flies along XC terrain and climbs like a feral dog chasing a bandana. When you get out of the saddle and crank on it, there is no flex or bob, just quicker lap times
- How does it look? Fucking superb, that’s how. Its beautifully constructed and the build kit on the Ultimate is pretty much genius. One caveat… I suspect that part of what makes this bike so good is its Enve rims. If you are buying this bike, make sure you get Enve rims. Sure, this adds about $3k to the price tag, but see above quote and get on with it.
What I am not so keen on
- Ok, so product management made one major misstep… They put beautiful Shimano XTR all over the bike, except had a brain explosion and put a SHAM/SCAM front D on. I don’t care if its a fit thing, you had the chance at perfection and blew it. Still, I am sure it will break soon and I can replace it with Japanese domination
- Its too good for itself – Yes, an odd complaint and not really an issue with the bike per se. Essentially this thing is SO capable that at times you can forget that you’re riding a 100mm travel XC bike. So, you go faster and faster… However, there will come that moment where you get a rude wake up call that you’re not on a 160mm trail bike after all and that you need to adjust your feralness accordingly. I have found this out the hard way. When it runs out of travel, it really does.
- The Carbon railed seat creaks a lot… But, I anticipate that I will snap this in the next few months, so shouldn’t be a long term problem.
- Its noisy… Yeah, it creaks a LOT… The combo of PF30 and a weird proprietary headset/fork arrangement means that you need to be prepared for a bit of a racket.
Would I take this bike to Trans Provence? Not if I wanted to live… Would I take it to Rotorua? Only if I was racing… Make no mistake, its an XC weapon that will also let you have a LOT of trail fun as well. But, hand me my 26er Nomad any day of the week once shit gets Gnar or the mission briefing is to SHRED.
Case in point? I punched out 5 laps (6km’s per lap) on it today at the new BT MTB loop and felt like I could have kept going if I hadn’t drained my 3L camelbak, it was as hot as fuck (what did I expect starting at 10.30am?). It was a LOT of fun to, an awesome ride today, with the new BT trail getting better and better by the week. Here is the Scalpel in its natural habitat:
This is how you clean up when rammed in an apartment building… Dirty:
Bottom line – If you want the ultimate in 29er XC smashing technology and have some races coming up, buy this bike. Then, apply the Herr Doktor treatment to it by switching the spacers to slacken the head angle and put a Hans Damph on the front (XC Nerds melt down at this point) and head out to set new Strava PR’s all over the show. Epic fun will ensue.
Its not all about gear today… Here we are crossing live to our Dirty Affiliate in the Hawkes Bay NZ for a shot of some of the amazing goodness there, here is what the Panther has been rolling on today:
A case study on why cycling is the coolest thing there is… That and fighter jets.