When Cannondale revealed their newly designed Scalpel back in 2016, the world and more so South Africa sat up and took notice. With only minor cosmetic and parts changes to the new 2018 line-up, we swung a leg over the Si3. WORDS AND IMAGES: FRANS LE ROUX
This being our cross country themed issue (XCO), what better than to test one of the very best cross country full suspension 29er’s money can buy. Full Sus had the opportunity to sample the new Scalpel Si back in October 2016 when our regular bike tester raved about how good the green machine was back then. Fast forward to January 2018 and we jumped at the opportunity to climb aboard the new 2018 Si3. There is just something about black mountain bikes that makes me grin. I can’t pinpoint the reason, but I suspect it is the stealthy nature of the beast or the fact that it always looks great when you pull out a camera. In an unprecedented move for the bustling cycling industry, Cannondale have not changed anything cosmetically between their 2017 and 2018 Si3 model. Both frames sport a matte black frame with grey decals while the groupset remained largely unchanged too. Speaking of which, the Si3 finds itself in the middle of the Si-range. The bike features a full carbon BallisTec frame with a 100mm of travel front and back. The fork is the brand’s famous alloy Lefty 2.0, while the rear shock is a RockShox Monarch XX. The rest of the kit includes trusted Shimano XT brakes, Stans Crest MK3 wheels and even a carbon handlebar and seatpost. Something you don’t see too often in 2018, is a Shimano 11-speed groupset. The Si3 was fitted with XT shifters and cassette, while the rear derailleur was a solid XTR unit.
My first ride with the new Scalpel was from our offices in Rondebosch up toward the Blockhouse on Table Mountain. Since Cannondale updated the Scalpel’s geometry back in 2016, they managed to create a bike that blurs the line between a cross-country bike and a short travel trail bike. The Scalpel features a shortened chainstay (435mm) and slackened head angle (69.5) which all relate back to a more stable bike in all riding conditions.
I was surprised by the Lefty’s stiffness and the way it just rolled over rocks and roots. When I was faced with a steep rocky downhill section, the fork’s ability to keep its line surprised me. By using some kind of (black) magic, Cannondale managed to create a fork that felt super smooth and responsive over varying conditions. I played around with the handlebar mounted suspension lock-out and after a few minutes I left it open. I felt that the way it soaked up bumps was more than comfortable and adequate for my type of riding. When you do decide to lock the suspension, it amazed me how rigid the bike felt. Once I stood up to put the hammer down, I found more grip and confidence with the open setting.
The Stans Crest MK3 rims are as tough as nails and although only 23mm wide, their weight helps pull the Scalpel up any hill. I found myself overinflating the standard Schwalbe’s LiteSkin tyres to avoid a pinch flat. The Shimano 11-speed groupset shifted with reassuring ease and for my limited power the 32-tooth front cog proved more than sufficient. I did enjoy the fact that two bottle cages can be fitted, which in a country like South Africa, is a huge bonus. Overall, the 2018 Si3 Scalpel impressed me tremendously. The fact that Cannondale took the plunge and adopted a more modern and progressive geometry has improved every aspect of this mile muncher. If it were me standing in a bike shop, I would opt for wider tyres and undoubtedly add a dropper seatpost. I honestly feel that with these two changes the Scalpel could be one of those do-it-all machines.
During my time with the Scalpel Si3 I also managed to catch a ride on the 2018 Si1 model.
The Si1 is finished in a beautiful glossy black with some bright yellow accents. The main differences between this Si1 and Si3 are the following: the 1 has a Hi-MOD frame, carbon XLR Lefty fork, carbon wheels and a 12-speed SRAM groupset. Riding them back to back was a very interesting experience. The Si1 felt more direct, more rigid and the carbon hoops proved super responsive and stiff. Although the carbon Lefty is lighter on the Si1, both bikes felt buttery smooth over small bumps. It is worth mentioning that the Si1 had a dropper seatpost fitted to the demo bike which improved the overall experience. The new 2.0 Lefty is quite something and once you’ve nailed the setup, it will reward you with excellent feedback. Personally, the Si1 is the prettier of the two and the SRAM Eagle 12-speed is all the talk at the moment but there is still the small matter of a 30k difference between them. It’s a tough decision to make.