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Swami’s New Age Mountain Bike Smackdown

Sedona, Arizona is famous for its shamans and chakras, but get beyond its aura on a mountain bike and you’ll find some of the most technical trail rides and backcountry enduro funnels in North America. Here are a couple from the pages of our current issue.

Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3
29er. A race bike for trail riders
What it does well: Like most next generation XC bikes, Cannondale’s new Scalpel benefits from a longer top tube and shorter stem for improved comfort and stability, and a combination of shorter chainstays and a more raked out front fork—the head tube angle went from 71.5 degrees to 69.5—for both tighter steering and bigger hit confidence. In other words, it’s a race bike with trail bike characteristics. On our Front Range Colorado trails, which feature sharp broken sandstone and extruded roots, that means it’s now a daily driver. Well, that’s true if you swap out the stock rigid carbon seatpost for a dropper post like we did. Beyond the geometry, credit for the trail worthiness is largely due to
Cannondale’s Lefty 2.0 single leg “fork.” Most 100mm race forks we’ve run bottom out too harshly to make for enjoyable trail riding, but the Lefty is predictable to steer and progressive in its travel. It’s the best XC fork we’ve ever tested. That’s just one of many premium features on this affordable bike which is a stunning seven models down in the Scalpel line. No, it’s not the super-spendy high modulus frame found on their five digit bikes, but it’s still a lightweight and damp carbon frame built up with a remote lockout that lets the Scalpel go fully rigid for sections of tarmac or out of the saddle sprinting. We’re also fans of the build kit, which features a precise shifting Shimano XTR 1X11 drivetrain, and what we consider the best brakes on the market in Shimano XT—no mush at the lever.
What it does poorly: A bike that’s marketed as adept at handling today’s gnarlier XC courses should come with a
dropper post. Even World Cuppers are converting now, and since most Scalpel buyers ride trails 90 percent of the time, they’d benefit too. Luckily, Cannondale’s slick array of cable ports could accommodate internal routing
so as to not mar the Carbon 3’s stealth aesthetics.
So who’s it made for? Fast climbing trail riders and racers who don’t see the need to spend another $5K to save two or three pounds. Throw that dropper on it and it’s a worthy trail bike as long as your local trails aren’t a series
of linked drops. $5,330; 24 pounds; cannondale.com


Scott Spark 900
29er. A trail bike for racers
What it does well: If the Cannondale Scalpel-SI is a race bike that’s worthy of trail riding, the Spark 900 is a trail bike that’s adept at XC racing. Here too, the re-envisioned Spark benefits from the new industry standard mtb geometry: shorter chainstays for faster acceleration and a longer top tube for straightline stability are the new norm. Just as noticeable an upgrade from the old Spark line: Scott inverted the rear shock and fixed it above the bottom bracket while simultaneously ditching the extra pivots at the chainstay and seat stay junction. The combination of weight savings and weight relocation gives the bike the balanced feel of a trail bike with the svelte climbing properties of an XC bike. Pair all that with a 120mm Fox 34 fork and a 125mm dropper post and we found the Spark a versatile trail bike for riders who favor fast climbing and a lightweight feel over big hit performance. The key to the bike’s versatility, though, is in Scott’s long-running TwinLoc remote system that let’s you run the shocks from locked out, to trail or climbing mode, to wide open at the push of a lever. The device let’s you set up the rear shock soft, so you capture all available travel on the downhills, but when the trail smoothens out on the flats or you’re looking at an hour of steady climbing, the midrange setting doesn’t rob you of power. The trick is to get the TwinLoc and the suspension working
in perfect unison, and that can take a few rides to dial in.
What it does poorly: Failing to get the suspension and TwinLoc in sync can deter ride quality; something we noticed in corners until we softened the rear shock. And despite its mellower 67.5-degree head tube angle (way slacker than the Spark of old), it’s still, not a big hit bike. Still the 29ers and the 120mm fork and dropper make most trails manageable.
So who’s it made for? Lots of riders we know like to bump up the trail properties of their race bikes by adding a 120mm fork (up from 100mm) and a dropper post. The Spark 900 does that work for you.
Trail riders who love to climb all day long should look here.
$5,599; 26.7 pounds (medium); scott-sports.com

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