When considering a new mountain bike, there are so many similar-looking bikes on the market being made by so many different companies, it is virtually impossible to (1) know where to begin; (2) quickly figure out which one or two products from a given brand might work well for you; and (3) determine what products from other brands might be the most similar and also worth considering.
So in our new “Blister Brand Guide” series, we provide an overview of the entire product lineup of a brand; highlight how each product stands out from the rest of that brand’s lineup; and help you figure out quickly and easily which bike might work best for you.
In our individual product reviews, we go very deep into the details of particular products. With these Brand Guides, the goal is not Depth, but Breadth. Our Brand Guides and full reviews are designed to complement each other — provide a broad overview of entire company lineups, and then also very detailed reviews of individual products.
Our mountain bike Brand Guides are presented by CBGTrails. Learn more and start planning your trip today at cbgtrails.com, then download the CBG Trails app for info on the 750+ miles of singletrack and 150+ trails in Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley, Colorado.
Cannondale was founded in 1971 and they have been contributing to the bike industry ever since. Cannondale is best known for creating a lot of unique and often proprietary designs, though that’s become less of a trend over the past few years. One of their most distinctive designs is the “Lefty” fork — a single-sided, front-suspension fork with a single stanchion and slider on the left to accommodate for the disc brake. They’re also responsible for early full-suspension designs, with the Cannondale Delta V.E.S.T. being one of the first bikes to feature front and rear suspension. Today, their lineup consists of both on-road and off-road bikes and almost everything in between, accommodating for almost every budget.
Most of their XC bikes, except for some of the budget-oriented options, feature an integrated wheel sensor that connects with the Cannondale phone app. This sensor records the speed, distance, and time of each ride. The sensor and app will also work together to create reminders for when the bike needs service, based on ride hours, and will store service records in the app. Activation of the wheel sensor through the app will also automatically register the bike for Cannondale’s warranty.
Each of their hardtails feature “SAVE micro-suspension,” which are flex zones in the rear triangle and seat tube that are designed to provide a smoother ride than a traditional hardtail.
As of publishing this brand guide, the Cannondale Scalpel and Scalpel SE are part of the brand’s 2021 lineup and we’ll report back and update this once we’ve confirmed the final 2021 lineup.
Current Warranty (for the original owner)
- Lifetime on most frames (except the ones listed below)
- Three years for Gravity, Freeride, Downhill, Dirt Jump, and other ASTM Category Five Bicycles
- Five years for Swing Arms, Chainstays, Seatstays, and Shock Links of Full Suspension Frames
- One year for paint and decals and Cannondale-branded products
- For more information, visit this website.
Cannondale’s Suspension design: FlexPivot, Horst-Link variants, Linkage-Driven Single Pivot
(For more on different suspension designs, see our Suspension 101 article)
Before we get into their specific models and build options, here are some things to keep in mind when deciding on which build level to go with, and why.
First, when looking at complete bikes, suspension and wheels are going to make the biggest difference in how a bike really rides. Spend money on those before other things like higher-end drivetrain parts, cockpit parts (e.g., stem, handlebars, etc.), cranks, etc.
Tires make an enormous difference in performance, but are cheaper and easier to upgrade, especially since they tend to wear down quicker than other components. Upgrading a lower-end front tire to something better — and saving the original for rear-tire use — can be a good way to improve a bike while still making use of the originals, since front tires are generally a lot more important than rear tires when it comes to traction.
Drivetrain parts can be upgraded piecemeal as they wear out, or if you just want to upgrade down the line. Higher-end cassettes are mostly just lighter, while higher-end shifters and derailleurs get lighter, smoother, and sometimes last a bit longer as you go up in price.
We’ll outline here the different models in Cannondale’s MTB lineup, organized from most cross-country-oriented (XC) to downhill-oriented (DH). In other words, the bikes at the top of the list are optimized to pedal and climb uphill very well, while the bikes at the bottom are optimized to handle very rough, steep, and challenging descents very well.
We’ve included some notable information for each model:
Available build kits & their MSRP
- Best Budget Build: These are the build kits that we think make the most sense for people trying to spend the least amount without ending up with a build that’s going to immediately break or need to be upgraded.
- Most Performance for the Price: These are the build kits that we think make the most sense for people seeking the best balance of performance and cost. I.e., if you don’t need to get the cheapest bike, but you also don’t need the absolute lightest bike or all the newest bling, this is the build we think makes sense for you.
- Suspension travel (e.g., 100 mm of travel, 130 mm of travel, etc.)
- Wheel size (e.g., 27.5”, 27.5+, 29”)
- Frame material options (e.g., alloy vs. carbon)
- A brief description of what the bike was designed for and any notable design details.
- Some of the bike’s most direct competitors from other brands
- Which Cannondale bike it’s most similar to
- Reasons why you should buy it
- Reasons why you should not buy it
Cannondale Mountain Bikes
(Most Cross-Country-Oriented to Most Downhill-Oriented)
A budget-oriented hardtail that can provide a good introduction to mountain biking. The “Trail” models are unisex while the “Tango” models are designed for women.
Don’t Bother If:
- Trail 8 (75 mm fork): $485
- Tango 6 (75 mm fork): $485
- Trail 7 (100 mm fork): $560
- Tango 5 (100 mm fork): $560
- Trail 6 (100 mm fork): $650
- Tango 4 (100 mm fork): $650
- Trail 5 (100 mm fork): $780
- Tango 3 (100 mm fork): $780
- Trail 4 (100 mm fork): $1,000
- Tango 2 (100 mm fork): $1,000
- Trail 3 (120 mm fork): $1,300
- Tango 1 (120 mm fork): $1,300
- Trail 2 (120 mm fork): $1,600
- Trail 1 (120 mm fork): $1,850 – Best Budget Build & Most Performance for the Price
- Specialized Rockhopper
- Trek Marlin
- Giant ATX, Talon, and Fathom
- Kona Hardtails
- Scott Aspect
- Rocky Mountain Fusion & Soul
- Norco Storm & Fluid HT
A budget-oriented hardtail with plus-sized tires for a smoother ride and confidence-inspiring traction. “Cujo” models are unisex while “Scarlet” models are designed for women.
More like the Trail / Tango than the F-SI.
Don’t Bother If:
- Cujo 3 (100 mm fork): $1,150
- Cujo 2 (120 mm fork): $1,350
- Scarlet 1 (120 mm fork): $1,350 – Best Budget Build & Most Performance for the Price
- Cujo 1 (120 mm fork): $1,700 – Best Budget Build & Most Performance for the Price
- Santa Cruz Chameleon 27.5”+
- Trek Roscoe
- Kona Big Honzo
- Rocky Mountain Growler
- Devinci Kobain HT
Cannondale’s lightest, XC race-oriented hardtail. All models except the Carbon 5 build feature a Lefty fork.
More like the Scalpel than the Cujo / Scarlet.
Don’t Bother If:
- Carbon 5: $2,400 – Best Budget Build
- Carbon 4: $3,350
- Carbon Women’s 2: $3,500
- Carbon 3: $3,850
- Carbon 2: $5,550 – Most Performance for the Price
- Limited Edition: $7,900
- Hi-MOD 1: $8,200
- Hi-MOD World Cup: $11,000
- Specialized Epic HT
- Santa Cruz Highball
- Pivot Les
- Trek Procaliber
- Giant XTC Advanced
- Scott Scale
- Rocky Mountain Vertex
- Ibis DV9
- Norco Revolver HT
- Canyon Exceed
- Mondraker Chrono Carbon & Podium Carbon
Updated in May 2020, the new Scalpel is Cannondale’s full-suspension XC bike that essentially replaces the previous Scalpel Si. The new Scalpel features a lightweight frame paired with Cannondale’s new patented FlexPivot technology, which ditches a set of traditional bearings / bushings to save weight. This system creates a virtual Horst-link design by allowing the frame to flex at the chainstay in two spots, producing 100 mm of rear travel. Each model features a Lefty fork, Cannondale’s STASH integrated tool kit, and can hold two water bottles inside the front triangle.
More like the Scalpel SE than the F-Si.
Don’t Bother If:
- Carbon 3: $4,500 – Best Budget Build
- Carbon 2: $6,000 – Most Performance for the Price
- Hi-MOD 1: $9,000
- Hi-MOD Ultimate: $12,000
- Trek Supercaliber
- Specialized Epic
- Santa Cruz Blur
- Pivot Mach 4 SL WC
- Giant Anthem 29
- Scott Spark
- Rocky Mountain Element XCO
- Intense Sniper XC
- Norco Revolver FS 100
- Canyon Lux
- Mondraker F-Podium
Updated in May 2020, the new Scalpel SE is the more downhill-oriented version of the regular Scalpel and features a lightweight frame paired with Cannondale’s new patented FlexPivot technology, which ditches a traditional set of bearings / bushings to save weight. This system creates a virtual Horst-link design by allowing the frame to flex at the chainstay in two spots, producing 120 mm of rear travel. Each model fits two water bottle cages and all models are compatible with Cannondale’s STASH integrated toolkit (only Carbon 1 and Carbon LTD come with the tool).
More like the Scalpel than the Habit.
Don’t Bother If:
- Carbon Women’s: $4,000
- Carbon 2: $4,000 – Best Budget Build
- Carbon 1: $5,500 – Most Performance for the Price
- Carbon LTD: $7,500
- Specialized Epic EVO
- Santa Cruz Blur TR
- Pivot Mach 4 SL
- Yeti SB100
- Trek Top Fuel
- Kona Hei Hei
- Scott Spark
- Rocky Mountain Element
- Intense Sniper Trail
- Norco Revolver FS 120
- Mondraker F-Podium DC
Cannondale’s Best Quiver Killer. Designed to be versatile and capable. Features geometry adjustment via a flip-chip.
More like the Jekyll 29 than the Scalpel SE.
Don’t Bother If:
- Women’s 3: $2,100
- 6: $2,100
- Women’s 2: $2,700 – Best Budget Build
- 5: $2,700 – Best Budget Build
- 4: $3,250
- Carbon Women’s 1: $4,200
- Carbon 3: $4,200
- Carbon SE (140 mm fork): $4,750
- Carbon 2: $5,250 – Most Performance for the Price
- Carbon 1: $8,250
- Specialized Stumpjumper 29” / Stumpjumper ST 29”
- Pivot Trail 429 29”
- Trek Fuel EX
- Giant Trance 29”
- Kona Process 134 29”
- Rocky Mountain Instinct
- Nukeproof Reactor 290
- YT Izzo
- Ibis Ripley
- Canyon Neuron
Cannondale’s longest-travel, most downhill-capable bike. Features custom “Gemini” Fox rear shock with two settings to effectively shorten the available travel for climbs.
Don’t Bother If:
- 4: $3,400 – Best Budget Build
- Carbon Women’s 1: $4,250
- Carbon 3: $4,250
- Carbon 2: $5,750 – Most Performance for the Price
- Carbon 1: $7,500
- Specialized Stumpjumper 29”
- Santa Cruz Hightower
- Pivot Switchblade
- Trek Slash
- Kona Process 153 29”
- Scott Genius
- Rocky Mountain Instinct BC Edition
- Intense Primer 29
- YT Jeffsy 29
- Devinci Troy 29
- Evil The Offering
- Canyon Strive