PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Four cross-country race machines were put to the test in Squamish, BC.
Words by Sarah Moore, Photography by Margus Riga
We grabbed our Lycra, visorless helmets, and carbon-soled shoes and took four top of the line cross-country bikes and put them through a series of demanding tests on Squamish's lung-busting trails. All of these race machines were significantly more pleasant to pedal uphill than your average trail bike, and they impressed with their descending abilities - for the most part - despite having not much travel and relatively quick-handling geometry. But let's be honest, it was all about the uphill segment hunting, and these bikes really do make you feel like a superhero on the climbs.
It's hard to believe just how much better these four bikes are than anything we were racing on a decade ago, but we're not comparing them to those dated machines, and despite all of them coming out within a few years of each other, there were some clear standouts. While Mike Levy rode these bikes in the Efficiency Test and up the Impossible Climb, I did the bulk of testing on them. I sat down with Mike Kazimer and Levy at the end of the test period to chat about what I did and didn't like on these four bikes and to choose my favorites out of the category.
4 Cross-Country Race Bikes
Despite the polarizing Lefty Ocho on the front of it, Cannondale's Scalpel not only surprised me, but it was also my favorite bike. It still looks odd when I watch myself riding in the video and look at photos of it with its distinct fork, but since it performed superbly throughout the test period, I'm hardly going to let that hold it back from being my top pick. The traction on climbs was exceptional, it felt plusher than its 100mm of travel suggested on the downhill, and it was fastest overall on our timed loop. Not too shabby.
The Scalpel is part of a new generation of cross-country race bikes that are designed for more technical World Cup courses. There's also no rigid, abrasive climbing feel that we've come to associate cross-country bikes, and that means you can stay in the seat and pedal for longer on climbs and across rough traverses without being bounced off-line.
5'7" / 170cmWeight:
160 lbs / 72.6 kgNotes:
Content manager, too fast to be so nice
On descents and when the trail gets rough, the Scalpel's 100mm of rear suspension works well, and it was much less exhausting than the 60mm-travel Supercaliber or 100mm Canyon Lux.
The Scalpel proves that a bike doesn't have to feel harsh to be fast. That also means that it would be a great bike for a shorter XCO distance, as well as a long marathon race.
That being said, I would like to spend more time on the Specialized Epic with the most modern geometry of the pack to see if I can get used to the Brain suspension on the descents. I have a feeling it would be easier if I weren't jumping back and forth between three other bikes. Plus, it has rainbow AXS, a power meter, and a gorgeous red paint job. What's not to love?
And if I'm riding a rolling trail with jumps and berms, I'd choose the Trek Supercaliber because I loved the compact fit and it just feels so fast and is so much fun to pump it along on that type of terrain. When we were shooting on the flowy Another Man's Gold trail, I had the biggest smile on my face while aboard the Supercaliber.
The 2020 Pinkbike Field Test was made possible with clothing, protection, and support from Giro. Control tires provided by Schwalbe, and power meters provided by SRM. Filming took place at The Backyard pub in Squamish.
Photos: Margus Riga
Video: Jason Lucas, Cole Nelson, Max Barron
It's a good test for the general PB audience I guees, but for the target audience of these bikes (xc/marathon racers) - not very useful/interesting.
Edit: still enjoyed this content a lot, just providing some feedback for next time.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad bike, but all it does can just as easily be achieved by a conventional design.
My 10 month old kid will be learning english on Pinkbike (yeah,not on the comment section).
And what's the point of downhill geometry on a bike with such little suspension travel? You're either gonna break the bike, or rattle your teeth out and wish you had a bigger bike.
also, inb4 russianscalpelguy
And didn't Sarah NOT use the lockout on the Scapel whereas the Epic had the advantage of the Brain (even if turned down)?
Sounds like a shellacking because use of the lockout for instance on the gravel climb would have had the Scapel sweeping the podium.
I also don't agree that much on changing the tires, as the brand tires are really suited for the bikes and especially the rims their on.
I'd even say that everyone of these should be ridden with a dropper - especially that Sarah is a Trail rider at heart
i think next time it might be better (i.e., easier and more repeatable) to hold speed constant and then compare the power output required.
Still, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction I get from the Cannondale with the Lefty winning. That’s certain to trigger some folks. “BuT PRopRietARy sHOcK!!”
Anyone interested: Send me a pm and I'll drop you the name of the shop.
Even amongst the Cannondale shops, you have a large number of them who would much rather ship it out due to the cost of the tools and limited availability of them (used to not be sold to dealers).
Just for fun, I went through the owners manual and they don’t even call out part numbers for a seal service kit or the needle bearings, two of the most crucial things that you would need to be able to do to keep the fork working. I think that should be a solid indication as to how difficult it is to get this fork serviced. I’m sure the fork works better than any previous lefty, I know the guy who designed it very well and hopefully durability is better now that Boobar is there. Between Brain, Lefty, ISO-Strut and Canyon’s lack of warranty supply there is no real winner here so I guess my point is moot.
These bikes are good for one season’s employee purchase and if it breaks before that then phone up the company and complain until you get your free replacement whatever. If you’re a second buyer of a $12k bike then too bad you’re f’d and good luck. At least it will get you props for using it as a triangle at the next crankworks.
Even if you manage to get into the fork, They don’t sell the needle bearings so you’ll need to send the fork back to have Cannondale replace those should you need to.
I’m not aware of damper service parts so unless they’ve changed their tune since the Supermax 2.0 came out it’s a complete damper swap to the tune of 300 bucks
$5000 can sure buy a decent second bike.
I love the interaction with readers that the internet can allow, but it's uninformed comments like yours that make magazines seem more appealing.
In addition to Levy's response:
1) Pinkbike is free. You didn't pay for it. Sure it was funded by advertising, but people need to eat. And eating requires a successful content management strategy. This is something Pinkbike appears to have nailed.
2) Judging from the comments of various journalists over the years (as well as Levy's car), I don't think anybody at Pinkbike makes a lot of money. Which begs the question....why are they doing it? Because they love bikes and they love telling stories about bikes for your enjoyment. Comments like yours kill the love JE17j. Don't kill the love JE17j.
3) The magazine business model (at least for mtbing) seems to be in decline. Pinkbike is more comprehensive and popular than any other mtb content producer I know of. Their business model appears to be working. And because it is, you get content. Win, win.
4) The motor industry is not analogous to the mtb industry. There is a much bigger pie to share around.
5) 3-4 weeks seems reasonable given the amount of work they put in. Sounds like it would have been a massive amount of work only to reap a couple of days as "headline content".
6) Levy seems like a nice guy. Be more like Levy.
Unrelated: when are we going to see the full footage of that teaser clip from the video intro of you bombing down that roots section barely holding on??? I laugh every time I see that.