MTB geometry advice needed - Cannondale Scalpel SE Vs Trek Top fuel

Hi all

I’m choosing between these 2 bikes and I’d like some user reviews and tips if possible! I’m stuck with these 2 because I can get the best deals on them.

I’d like to get the scalpel because the spec is better and I prefer the looks. However, a friend is trying to talk me about of that bike because of the seat tube angle. It has a 72 deg angle compared to the 75 deg on the top fuel.

Can anyone tell me (since I’m mainly a roadie) whether there’s any big pros/cons to the seat tube that might sway my decision. I’d also like to hear from Scalpel SE owners to see if the slack seat tube really is a problem.


I always thought steeper seat tube angle is preferable for everything that you pedal up and slacker head tube angle for everything going down. So without having ridden any of the two bikes just by comparing geo-charts, I personally would go with the cannondale.

If you have the chance to testride both bikes, I’d suggest you do that. And if you can’t decide after riding both bikes, I’d say go with the bike you like better. Why? Because You’ll enjoy riding it more.

edit: was looking at the wrong bike (Trek Fuel SL), my bad.

Thanks for your input. The Trek has the steeper seat tube and the slacker head angle so wouldn’t that be preferable over the cannondale based on those things?

I’m not sure any meaningful test ride (ie offroad) is going to be possible. My friend’s argument is that the Cannondales geometry is less “modern/progressive” which is a fair point, but my argument (based purely on me liking the bikes looks more) is that plenty of people raced XC/XCM much faster than I ever will on this slightly “dated” design

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Top fuel at the top, scalpel below

What sizes are you considering?

I can dump the geo’s into some comparison tools for a closer look.

Thanks Chad

I understand the difference in geometries and I even understand how those differences will place a ride differently on each bike. I’m looking at an XL in both.

I’m more interested in if users of these bikes (especially the scalpel) actually find these differences to be noticeable/better/worse in the real world and if this should dictate my choice when buying

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I own and love my Scalpel SE2. I also own the previous gen Top Fuel but there is little crossover there. I have about 700 miles in Texas and Arkansas on the bike.

The seat tube angle becomes an issue the more seat post hangs out. For me, the seat tube is not far out so it works very well, in the middle of the saddle rail mount range. For people showing a ton of post it’s more problematic.

This bike is definitely unique. The bike feels exceedingly playful and that’s why I bought it, tons of fun. The dampers are extremely good as well, I believe what reviewers say about small compression “bump” stiffness off the top on the new Top Fuel. It is still an XC bike, but it’s magic over big rocks. I think this bike shines the most with the shocks open, climbing. Which brings us to BB drop…its really high and takes some commitment. The high BB made me pretty uncomfortable initially but I learned to love it when riding through rocky and rooted climbs. It’s funny to read comments about “old school geometry”, lol. It’s an XC bike, with more travel; it is not “down country”.

You need to ride the Cannondale before you buy it because it’s definitely unique. It also has a better spec at its price point and most are on clearance, mine was $3k.

^that’s the stuff to ride up, making this bike shine.

I still have the 2017 Top Fuel, gave it to the girlfriend, and she always takes my Scalpel. Lol

P. S. Two water bottles. :v:
P. S. S. These forks ship with five spacers, I reduced and run 2. I also run the shock and fork about 10% lower than the Fox recommendation chart.


That’s exactly the sort of info I was hoping for. Thanks! :slight_smile: ps the bike looks awesome!

I thought of something else. The previous generation of Trek MTBs had journal bushings (Delrin) rather than bearings in the rear suspension pivot points. I have a really hard time with that extremely low-rung, high friction pivot on a modern $3k+ bike. Check to see if that is the case on this generation of Top Fuel bikes.

It sounds ridiculous, but the more-free suspension the better the bike rides in every way and it’s more than noticeable.

It’s not just the seat tube angle. Along with a higher STA usually comes a slacker head tube angle, and a longer wheelbase. The steeper STA on a bike like that is needed to get the right weight distribution between front and rear wheels, and right effective top tube length.

The bikes will have different characteristics as a result of the combined geometry differences. The top fuel is a more modern XC design than the scalpel, and will be more capable on technical descents.

Where are you going to be riding this bike? What kind of trails? And racing or just seeing if you like MTB?

It’s a good question. I left out some important context really, but only because I was trying to keep the original post simple so people would read it, haha!

I’ve done odd bits of mountain biking here and there for 4 years, but I’m pretty rubbish off road. I currently have a cube stereo 140 that I bought from my friend. It’s a fantastic bike but its built to tackle much bigger stuff than I usually ride and now I’d like something that’s fun, but more efficient. I’d like something efficient enough to try a few mtb events such as xc or xc marathon but still playful enough for general rocky and rooty trail riding that we have here in Scotland.

When you start analyzing all of the different MTB geometries you can reach paralysis by analysis. Any top name/mainstream branded XC bike can handle all of what you want it to, unless you’ll be going into the extremes. I have a 100mm f/r Scott Spark RC 900 and I race that bike in XC Cat 1/Expert races, MTB 100s, all over Colorado, Utah, Michigan and Scotland. I never felt that my bike ever held me back. These modern bikes are extremely capable and I wouldn’t stress over a few degree here or there. The bike will likely be far more capable than you are, so just pick the bike you think looks the best.


Yep, you’ve summarised me well there. I’ll agonise over small details forever, often to find that those details dont matter or I don’t even notice them!

I have the 2020 Top Fuel and love it. Previously I had a hardtail and a 130mm front and rear suspension bike. I feel like the top fuel is at a great place in the middle of those. I’ve raced XC on it and would feel really comfortable taking it almost anywhere.


Are you looking at a 2020 Top Fuel or 2019? Pretty major differences between the two…