Scott claims just 4.6mm of vertical movement is built into the back end of its fantastic Scale 29 RC carbon 29er hardtail but in practice it behaves like more.
Coupled with the inherent vibration damping characteristics of good carbon fibre construction, that tiny bit of movement yields the smooth and sublime ride quality you'd expect on gentler terrain but it also mellows things out overall by rounding off the violent spikes that come with bigger trail features to which your arms and legs just can't react quickly enough.
Add in the associated traction benefits and the overall 'monstertruckability' of 29" wheels shod with relatively fat tyres – that we ran reliably at just 24/25psi front/rear on notoriously unforgiving Rocky Mountain terrain thanks, again, in part to that bit of movement in the stays – and the result is one of the most glued-to-the-ground feelings we've experienced in any hardtail. Not to mention a ridiculous amount of speed. This sucker is seriously swift.
It's not just a race bike, though. Over the last six weeks our test rides took the Scale 29 RC across all of our usual stomping grounds and given the off-season timeframe of our testing, unfortunately included no real racing so we treated it as we would any other trail bike and this carbon wündermachine surprised us there, too.
We had perhaps our most enjoyable descent ever down the tricky front side of Hall Ranch, complete with a few little drop-offs and lots of tricky granite fields that conspire to swallow standard 26" wheels; we happily clawed our way up the annoyingly loose 'connector trail' leading from town up to Betasso Preserve.
We confidently launched off the roots coming down the Enchanted Forest section of Chimney Gulch and we rocketed through the incessantly rock-strewn Wild Turkey slight downhill section of Heil Ranch, happily flicking our way over/through/around everything in our path and pedaling like mad, all while barely touching the brakes throughout.
We'd even gotten into the habit of launching the Scale 29 RC off of whatever (moderately sized!) hits we find on the trail, relishing in the remarkably composed behavior upon landing.
The straight truth is this is some of the most fun we've had on any mountain bike in ages, and the fact that it's been on a hardtail is more testament to the remarkable engineering. Hey, Scott, come over here and try to take it back – we dare you.
Scott hasn't tempered any of the usual hardtail attributes, either, and in fact the Scale 29 RC chassis merely ups the ante. It's wonderfully rigid everywhere it should be and yet still very entertaining in the right environment and the hands of a skilled rider.
Without the filter of true suspension to water things down, reflexes retain immediacy, which come especially handy at higher speeds when you need those fast reaction times – after all, you're still on a hardtail and can't just mindlessly plough through things.
Tube sections are enormous in the front triangle and aided by the tapered 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" head tube/press-fit 89.5mm-wide bottom bracket combo, both of which afford more real estate for the adjoining tubes and the concurrent extra lateral and torsional stiffness that come with it.
The seat tube flares radically outwards just below the front derailleur mount and the top tube is wide and relatively thin. The down tube, of course, is positively gargantuan and major kudos to Scott's product manager for selecting a 15mm thru-axle fork. Bravo.
The asymmetrical chain stays are fat as well, but the seat stays are shockingly slender and flattened, much like the road-going CR1 that shares the pseudo-flex stay design philosophy. Hey, guess what – we've now ridden both machines extensively and the idea works in both arena so it's not just sleight of hand and marketing hype.
Not surprisingly, pedaling response is superb. Push down, rocket forward – no questions asked.
Despite what the relatively slack (especially for a 29er) 69.5° head tube angle might suggest, handling is remarkably nimble and surprisingly natural feeling with no evidence of wheel flop or languishing in switchbacks. Credit here likely goes to the extra-rigid front end that loses little in translation from input to output, the short 438mm chain stays, just-right 60mm bottom bracket drop, the generously wide bar, and a flickable 90mm-long stem.
Not that this even needs to be mentioned explicitly, but the Scale 29 RC is also really light. Actual weight for the complete bike as pictured (but without pedals) is just 9.70kg (21.38lb) while the medium-sized all-carbon frame (there is no aluminum in the bottom bracket, head tube, or even the internal housing stops) is just 990g including the rear derailleur hanger, bottom bracket cable guide, and chunky quick-release (!) seatpost collar – well within Scott's 949g claim.
(Photo: James Huang/Future Publishing)
Perfect parts pick – well, almost
Scott's product manager deserves a lot of credit here. While the Scale 29 RC could easily be lighter in several areas, the company has instead opted for a balanced mix of weight savings and function with almost no compromises in overall performance made as a result.
Bolted on to the Scale 29 RC is a premium mix of parts fitting to its flagship status in the company range, including a complete SRAM XX group, custom DT Swiss alloy clincher wheels, a Fox Racing Shox F29 RLC fork, a mix of carbon and aluminum cockpit components from Ritchey, a lightweight Selle Italia SLR saddle, and impressively fast-yet-grippy Schwalbe Rocket Ron tyres.
Shifting was crisp and precise (especially up front thanks to the ultra-stiff chainrings and clever X-Glide tooth profiles), the drivetrain was reasonably quiet, and the brakes provided ample stopping with excellent control, especially with the 185mm rotor up front.
We did have two XX-related hiccups, though: a bent rear cog during a particularly ham-fisted uphill shift (that was easily repaired, thankfully) and rear brake pistons that eventually decided they didn't want to retract fully anymore.
According to Avid product manager Paul Kantor, the company has seen this before (though mostly with more heavily used brakes with worn-down pads) and current production brakes have an additional spring in the master cylinder assembly to aid in pad retraction so hopefully this is a moot issue.
Our experience with FIT cartridge-equipped Fox forks has been more mixed in recent months but the 32 F29 FIT RL 15QR bolted to the front of our Scale 29 RC was utterly flawless. The 100mm of travel was smooth, suitably progressive, and extremely well controlled with none of the irritating stiction we've occasionally suffered before and the handy lockout was easy to set up and effortless to use.
We were initially a little disappointed with the stock wheels; they're not all that light – given the bike's hefty price tag – but all things considered, they've done the job quite nicely. They come up to speed quickly enough on the trail, have held up to the aforementioned abuse with nary a quarter turn on the alloy nipples, and as always, the star ratchet rear hub internals have been faultless. Truth be told, though, potential buyers could shave a couple hundred grams right from the get-go by switching to some NoTubes hoops. Sorry DT Swiss, just sayin'.
Scott's pick for tyres, however, is spot-on. The Schwalbe Rocket Ron's open tread design grabs well on a wide range of soil types – and even bare rock – and the generous 2.25" casing provides extra float to supplement the Scale's built-in flex. The high-rebound base in the triple-compound rubber rolls with remarkable speed, though, and they're also light at just 520g apiece (claimed).
Our test wheels came with tubes pre-installed but consumer bikes will come with rim strips pre-installed and valve stems should they decide to do the easy conversion on the tubeless-ready tyres and rims – just add sealant.
The rest of the finishing kit is similarly well chosen, including the usefully wide (hallelujah!) 660mm Ritchey WCS carbon flat bars, light and reasonably rigid Ritchey WCS 4-Axis 44 forged aluminum stem, and matching (very) oversized WCS carbon post. We took a bit of issue with the Selle Italia SLR Team Edition saddle, though. While it's normally consistently one of our favourites, the stiff hull was a bit much after several hours on the trail.
As for that seatpost, our initial view was that Scott could have gotten an even cushier ride by selecting a smaller 27.2mm diameter instead of its usual 34.9mm variety. Here's what Scott had to say:
"Unlike a conventional hardtail that relies on seatpost or seatmast flex for compliance, we have engineered compliance in the SDS stays," said Scott's US marketing director, Adrian Montgomery. "Our Scott-Swisspower riders found they wanted compliance even while standing as they do on the World Cup quite often. This bike was made with direct input from Florian [Vogel] and Nino [Schurter], two of the most capable XC riders on the planet and even Swiss Cup winners aboard the 29’r.
"In addition, we still feel that our oversize seat tube in conjunction with the IMP process produces a superior structure than those with smaller diameter tubes. They will last longer and they have to be stiffer than the compliant zones in order for them to function properly."
If you're vertically challenged, it's also worth noting that the sizing not only just goes down to 'medium' but that it runs big, too. Scott won't confirm the addition of a small size next season but suggested nonetheless that it was a possibility. Cross your fingers.
Otherwise, the lone remaining issue (as always) is cost. Few riders will be willing and able to shell out well over US$6,000 for a hardtail, no matter how good it is. That being said, this is one of the best ones we've ridden and if you're capable of adding one to your stable, consider yourself very, very lucky.