I have to confess to sometimes needing an excuse to go mountain biking. It’s not that I don’t like the dirt but I do like to maximise my riding time. On a road bike it seems as if you get a lot more riding for either the time or miles covered than you usually do off road.
We have received our Scott Scale 720 and it needed testing. Motivation enough to get muddy. I thought that after 20 years of selling 26” aluminium hard tails I could finally feel happy that I had something that would help, not hinder, a rider’s enjoyment of the trails:29ers. Aluminium 26” hard tails are inherently uncomfortable (but cheap hence the popularity) but I felt guilty selling them as the full suspension alternative was often too heavy, too expensive or both. Along came the 29ers and we had a comfortable and confidence inspiring mountain bike that was neither as heavy nor as pricey as a full suspension 26” bike. Bliss. I love them.
Sorted! Or so I thought. Of course I knew that 27.5” wheels would be needed for longer travel bikes but for XC 29ers ruled. Or so I thought. I tried a Scott Scale 740 (aluminium) last summer and was immediately impressed by the acceleration and quick handling. I then tried the Whyte 909 a 27.5” 130mm trail hard tail and was even more impressed. Now I was confused. Sure they were less comfortable than a 29er but the extra excitement off set that. They felt fast but were they? Today I tried to find out.
I often ride my mountain bike alone because I don’t want any stops but today I went with Jon, Will’s dad, he is a great guy to go road riding with…. no stops, no rest, flat out all the time! The interesting thing for me is that he rides a Whyte 29C. The comparison would be worth noting.
We did a big hilly loop and rode fairly fast. It was great to be riding off road again. Cornering, technical climbs, rough terrain, wet roots and down hills are all challenging and heaps of fun. At first Jon followed so I couldn’t tell if the bike was faster. On the technical climbs I think that the 27.5 had the edge as I put in some gaps, the bike accelerated away after each sketchy bit, faster than the 29er. However, once on the more open trails the 29er just pulled away. I couldn’t catch him. I know a thing or two about chasing Jon down on the road and I can turn myself inside out trying to catch him but the wheel difference proved too great.
So what is best, 27.5 or 29? Nino Schurter won just about everything there is to win (World Cups and World Championship) on a Scott Scale 27.5. But first, he is Nino and second, modern World Cup XC courses are super steep and incredibly technical (look at Hadleigh Farm) so the fast rolling of a 29er is less of an issue. I would guess that the 27.5 might be faster around a technical Gorrick race track but this will need proving. However, overall speed it not always everyone’s concern just look at the set up of some rider’s bikes, the tyre choice, suspension travel, the clothing, the kit…. nothing to indicate pure speed. Fun is the name of their game and the feel-fast 27.5″ will be attractive for those guys. Surely “feeling” fast is more fun than just being fast?
A 29er is more comfortable, that is an undeniable fact, and will be the reason for some to go for bigger wheels. However, the Scott carbon frame really is very shock absorbing (SDS), smoothing out the trail and justifying the purchase price (Scott start their 2014 27.5 and 29 carbon Scales at just £1,799).
For the Strava followers round here you can probably be sure of buying your segment ranking with a 29 inch wheel but, despite what many think, Strava isn’t everything. It’s just a sometimes inaccurate bit of, or lot of (depending on your approach), fun. And I love it. If you really think you are fast: race!
So, my conclusion is that the 29er delivers long distance speed and comfort, the 27.5″ fast acceleration, fun and better handling for technical riding. However, I am keeping an open mind and looking forward to doing some more testing as I’m still not sure. Maybe I was just too tired to keep up with Jon!
As for the kit, the Scott Scale 720 has an HMF carbon frame made virtually in one piece (we have cut a Scott frame through the middle if you want to see inside one), a Fox 100mm Evolution CTD (handle bar activated Climb, Trail and Descend modes), 15mm front axle and 12mm rear, full Shimano transmission mixing XT cranks and rear derailleur with SLX for the rest, Shimano M670 (sort of SLX level) brakes and Shimano SLX hubs. The Wheels, bars, stems, seat post and saddle are all Synchros FL1.5 all of which are good enough to keep. Even the saddle is liked by nearly everyone that has one. Tyres are Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.1 – no need to change those. Bike weight 10.7kgs/23.54lbs – not bad – race ready for only £2,499.
What did I change? I swapped the 90mm stem for an 80mm and fit my (matching) Ergon GA1 Evo grips. The bike fit like a glove. The 69° head angle gave it a really safe “trail” feel and I set the tyres around 33psi, harder than a 29er. Twisty single track was awesome. I can’t wait to do a back to back with the Whyte 29 Team.
Here is the ride. Warm, damp and the trails in great condition. My Endura MTR bibshorts protecting my rear from the mud and matching my Quest Adventure jersey. Nice to be still riding in short sleeves. I really, really did enjoy riding the Scale 720. It was awesome!