DEER VALLEY, Utah (VN) — To be part of the mountain-bike conversation today, bike brands need to offer an alternative to 26-inch wheels. Scott has taken a seat at the head of the table for 2014, focusing almost exclusively on the 27.5 and 29er markets, nixing the smaller wheel size on its Scale, Spark, and Genius models.
Is the average rider ready to commit?
The off-road world has come to terms with the primacy of big wheels on cross-country terrain. Heck, even Europeans like Scott’s Nino Schurter are getting in on the fun. We were curious to see how trail bikes would behave on rougher terrain when shod with either 27.5-inch or 29-inch wheels, and learned a lot at Scott’s 2014 launch in Deer Valley.
The Scott Genius Evolves
The 2014 Genius lineup has seen some small updates, the most significant of which is the rear shock, which is now a proprietary collaboration between Scott and Fox, the Nude CTCD.
Like the 2013 model’s DT Swiss shock, three compression-damping and volume-control settings are adjusted in tandem with the fork, using an unsightly Twinlock handlebar lever: full air volume with open damping circuits, reduced travel/increased compression damping, and locked out.
Though the new shock maintains Scott’s Twinlock system, it is not compatible with older Genius frames.
The Enduro option
Similar to how a true genius might append his or her name with abbreviations to recognize achievements (Ph.D, M.D., etc.), the Genius LT is, well, longer-travel.
Only available in the 27.5-inch wheel size, the Genius LT 700 series is meant for those who party a bit harder on the downhills. Scott bumps the travel up to 170mm and the head tube angle is slacker by over one degree. The Fox Nude shock has a Boost Valve to make it more capable on rough downhills. Also, all LTs come with dropper posts, a feature that’s regrettably absent from lower-end Genius models.
On the trail
We went into Scott’s 2014 press launch with a good idea of what to expect from the “tweener” wheel size, having ridden a 2013 Genius 720 as a de-facto project bike.
The Genius 900 Premium felt different immediately. As we climbed away from Deer Valley’s base on a punchy piece of singletrack, it was easy to imagine bringing this 130mm 29er to a 50-miler or even a rough XC race. After locking it out and throttling a few steep pitches, the prospect of tying on a number was downright realistic.
Thankfully, the Genius didn’t behave like a race bike on descents. While the Fox 32 fork wasn’t quite as stout as the 34, and the triple chainring was a bit of a nuisance, the 900 held its own. The RockShox Reverb seatpost helped put us in the right state of mind, as did the 69-degree head angle when the frame’s Mono “U” Link was in low setting.
The only proper way to assess the differing wheel sizes was to hop on the Genius 700 Premium as soon as we’d unclipped from the 900. After a few pedal strokes of climbing, it was obvious. It’s almost confusing to hang the Genius moniker on both models, as the 700 behaved very differently.
Yes, the suspension had a similar feel — supple with an appropriate amount of ramp-up later in the stroke. The bikes share fit, components, and graphics, but the smaller wheels, slacker geometry, and longer travel make the 700 noticeably poppy, playful, and precise.
It felt easier to drive the 700 into tight gaps between chunky rocks, or to hold a high line on off-camber trail. The 900 wasn’t necessarily inadequate, but the 700 felt capable enough to tackle any of Deer Valley’s lift-served trails. That being said, we weren’t tickling the pedals as effortlessly on the climbs with the 700.
Will 26-inch be missed?
After riding 29-inch and 27.5-inch wheels back to back on the Genius platform, Scott’s approach makes sense. Between the 900 and 700, Scott has most riders covered.
The 900 is a fine option for a quiver-of-one bike. It can race, but it rewards aggressive descenders. At $9,200 for the 900 Premium model we tested, the 900 might, in fact, require downsizing to a single-bike quiver. The least expensive of Scott’s 29ers, the 940, is priced at $3,150. Compared to the 900’s full XTR spec and carbon fiber frame, the 940’s 6061 alloy frame is built with a mix of Shimano Deore and XT components and a Fox 32 Evolution Float fork.
The 700 lineup shares the same price range and corresponding specs, but it’s meant for a dedicated trail rider who lives with the climbs and lives for the descents. Although Scott calls the 700 LT its enduro race bike, we think the 700 would be quite capable, especially on courses with more trail riding and less bike park terrain.
Saying that 26-inch is a bad wheel size may be going too far. Remember 24-inch wheels from the early 2000s? That’s a bad wheel size. But it’s fair to say that, for most riders, the conversation on showroom floors and trails is turning to the debate between 29-inch and 27.5-inch wheels. Scott hopes to be in that conversation.