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First Ride: Scott’s 2016 Foil

PARK CITY, Utah — On a wet and cold July morning in Park City, the long row of Scott Foil road bikes glistened beneath the chair lifts as mechanics huddled beneath EZ-Up tents, readying for the soggy day of test rides ahead. This was not ideal weather for trying out a new bike on steep, unfamiliar roads slicked with steady rain, but with a flight out of Salt Lake looming, the ride was happening now or never.

The bike itself was motivation enough: a combination of aero frame design coupled with compliance features to allow the foil to dip its fingers in the do-anything bike market. So goes the current trend, and Scott is no different: most bike companies are responding to customers’ desires to have a fast, stiff bike without the spine-shattering ride quality. The new Foil is Scott’s answer to those calls.

The redesign of the 2016 Foil is immediately noticeable when compared with the 2015 iteration: the seat stays have been dropped lower at the connection point with the seat tube for better airflow and increased vertical compliance; the frame itself is reshaped with a new aero design; the rear brake is now tucked underneath the bottom bracket; and perhaps most notably, the cockpit is now integrated with a one-piece handlebar and stem. All vertical tubes on the frame have also been reshaped for aerodynamic advantage, while the reshaped PF86 bottom bracket is said to be 13% stiffer than last year’s Foil. Scott says these features combined save an average of 6 watts, or 27 seconds over 40K at an average speed of 45kph.

Like other bikes using a truncated airfoil design, stiffness is inherent in the frame which is both beneficial and problematic: exceptional stiffness means quick acceleration and exceptional power transfer, but it also means a harsh ride that can wreak havoc on the rider over the long haul. Scott’s priority seems to be aero first, comfort second, but with the 2016 Foil, comfort is a reality. It’s not sacrificed entirely in favor of aerodynamics. The lower seat stays, in addition to providing an aero edge, tend to flex more than the longer stays on the 2015 Foil, which means less road input reaches the rider’s spine. Scott says they have increased vertical compliance 86% over last year’s Foil, and that seemed noticeable out on the road.

Integration is, of course, a key component to Scott’s design process. The Syncros RR1.0 handlebar/stem combo reduces drag at the front of the bike not only by integrating aero shaping into the handlebar and stem, but also by tucking away the cables and housing. While not internal all the way through, it does de-clutter the bottom of the bar; the cables come out of the handlebar near the junction with the stem, which means there are still some pesky cylindrical shapes at the front of the head tube. The cables tuck neatly into a port on the top of the down tube and run internally the rest of the way.

Unlike many of its aero brethren, the Foil does not have a drastically bladed seatpost. Instead, it is shaped with a slight aerofoil design but is more round than a true aero seatpost. While this isn’t the best option in terms of aerodynamics, it does help soften the ride a bit and keep the rider comfortable, which is increasingly important in the burgeoning aero bike sector. It’s a trade-off that seems ultimately necessary, and it’s probably a high benefit, low detriment trade-off at that.

Our test bike was decked out in Shimano’s finest Dura-Ace Di2 with direct-mount brakes. The rear brake is tucked beneath the bottom bracket, making pro mechanics and home wrenches cringe in unison. This presumably helps reduce aerodynamic drag. Braking power in both the front and rear seemed plenty strong coming down the rain-slicked steeps of Guardsman Pass, so it’s hard to complain too much about the location of the brake.

Speaking of Guardsman Pass, that was the playground from the day: a steep, long, winding climb up and out of Park City. Out of the saddle, the big, stiff bottom bracket was immediately noticeable, and the Foil accelerated fairly quickly. It wasn’t the quickest accelerator in the aero bike realm, but it had a decent peppiness up long, moderate grades. It also felt quite light; it’s nice to see a trend toward weight savings in the aero segment, since many early aero models were overly bulky. Climbing with the Foil felt natural.

Assessing the descending capabilities of the Foil was a bit more difficult because the rain prevented me from really opening it up. Ripping through switchbacks was a bit more of a cautious affair, though the Foil did seem to bite in well. There was no wandering, and the wheel went where it was supposed to go all the way through the turn. Can that be chalked up to the one-piece bar and stem? Perhaps in part; rider feedback definitely seemed to translate into near-pinpoint steering, but again, the real test would have been at higher speeds that the slick roads prevented. The bike handled well without too much of the traditional jarring harshness up front, though on particularly deep cracks and potholes, the Foil reminds you it’s still an aero bike at its core.

There isn’t much flat tarmac in and around Park City on which to test the sprinting capabilities, but there was one small stretch where we burned a flat-out effort from standing. Given its acceleration on the climbs, it came as no surprise that the Foil got moving quickly and felt sturdy and capable when swaying side to side in full-on sprint mode. Once again, the one-piece cockpit translated into decent stability.

If you’re in pursuit of the stiffest, quickest sprinter, however, the Foil probably isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a bike capable of competing in hair-raising crits as well as an everyday ride you can take up the local epic climb, the Foil has a lot to offer. That’s the thing about the Foil: it’s bridging a gap that needs to be bridged. Everyone’s looking for a light, stiff, comfortable ride, and while no aero bikes have combined all those elements perfectly yet, many are coming close. Count the Foil among the few that are coming very close very quickly.

To truly assess its capabilities, we would need plenty more ride time, but initial impressions are good. Scott’s onto something here, and that something is fast and comfortable.

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