One Bike, All Conditions, Part II

One Bike, All Conditions, Part II

For Part I, click here.

What the smart folks think
How good an idea is TwinLoc? Consider that among the many features that Shimano built into their MTB version of their Di2 is the ability to use the controllers to lock out suspension or raise and lower a seatpost. There aren’t many opportunities to take advantage of those features, but Shimano is nothing if not forward thinking. If they think riders are going to want such a feature, it’s because exceptionally skilled testers have told them they want the feature.

But TwinLoc isn’t the bike, isn’t even the heart of the bike. The Genius 700 Plus Tuned features 140mm travel in front and 130mm travel in the rear, putting it firmly in the territory of a trail bike. Scott also made the bike so that you could run either 27.5-inch Plus tires and wheels or 29-inch tires and wheels, giving the bike even more adaptability.

The frame’s main triangle is carbon fiber while the rear triangle is aluminum. I suspect that if the plus category takes off they’ll open up tooling for a carbon rear. It’s got a 67.5-degree head tube angle (or 68-degrees if you set the bike up in the higher bottom bracket setting) and when paired with the Fox Float 34 fork which has 51mm of rake, you wind up with 10.5cm of trail. This last number will figure in my discussion of its descending ability.

The Genius comes in four sizes—S, M, L, XL. The top tube and reach numbers go 57.0/39.5, 60.0/42.5, 62.5/44.8 and 65.0/47.0cm when the bike is set up in the low BB configuration. If you flip the chip in the yoke to increase pedal clearance, the reach numbers increase by 4mm on each size frame and the head tube angle increases a half degree. Like most brands, Scott has embraced the longer top tube/shorter stem fit that has swept the industry and reflects the trend toward bikes with quick handling but less weight on the front wheel for better descending, which is how you get a bike with more than 10cm of trail to turn—short tiller. When I first started riding these longer top tube bikes, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the change, but I’ve come to embrace it. The bike reacts quicker and it’s easier to make the front wheel float over stuff.

Normally, this bike is built up SRAM Eagle and Syncros components, including bar, stem, headset and more. However, it’s in such high demand the only way I could get one to review was to build up a frameset. So this rig, assembled with Shimano Deore XT and Reynolds wheels, is decidedly nonstandard.

That standard build for the Genius 700 Plus Tuned is a rather costly $7749. The Genius Plus also comes in two other configurations that go for $4999 and $3399, so there’s something for nearly every budget. More and more the difference I notice between the budget-oriented bikes and the top-of-the-line stuff is longevity. Sure, there’s some difference in shifting and braking performance, but the big difference between a dream bike and the entry-level option is how well it holds up to a year of riding. If you don’t ride all that hard, or often, no problem, but for the person who wants to shred two or three times a week, that extra investment is rewarded with a bike that is easier to maintain and will last longer with regular care.

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As I wrote earlier, the needs in mountain biking are endlessly diverse, especially as you consider different areas of the world. The bike I’d choose for riding in Memphis isn’t the bike I’d choose for Southern California, and that’s not the bike I’d ride in New England, which is also not the bike I’d ride here in Northern California. I’d run different wheels, different groups, different tires.

Not to repeat myself, but this bears repeating: the riding I do here in Sonoma County is the most difficult I’ve encountered. The combination of steep terrain, tire- (and wheel-) killing rock and lines made more difficult by rutted-out sections due to too little maintenance, well, it’s perhaps best framed this way. One day, shortly after our move, after returning home from a ride, I looked at my wife and said, “The riding in Annadel is so difficult, I don’t know how much I’ll ride there.”

What made the difference was getting on a bike that could handle the terrain and, of course, experience. The more you ride difficult terrain, the easier it gets, right? There’s another piece to this experience and insight equation, and that’s how long it takes someone who is fall-averse to learn how far they can push their equipment. Realizing you’ve burped a tire has a unique pucker factor. There were rocks I used to avoid the way ship captains eyed icebergs. I’ve found it’s easier to go over, rather than around, many of them.

The difference in diameter between 27.5 Plus and 29 is miniscule. Moving to 29 raises the bottom bracket slightly; otherwise, all the handling is the same. It doesn’t result in a different bike. It results in a bike with slightly different strengths. There’s no doubt that the plus setup is better for descending on technical, rocky terrain. There is even less doubt that the 29 setup is superior for climbing. But what about rocky stuff that isn’t so twisty, or technical but loose? There are situations when I’m not certain of the best choice, and I dig that.

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In broad strokes for me, the plus setup is terrific for most of the riding I do close to home. But if I venture into West County or go north into Mendocino County (which may be the best-kept riding secret in the U.S.), the 29 setup presents a clear advantage due to the reduction in rock.

However, in every situation, Scott’s TwinLoc allows me to respond to the change in terrain instantaneously. There’s no pulling over to flip a lever or putting up with a suspension setup that is too progressive in order to make it pedal well without flipping a lever. And the difference between the three settings is dramatic, like you’ve got three different bikes at your disposal.

Going downhill on a bike—any bike—has, for me, always been about finding flow. Currently, nothing in my life gives me that the way descending on a mountain bike does. And because so much of flow depends on driving my attention into the now, flooding me with input so that I can’t think about how the cat box needs to be changed, monitoring one more system—which suspension mode I’m in—actually helps put me over the top.

But that whole downhill thing, I’ve maintained since I first began reviewing bikes that the bikes that are quickest downhill are those that don’t feel fast. A great bike will instill calm and make 35 seem like 25. To that end, I can say that I was more than a little surprised when I hit a top speed actually higher than the top speed achieved in the Strava KOM set by the owner of NorCal Bike Sport. He was faster overall, so the KOM remains his, but I was nearly 2 mph faster in one stretch. That was the bike, not me.

The difference between running 27.5 plus and running 29 is real. The bike is noticeably different and each version has its advantages. Some companies have designed their plus bikes to run only 27.5 wheels, and that seems a mistake after spending some months on the Genius. Three different instantaneous suspension setups, two wheel sizes—sure you could multiply that out and get six bikes, but that’s a silly conclusion to draw. But it’s not too much to say this is two different bikes depending on which wheels you run. The simple reality is that it is the most adaptable mountain bike I’ve ridden.

Final thought: The only place I don’t ride the Genius is the skatepark.


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1 comment

  1. Pingback: One Bike, All Conditions, Part I | RKP

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