Scott Week 2014: new bikes, helmets and the people behind them
It’s easy to dismiss a brand’s catalogue launch as a press junket, especially when it involves flying the media to a classy ski resort in Utah. However, as CTech Editor Matt Wikstrom writes, Scott’s 2015 catalogue launch provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the company’s culture and the way it designs and develops new products.
Scott has a bike catalogue that comprises road, MTB, urban, recreational and kids’ bikes. In addition, it has an extensive range of shoes, helmets, apparel and accessories. Every year, they refine and update their catalogue then organise Scott Week to announce the changes.
For 2014, Scott Week was held in Park City, Utah. Film-buffs will recognise the town as the home of the Sundance Film Festival, which is held in January under the cover of heavy snow. In July, the snow disappears as temperatures rise to mid-30s (degrees Celsius), but the warm weather does little to alleviate the breathtaking effect of 2,100m altitude.
Scott Week involves a procession of media representatives, sales staff, and dealers. Over the course of one or two days, each group is ushered through the new range of bikes, helmets, shoes, and accessories. Various product managers are on hand to lead presentations, but Scott also makes sure to fly a few engineers from their Swiss headquarters to provide more insight into their products.
I imagined intensive workshops and a lot of Powerpoint presentations, but the schedule turned out to be much more forgiving. In the end, a few hours were all that was demanded before we were encouraged to go riding.
There were hundreds of 2015 Scott bikes on hand for riding on the trails and roads in the mountains above Park City. I had enough time to get acquainted with the new bikes but intensive testing will have to wait until the 2015 range starts shipping later in the year.
Scott’s 2015 road bike range
Overall there will be little change to Scott’s road range for 2015. Each of the brand’s road models — Speedster, CR-1, Solace, Foil and Addict — will be updated with new colourways while the Speedster series will inherit geometry from the Solace. In addition, Scott has managed to add a new model to its road range, a disc-equipped version of the Solace, plus they have overhauled their Plasma TT/triathlon platform.
Based on the demo model brought to Scott Week, the Solace Disc will be built with Scott’s HMF carbon fibre. The frameset has been modified with mounts for the disc calipers, routing for the brake lines, and thru axles have been added, front and rear.
Road purists may baulk at the use of thru axles, but they are more robust and rigid than standard quick-release axles. Indeed, Scott’s engineers found that there was no need to fortify the forks or stays against the extra forces of disc braking, if they used thru axles instead of standard quick-release axles.
The front hub uses a 15x100mm thru axle and the rear a 12x142mm thru axle. The axle eyelets are moulded into the dropouts of the Solace Disk, therefore limiting thru axle choice and hub compatibility to each of these sizes. The rear axle threads into a replaceable dropout that also serves as the derailleur hanger, so any problems with the thread or hanger are easily repaired.
I was hoping to see Shimano’s new flat mount disc calipers and while Scott have adopted the new standard for the Solace Disc frame, the demo bike was fitted with Shimano’s current (R785) post mount hydraulic disc brakes instead.
Curiously, the fork on the demo bike had post mounts rather than a matching flat mount, making for a maddening mismatch of standards. I expect that Scott will switch to flat mount calipers and update the fork once Shimano starts producing the new brakes.
Finally, tyre clearance is modest — 28mm maximum — so there is no confusing the Solace Disc for anything but a dedicated road bike. Syncros provides the wheels, bars, stem, post and saddle, while the 11-speed transmission comprises compact cranks from Shimano, Ultegra Di2 derailleurs, and an 11-32 cassette.
The Plasma is Scott’s dedicated TT/triathlon bike, and for 2015, it has been redesigned to reduce drag, increase stiffness, and save a little weight. Two versions will be offered: the high-end Plasma 5 constructed from HMX carbon fibre; and the more affordable Plasma 4 constructed from HMF carbon fibre that is just as stiff but weighs a little more and suffers a little extra drag.
Scott designed new tube shapes and experimented with brake positioning to improve the aerodynamics of the Plasma 5. A claimed 130 configurations were assessed before prototypes were constructed for wind tunnel testing.
All testing was done with mannequins and then athletes to ensure any reduction in drag resulted in a real-world gain. The final design features eight different tubing profiles plus new integration of the stem, brakes, drink bottle and lunch box into the design of the bike.
The new integration at the front of the Plasma 5 was achieved by positioning the stem within the head tube. Buyers will be able to choose a low-rise TT-stem that keeps the base bar in line with the top tube, or a high-rise TRI-stem that suits that the integrated lunch box and water bottle.
Scott enlisted the help of Profile to develop a new base bar and extensions with more adjustability. The extensions can be stacked up to 75mm and allow gear cables/wires to be threaded down through the base bar and into the frame. At the same time, the seatpost was redesigned with near vertical insertion and a sliding cradle to make it easier to preserve minimal setback from the bottom bracket.
A new centre-pull direct mount brake made by Tektro is hidden behind a shroud at the front of the bike, while the rear direct mount caliper is positioned under the chainstays, also protected by a shroud. Overall, Scott claims the Plasma 5 enjoys 5-7% less drag than the Plasma 3, while the head tube is 47% stiffer. A size 54 frame should weigh in at 1,350g with another 390g for the fork.
The Plasma 4 offers much less integration since it uses a standard stem positioned on top of the head tube and the brakes are left unshrouded. As a result, the Plasma 4 suffers 3% more drag than the Plasma 5. However, it employs the same seatpost and geometry as the Plasma 5, while the use of HMF carbon fibre adds a little weight (size 54 Plasma 4 frame is expected to weigh 1,470g).
Where helmets are concerned, most cyclists will think of many other brands before they think of Scott, though the company has included helmets in its catalogue since 1992. The company now offers helmets for motorsports, winter sports, and cycling, where the last of those comprises nearly two-dozen models.
In recent years, Scott has endeavoured to place itself at the cutting edge of helmet safety. The company was amongst the earliest helmet manufacturers to adopt MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), a simple system that adds to the level of protection offered by a helmet. They started with two models in 2013 and will offer a total of six in 2015: one road helmet (Arx Plus), three MTB (Lin, Stego, Arx MTB Plus), and two urban/commuter models (Taal, Torus).
The value of MIPS is that it is designed to reduce rotational forces during an impact. The system is simply a layer of plastic that separates the head from the helmet and is designed to slip and rotate (~10mm) during an impact. In this way, any rotational force (typically produced by an angled impact) can be separated from the head and brain at the moment of impact, and thus reduce the potential for damage.
At present, no consideration is given to angled impacts or rotational forces during helmet testing by any of the major testing authorities (Europe, USA and Australia), though there are plans by all three to start in the near future. As such, new protection systems like MIPS will become more relevant to cyclists. According to Scott, MIPS adds around $40 to the cost of the helmet, but I’m already convinced of its value.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Scott Week was spending time with various Scott employees from engineers to product managers to gain some insight into the company and its design and development process.
There is a strong cycling culture within the company, and indeed, the sales and engineering ranks comprise experienced riders including those that have enjoyed success in national and international competition. Workers at Scott’s headquarters in Bern, Switzerland promptly break for a ride at 11:55am every day, where the nearby MTB trail referred to as “World Cup” is ridden at a competitive pace.
Two of Scott’s engineers, John Thompson and Tim Stevens, travelled to Utah from Bern for Scott Week this year. John is the company’s helmet Product Manager, while Tim is responsible for re-designing the Gambler, Scott’s downhill rig, for 2015. John is Irish, quick-witted and loves the craic, while Tim towered above me and possessed the kind of intelligence you’d expect for someone that has worked in aeronautics. Both men proved to be passionate about their work and more than capable of some fast runs down the mountain.
For John, price, weight and safety are all pressing demands for helmet design. He spoke passionately about the potential for MIPS, but acknowledged that it was too expensive to offer for every model in Scott’s range. Although he never phrased it as such, I sensed that improving helmet design and safety was a matter of marginal gains.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the best helmet design is one that readily satisfies every testing authority’s demands. John and his team are acutely aware of each authority’s current testing schedules as well as the timetable for the introduction of new standards. There is the added complication that Scott’s production takes place in China, which can slow down prototyping and the implementation of new production processes.
Then there are the company’s own demands, which rest with the diligence of its product managers. Rather than launch into the implementation of MIPS, John deliberately chose to take the time to conduct his own testing before he was satisfied with the efficacy of the system. Now his biggest challenge is to communicate how MIPS improves the safety of the helmet and convince consumers of its value.
In this regard, he accepts that casual cyclists hoping to spend the minimum on a helmet will never appreciate the value of MIPS. But he remains committed to sharing his enthusiasm for the new technology, and any technology, that gives him confidence that he is producing a safe and effective product.
An insight into bike design
One of my chats with Tim began with an introduction to kinematics. The term was foreign to me but he quickly communicated its value to suspension design. In short, kinematics describes the motion of points or bodies and is critical for designing suspension. The science gets complicated as the response curve of the shock unit is added to the system along with the influence of other forces such as braking and pedaling.
As a consequence, Tim relied on a lot of testing with prototypes. His product manager is Ben Walker who is well known for his insistence on real-world testing. There were times when Tim was left frustrated after his theories were proven wrong in the real world — but he eventually arrived at a design that satisfied all of the project’s goals, as well as his own hopes for the bike.
There were two instances in the engineering process that stood out for me. First, the geometry of the Gambler had to be decided before the project could move forward, but very little science or engineering was involved. Ultimately, the decision was a matter of opinion, though it was informed by the experience of the engineering team coupled with that of the product manager. Once the geometry was set, Tim was able to start work on the suspension and its kinematics.
Second, as Tim was finalising the design of the new Gambler, aesthetics became an important consideration. He submitted his blueprint for the new bike to the design team and a few alterations were required. The proposed form may have satisfied the functional needs of the project, but now it had to be pleasing to the eye. As a consequence, some of the pivot points had to be re-positioned, but according to Tim, he was able to do that without compromising the function of the design.
Scott places a lot of emphasis on its engineering, but as can be seen from these two instances, they still rely on a human touch during development. It’s something they share with boutique builders even though their manufacturing effort takes place on a much grander scale. I take this as evidence that art and craftsmanship will always be critical to the manufacture of bikes even when some companies are hoping for an algorithm to describe the perfect ride.
The bottom line
Looking back on my time at Scott Week, I find myself torn between my enjoyment of the event and a need to preserve my objectivity. I can declare that the only things I carried away from the event (besides a concussion, separated shoulder and some stitches, but that’s a story for another time) were a thumb drive with product information and a sense of having connected with the company. I attribute the latter to the time I spent with their staff learning more about the way they do their jobs.
I discovered that Scott is populated by a lot of bike riders that are passionate about their work. The company’s research and development effort is driven by the desire of its staff rather than market research, and at its core, Scott is devoted to improving its catalogue so that it benefits the consumer.
Overall, the 2015 catalogue features some areas of aggressive refinement with a new version of the Plasma along with the company’s first disc-equipped road bike, plus greater commitment to the use of MIPS in their helmet range. For more information, visit Scott’s website.
Thanks to Scott’s local distributor Sheppard Cycles, Scott’s PR and Communication Manager Jochen Haar, John Thompson and Tim Stevens, and Flow Mountain Bike’s Mick Ross.