First Ride: Scott’s 650b and 29″ Genius
Ask anyone who’s been to or knows about Sun Valley, Idaho, and they are sure to regale you with stories of endless ribbons of singletrack that stretch as far as the eye can see, weaving their way through picturesque Idaho mountains. Words like buttery, buff, and flow are used a lot. This is for a good reason, the place is unbelievable. It’s no wonder companies like Scott USA and Club ride would want to keep this as the center of their operations – with something like 400 miles of trail literally out the back door, it’s hard to resist.
It was here that we were able to test Scott’s newest platform of the venerable Genius, both in 27″ (650b) and 29″ as well. The two bikes are totally different, though still very much the same. With some thorough testing we pitted the two wheels against each other, and walked away impressed.
Continued after the break.
As mentioned in our initial tech breakdown post, while the two bikes feature two distinct wheel sizes, Scott was able to keep the fit of the bikes extremely similar. The Catch? Doing so required a reduction in travel for the 29″ Genius – without it, Scott determined that the wheelbase would be too long, the bars too high, and it would have too high of standover. This resulted in the Genius 900 capped at 130mm of travel, while the Genius 700 gets the full 150mm.
In order to improve the steering of the 900 to accommodate the wagon wheels and shorter travel, the 900 has a slightly steeper head tube angle at 69.5° compared to the 700’s 68.2°. Interestingly, the 900’s seat tube is 0.3° slacker in order to effectively keep the saddle in same position as the 700 with an increased seatpost offset to allow for suspension travel of the larger wheel.
I rode mediums in both models, with a 70mm stem in the negative position.
Despite the minor differences, the end result is two very different bikes that feel extremely similar as far as fit is concerned. Jumping from one bike to another was incredibly easy, with almost zero mental recalibration to get used to either bike. To me it didn’t feel so much like Scott made the 27″ bike feel like a 29″ bike, but the opposite, where Scott managed to make the Genius 900 fool you into thinking you’re riding smaller wheels. Even with my 5’8″ stature, the medium was a great fit and felt extremely natural. I had the chance to ride a Spark 29 in a size small on the last day, and ran into similar issues I’ve had with small 29’rs where I had to slam the seat back in the rails and run a longer stem than I would like to get the cockpit feel right, whereas the the medium Genius 900 with a 70mm stem was perfect.
Yes, I admit, the Genius 900 was good. Really good.
Coming from someone who has yet to have any 29’rs hanging in the garage, that’s quite the compliment. I’ve spent time on various 29’s since their uprising, and never came away super impressed. I could see their benefits, but for my size and riding style they never made me want to give up the 26″. The Genius 900 is different. It definitely had the 700 beat on climbs, and flat out through baby head rock gardens of Neanderthal proportions. But, there’s always a but, you have to remember that our test bikes were fitted with Syncros Carbon wheels, and Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires. I’ve always felt that 29’r performance was largely dependent on how light and stiff your wheels are – more so than on a 26, and this enforces that theory. Granted, more weight means more momentum once you get it moving, but you have to spin it up first. Would I be as happy on the 900 with heavier wheels and tires? I’m not sure, but it was certainly a ripping bike. Simply put – the Genius 900 may be the best 29’r I’ve thrown a leg over.
But wait, there’s more! While the 900 was good, the 700 was surprising. In a good way. In order to give us the best impression of both bikes, Scott took us out to the trail head at Green Horn Gulch to ride both bikes back to back. Ok, there was a delicious trail head lunch prepared for us by the great folks of the Galena Lodge, but then it was back at it for the second lap. The trail started off with a gradual climb out of the gulch that steadily increased in pitch with a few ball buster technical climbs thrown in for good measure. Once the trail leveled out, it was fast, flowy alpine meadow single track which led to a very rocky, fast descent. None of the trail was incredibly tight or twisty, which made for a near tailor made testing track for big wheels. It was through the rocky descent that the big wheels showed their edge as they basically allowed you to point and shoot, plowing through the rocks without paying nearly as much attention to your line.
I hopped on a Genius 700 to start the day (as well as Geoff Kabush), and once everyone was all dialed in we hit the trail. My thoughts for the first 10 minutes were mostly “wow, the air is a lot thinner up here than back home,” though that was quickly replaced by simply enjoying a beautiful day on amazing trails. The entire time I was aboard the Genius 700 it felt…. comfortable. Like it wasn’t any different than my 26″ bike at home (we’ll address this in a bit).
After lunch, we swapped bikes and all of a sudden I was on the same bike – only with bigger wheels. Thanks to a great lunch and everyone now familiar with the trail, the second lap was notably faster, with fewer stops as Ian Hylands (responsible for all photos shown) wasn’t shooting us this time, as he was off shooting with Kabush. As such, it’s a little unfair to consider it a true back to back test, but at least there was some familiarity. The end result was coming away more impressed with the 900 on day 1.
On the second day of riding, we had the opportunity to ride Sun Valley’s Super Duper D course, with the emphasis on Duper. Apparently too long to be classified as a Super D course, the Super Duper D consisted of about a 10 mile descent dropping nearly 3,300 feet with a short but tough climb right in the middle. I decided to take the Genius 700 out again since I was feeling more comfortable and wanted to give it a better shake since the first ride of the week is always a little rough and my suspension setting for the first day was a bit off.
After riding the course, I think I made the right choice. While the Super Duper D was typically fast, flowy Idaho single track, there were still a few chances to get some air, and some tight corners to slash. Which of course, is where the smaller wheels shine. While the 700 felt very familiar compared to most of my 26″ bikes, I still had to make a few very small changes to my riding to suit the increase in wheel size – but far less than if I was riding the 900 on the same trail.
Which brings me to my feelings on the in-between wheel size, the 27″ as Scott likes to call it. For the duration of the press camp, as mentioned the 27 never felt that different than any 26″ bike that I’ve ridden. However, upon returning home and hopping on a similar bike only with 26″ wheels, I instantly missed the the bigger wheels. While on the Genius 700 it just felt good, not different, but being back on the 26 at home was the final proof I needed that there is a noticeable benefit to the 27″ wheels over 26″. I’ve gone back and forth enough times now to feel certain on this one. This is good news for anyone who has been reluctant to jump on 29″ wheels, as the the 27’s don’t require substantial changes to geometry or suspension to feel just as flickable as a 26, but still offer some of the big wheel benefits you receive on a 29.
Even as good as the Genius 900 is, for my local trails which are much more tight and twisty than Idaho with short punchy climbs, I would reach for the Genius 700 over the 900. I’m officially a fan of 650b. Don’t get me wrong, 26″, 27″, and 29″ all have their places, but for my money on my trails the 27″ seems to be the best compromise for a bike that can keep up with the big wheels, but is still super fun to throw around when it’s play time.
As far as the rest of the bike is concerned, it’s hard to get a true review in from 2 days of riding, but one feature that absolutely stood out was the incredibly useful Twinloc. I’ve always viewed remote lockouts as a luxury, not a necessity, but when you combine control of both shocks into one incredibly easy to use lever that changes things. Of course, Twinloc is more than just a lockout, as flipping the lever to Traction mode decreases the travel of the rear shock, causes the bike to sit up in the travel making the geometry more climbing friendly, and changes the compression circuit to a more climbing friendly mode as well. One more click of the lever and you’re fully locked out. On the trail, the ability to basically change bikes with a quick lever throw without taking your hand off the bar was very useful and allows you to make use of those lockout levers on your bike that most people typically ignore. For 2013 Scott did increase the length of the Twinloc lever by 1 cm to make it easier to operate, claiming a 20% reduction in required lever force.
Even with the extra hardware on the bar, control set up wasn’t an issue and all controls were able to be positioned exactly where I wanted them(the bikes were equipped with Avid’s MatchMaker clamp to tidy up the bars) . All of this and the bikes were still 25.5 lbs or less. Awesome. If I could outfit all of my bikes with Twinloc, I would.
The predominantly carbon Syncros build kit that adorned the Genius’ was quite good, with the exception of the seat post. We’re hoping it is a preproduction issue, but my test bike had started off the day with a seat post that the carbon head had cracked. The post is a horizontal two bolt system that relies on two grip wedges under the head of the bolt. It appears that it is fairly difficult to tighten the bolts without the grip wedges rotating, and if they rotate much at all they can damage the carbon causing it to crack. Out of all the posts there, only one had an issue and even after it cracked was still ridden for the duration of the trip so it’s not like it will leave you stranded.
Even though the post was a bit of a let down, the Syncros wheels and saddle were brilliant. The saddle was surprisingly comfy, and even with its carbon rails after a few days of media jockeys “riding it like they stole it” none were worse for wear. The wheels sported carbon rims as mentioned, that are tubeless ready (we rode with tubes) and even after quite a few pinch flats (thankfully none here) were still very true and free of the carbon equivalent of a flat spot (broken?). The rear hub seemed to have more than adequate engagement, and they certainly passed the seat of the pants stiffness test. Hopefully we can get a set of these to review, if the price is competitive they are certainly a killer set of wheels.
A big thank you is deserved by everyone who helped make the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival happen, it was a world class event. Mark your calendars.