Over Columbus day weekend I was up in the North East Kingdom of Vermont to ride the Kingdom Trails. Lucky for me, this trip coincided with a Trek demo at East Burke Sports. My delusional plan was to ride basically every bike Demo Dave O’Connell had in his stable…this was not to be. Columbus day runs concurrently with Canadian Thanksgiving (who schedules these things huh?) and this means that the trail system is completely overrun with Quebecois whom have descended upon Burke from the relatively nearby (nothing is really NEAR north-eastern Vermont) cities of Sherbrooke and Montreal. As a result the wait for bikes was long and many of the most desirable bikes were not available for much of the day. Damn my average height! I made a couple passes at the demo trailer between loops out on the trails, and finally I nabbed a bike I had been itching to ride for a while: the Scratch Air 9.
Now, I’m generally dubious of reviews where the bike-tester talks about being hyper-aware of very nuanced aspects of a particular bicycle, “I could totally feel the DRCV valve working its magic!” I have to wonder if the reviewer really experienced what he is talking about, or if he read the manufacturers website post-ride and began to THINK he experienced those things. When a bike is working well, I tend not to think about, I’m more focused on the ride…how things feel good, how they feel right. It’s when some aspect of a bike ISN’T working that it leaps to the forefront and becomes notable.
To see more photos of the Scratch Air 9 and to find out whether anything “leapt to the forefront” click more…
One thing that has nothing to do with “nuance” is the Crank Brothers Joplin 4R droppable seatpost, I was immediately enamored with the thing. I set the saddle height at my full XC-Dork height and pedaled comfortably up the very-steep, Joslin Hill climb to the trails, but when I go to the top of the trail they call “Kitchel” I hit the conveniently located remote lever and BAM! — the saddled dropped to DH height in a split-second. Kitchel is all big berms and table tops, trail features I usually all but roll over on my XC bike, but with the 160mm of front travel, 170mm of rear travel, and a slack 66.6° head angle, I felt like a hero…I was clearing the table tops no problem.
The Crank Bothers Joplin 4R remote lever is easy to access, but hard for my camera to focus on.
When you’re in the apex of a hard corner, I hope you’re not thinking “My God! The lateral stiffness of this wheel/hub combo is in-freakin’-credible!” Because that’s definitely not what I’m thinking. I might be thinking “SWEET!” as I blast out of the corner at speed…if things are working as they should. However, if the wheel/hub combo is crap, and it feels like a noodle in the corners, I’m gonna notice that for sure. The wheels on the Scratch Air 9 are DT Swiss E 2000 rims laced to a 32 hole 20mm hub in the front and a 32 hole, 142x12mm hub in the rear. Stiffness is not a problem here.
Something that has never ceased to baffle me is the whole adjustable travel thing. The Fox 36 Talas Fit RLC on the Scratch Air 9 is adjustable from 120mm to 160mm of travel. I have owned several adjustable-travel forks and never once have I felt compelled to use the adjustment feature. I look at it this way: If you’re a machine-gunner in an Army battalion and you’re lugging around an M240 machine gun that weighs 28 lbs., why would you ever, outside of an emergency situation, choose to use your sidearm? I can’t foresee a bicycle-riding emergency situation that would call for less travel. The fork does have lockout, which I do tend to use, 160mm provides a whole lot of energy-robbing squoosh on road or dirt road climbs.
One issue I had with the Trek Remedy I spent a bit of time on was chain drop under suspension load (I have a tendency to smash into technical sections while pedaling in a large gear). This resulted in bloody, bruised knees and me being really, really pissed at my bike. I solved this by installing a bash-guard/tensioner system. The Scratch Air 9 comes stock with a Race Face Atlas crank with a bash/tensioner system already installed. I was able to get on the bike and smash away right from the gun.
Another one of those “you know when they’re not working” items are tires. When they’re is hooking up and you feel in control you aren’t generally thinking “These tires are incredible!” It’s when you’re repeatedly losing it, and being horribly squirrelly that you begin to doubt your rubber. The best thing I can say about the Bontrager XR4‘s on the Scratch Air 9 is that I didn’t even think about them, and that’s a good thing.
All the 2011 Trek carbon bikes get “Carbon Armor” and so the Scratch Air 9 wouldn’t feel left out, it got some “Aluminum Armor.”
I’ve spent a good amount of time on both the Trek Remedy and the Trek Session and the Scratch Air 9 struck me as either a Remedy on steroids or a Session on diet pills. It was definitely a happy medium — a bike you can take chair-lifting or out on a shorter XC ride. Shoot, at 32 lbs. it’s not all that much to drag around all day on some rough trail epic…if you’re nuts.