The Austrian cross country crusher has minimal travel but maximum speed
The KTM Scarp Elite is one of the company’s 14-model XC race bike range. Sitting third from the bottom, the Elite stands out for being one of only two bikes to eschew KTM’s distinctive black and orange paint scheme.
The Elite also forms the transition point in the Scarp range, featuring a carbon mainframe, rather than the aluminium of lower models. This plays some part in reducing the overall weight and increasing the stiffness of the Elite over the lower 292 and 294 models. There is a price penalty to pay of course, but choosing the slightly better specced aluminium 292 will save you a couple of hundred pounds.
The Scarp produces 90mm of rear wheel travel through, what is effectively, a linkage-driven single pivot design. The rear shock and linkage mount in an almost semi-hidden position underneath the swooping top tube. To keep weight (as well as maintenance and costs) down, the rear end has no pivots. Instead, the Scarp relies on tuned flex in the stays to aid the suspension. The Elite features an aluminium rear end with a standard 12x142mm thru-axle, while higher end models have a carbon rear with BOOST spacing.
Despite having 10mm less travel than most of its competitors, the Scarp doesn’t feel like it loses out. The more active design gives it a softer, more sensitive feel than similar bikes such as the Canyon Lux. The Rockshox Monarch RL gives up the majority of its travel easily, seemingly living in the mid-stroke. Interestingly, compared to most XC race oriented frames, the suspension tune isn’t overly firm, allowing the Scarp to feel like a bike with much more travel. The downside is a flighty and wayward feel that needs a whole bunch of rebound dampening added to minimise the hop, skip and jump that it can create when real power is applied or when confronted by multiple hits.
The Rockshox Reba has an equally plush sensitivity, making the KTM a dependable descender. But from a race perspective, this willingness to blow through the travel gives it too much bob when getting out of the saddle and yanking on the bars. The remote lockout saw a lot of action to reduce this but the whole Rockshox Open=locked, opposite position lead to more than a few confused moments trying to figure out if I had just locked the fork or turned the travel back on.
KTM are another European brand that still see the front derailleur as an indispensable gearing option (probably to do with all the proper mountains they have in Austria). The Scarp comes with a complete Shimano M8000 XT 11 speed drivetrain. The aforementioned front derailleur allows a 36/26 chainset to combine with an 11-40 cassette to cover any and all gear requirements. Braking is provided by Shimano’s lower tier SLX level brakes. Whilst this might be a cost-cutting exercise, the SLX brakes share a lot of the same features as Shimano’s costlier versions. It’s just a shame that the brakes on our test model suffered from inconsistent performance.
A highlight of the spec are the KTM/DT Swiss wheels, reliable hubs and an absolute breeze to setup tubeless. Schwalbe’s Rocket Ron tyre combo is good XC all-rounder spec (although we change all tyres to our baseline Maxxis Ardent Race for fair comparison). Apart from the very comfy Selle Italia saddle, all other kit is KTM in-house branded.
The Scarp is a bike that does what it does well. There are no allusions that it’s trying to be anything other than a cross-country or marathon race bike. Point it at the nearest bit of singletrack or uphill section, apply the power, and it’ll eat it up with nary a blink of an eye. KTM’s suspension design makes it a little more velvet like and plush rather than other designs that try to be more like a hardtail with optional squish.
Even though the Scarp rewards effort, it prefers the dosage to be administered smoothly. Mashing on the pedals and throwing your weight around leads it to break traction in the blink of an eye. Apply that power consistently though and the suspension feeds off pedal input. This interaction enables it to claw tenaciously up steep climbs. In fact it’s only tyre performance that then hinders its climbing.
For the majority of ‘classic’ cross country courses (singletrack and short, punchy climbs) the front derailleur is redundant. I had to consciously try out the granny ring as the 36 tooth outer rarely felt over geared. Swapping to a 1x set-up would give a much better chainline and reduce the overactive pedal bob.
Handling is another area that the Scarp excels in. The (relatively) shorter 90mm stem length and 720mm (perfect XC size) width handlebars give it Speeder Bike control in tight singletrack. It’s no slouch downhill either, but the steeper head angle and dive-happy fork can lead to a few eye-watering moments. Bringing the stem up a spacer and putting it on a positive rise definitely creates a more confident descending position.
The KTM Scarp Elite is a seriously fast and fun (if riding flat out, at max heart rate is your idea of fun) bike. The suspension, whilst yielding the least amount of travel in the category, has a plush and active movement, making the Scarp feel more capable and controlled in rougher conditions, but at the expense of immediate response to power input. A bit of tweaking to the suspension tune (adding volume spacers) would improve the Scarp's XC race credentials. If possible I would opt for the higher spec Master version, with its 1x groupset and BOOST setup, as a much better XC race option.