Simply rockets up climbs
Hailing from Austria, the birthplace of Schwarzenegger, the KTM Scarp Master 12 has a distinctly European feel pervading the design and specification.
Fortunately, it also has enough strength of character to keep the appeal international. Whereas the other XC race brands are pretty commonplace at UK races, the Scarp could be considered the dark horse.
KTM Scarp Master 12 review
The Scarp, like the Giant Anthem, drops rear wheel travel down to 90mm, where flex in the stays eliminate a complement of pivots to save weight. So, rather than being a muscle-bound hulk like Austria’s favourite son, the Scarp is the lightest bike on test by far. In fact, it’s the only one here to drop below the 11kg barrier. Helped no doubt by the Scarp also being a fair bit shorter than its rivals.
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 the Specialized Epic but it still pedals better than the Giant. Compared to most XC race bikes the suspension tune on the KTM isn’t overly firm, allowing the Scarp to feel like a bike that actually uses the suspension. Yes, the Fox Float DPS shock lacks ramp up so it gives up the majority of its travel too easily, but if feels fine when living in the mid-stroke.
The only downside to this approach is that the bike can feel a bit flighty and wayward, so it needs more rebound dampening added to minimise the hop, skip and jump that it can create when real power is applied or when confronted by bigger hits.
Up front the 100mm travel Fox Float 32 SC fork was equally excitable. Fortunately the two are intrinsically linked through a three-position handlebar remote, similar to the TwinLoc design on the Scott. With a simple click you can apply firmer compression damping and infinitely improving the race worthiness and control of the suspension. The remote lever on the Scarp doesn’t have the best ergonomics though; it’s hard to position correctly and requires a lot of force in use. So rather than encouraging on-the-fly adjustments you tend to choose the middle setting and stick with it.
For those that like to match collar and cuffs it’s a little quirky to see a SRAM Eagle drivetrain mixed with Shimano XT brakes. Fortunately it all works superlatively so power delivery and control are both first rate. And in a nod to the big leg brigade, the GX cranks sport a 34t chain ring, the biggest in test. Not only does this ensure that, at least mechanically, nothing can beat the KTM on top speed, there’s also less chain rattle as you tend to ride further up the 10-50t cassette.
One thing that instantly needs changing on the KTM is the foam grips. As a weight saving exercise they do drop about 100 grams when compared to a typical lock on grip. However, our test pair started to work loose and spin during the very first ride, making it the only KTM we’ve seen with two throttles.
With its negative rise stem, relatively steep head angle and lightweight build the Scarp is unashamedly a head down/bum up XC racer. It’s the old-school sizing that has a detrimental impact on its suitability for modern XC racing though. The 19in frame is just too short in comparison to all the other bikes. So riders over 5ft 10in tall should really look at the 21in option, the biggest frame KTM produces.
Even with its diminutive sizing the KTM still handles remarkably well. Point it at the nearest bit of singletrack, apply the power, and it’ll eat it up in the blink of an eye, its featherweight build helping to bully it up the nastiest of climbs too. But 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 as it lacks the stability that goes hand in hand with increased length.
With tiny sizing, steep angles and monster gearing the KTM Scarp Master screams old school XC from the rooftops. But despite its shortcomings the Scarp still has some mileage left in it. The suspension, whilst yielding less travel than most, has a plush and active response, making the Scarp feel more capable and controlled in rougher conditions than the geometry and sizing initially suggest. It’s light too, so it simply rockets up climbs. So if you can find a size that fits, and look past the woeful handlebar remote, then the KTM Scarp will still reward your efforts in spades.