The Scott Scale 965 hardtail mountain bike may look conservative at first glimpse, but look closer and you'll find well-thought-out detail and race-proven geometry.
Log onto Scott’s website, search for hardtails, and you’ll see the XC focused Scale dominates the options. With no long, low and slack hardcore hardtail in sight, it’s apparent that once you tip over the £1k mark, Scott hangs its hat firmly on the Scale range, with all models running 100mm travel forks.
And the spread of options is nothing short of gargantuan. At the top end sits the flagship carbon RC World Cup AXS bike at £7,099. A bike that’s been a pedigree XC hardtail for years and under Nino Schurter has dominated XC racing like no other bike.
And just like Nino, the Scale itself has dabbled with different wheel sizes, with Scott eventually settling on 29in wheels across all frame sizes, including the women’s specific Contessa options.
So with years of evolution behind it, how’s the current Scale shaping up? Take a quick glance from a distance and you may feel a little underwhelmed; the tall seat tube and flatter top tube giving the look of a more conservative, almost dated frame. But under closer inspection, you’ll spot a raft of neat details blended in with well-honed and proven geometry numbers – the Scale’s frame is understated but elegant.
With a frame design steeped in racing pedigree, you’d expect the alloy Scale 965 tested here to mirror the dimensions and geometry of the premium carbon bikes. And in many ways it does, but there are some key differences that aren’t immediately obvious. The head angle (we measured this bike at 68.5º), 29in wheels and 100mm fork travel are a constant for both frame materials, as are seat tube measurements.
The BB drop is also consistent on both the carbon and aluminium Scale frames, consistently high that is. At 320mm the BB height on the Scott is inline with the Giant and just a hair taller than the Trek.
And while 320mm sounds really tall for a hardtail with a 100mm travel fork, it’s been designed that way so that riders can keep the longer 175mm crankarms spinning in all situations, delivering maximum power to the rear tyre without having to worry about clipping a pedal on a root or rock and getting ejected over the bars.
Where the frames depart is in chainstay length, the aluminium bikes get 15mm longer chainstays, measuring in at 438mm. There’s also a XXL size on the aluminium frame, so if you’re approaching 2m in height Scott definitely has you covered.
You’d expect to see some performance-oriented details too and for a bike at this price the Scale 965 doesn’t disappoint. The tidy cowled dropouts not only allow the rear hub to drop effortlessly into place, but the 148mm thru-axle frame spacing opens up numerous options when it’s time for a wheel upgrade.
The bridge-less seat stays are curved and long, increasing compliance but we did occasionally clip our heals on the equally wide chainstays. All cables and the rear brake hose are internally routed, with securely clamped frame ports for a quieter ride, and there’s compatibility for a dropper post too.
The Scale 965 runs a 100mm travel RockShox Judy air-sprung fork, equipped with the brand’s basic TurnKey damper, a 15mm bolt-thru axle and heavier steel upper tubes.
Remote lockout levers feature heavily on most of Scott’s mountain bike range and we’ll be the first to admit that we don’t always approve of (or use) this feature, certainly on the more gravity focused models.
But on this hardtail it feels spot on, especially with the in-house designed RideLoc lever; a beautifully engineered piece of hardware that’s a joy to use. Sitting above the handlebar – leaving space below for a dropper lever if you make the upgrade – it’s so intuitive to toggle between fully open and lockout mode that it saw frequent use especially on long, boring fire road climbs.
Scott’s in-house component brand is Syncros, and the Scale is almost exclusively equipped with its hardware. And for a performance hardtail with an XC leaning, the Syncros finishing kit is on point, with dimensions that are well chosen, especially for the cockpit. Scott even specs different stem lengths for each frame size, with our XL test bike running an 80mm Syncros stem, teamed up with a 740mm alloy handlebar.
Both natural partners for the Scale’s riding position but the lack of lock-on grips is a definite oversight even if a relatively cheap issue to fix. The Syncros Balcarra saddle has a good profile too with ample padding and it has two hidden threaded ports on its base to take a direct fit (and strapless) Scott seat pack – a neat touch, especially if you plan to fit a dropper post.
It’s a Syncros and Shimano partnership for the wheels, where Scott has gone for a more traditional 32h spoke count. We feel tubeless rims and tyres should be standard trim at this price point as it’s one of the most beneficial upgrades you’d hope to get when stepping up from a £1k hardtail. So while the Scale’s rims are tubeless-ready, the stock Maxxis Rekon Race tyres aren’t. As such, it carries the extra weight of two inner tubes.
Also the Scale 965 is shown on Scott’s website sporting tan wall Maxxis tyres to match the tan saddle, but our bike arrived with all-black Maxxis rubber, which is probably due to ongoing supply issues.
As the second lightest bike on test, and with a stance and fit that will appeal to performance-minded riders, it came as no surprise that the Scott felt quick straight off the mark. Assisted no doubt by the wide 92mm bottom bracket shell and boxy, flattened chainstays. As such, putting the power down out of the saddle felt both natural and rewarding.
Of the three bikes in this test equipped with RockShox Judy forks, the Scott Scale 965 was the most race-focused and the rapid pace of the bike meant it was easy to overwhelm the fork and reach its limits. We bumped the air pressure up by 10-15psi over the suggested settings to help prop the front end up on steep roll-ins, but the basic rebound damping really held us back in fast rooty singletrack, regardless of how we set the damping adjuster.
So the Scale is a hardtail to charge hard on. But it’s no one trick pony as the frame’s comfort is equal with the Giant or Cube, so it’s just as adept at a two hour XC race or a full day at a marathon event.
When it comes to the finish line sprint, splitting the Scott Scale and Giant XTC, the two most race-focussed and engaging bikes in this test, is not quite a photo finish. The entry-level RockShox Judy fork is the weak link on the Scale as it’s just not sophisticated enough to match the natural pace of the bike, or its smooth ride quality. A fork is an expensive component to upgrade, and while there’s no question that the Scale frame deserves it, we’d recommend stepping up to the Scale 960 at £1,699 which runs a stouter Fox 32 Rhythm.