If social media is your main source of information and you purely rely on internet forums for trail chat, then you’d be under the impression that all the new standards, tire sizes, geometries, & co. are a load of useless b*llocks. This set us thinking: imagine if bikes hadn’t been developed over the past few years? Imagine if engineers had decided enough was enough? Would we be living in a better biking world?
It was sixteen years ago when we hit the dreaded Y2K, bracing ourselves for the fateful bug that was set to destroy our computers and spin the world into chaos. Miraculously, we survived, but in these past sixteen years there have been a hell of a lot of changes: brick-like cell phones have evolved into touch-sensitive smartphones, and lorry-esque television screens are now flatter than a piece of paper. But mountain bikes are still mountain bikes, right?
What would happen if we put a sixteen-year-old bike against a modern one? We asked Casual riders to spot the differences between the two bikes we presented to them – and they struggled. Both bikes hail from the same brand, are kitted out with full suspension and disc brakes, and they’re both designed for riding the same sort of terrain. But that’s as far as the similarities go. They’re worlds apart.
This test was a true walk down memory lane, taking us back to the days when mountain biking was still in its awkward but brilliant adolescence, ripping through the woods with guys in Lycra, others in cut-off army pants, and even the odd fur-lined motocross helmet for those who were lagging behind a little.
Our approach to the test was pretty straightforward: we pitched a SCOTT Octane from the year 2000 against a brand-spanking new SCOTT Genius LT Plus. In its day, the Octane had a stellar reputation, setting hearts racing and causing grown adults to get clammy hands as they pressed their noses against bike shop windows. An oversized aluminium frame, the ceramic-coated Mavic rims, and the 120 mm Manitou fork were true highlights back then.
“Pure freeriding combined with ultimate speed. The New Octane has been developed to satisfy even most radical freeriders” – – the original slogan from SCOTT in the year 2000.
The biggest changes over the past sixteen years
The sixteen years that split our two test bikes have seen a flurry of changes, with new wheel sizes being established, and other ones losing favour and market share. Travel has got bigger and plusher, geometries have been revised and refined, and virtually every single component has been replaced. Here’s our rundown on the changes:
New materials, new possibilities: the alterations to frame designs and tube profiles aren’t just aesthetic – they’ve reduced bikes’ overall weights and increased stiffness. Cables no longer run externally, and as a result the aesthetics are much cleaner.
Bikes have grown, now boasting longer top tubes, slacker head angles, and shorter chainstays. Bottom bracket heights are now lower, and bikes have got a higher stack so your position on the bike has been well and truly optimized.
Travel hasn’t just got bigger in terms of length, but the whole suspension set-up has been thoroughly revised and improved: firmer, more effective damping, and much more responsiveness. The improvements are vast. Rear shocks are now air sprung with platform damping to eradicate any fear of climbing and duly soak up bumps with unmatched sensitivity on downhills.
Long and narrow or short and wide: modern cockpits have a ergonomic bar and stem pairing that works to massively stabilize your ride and keep you in control. While sixteen years ago it was normal to have a 100 mm stem and 620 mm bars, today the ‘normal’ set-up is a 50 mm stem and 780 mm bars.
Less is more! Our ancient Octane hails from the days of a bountiful twenty-seven gears. Back then it used to take an age until you’d shifted through to land on the gear you wanted. Today’s modern 1×11 drivetrains have a sufficient gear range with shifting that is more quick, secure, and intuitive. Less chain drop, less cross-chaining, and less noise = more fun!
All we ask of the brakes is one thing: stop us. And now they’re doing it with even more power, and they’re even easier to modulate. The Octane was fairly revolutionary back then as an early adopter of disc brakes – although you had to manually adjust the pads as they wore.
Not just a broader scope of use, but also their physical width, rubber compounds, and constructions of the carcasses have fundamentally changed. As a consequence, we enjoy more grip, better damping, and increased traction that benefits us on both climbs and descents.
OK, enough with the theoretical differences. How do these play out in reality? We rode the bikes in a direct comparison on a ton of vastly different trails. The results were more than enough to raise a few eyebrows at just how extreme the differences are. We didn’t just rely on sensations for the comparison, but we used our trusty stopwatches as well, and the times speak for themselves!
The modern plus-size bike is 19 % quicker on climbs
The plus bike was first up on our familiar test track, and despite the wet conditions it had no issues on the 20 % gradient with slippery roots and quicksand-esque soil. Pick your line, pedal, and get moving. Our upper bodies stayed pretty relaxed, which was starkly different to the Octane’s ride, where we had to really exert some force to keep the lines. The whole bike flexed significantly, and you had to fight for traction with your body. Once up the climb, the Genius LT Plus just needed a quick switch and, as we’ve come to expect, the saddle dropped nicely – mourning for those days without dropper posts? Nope, we don’t miss them.
The gulf got even bigger when the trails headed downhill…
On the Genius LT Plus, our various testers clocked times that were around 30 % quicker than the Octane. But it wasn’t just on paper either: they also declared it way more fun! The Octane, on the other hand, was more of a bucking bronco (and no, not just because of the huge horsey saddle) with barely-there suspension. The real reasons are because of the low stack, high bottom bracket, and narrow bars. We find essentially the opposite as we shift to the Genius LT Plus: even the gnarliest sections can be maneuvered with ease, and you can pull some manuals and easily jump the bike when you feel like it. This bike brims with confidence, and – unlike the Octane – you can get loose on the brakes without fearing for your life.
|Bike||Scott Octane||Scott Genius LT Plus|
|Reach||440 mm||437 mm|
|Stack||510 mm||627 mm|
|Wheelbase||1.125 mm||1.219 mm|
|Chainstays||435 mm||448 mm|
|Top Tube length||540 mm||620 mm|
So what did our test reveal?
We never really doubted that the modern Genius LT Plus would blow the old Octane out of the water, but we were pretty taken aback by just how dramatic the differences really were. There’s a whole world between the bikes, and the bike industry clearly haven’t sat on their laurels over the past sixteen years. New standards have come and gone, one tire size fell out of favour, and forums went mad talking about certain details. But in the end, all of these developments (that we all once looked upon so critically) have only worked to our benefits: more fun! And that, my friends, is the lesson from this direct comparison. Back in the year 2000 we thought the Octane couldn’t get any better, so imagine what bikes will be like in 2030! #openyourmind.
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Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer