Scott has set its sights on the World Cup Downhill this year and the effort is spearheaded by an all-new chassis with a single-pivot suspension that drives the shock through a novel-looking 'Floating Link' design. Scott's 2013 Gambler was revealed January in prototype form at San Romolo in Northern Italy, and saw its racing debut under Brendan Fairclough in South Africa. The production version is now finalized and we were invited to Chatel in the Portes du Soleil for a first-ride on the new Gambler on the slopes where it was developed. Product manager Ben Walker was on hand to explain the Gambler's rule-breaking high-pivot suspension and the unique process with which the team at Scott used to re-design the bike from the ground up.
Compare the new Gambler to other downhill bikes with single-pivot swingarms and you may notice that its main pivot location is higher than most. The accepted logic in frame design is that a high-pivot swingarm creates excessive chain growth which causes unwanted pedal feedback. The benefit of the high-pivot swingarm, however, is that it handles severe impacts like rock gardens and square-edge bumps better. Ben tested a wide range of suspension theories to see what they actually did out on the trail and in 2010, he started moving the swingarm pivot higher to improve big hit absorption, and then experimented with idlers and pulleys to help improve how well the bike braked and pedal better with today's low bottom bracket heights. Scott's design team built a number of prototypes to explore the limits of the swingarm's pivot placement and tested them with with riders of different levels. What they found was that the negative pedal feedback and braking issues that conventional suspension theory predicted didn't matter as much in a downhill situation and that unanimously, testers preferred the high-pivot placement.
Product manager Ben Walker smoked everyone who showed up to ride the bike. He's the real deal.
On first glance the Gambler's shock linkage looks incredibly complicated, but once you look closely at the bike, its simplicity becomes apparent. Scott uses a pair of rockers to control the shock rate so it doesn't ramp up too quickly. The floating linkage (cunningly called their “Floating Linkage” system) is an idea that is not entirely new – Astrix used a similar idea a few years back. Ben explains that the Floating Linkage minimizes the amount of rotation at each link, which reportedly increases small-bump sensitivity. The shock placement inside the frame also keeps mud from packing up in the suspension, which can add a considerable amount of weight to a bike on a muddy course.
The Gambler's Floating Linkage (left) allows the swingarm to drive a longer-stroke shock which makes the suspension easier to tune. A look at the chip at the lower shock mount (right) used to adjust the bottom bracket height.
Adjustability is something Scott wanted to build into the Gambler's design - and it has a full range of options: 15 millimeters of wheelbase adjustment at the dropout; one degree at the head angle; ten millimeters of bottom bracket height via a two-position chip at the lower shock mount; and an additional one or two-degree head angle option is available using Syncros' angle-adjust headsets. This means you can rake the Gambler's head angle way out to 60 degrees, or bring it in as steep as 65 degrees. Scott's idea is that the Gambler can be fine-tuned to whatever track is in front of you.
Scott's IDS-X eccentric rear-axle system offers two positions for quick wheelbase changes. The off-center axle prevents the shaft from twisting under torsional loads, while the tapered head acts as a second locking mechanism.
It becomes apparent that the Gambler has been designed by someone who rides a lot. That someone is again Ben Walker. Take the rear dropouts – Ben found that his were continually coming loose smashing out run-after-run, day-after-day. With some help from a machinist friend, he developed the IDS-X rear dropout system, which uses an concentric axle as well as locking tapers at each nut to key the through axle into the frame. Now the Gambler's axle can (and does) handle hitting the Champery World Cup track ten times a day (Champery is one of the tracks Ben is responsible for in his other job as a trail builder). The suspension pivots are easily serviced and the cables and hoses are external so they can be replaced quickly.
Riding the Gambler
I was given free reign for two days to put the Gambler up against whatever I could find in the hills around Chatel and Morgins. With some help from Fox we set the bike in the lowest, slackest setting (what’s the point of going into the Alps with a downhill bike if you’re not going to go for it, right?), the short setting on the chainstays and a firm, fast tune on the suspension. At first I struggled to sum up what I experienced in those two days, but a friend put it into words. On the first morning, we headed for one of the 'less official' trails. It was a technical, steep line with ugly roots, wet mud and virtually nothing on-camber (there are local names for it - 'Brendan’s Track' is one of them - which seems quite appropriate). After a morning of dodging trees and saving high-sides on near-vertical chutes, the friend said, “you seemed pretty comfortable on the bike.” And that’s the nut. On that first ride, I wasn't thinking about the bike or how it rode, I was trying to see how far I dare hold the throttle open on that kind of terrain.
We set the Gambler up for Chatel's most difficult downhill trails, but the Scott's easy handling was equally suited for park riding.
The Gambler is easy to get on with. Many linkage-driven single-pivot bikes work well when you’re at race pace, but when you back off the gas they stop being fun to ride. The new Gambler doesn’t do that. When you start working the bike, it rewards you with quick, decisive handling - and yet it remains neutral and enjoyable when you’re taking it easy. Scott states that, with a less aggressive tune on the suspension, the Gambler will be suitable for nearly any level of rider. On longer descents I did start to notice some leg-pump, and whether this comes down to that extra bit of tension from the pedal feedback in the suspension design or physical condition would be hard to tell without back-to-back runs on different bikes. I would have to agree with Ben that on the whole, I didn't notice much pedal feedback and for a bike this low, I did not catch the pedals and bottom bracket as much as I expected I would.
The Gambler's high-pivot rear suspension was designed to level the rock gardens and roots of World Cup DH racing.
In the comments around the launch of the Gambler, some asked about the need for a 62-degree head angle. We’d say it’s a good thing – we are encouraged to see a company as big as Scott pushing World Cup geometry. Downhill bikes are supposed to be the extreme evolution of our sport. Of course, when you take the bike away from the big mountains, a 62-degree head angle and a slammed bottom bracket setting may be overkill, but with all of the adjustments in the Gambler's frame, most riders will be able to find the perfect balance for the terrain at hand. Sticking our necks out, we’d say that if you can’t find a suitable setup in that range (60-65 degrees), maybe you should be asking questions about whether a downhill bike is what you need for the trails and speeds you are riding at.
Scott developed the new Gambler to be a World Cup contender that is versatile enough to be enjoyed by any good downhiller. The fact that we could simply get on it and ride hard indicates that Scott's team has achieved that goal. After only two days on the bike, though, we are left with more questions: Will the Gambler hold up to daily abuse? What is it like on different terrain? After my short time with the Gambler, I am confident enough to say that Ben Walker and the Scott team have created a top-level downhill bike.- Matt Wragg