downhill bikes have been a source of debate for a long time, coming and going over the years depending on trends and new tech. Is it even beneficial at all? Don't you want a heavy bike for more stability? What about durability? Before we dive into the build process and specifications of this bike, and before you skip down to the comment section, let's take the bull by the horns and talk a bit about why a lightweight downhill bike really can be a good thing.
Reasoning And Goal
• No, it's not for everyone. As with anything, preferences and riding style come into play.
• No, it won't explode in a cloud of carbon shrapnel. It's a matter of details and a well thought out spec.
• No, you won't get thrown off your line and into orbit around planet Earth because the bike is "too light".
• Yes, you still want proper tires, brakes, tire inserts and so on.
• Yes, it gets expensive to go super light. But not much more than many other top spec builds.
• Yes, a lot of mud will add weight. But it'll still be lighter than a heavy bike with mud on it.
There are three main things to consider to make a bike like this truly ride well. One or more of these are often overlooked, which I believe is why the common consensus is that you want a relatively heavy bike if you want to go fast.Rotational weight.
It's easy to look at your tire setup and think that it's the first place you should shave some weight. After all, this has been a mantra forever in most cycling disciplines so it's easy to fall into that trap. But on a downhill bike the heavy rotational weight is a key factor to stability and to keeping your momentum. It helps you to keep your speed and your bike won't feel nervous. And of course there are other important reasons such as durability, grip and cornering stability thanks to the tire casings and good tire inserts.Geometry.
A long, low and slack bike will be inherently stable to ride. If you were to build a trail bike and a downhill bike to the same weight, even if you factor out the suspension travel, the latter will be faster on the descents. Good downhill geometry will allow you to get away with a lower weight while still being able to go fast.Brakes and suspension.
It's still a downhill bike, so brakes are another place you can't take any shortcuts. As for the suspension, it could be argued that a lightweight build means less unsprung weight and better performing suspension. Either way, you need to have it dialed just as with any bike. Lots of travel and great performance will help you stay on your line or plow through sections despite the low overall weight of the bike.
As mentioned above, a super light downhill bike won't be for everyone. On numerous occasions we've all heard some the world's fastest riders saying they don't want their bikes to go under a certain number or how they don't find it necessary. In stark contrast to that there have also been quite a few more-or-less crazy examples of trying to save weight. In the end, it's the bike you feel great on that will be the fastest for you. But, how many have ridden a sub 30-pound race ready downhill bike with proper tires, inserts, brakes and all that good stuff from their heavy bikes?
I think that for it all to work out you have to go all in. It won't be enough or a good thing to save some weight with EXO casing tires or smaller rotors. You need to prioritize performance on the key elements, and save weight everywhere else. If you do it right you end up with a bike that is stable, calm and confidence inspiring yet much easier to move around and control.
If you've seen some of my other builds, I guess you know by now that no matter the weight goal the bike still has to perform great and be 100% ride and race ready. This was never going to be one of those unusable weight weenie builds. So I set a few "rules" that had to be kept. The bike must have proper tires, CushCore Pro inserts, a padded seat, lock-on grips and 203mm brake discs. Everything must hold up and be reliable. But what would be needed to still bring it down to 13.5kg / 30lb or lower?Frame
This winter I managed to get hold of a Scott Gambler carbon frame, previously used by the Scott DH Factory team during the 2019 season. So no, the old "that frame is too light and will break" won't work here. It has probably seen more beating already than you or I could ever give it. It came to me scratched and dirty, with the cool looking sharpie logos and, as I would find out, a huge amount of clear coat.
The new full carbon Gambler is quite a different beast compared to the old chassis with its infamous and quite beloved linkage design. Being much more race-oriented Scott placed a lot of focus on flex and stiffness, while still keeping things both lightweight and strong. These days there is more talk about how flex can be a good thing in certain areas, compared to in the past when it was pretty much always a matter of stiffer equals better. Scott made several versions for tests and team riders to find the sweet spot between stiffness and compliance to make it fast. Something I kept in mind for other areas of the bike as well.
It features a ton of adjustments too. You can adjust the chain stay length, BB height, how progressive you want the rear shock and of course the head angle thanks to the Syncros angle set with different cups. Personally I wish these were standard features on trail and enduro frames too despite the added weight, but maybe things will move in that direction one day.
The weight weenie theme dictated that the clear coat had to go, and after too many work hours 112g of clear coat was removed. This is normally what a full regular paint job with primer, base and clear coat weighs so clearly (pun intended) things moved fast when getting these frames sent to the team.
At just 2320g this thing is light.Suspension
Having already ridden the Intend Infinity for a full season on my old Gambler and being incredibly happy with its performance it was an easy choice to go for another one. The low 2482.8g complete fork weight was of course a huge plus too. A titanium axle helped a bit in reaching that number and so did carbon adjustment dials and air cap from HOPP, but it's still very impressive considering how the latest beefy single crown forks hitting the market is almost the same weight.
With perfect timing the new and matching Intend Hover rear shock was released. Just like his forks, the Hover is quite unique and offers some cool tech performance wise. One of the main goals in developing this shock was to make it as supple and coil-like as possible. Cliché as that may sound, this is the real deal. Its shaft is of much smaller diameter than you usually see on air shocks, to help lower the seal friction and stiction. The negative chamber is huge and separately adjusted, and the big surface area of the shock body helps to counter overheating so the shock stays consistent. It weighs just 462.5g including hardware.Cockpit
Here's a good place to save weight, since it'll help to keep the bike's center of gravity nice and low. Out front I went for the Syncros Hixon iC DH one-piece full carbon combo. The stock width of 800mm was trimmed down to my preferred 780mm, and of course the paint was stripped off, both to save a few grams and to match the looks of the raw frame. The final weight ended up being 285g including titanium bolts.
On headset duty is a quite special Syncros angleset. It comes with alternative +/-1 and +/-2 degree cups but it has also been stripped and brushed to match the fork crowns as well as having been upgraded with CeramicSpeed bearings. Why hybrid ceramic bearings in a headset? No, it won't make you steer faster but they do save a bit of weight and are of great quality.
The seat combo is a very nice and quite exotic German affair. A Schmolke TLO (The Lightest One, using their highest quality fibers) seat post that comes in at 91.1g. Tune Würger Skyline is my favorite seat post clamp of all time and there's a Tune Speedneedle 20Twenty up top. It may be aimed at the XC crowd but it is one of the most tried and tested seats in its category. They come in a few different versions but they are all hand made by one man, Jürgen Mikus, in his carbon workshop in Leverkusen, Germany. This 20Twenty version was created for the 20th anniversary of the Speedneedle and its split design inspired the matching top tube stripes on the frame.
This is one of just two things on the bike having a rider weight limit, with the combo being made for riders up to 220lbs / 100kg.Brakes
It's no big secret that I'm a fan of Trickstuff brakes and simply consider them to be the best out there. While the Maxima is the obvious choice for a downhill bike the goal here was after all to do a "World's Lightest" build. So I opted for the Piccola HD, which is the 4-piston version of their super light Piccola brakes. They weigh the same as a set of 2-piston XTR Race brakes but the power is huge. As with all Trickstuff brakes they feature the super smooth lever feel and beautiful CNC machined looks, especially so here since I managed to get a fully raw set to match the crowns and dropouts of the custom Intend fork.
I have a few different brake discs for the bike, Trickstuff Dächle and Dächle UL (Ultra Light) in both 203mm and 223mm sizes.Drivetrain
With a lightweight drivetrain having no negative effect on descending as long as it holds up I went all in chasing grams here.
The cranks are the RaceFace SIXC, perhaps the lightest DH width crankset on the market today. Once again the clear coat was stripped to save grams and match the frame. Attached you'll find a 34T Garbaruk chain ring, a favorite of mine and I've never ever dropped a chain in the years I've been using these. To keep it spinning is a CeramicSpeed bottom bracket. Perhaps you'll find it questionable to run ceramic bearings on a bike that sees so little pedaling, but there is some reasonable thought behind the choice. I've tried lightweight steel bearing options but with sometimes questionable quality and small bearing size due to the 30mm axle and PF41 BB shell combo, they tend to fail too soon. These on the other hand are light enough thanks to the hybrid ceramic construction and comes with a 6 year warranty as long as you take care of them, which is promising.
Ceramic bearings tend to spark a lot of debate so I'll address some of that right away. Are there other good bearings out there? Yes. Can they still wear out due to the softer steel races? Yes. Are high quality ceramic bearings very expensive? Yes. None of these facts take away from them actually being great although expensive bearings. Sure, it should most likely be one of the last upgrades you do on a bike, but if we're talking about marginal gains it's really no stranger than Kashima Coating or carbon cage plates on top of the line derailleurs. Yet no one bats an eye seeing people having paid extra for those.
With the goal of a "Race Ready" bike and it being my preference, I needed to go with clipless pedals despite platform options being much lighter. The clear winner of the weight game here is the CrankBrothers Mallet E11 with a titanium spindle upgrade. Yes, they're just as expensive as they sound, but they do come in at just 349g. For comparison, a pair of XTR Race pedals weighs just about 35g less. This is the second place on the bike with a rider weight limit, with the titanium spindles having a 85kg max.
I went a bit old school with my choice of chain, chasing down a PYC SP1101 which is a hollow pin model that's even lighter than for example Yaban or KMC chains. You could say I went old school with the cassette too, bringing out the Dremel to cut off the aluminum dork disc from a SRAM X01 DH cassette. Saving a whopping 7g it results in a 130.7g weight.
Now onto something truly special - the carbon derailleur. Based on a regular SRAM X01 DH 7-speed derailleur it features both some Dremel work by me and an upgrade set from HOPP Carbon Parts. This means that the B-knuckle, the parallelogram and even the pins holding it together have been changed to carbon versions. To finish it off is a set of super light pulley wheels from Extralite and some new bolts. At 200.1g it saves almost 70g compared to the stock model coming in at around 268g. Not bad.
Finally I'm running Fasi Turbo Plus shift cable housing. Thanks to aluminum instead of steel it weighs 17g per meter while regular housing weighs around 33g per meter.
A 200g downhill derailleur, a 180g 11-speed XX1 derailleur and the behemoth that is the 385g XX1 AXS with an OSPW system. Many projects means many derailleurs.Wheels
Most likely coming as a surprise for many of you, I decided to run aluminum rims on this bike. Why? Mostly just for peace of mind. I run carbon rims on many of my bikes, I even have two sets of one-piece carbon spoked wheels. So it's not that I don't believe in carbon rims, it's just that I'm not convinced that pure downhill is an application for them to clearly excel. If they're made to be really bomb proof they tend to end up being quite heavy anyway, and this is another place where I personally feel that stiffer doesn't always equal better. Once again this depends a lot on riding style and preference, and rider weight too.
So what better choice than arguably the most proven aluminum rim out there - the DT Swiss EX471. Wait, what? Not only are you skipping carbon but you're also going with a narrow 25mm inner width? Yes, I've jumped on the wide rim bandwagon in the past and it absolutely works but we're still seeing several top riders on these narrow rims. I've never heard anyone actually answer why, but my guess is because of compliance and impact strength, while inserts like the CushCore Pro and reasonably high tire pressures still keep them from rolling tires off the rim. For this particular build it also helps that they're pretty light too, of course.
The hubs in fresh silver color comes from Tune. A SuperClimbHill rear hub and matching front hub is the lightest 12x157mm and 20x110mm option out there. You can choose from two different freewheels, an extra light version used here or the "Endurance" version. Titanium pawls and a very minimalistic and optimized design keeps the weight low.
The wheels where built with Sapim CX-Ray spokes by German wheel specialist shop Radsporttechnik Müller, and there are two sets. One full 29" set and one mullet 27.5"/29" set. Of course to be able to ride the different setups, but also to have the luxury of spare wheels to quickly install if you get a flat or to simply run different tires. The 29" wheel set weighs 1758.5g.Tires and Tire Inserts
As mentioned before, tires are not where you want to go weight weenie when it comes to a downhill bike. Performance trumps low weight any day here, although I did go for a DoubleDown casing on one of the front wheels since I've had good luck with these in the past. I'm a Maxxis kind of man when it comes to gravity riding, and my favorite all-rounder is the Assegai. It's a heavy tire but it has so much grip in so many different situations, making it especially suitable on the front. On the rear I'm running a Dissector 2.4" with DH casing, which is fast rolling but provides a little less grip. I find the side knobs a bit too weak, even after minimal wear they start to fold a bit too easily when cornering but it sure is a fast tire. Especially so when it's brand new.
To keep those tires locked in place and to soften the ride a bit I'm running CushCore Pro inserts both front and rear. While the rear tire is what's most important to stop from rolling, I tend to be almost just as hard on the front rim when it comes to impacts so the extra protection is welcome. These days there are a ton of tire insert options on the market, but CushCore is the one I personally find makes the most sense. It really locks the tire in place and it's not too tall, letting the tire behave close to as it normally would vertically. My own number one tip for super easy installation is to use Weldtite Tire Fit Mounting Gel, and if you're have trouble removing a tire it might be time to bring out the CushCore Bead Dropper tool.
All my wheels are set up with Syncros sealant.SCOTT Gambler SL - 13.42kg / 29.58lbsAdditional Weight Numbers
• 29" Dissector DH + 29" Assegai DD, tire inserts, pedals: 13417.2g / 29.58lbs
• 29" Dissector DH + 29" Assegai DD, tire inserts, no pedals: 13068.2g / 28.81lbs
• 29" Dissector DH + 29" Assegai DD, no tire inserts, no pedals: 12535.1g / 27.64lbs
• 29" Dissector DH + 29" Assegai DH, tire inserts, pedals: 13472.3g / 29.70lbs
• 27.5" Assegai DH + 29" Assegai DH, tire inserts, pedals: 13591.3g / 29.96lbs
By now I've spent plenty of time riding the bike on varying tracks and at different bike parks, and I couldn't be happier with it. I felt at home on it very quickly, and what a ride it is. One I wish you could all try and form your own experience based opinion on, because it sure is different to your regular 35-ish pound downhill race bike.
Thanks to the tire setup and geometry it behaves quite normal when you're attacking a straight section and want to keep it on the ground. It's when you want to lift it or move it around to enter your next line that the magic starts to happen. You can pick it up so easily, no matter if it's a small adjustment or if you really push and jump into a line. It's helpful in tight corners too where you might have to really throw the bike around. Needless to say it's a ton of fun if you're just cruising, doing gaps in sections or hitting jumps.
The Intend suspension performs amazingly well, it's composed and soaks most hits up. The rear end feels especially bottomless and very supple too. Dialed suspension is always confidence inspiring and helps so much in knowing your bikes' limits as well as in saving your overly optimistic self if you mess your line up. One interesting thing worth mentioning is how the fork behaves. While it's definitely stiff enough for most, it does allow for a little torsional flex. This makes for more grip in weird corners and off camber sections, but it also makes the bike ride calmer in rough straight sections. I find this to be very fast, but then again I just weigh 75kg / 165lbs, and if you weigh 110kg / 240lbs you might feel differently. On the other hand the fork is super stiff when it comes to fore/aft flex which is a good thing in all situations.
Despite being very light the Trickstuff Piccola HD brakes are more than powerful enough. I've been riding the bike with the Trickstuff Maxima brakes too and there's no arguing they are the brakes to ruin all other brakes for you, but the Piccola HD sure are keeping up, as they should considering the price. In the end I'll probably let this bike become the permanent home for the Maxima's but not out of necessity really, but simply because I love the stupid amount of power and think they're the best downhill brakes on the market today.
There's been zero issues shifting with the Hopp tuned derailleur, and the super light seat combo has already survived a proper beating when the bike was catapulted into some trees in a crash. The saddle is perhaps a little sharp if you're riding in Lemmy shorts, but quite alright with DH pants. The wheels are still straight and true, and the rims have survived.
All in all I can say that I'm a faster rider on this bike and it's the most fun downhill bike I've ever ridden. Would you be faster on it? Maybe, maybe not. I think most would be once they got used to the low overall weight and how the bike behaves, but some riders would still feel more comfortable and therefore be faster on a heavier bike. The Covid-19 situation stopped it this time around, but hopefully you'll get to see an unbiased comparison test with this bike and say a regular Scott Gambler some day.New Projects On The Horizon
While riding and enjoying the Gambler SL will be my top priority this summer, there are four other bikes to finish. A new hardtail build, one Scott Spark RC with completely hidden cables like on an aero road bike, another Spark RC with a sub 8kg / 17.6lbs total weight goal and also I'm building up the second version of my old and previously British Racing Green Scott Gambler. Feel free to keep up with these projects and my Lemmy shorts via my Instagram
Because it simply needs to be done I'll also build up the mother of all downduro bikes based on the Gambler SL. With a 12-speed drivetrain and a dropper things should get interesting.
You will also see the Gambler SL in the "World's Finest DH Bike Challenge". Initiated by Cornelius Kapfinger, the man behind Intend, the goal is to build the nicest bike possible and YOU get to decide who wins in an upcoming vote here on Pinkbike. So stay tuned!
Mr Kapfinger VS Mr Dangerholm. Please note that the vote will be about our bikes, not our legs.
Warning and disclaimer:Please keep in mind that any modifications such as paint stripping, repainting, sanding or in any way modify frames, components or safety equipment is potentially dangerous and can lead to crashes and injuries. It will always void any and all warranties, and is strongly advised against by SCOTT Sports and all other manufacturers, which take no responsibility. If you choose to modify your bike anyway, always make sure to do so with safety in mind and remember the points above.
Editor's note: Gustav is supported by several of the companies used for this build, and the views and opinions expressed here are his alone.