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How Scott went from a single ski pole to making some of the world's best bikes

In-depth
24 Feb 2021
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Scott makes equipment for cycling, running, winter sports and motorsport, but far from stretching itself too thin, the brand says its wide range is precisely what gives it an edge

Words: Sam Challis Photography: Tapestry

Straddling four sports – and multiple disciplines within each sport – Scott’s catalogue currently numbers 4,736 unique products. Yet it all started with one solitary ski pole.

In 1958 Ed Scott, a skier and engineer from Sun Valley, Idaho, invented a ski pole made from aluminium. He found it performed better than poles made from bamboo or steel, the more conventional materials used at the time. It was stiffer and lighter. It could be said that, in a way, Scott’s ethos has remained totally unchanged to this day.

‘That is what kicked us off,’ says Scott’s chief marketing officer, Reto Aeschbacher. ‘Revolutionising ski poles like that was a real jump-start for the company.

It immediately positioned us as a leader in the skiing market and helped us garner a reputation for innovation that Scott the man cemented over the next few years.’

Where many brands are content to specialise within one niche, Aeschbacher says Ed Scott saw opportunities for the company to expand into other areas all the time, recruiting similarly inquisitive and entrepreneurial engineers such as Charly French and Boone Lennon. Consequently, French and Lennon have been responsible for a number of important designs across several sports.

‘Having matured in winter sports, we went into motocross in 1970 with the world’s first motocross-specific goggles. Then we followed that with boots, grips and other accessories,’ says Aeschbacher. ‘We’re unique in that for every sport we are involved in we offer a head-to-toe range. That is, we make all the clothing, equipment, accessories and hard goods.

‘Ed Scott believed products made to work together created a unit that performed as more than the sum of its parts, which over time has become a cornerstone of the company’s philosophy.’

Winning roots

Scott didn’t branch into cycling until the mid-1980s but, despite that, the cycling market now represents 80% of its business. Scott’s ascension from a company of little experience to one making world-class products mirrored the rapid initial growth of the business, and was kicked off by a similarly revolutionary innovation.

‘In 1989 Greg LeMond used our aerodynamic handlebar, designed by Charly French and Boone Lennon, to beat Laurent Fignon at the Tour de France,’ says Pascal Ducrot, Scott’s vice-president, who joined the company in the same year.

The American turned a 50-second deficit into an eight-second advantage in the final time-trial into Paris, thanks in part to the physical position – arms out front, shoulders and elbows narrow – Scott’s bars allowed him to adopt.

‘LeMond’s Tour win shone a spotlight on Scott as a name in the cycling industry, and we sold 100,000 of those bars the next year,’ says Ducrot.

Not only was the bar itself a success for Scott, but the company, thanks to the experience of having released similarly innovative products in other sports, patented the design. It meant that for the next 20 years any bike brand that wanted to produce a similar design had to pay Scott royalties for the privilege.

Moves like this, coupled with success in other areas of the brand’s diverse portfolio, secured the revenue required to develop top-level mountain bike products, such as the ‘Unishock’ suspension forks and Endorphin frame, and then move into road cycling proper.

In 2001 Scott launched the Team Issue. At under 1kg, it was the lightest production frame in the world at the time. The brand wasted no time in raising the bar even higher – or dropping it even lower – by releasing the 895g CR1 in 2003.

As per Scott’s philosophy, a strong presence in both MTB and road necessitated a full suite of accompanying products to support the bikes. A few years after that the company branched into its fourth sport – running, introducing shoes as well as the requisite clothing in 2006.

Scott’s massive catalogue begs the question of whether the risk of overreaching has ever been considered? It isn’t as if Scott’s aggressive attitude towards expansion hasn’t caused problems before.

‘A critical point for us came in the 1970s when we started doing ski boots,’ says Aeschbacher. ‘They were game-changing at the time, but there were quality issues in the manufacturing at first. Sorting that out almost bankrupted us.’

Aeschbacher says moving into cycling brought a series of huge investments too: ‘For sure there have been hurdles to overcome that we wouldn’t have needed to deal with if we worked in a different way, but this is what makes Scott the company it is.

‘It’s undeniable that we have an incredibly complex business. We have to think harder than our competitors to be smart in where we allocate resources.’

Ducrot doesn’t believe that diversity impedes Scott’s ability to develop products, though. In fact, he suggests the opposite.

‘We don’t have a winter sports division or a cycling division,’ he says. ‘We have a design division, an engineering division. By not rigidly sticking in one lane, designers can look into fresh projects without preconceived notions of how things should be.’

Ducrot says that, rather than being spread out across multiple operations, Scott’s resources are shared, which means every area has the opportunity to influence and inform each of the others.

‘Say we have specialists in plastics, who crack the method of injection-moulding in a certain way. They are then as motivated about applying the tech in winter sports as they are in motorsport,’ he says.

‘Or our graphic designers take inspiration from other sports and move it into cycling, which sets a trend that other brands are late to because they don’t have the resource pool we do.’

Step ahead

Evidence of this approach can be found in the manufacturer’s aero race bike. In 2018, a number of brands started adding disc brakes to their most aggressive aero models to introduce practicality and comfort alongside speed and stiffness.

Yet by this point, Scott’s own disc-equipped aero bike, the Foil Disc, had already been on the market for nearly a year. Ducrot says it was Scott’s company-wide collective consciousness that allowed it to get ahead of the curve.

‘We got annoyed by all the deliberation around disc brakes for road bikes,’ he says. ‘We believed in it very early on. The Foil was the most requested bike internally because we all like to go fast, so it became clear we needed to put two and two together and put discs on it.’

Ducrot says comfort was on the agenda even before the move to discs, though, and he says he has the proof: ‘The Foil was always designed to be forgiving – who wants a bike that doesn’t ride nicely?

But in hindsight early on we didn’t communicate that well enough.’ Luckily the comfort of the early Foil was unequivocally endorsed in 2016, when Orica-GreenEdge’s Mat Hayman won Paris-Roubaix aboard one.

‘It was the kind of dream guerilla marketing that would have blown any campaign we’d have come up with out of the water anyway,’ he says. Aside from that, Ducrot says the Foil in both rim and disc incarnations has been enduringly well-regarded thanks to Scott’s years of experience in the sector.

‘The design of the Foil goes back to the time when we sponsored HTC-Highroad. We got almost forced into it by Bob Stapleton [the team’s owner] because he wanted the fastest team in the world.’

Mark Cavendish spent so many years at the height of his fame on bikes from other brands it is easy to overlook that some of his most prolific seasons were spent aboard Scott bikes. His HTC-Highroad team formulated a sprinting strategy that was unassailable for several years, in which their bikes played an important role.

‘That time was invaluable for us, and ultimately helped shape the way our aero designs perform today,’ says Ducrot.

He adds that the company’s experience in the area is such that while competitors are promoting their most sophisticated designs ever, Scott can see past this to a potentially compromised future for aero road.

‘Regular race bikes and even mountain bikes are getting aero now, so I think this segment is going to need to go backwards in a way. It will need to get more aerodynamically extreme again to stay relevant.’

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Ironically it is bikes such as Scott’s new Addict RC that threaten to make this prediction become reality. It’s a prime example of the latest breed of race bikes: aerodynamically efficient despite remaining lightweight, and possessing all the practical mod-cons – disc brakes, dropped seatstays, neat integration and wide tyre clearances – to make them easy to live with as well as to race on.

Sharing the opinion of many other brands on the topic, Ducrot recognises these bikes are becoming more similar and blames the UCI rulebook for this.

‘There is only so much you can do within those parameters,’ he says. ‘Nonetheless there are still ways to differentiate. They are just getting smaller.’

Ducrot credits Scott’s know-how in the carbon layup process as one of these areas, suggesting it allows the brand to make the Addict RC – you guessed it – stiffer and lighter than its competitors.

It has to be said that Cyclist’s scales concur. In our review of the bike we weighed it at a hair over 7kg, which is indeed competitively lightweight for a bike in this particular category.

‘Our carbon fibre blends make this possible,’ says Ducrot. ‘The new RC uses our “HMX” blend, but the types of fibres and resins used in the blend are a closely guarded secret.’

Despite the Addict RC’s increased capability, Ducrot doesn’t see this impacting the sales of the Addict SE, the manufacturer’s endurance road bike: ‘It will always be needed because for us it describes a price category too, which extends lower than our race bikes,’ he says.

‘The “HMF” fibre blend we use, plus some differences in geometry, will always make our endurance line more comfortable and affordable than our race line.’

As if Scott’s catalogue wasn’t large enough, the Addict SE has a further subdivision in the Addict Contessa, which is marketed towards women. Yet a quick glance at the geometry chart reveals it to be the same frame as the Addict SE. Why the differentiation if it is exactly the same product?

‘Anthropometric studies we’ve done over the years have repeatedly shown that body comparisons between the lower and upper bodies of men and women are not significantly different so we do not design specific geometries,’ says Ducrot.

‘However we deemed it necessary to make some visual and component changes to our Addict SE, hence the extra model.’

It’s fair to assume that with 277 pre-existing models in its bike line-up, making the decision to add one more would have hardly given Scott much pause for thought.

Faith in the process

Scott’s policy of committing boldly to new concepts played in its favour again back in 2017 with the relatively sudden emergence of the gravel market. The company was one of the first mainstream brands to build and market a dedicated gravel bike.

‘Many brands were tentative at this time, unsure of the direction of the trend,’ says Ducrot. ‘We don’t see gravel as too far removed from road so once again had the clear goal of being lightweight and racy. It proved a successful formula and the bike continues to sell well.’

That’s impressive considering how much the gravel market has matured in the time since the Addict Gravel’s release, although Ducrot admits the bike is looking a little long in the tooth.

‘We are working on a freshen-up now,’ he says, before cagily suggesting integration might be addressed and geometry adjusted. He is forthright about two updates though: ‘The Addict Gravel will receive an overhaul so it’s hard to be specific, but I can say it will definitely be stiffer and lighter than the last one.’

We wouldn’t expect anything less.

The best of Scott bikes

Fast and true

The Addict RC is Scott’s super-light race bike

Making lightweight race bikes is part of Scott’s DNA, according to chief marketing officer Reto Aeschbacher, and the Addict RC is the brand’s latest flagship design. It blends all the features you’d expect of a modern race bike into a competitively light package.

In contrast to the Foil, which helped set the current trend for bikes in its sector, the Addict RC arrived somewhat later than its competitors in its segment. Aeschbacher contends that this wasn’t to learn from rivals’ designs, though.

‘We have faith in our internal development process and have clear, constant goals from the start of a project, which aren’t influenced by the twists and turns of the market,’ he says.

New Scott Addict RC vs previous RC: 14.5% stiffer BB • 6 watts faster at 45kmh • Fully integrated cable routing  
Major victories: 3x stage victories at 2019 Tour de France (Simon Yates x2, Matteo Trentin)

Read our Scott Addict RC review here

Buy the Scott Addict RC Pro 2021 from Tredz  
Alternatively,buy the Scott Addict RC 20 2021 from Tredz

Foiling drag

Scott’s Foil Disc was the first versatile aero bike

In the Foil Disc, Scott ostensibly drew up the blueprints for how a modern aero race bike should be designed, blending aerodynamic efficiency with comfort and disc brakes.

While many of its competitors’ aero bikes are about midway through their life cycles, at three years old Scott’s Foil Disc is likely due for a revision soon. It will be interesting to see the direction Scott takes with the next version.

Pascal Ducrot, Scott’s vice-president, suggests aero bikes may need to get more extreme to stay relevant.

Scott Foil key specs: BB stiffness: 68N/mm • Accommodates up to 30mm tyres • Asymmetric fork shields disc brake calliper • Syncros Aero RR1.0 cockpit – nine fit combinations available, 395g  
Major victories: 2019 World Champion – Annemiek Van Vleuten • 4 Monument victories – Paris-Roubaix (Mat Hayman), Milan-San Remo (Simon Gerrans, Mark Cavendish), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Gerrans) • 34 Grand Tour stage victories • 167 WorldTour victories

Read our Scott Foil review here

Buy a Scott Foil bike

Addict Contessa

The women’s bike that mirrors the men’s

Scott says it has never found any indication that men and women need separate geometries, however it still offers a women’s version of its Addict SE endurance road bike in the Addict Contessa.

The frame is the same but the women’s line offers different paint and component options. Saddle choice, for example, is one area where it is recognised that men and women do often require gender-specific designs.

The geometry of the SE and Contessa is less aggressive than Scott’s RC range, and uses a less premium blend of carbon fibre – HMF versus HMX – in the frames, which means the bikes are heavier and can meet a lower price point.

Addict Contessa key specs: HMF carbon fibre blend in frame, frame/fork weight 925g/380g • Same geometry as Addict SE • Took 2.5 years to develop

Buy the Scott Contessa Addict 15 Disc 2021 from Rutland Cycling

Addict Gravel

Racing straight from the tarmac

The Addict Gravel has enjoyed consistent success over the course of its tenure as Scott’s gravel bike option, once again displaying the core tenets of Scott’s performance bikes: high stiffness and light weight.

Having been on the market since the dawn of the gravel trend and despite suggesting the bike is still accomplished enough to hold its own, Ducrot admits Scott has the capacity to improve the design. He says there is an update currently in the works that may revise the geometry and readdress cable integration.

However don’t expect major handling tweaks inspired by Scott’s MTB products – Ducrot says Scott views gravel as a very close relative to road.

Addict Gravel key specs: 7.9kg weight • 890g raw frame weight • Slack 71° head angle • 40mm tyre clearance

Buy a Scott Addict Gravel bike