While some experts firmly believe there is a need for a women's specific geometry in mountain biking, others believe their justification merely serves as a clever marketing ploy to sell bikes to the women's market. This hugely debated topic continues to ripple throughout the cycling industry but one thing we can all agree on is that the fact this popular subject is being so widely discussed is the result of rapidly growing numbers of women who are riding.
Scott Sports are one such brand who share the belief that in mountain biking, gender doesn't play a big role in frame geometry, but it does when it concerns contact points and performance. Last month we headed out to Lenzerheide in Switzerland to learn all there is to know about Scott's new approach to the Genius range of mountain bikes.
Scott Contessa Genius 710
The Genius trail bike from Scott is their do-everything-no-nonsense mountain bike which boasts a marriage of unfounded versatility with lightweight performance. Redesigned for 2018, the new Genius has been revamped with some of the latest technology, components and suspension.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no difference between the 'regular' Genius frame and the Contessa Genius frame and in some ways even the spec of both the top-end models are identical. If you'd like a more in-depth analysis of the bike, it's build and development, head over to our brother-site Dirt where James gives us the low-down.
There are three Contessa Genius builds for 2018 with the range beginning at the more affordable 730 and improving to 710 which is the bee's knees carbon build - as tested in Switzerland.
So what's the craic? Well, in addition to the sleek carbon frame, the whopping Fox 34 forks and nested rear shock, Scott has developed some cool and interesting features which really sets this bike apart from the rest.
Fox TwinLoc Technology
Scott has a patent on TwinLoc technology which works to maximise your suspension efficiency. Both the front and rear systems are cabled simultaneously to a remote located in the cockpit. There are three settings as you would usually find, CTD, can be switched through at the push of a lever and what's more, is that it adjusts both the front and rear together.
This feature is perfect if you're the kind of rider who forgets to reach down and adjust the shock setting as the TwinLoc system allows you to focus more of your attention on the trail without having to awkwardly adjust your set-up mid flow.
Which wheel size?
Scott's been known to dabble in the realm of plus wheel sizes, and former mountain bike models like the Spark Plus and Genius Plus clearly indicated as to which wheel size the bike was stocked with.
Now, however, Scott has scraped that and removed the "Plus" from all the newest bikes in favour for stocking all new models with 27.5"+ wheels as standard. At first, I wasn't convinced this was a wise decision, but that was until I learnt about the clever versatility of the frame build. The new Scott Contessa Genius' are able to run 650b, 650b+ and 29" wheels with the ingenious use of a chip-flip in the chainstay.
So, the Contessa Genius 710 comes with a pair of Synchros 30mm tubeless ready rims and a set of Maxxis Rekon 2.8 x 27.5" tyres but you have the option of effectively running a standard 650b and 29" wheel size too.
Unisex vs Women's Specific
With the same frame geometry, wheel size versatility and suspension features what makes the Contessa Genius women's specific? A couple of things really, and for the most part, that comes down to Synchros components which are Scott's partner company and here's what's different from the 'regular' Genius build:
Grips: The Scott Contessa Genius comes equipped with grips of a smaller diameter and different foam so that they feel softer for the hands.
Saddle: Of course, a women's bike wouldn't be complete without a female specific saddle. Synchros' special shape, curvature and padding for added support and comfort is designed for women in mind.
Stem: The Contessa Genius comes with a shorter stem to that on the 'regular' bike. A 40mm on Contessa Genius sizes S/M and a 50mm stem for size large whereas the Genius comes with a 50mm stem on all sizes.
Handlebar: The 'regular' Genius comes equipped with 760mm handlebars across all sizes whereas the women's Contessa comes with 740mm wide bars.
Other areas to have been adapted for women include a smaller chainring in the front, a 30T compared to the 32T which adorns the Genius. Shorter crank arms on the small and medium sizes are 170mm in length rather than the standard 175mm, and last but not least, the "Fox Contessa Custom Tune" which is the light compression tune of the suspension supposedly more suitable for lighter riders.
How did the Scott Contessa Genius ride?
Two action packed days of riding alpine trails across mountain tops and down some seriously fun descents of the Lenzerheide bike park, the Contessa Genius was put through its paces.
Let's start with the stand-back look of the bike. It's a pretty stunning bike with a streamline and sleek profile and while photos really don't do it any justice, the bike certainly isn't as white as it looks, but more of an off-white matte carbon finish with soft peach and blue highlights throughout.
Having gotten used to wide handlebars on other mountain bikes, I approached the Contessa's 740mm wide set-up with a modicum of apprehension worried they wouldn't offer the same level of broad comfort I'm partial to. However, a few miles into the trail and the width of the bars hadn't entered my mind, I felt comfortable on the climbs, which my lower-back was certainly grateful for, and descending was rewarded with just as much comfort and confidence.
The TwinLoc really came into its own when riding some of the more undulating alpine trails. Easy to operate, the trigger flipped between suspension settings effortlessly making a sudden incline in the trail less of a dramatic sigh.
While I'm not wholly convinced of the need for a light compression tune for women's specific bikes, there's no denying that the Fox front and rear worked harmoniously - with the TwinLoc - to roll the trail with that ever so satisfying slurping suction sound of suspension.
The Scott Contessa Genius 710 is a bike with a vibrant and hungry personality. It's a bike that wants to be ridden, that seeks adventure and is every bit capable of taking you there.
While riding this bike was exciting and thoroughly enjoyable, I can't help but feel it's somewhat overshadowed by its big unisex sibling, the Genius 700 Ultimate and Genius 700 Tuned. Both of these come with an improved spec of SRAM XX1 and SRAM X01, respectively, over the Contessa Genius which has SRAM GX. In addition to this, the unisex Genius comes equipped with the new carbon integrated bar/stem component from Synchros while the Contessa Genius comes with a two part alloy bar and stem.
For me, it begs the question that if Scott doesn't believe in gender-specific frames, then why build their women's bikes to a lesser spec than that those of the unisex/regular models?
Aside from this lingering food-for-thought, I genuinely enjoyed riding the Contessa Genius 710. It's agile, nimble and versatile to suit a huge variety of trail riding.
UK stock for the 2018 Contessa range has yet to land in the UK, but for more of Scott's women's range, head over to their site here.