Monday, July 3, 2017

Gear Review: 2016 Scott Solace 20 Disc

2016 Scott Solace 20 Disc
Purchase Date: Spring 2016
Use: Training/Exercise

Short
4/5 stars as a training/mileage road bike with wide breadth. This bike is ideal for the cyclist who puts in a lot of training mileage on pavement, and/or variable mixes of rough pavement and gravel, but puts in their strongest efforts in some other activity besides pavement-based bike racing (mountain biking, running, skiing, etc). This bike is also ideal for the weekend warrior just wants to do long rides peppered with big climbs, potentially on less-traveled roads, but doesn’t care about winning the town-line sprint.
Cyclist seeking a more casual form of adventure riding, touring, or all-gravel adventures may want to look for something a little more touring or off-road specific, and a little less flashy; while cyclist planning to do more than a handful of competitive road racing events where they are striving to get their best results and upgrade points, should stay with a more traditional road bike.
 
Photo: L.M.
The long
The Solace replaced my 5-season old Scott CR1. One of Anchorage’s best kept secrets is its road biking. No, the road biking in Alaska’s biggest metro can’t compete with the rural Northeast, but considering where we live, it’s phenomenal for what it is, and will make any rider stronger.
The CR1 had a more relaxed geometry and gear range compared to a traditional road bike, but it was still far closer to the former than to an exercise or adventure bike.
In the years since I bought the CR1, manufactures have sought expanded their narrow-tire bike lineups to take on more varying surfaces and riding types. In that time, road bikes have also started to adopt some mountain bike technology, including disc brakes, thru axels, and wider tires.
The truth is, for many cyclists both in Alaska and outside, unless you are a dedicated road racer, there is no reason to buy a traditional road bike anymore; there are so many better options.
Five years ago I knew this, and I thought my next road bike would actually be a nice cyclocross bike, set up with a road-worthy drive train and at least two sets of tires, so I would have a bike for many purposes and rides.
On that front, I’d say, if you do only a moderate amount of pavement riding or less, but you do race cyclocross, then you should still just get a CX bike, and buy it a pair of slicks. Even if with a 1x crank, you could still seasonally gear a CX bike for road riding through spring and early summer, and gear it back down for CX in the fall.
If you ride a lot of road though, I’d get a bike for each.
Cross bikes are still designed for racing, and retain more of a drawn out and power-focused geometry, potentially making them less ideal for long hard miles on pavement. Additionally, a good cross bike will have a drive train designed for the rigors of a cyclocross course. As noted, you could switch out chain rings and/or cassettes between seasons if needed, but if you don’t, a CX gear ratio may prove to be too low-range for pavement, unless all you do is hill repeats.
For me, it’s an easy choice: I ride a lot of pavement, I don’t race CX, and only do a occasional entirely gravel rides – which my hard tail mountain bike is just fine for.
For everything else I do, the Solace delivers.

Ride
The Solace features a very similar geometry to the CR1, so “out of the box,” it felt pretty good, though it was actually a tad more relaxed. That only made it easier to ride.
For a rider used to a traditional road bike, however, the bike will probably feel more upright. On the CR1, the upright positioning left me wanting on fast descents. For the Solace, a slacker head tube angle and wider tires alleviates that issue, and the Solace descends much better than the CR1 did in my opinion.

New meets old.

Thru axels
The benefits of thru axels for mountain bikes are just as apparent on the road. Gone are the days of wheels flexing from one side of the bike to the other on hard climbs and corners. It’s almost comical to grab a wheel on a non-thru axel bike and push it from side to side. How is it possible such a weakness was/is just accepted?

Disc brakes
This was perhaps the second biggest reason I was thrilled to pick up a new bike that otherwise plays such a utilitarian role in the stable. Rim brakes are terrible. Mountain bikers have been running disc brakes since the early 2000s.
Arguably, there were some engineering hurdles that needed to be overcome to adapt discs to slender road frames, and I was happy to not be an early adopter on this front. Now, disc brakes are becoming ever more common on road bikes.
For me, I think the most telling factor about having disc brakes on this bike is how little I notice them at all, compared to how much time I spent thinking about braking with rim brakes.
Two downfalls I’ve noticed though: heavy handlebars and chattering levers. The hydraulic levers are a good bit heftier than their mechanical counterparts, putting a lot of swing-weight on the hoods. I don’t notice this too much on the ride, but I certainly notice it wheeling the bike about. What I do notice on the ride: the brake levers chatter on bumpy roads. This is common for Shimano 105 hydraulic levers.

Wide tire clearance
If you live in road bike paradise, a land without traffic, potholes, pavement cracks, loose gravel, or rain, you should totally run 23c road tires at 120PSI.
I had always used 25c tires, which fit rather snugly in both my previous road frames. The Solace comes with 28c tires. I think the fair question to ask is: why did Scott feel the need to limit the tire size on this frame to just 28? Why not give the frame the clearance to run up to 35 and let the user decide? I will be happy to stick with 28c tires for 95% of the riding this bike will do, but it’d be great to have the option to toss on something meatier and take this bike on an all-out nasty gravel ramble. I suspect that bike makers don’t want to undercut their wallet-draining gravel-specific builds.
I would not be surprised to see future evolutions of the Solace or its like expand tire clearance in response to being undercut by other bike makers who respond to consumer demand for a more all-purpose rig.
As far as performance, the wider tires add drag on climbs, and I do feel it. That being said, when I ride this bike, it’s for the workout, so bluntly, I don’t care. Meanwhile, the 28s bite into fast switchback descents and chewed up pavement with amazing confidence. Don’t even get me started on loose gravel over pavement. These tires make it so you don’t even know it’s there.
I was really comfy on 25c tires. Now, very little fazes me. I’ve blasted this bike along single track trails more than once just because I can.
Again, if I was really into racing, these big tires could be a problem, but I can’t see any reason to slim back down. On the other end of the spectrum, if all I was doing was gravel, or I had some epic gravel trip planned, I would probably just ride my hard tail, as endless miles of loose gravel would eventually be pretty harsh.
 
Early season riding in Anchorage can be a mix of sloppy snow and loose gravel.
Drive train
The bike came stock with a Shimano 105 34-50 crank and an 11-32 cassette. I ride a lot of hills, so one would think the 32T ring in the back would be nice, but I switched to a 11-28T cassette. Overall, the gear range was too easy for my goals/preferences (it’s supposed to be hard), and further, I found the jumps between the cogs made for an unsteady cadence.

Weight
By carbon frame road bike standards, this bike will feel hefty. If you are buying this bike though, weight shouldn’t really be in your top deciding criteria. Nonetheless, it is still a carbon frame and rides like one, absorbing chatter and reacting quickly.

My biggest fear
My biggest fear about this bike, is that the industry has really diversified the road bike compared to just 5 years ago, and this has essentially resulted in my ability to purchase a near perfect bike for my needs at a standard cost, right off the shelf.
The bike industry works in mysterious ways though, contracting and expanding line ups and offerings. Only a couple years ago, a bike similar to this was still fetching a premium price due to limited options.

Given how very little separates the Solace from a more traditional road bike, and the limited additional R&D that Scott probably had to put into it, it’s probably unlikely that in another 5 years, the industry will fully contract and only offer traditional bikes, but, again, it’s the bike industry, things are often two steps forward, one step back.

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