Mountain-bike technology has progressed drastically in recent years, and not surprisingly, our expectations of our two-wheeled toys has stayed on pace with those advancements. We're all searching for the one–a bike that's as light and nimble uphill as an XC racer with the descending prowess of a big-hit rig. Going into this project, I had the same requirements–my dream was to build a bike that I could pull out of the garage and ride on any trail, anywhere.
I started with a Scott Contessa Genius 700 frame, a bike I never quite shook after testing it for the Bible of Bike Tests last year. 'Contessa' denotes women's-specific, but the geometry is quite similar to the unisex version. The Contessa frame has a 67.9-degree seat angle in the low bottom-bracket setting compared to 74 degrees on the regular frame, but all the other angles and measurements are the same. The stock suspension also comes tuned for lighter riders.
The frame is constructed with Scott's lightweight HMF carbon fiber and works around the Mono Link suspension platform and 27.5-inch wheels. Scott's hallmark is featherweight bikes, but that wasn't necessarily what I was after with this build. As such, I swapped the Scott/Fox-designed Nude Shock with Fox's Float X CTD to give the rear end some added plush. I also replaced the Fox 32 Float fork with its beefier older brother, the 150-millimeter Fox 36 RC2 Float fork–an easy choice when I discovered the weight of the 36 was actually a tad less than the Fox 34. After just a few rides, I am already blown away by the smoothness of the redesigned all-mountain fork. There are a lot of new features with this 36, but one that stands out is the versatility of the air spring system. By inserting up to five 10-millimeter spacers, travel on both the 160- and 180-millimeter forks can be reduced by up to 50 millimeters. Even after replacing the low-profile shock with a piggyback version, the frame still has enough room for a side-entry water bottle cage–a feature that rates high on my priority list.
Although I find Scott's proprietary TwinLoc system to be clever–it allows for control of the adjustable travel of the front and rear shock from a handlebar mounted lever–I also felt like it busied the cockpit too much. This system works exclusively with the Nude Shock so removing that allowed me to simplify my bars and run a stouter shock. I cleaned up my bars even more thanks to the crafty mind of Bike's gear editor, whose fabricating handiwork allowed me to control my Thomson Elite dropper post with a Shimano lever mounted to the front shifter. This type of set-up will probably become standard in the coming years, but for now it takes some finagling. As with several other Scott models, the Genius incorporates an offset shock-mount chip in the linkage that raises the bottom bracket by 6 millimeters and steepens the 67.9-degree headtube angle by a half-degree. The chip is easy to flip and it adds another versatility feather in the Genius' cap.
With top-end suspension and slightly more aggressive geometry than I typically ride, I expected this bike to be a monster on the descents, and it was. On its maiden voyage, I cleaned one of my mental blocks–a chunky rock garden with no clear line that requires a certain level of commitment. It was not pretty, and the result may have been the placebo effect of just riding this bike, but I'll take it. What I didn't expect is how well the Genius climbs. Shifting my weight out of the saddle and over the bars on short, steep, sandy inclines felt easy and natural and my tires didn't slip once on those efforts. The superb traction could also be attributed to the mating of the excellent Specialized Ground Control and Butcher tires with the wide-rim Roval SL Fattie wheels.
I finished the build with Shimano XTR brakes, SRAM's XX1 drivetrain, Juliana Bicycles' women's saddle and a Thomson cockpit for a final weight 28 pounds flat with pedals and a bottle cage. I think I've met my match.
CAMELBAK L.U.X.E. NV | $135 | CAMELBAK.COM
Hydration packs are one of those love-hate pieces of gear for me. I'd prefer the freedom of never wearing one, but the security of knowing I'm prepared for mechanicals, hunger and weather changes is a must on long rides. Over the past year, the Camelbak L.U.X.E. has slowly started to change my mind. The women's-specific design narrows the pack's shoulder straps and shortens the torso length so it never sags too low as the 3-liter reservoir empties. The well-ventilated back panel provides enough airflow to keep your back from overheating, plus a multi-tool and phone are always close-by thanks to the perfectly placed pockets on the waist straps. I also like how the reservoir cap clicks into place so you know it's watertight.
GIRO MOBILITY V-NECK | $50 | GIRO.COM
Giro's New Road collection is technically designed with adventure-seeking roadies in mind, but I've found the entire line to be ideal for any type of riding. It's all about simplicity with the Mobility V, which is made primarily of polyester with some Spandex mixed in. It features a single zippered rear pocket that's large enough for a phone and some cash, and, with some stretching, a tube. It's ideal for before or after work rides when you're not carrying much and may want to stop at the coffee shop or the bar without looking like a logoed-out nerd.
IBEX BALANCE SPORT BRA | $60 | IBEX.COM
The topic of sports bras may very well scare away 90 percent of Bike's readers, but females know that it's one of the most important athletic garments you can buy and the Balance is the best I've worn. Its blend of wool, spandex and nylon creates a soft fabric that's breathable, supportive, dries quickly and prevents odor. After months of regular wear, there's not a snag, tear or unwanted stretch in the material. If you can get beyond the initial sticker shock, an investment in the Balance will pay dividends in comfort.