By Seb Kemp
Photos: Scott Sports/ Will Walker
We rode and wrote about the Scott Gambler 10 for the 2013 Bible Of Bike Tests, and we liked it (See? Here’s that review.). In fact, we liked it so much so that we needed to make sure we liked it as much as we did. At least that was our excuse for getting more ride time aboard the Gambler. We had one shipped up to Whistler for some bike park bashing throughout the summer.
The verdict: we still really like the Gambler, but further inspection brought some more issues to the surface.
This is a heavy-duty bike. It feels like it could survive being thrown off a 12-story roof onto a carpet made of land mines. This makes it an ideal candidate for being a bike park daily driver. However, that brawn comes at a price. Weighing in at 40 pounds (with pedals and tubes, straight out of the box) this bike is very much in the heavyweight category. Sure, five years ago 40 pounds was considered reasonable for a downhill bike but that was five years ago. Forty pounds is a lot nowadays. I don’t adhere dogmatically to the rule that less is more – not always – but the problem is that the Gambler does feel like a lot of bike. A long lap on the Gambler and the weight becomes a drag. A few laps on the Gambler and my arms would start to get tired. A few more and I’d be ready to call it quits for the day. The bike’s center of mass is low and central (a very good thing), but there’s just a lot of mass to this bike. Plus, because the bike feels so playful and wants to go-hard/go-sideways/keep-going, you wind up noticing its bulk. You start to get comfortable, you begin to push the bike hard and then you start getting fatigued.
We said during our Bible of Bike Tests that, “The Gambler is slack. Too slack, perhaps, for some riders. When you are talking about the ability to adjust the HA from 63 to 62 degrees, you know you are in Slackland.”
While we enjoy the point-and-plough nature of having such a slack bike, it does become challenging. Mastering corners does require mindfulness for the first few rides on the Gambler. With the wheel so far out in front, it is easy to have it push out of turns and it’s only once you start doing some considerable bodyweight/position corrections that you tame the beast. Sure, you can say that this sort of slack headangle works better when heading down steeper terrain, but only extremely steep terrain and when there are no corners.
We were sent a medium frame, but after riding it some more, I would opt for a large size. The slack headangle and short reach tended to have us hanging over the rear axle, which, although wonderful for some situations, meant that the rider was forced to shift from fore and aft on the bike throughout the ride.
The Gambler is adjustable and we did play around with the settings to find a balance. The two adjustments either make the bottom bracket higher or lower and the rear end shorter or longer; they don’t lengthen the reach of the bike, which is what we really wanted. Our demo model didn’t come with the necessary adjustable headset cups that retail versions do, something that we would have enjoyed fettling with to steepen the headangle a touch without changing the bottom bracket or bar height (things that happen if you flip the chip on the shock mount or adjust the amount of stanchion in the fork crowns).
However, we had plenty of time to adjust our riding style to suit the Gambler and what we found was a bike that, once you’d mastered it, felt like a good friend…one that likes to cut loose and cause havoc all too often.
The Gambler we were sent came with a 275-pound spring on a Fox DHX RC2 rear shock, something that was apparent we needed to change right away. I weigh 76KG (certainly not portly) and I was blowing through the travel all too easily (something that resulted in a destroyed chain guide taco on the very first lap). This weight of spring might suit lighter riders, but it wasn’t enough for our needs. Once swapped out for a 350-pound spring, things became much, much better. The bike was able to sit up in its travel, not drag its bottom (bracket) on the ground or lose the front wheel somewhere into next week.
I’m a big fan of how this bike’s suspension feels. It feels like several different bikes all wrapped into one. If you want to hammer rough trails then the suspension eats up the blows and propels the bike faster and faster through the gnar. Then if you want to pump and play, the bike is able to sit up, squash and leap. These two contrasting traits really brings to mind the Evil Revolt, a brawler that liked to dance.
The bike’s suspension performance can be put down to having a high main pivot which works well for big hits and square edge bump absorption (rearward axle path). On top of that the use of the Floating Link suspension design creates a suspension curve which is linear for the first 50 percent and progressive through the last half of the travel, allowing good small bump compliance and increased support when the trail demands or when a rider pushes on the bike (preloading on takeoff, for example)
Wide Funn bars and direct mount stem, Fox 40s, Shimano Zee groupset, all good. The Zee brakes and drivetrain are entirely comparable to it’s more expensive Saint sibling. Schwalbe Muddy Marys? Although not a bad tire, they do measure in very wide and bubbly, making it feel a little bouncy and not as predictable as some. Schwalbe’s Magic Mary could be the ticket.
Is it a bike park daily driver for someone that wants a reliable, playful, do-anything bike? Or is it a race weapon that could go on a diet to get the absolute most of it? I’d say it’s both. Despite what seem like harsh criticisms of the Gambler I really, deeply enjoyed my time aboard it and was sorry to see it go. Intense criticisms are easier to hand out to bikes that we feel are so close to greatness. I truly hope that the Gambler will be spruced up soon. A bit of weight loss and a tiny bit of a shape change and this bike would be a classic. At the moment, it’s just very good.