Scott are doing some very clever things with frame designs these days, and not only at the top end of the market either. The Aspect 45 makes full use of bang-up-to-date tube hydroforming techniques to create a frame that, not long ago, would have cost this much on its own.
The hydraulic disc brakes are the principal componentry bonus at this price, but the sporty geometry ensures that minor parts upgrades will always be worthwhile on a chassis that, theoretically at least, should continue to earn its worth as your performance needs become more demanding.
Apart from the common sense round seat tube, every other piece of the Aspect frame is shaped for maximum strength, weight and performance advantage. Some of the new hydroforming techniques used on frames like this have made old school strengthening gussetry redundant. The Scott's top tube and down tube are radically flared and bulge-butted at the head tube.
The top tube is almost box section in profile while the big down tube is biaxially ovalised into the bottom bracket shell to achieve a big weld contact area for lateral rigidity. The chainstays curve out for tyre clearance and in for heel clearance and we really like the skeletal but tough rear dropouts. Rack bosses on the seat stays emphasise the bikes utilitarian appeal and the geometry is relaxed for neutral steering at the head but steep enough at the seat to help you really work the SR Suntour fork.
An SR Suntour XCR fork offers 100mm (3.9in) of plush and fairly well controlled travel, a preload dial to stiffen the spring, good rebound damping and a very effective lockout dial on top of the right-hand leg. We can't really explain why SR Suntour XCR forks vary so much, but they do, and this one happened to be the best of the three bikes on test.
The budget square axled Shimano crankset and Alivio rear mech (Altus front) are the obvious hints at the bike's budget. A few bikes at this price have nine-speed drivetrains, the Scott has eight - not a big deal unless you're obsessed with quantity not quality.
The shifters and cassette shift as well as Shimano's budget nine speed gears but, like the other bikes with this crankset and chain, the Scott suffered from occassional chain skips when pedalling hard in the middle ring over bumps on the first few rides. Eight-speed is only an issue if you start upgrading drivetrain parts at a future date.
One sprocket less is probably a price worth paying to score Shimano hydraulic disc brakes at this price. They're a bit more powerful (especially in poor conditions) and less troublesome than the cable discs that appear on most £400 bikes.
The Scott's wheels are simply average for the price, but the Ozon 2in tyres were noticably the fastest rolling of the bikes on test. It's good to see Shimano's hydraulic disc brakes on a £399 bike too - they're not as crisp in lever feel as a selction of the alternatives but some riders prefer that, and we never have any moans about stopping power. The rest of the finishing kit is straight forward own-brand stuff... so no complaints there.
While the Scott and the Specialized both tip the scales at over 30lb, and the wheels weigh almost the same, the Scott feels lighter in use than the Specialized. This is because of the low profile and constant centre strip of the treads. Inevitably, they're not quite as grippy in the wet as deeper profile tyres, but faster rolling ability and more rapid acceleration are welcome assets on a 13.6kg (30lb) bike.
The Scott climbs as well as the Focus, but feels a bit more confident on bumpy descents, mainly because the 25in riser bar and the slacker head angle add extra stability to the steering, which noticably helps your confidence when tackling technical singletrack or bumpy descents at speed.
Like the Specialized, the Scott feels at ease when the going gets rough, almost to the point of egging you on. The plush 100mm (3.9in) of fork travel helps and the top tube stretch on the larger bike is almost the same as on the 19in Specialized.
Only the skipping chain, which settled down after a couple of rides, detracted from a ride that, while not as lively as the Focus and the Cube, managed to feel both dead neutral and inspired at the same time - it's rare that a bike manages that. Combined with the fact that it carries slightly less weight and rolls faster than the Specialized, this made it a very popular bike.
So Good: Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, Noticably fast rolling round tyres, Well put-together frame. No Good: Fast treads not so good in mud, Some riders might be put off by eight instead of nine gears, Skipping chain for the first few rides
© BikeRadar 2007