Trek Scratch Air 9 - First ride review£4,300.00

Freeride bike with secret climbing powers

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Trek’s Scratch bikes have been refocused for 2011, which means their hefty coil-sprung model has given up any pretence of being a trail bike, shifting to a single ring and fixed 180mm-travel (7.1in) fork. The Air, meanwhile, is pitched as a ‘light’ freeride bike that’ll climb without much grumbling.

Ride & handling:A ‘light’ freeride bike with secret climbing powers

The Scratch Air’s regular Fox RP23 shock doesn’t have the two-stage magic of the DRCV model found on Trek’s popular Remedy but since it has 20mm (0.8in) more travel, we didn’t particularly miss the feature. Set the back end up with a decent amount of sag and the Scratch Air settles back on its haunches, ready to take on pretty much anything.

It’s poised on steep, technical stuff but light enough to be chucked around. The surprise comes when you have to pedal back up. A bike in the 13.6kg (30lb) range is never going to keep pace with a 11.6kg (26lb) trail bike, but the Scratch Air puts in a decent showing.

That’s mainly thanks to the steep seat angle – in the saddle, your weight’s pushed forward, helping to keep the front end in line, and there’s always the TALAS fork’s 120mm (4.7in) travel setting if you need it. Yes, you’re hindered by the short cockpit, but it’s not meant to be fast uphill – just to get there, which it does well.

We rode a coil-sprung Scratch back-to-back with the Air, and while the heavier, slacker bike is an excellent park weapon, the Air isn’t far off it and is considerably more versatile. For lift-free areas, the Scratch Air 9 makes a lot of sense.

Frame & equipment: Versatile chassis plus decent finishing kit

Trek use the same Alpha Red aluminium frame on the Scratch Air and burlier coil-sprung Scratch – both have 170mm (6.7in) of rear travel, but the Air ends up with slightly steeper angles thanks to its shorter fork. Trek’s adjustable Mino Link lets you alter the head angle by 0.5 degrees and the bottom bracket height by 7mm, though.

Up front, you’ll find a tapered E2 head tube and under the down tube is a polymer guard to reduce the potential for rock strike damage. Out back, you’ll find the same Active Braking Pivot rear end as Trek’s other full-suspension bikes. The Scratch takes a 142x12mm rear wheel, but you can convert it to use a 135x12 if you prefer.

With the introduction of 10-speed cassettes, 2x10 drivetrains have come into their own. Shimano XT transmission is dominant throughout here and the 11-36T cassette is teamed with a Race Face Atlas 24/36 chainset to deliver a useful range.

The wheel package consists of DT Swiss E2000 wheels shod with 2.35in Bontrager XR4 tyres. Finishing kit is mostly Bontrager too, with an adjustable CrankBrothers Joplin seatpost adding to the bike’s ready-for-anything feel.

The scratch air is less slack than its coil-sprung sibling: the scratch air is less slack than its coil-sprung sibling
The scratch air is less slack than its coil-sprung sibling: the scratch air is less slack than its coil-sprung sibling

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