The Scott Sub 20 is one of those unpretentious bikes that tells you what it’s going to do and then simply gets on and does it with a minimum of fuss.
The acronym stands for Speed Utility Bike – helpfully printed on the frame in case there is any doubt – and after several months commuting in Bath’s grimy urban winter I can report that it does indeed do exactly what it says on the aluminium.
Ride: smooth but a tad cramped
Having specified 700c wheels on the test machine (Scott offers an option of these or mountain bike size 26-inch wheels) I wasn't disappointed by the ride quality. Even at higher speeds the bike glides smoothly and tracks beautifully over city streets that appear to be maintained by six year-olds using Bob the Builder gift sets.
With its flat bars, straight forks, lack of suspension and retro mountain bike profile, the bike may look stylishly minimalist and purposeful but, as someone used to the stretched out geometry of a touring bike, I found the cockpit cramped. It felt as if my weight were simply too far forward over the bars.
Conversely one of the advantages of the Sub 20’s short wheelbase is its manoeuvrability through traffic and around the potholed road surfaces of Bath which in places are so pitiful that I reckon the city's Roman residents would have been embarrassed by them 2000 years ago.
The transmission is virtually silent and tyre hum is equally muted, contributing to the kind of noiseless, stealth-progress that made an otherwise annoyingly noisy front brake so useful to warn other road users of my presence.
The Maxxis Colombiere tyres have levels of grip that belie their smooth appearance. They remained puncture-free on a combination of road and tow path riding while their low rolling resistance came into its own whenever there was an opportunity to open things up.
A stop-start commute that involves slicing through lines of slow-moving and stationary traffic, the occasional sharp climb, a couple of top gear thrashes and even a kerb hop, is plenty for any bike to deal with. The Sub 20 handled these diverse demands with unruffled aplomb, though the eventually uneven brake squeal was the first indication that the front wheel had gone slightly out of whack.
Frame: a literally fluid design
The Sub 20 has a hydroformed frame; the tubing is placed in a mould and shaped by liquid injected at high pressure. This allows more complex forms than conventional extruding and butting. The thickness of the alloy can be precisely controlled to ensure greater rigidity in high stress areas and weight-savings in less critical sections.
Flick the frame with a fingernail near the middle of the tubes and it sounds frighteningly tinny - as if cobbled together from recycled Coke cans. Try it nearer the welds and it’s a different story – a resounding thunk restores confidence that the chassis is tough enough to cope with the rough and tumble of urban life.
Equipment: intelligent spec for the price
For an outlay of around £469 it’s clear that you are not going to get wall-to-wall top-end kit on the Sub 20, but equally you’ve a right to expect a smattering of quality. Scott have judiciously mixed some of their own branded items with mid-range bits and pieces from Shimano et al to offer a bike that successfully walks the line between efficiency, durability and affordability. The Shimano Deore front and LX rear derailleurs mated to Shimano Deore RapidFire shifters offer ‘autopilot’ shifting; the levers fall so naturally to hand that cog changes seem to happen without much conscious thought.
The Shimano M443 42/36/26 chain rings (with chain guard) and eight-speed cassette should be enough to cope with the most vertiginous urban environments while still providing the legs to crank the Sub 20 up to a respectable click where conditions are favourable. There could be a short pause when shifting between cogs under pressure – something that caused the occasional compensatory double-shift – but mostly the transmission simply got on with its job unnoticed.
When it came to stopping power, the Tektro V-brakes with Scott levers proved ergonomic and highly efficient, even if the front stoppers did engage with a cacophonous squeal. I chose to live with the noise, preferring to view it as an audible warning to pedestrians who were stepping off kerbs in particularly dopy, lemming-like fashion in the run-up to Christmas. “But didn’t you hear me braking?” I could imagine myself asking a crumpled heap of shopper after I’d punted them into the gutter.
Bars, saddle, seat post, stem and headset all did their respective jobs virtually unnoticed, contributing to an overall impression of a solid and efficient set of components.
After hundreds of miles of riding, nothing at all on the bike has broken or even needed to be adjusted – if you discount the death-squeal front brake and marginally wonky rim – so build quality and equipment choices appear well up to the job.
Summary: solid and stylish but guards would be nice
If it were my money, I’d spec the optional urban kit of racks and guards – sod the compromised weight and aesthetics – to enhance the Sub 20's all round usability. I got fed up donning over-trousers to protect casual work gear from road spatter and surely a utility bike should be both more useable in the wet and able to handle panniers for shopping and light touring duties.
In terms of value for money the bike seems reasonably pitched rather than a stunning bargain. Cheaper machines will handle similar commuting duties but the Scott does feel like it will stick around for the long haul without looking dated anytime soon. If you buy it purely as an urban commuter with a dash of understated style, then providing you can get along with that riding position, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.
Having said that, if budgets are tight you might find better value elsewhere - the Carrera Gryphon, for example, is designed to do the same job but costs £100 less and has the benefit of mechanical disc brakes.