True high-end race bikes for women are few and far between but the Contessa Scale RC is rght up there on our wishlist.
Ride and handling: Quintessential cross-country race hardtail
The first thing to note about the Contessa Scale is that the frame geometry is identical to the equivalent men’s Scale 20. This means it won’t suit riders looking for the short, upright riding position offered by women’s bikes from other brands. This isn't an oversight; it's simply that Scott realise that riders who are going to spend two-and-a-half grand on a bike are likely to be experienced and therefore appreciative of the longer, more aggressive riding position.
When working flat-out, the Scale makes short work of singletrack, threading through the twists and turns on an apparently laser-guided path, and the aggressive ‘proper’ riding position balances your body weight evenly between front and rear wheels, boosting traction and making swift line shifts a satisfyingly succint process.
The combination of light overall weight and super-stiff back end can be a bit of a handful on rougher descents – skittish, rather than uncomfortable – but careful attention to tyre pressures helps turn its lightness of touch into straightforward speed. And, as you’d expect from a bike with a race moniker, climbing performance is blinding.
It’s rare we spend as much time in the big ring as we did on this bike – the granny was barely touched, and the Contessa only ever asked for more. If your aspirations lie elsewhere than racing, then it will do all-day trail riding too, though be prepared for a rough ride once you’ve worn each other out.
Frame: Quality carbon chassis with vibration-damping stays
Scott’s Scale hardtail line has been around for a few years now, spawning everything from quality mid-range machines all the way up to top-dollar superbikes. The geometry is a proven winner – you’ll see various iterations on cross-country race courses around the world – and despite the proliferation of lightweight short-travel full-suspension bikes at this price, there's no beating the Contessa's combination of ‘pure’ cross-country geometry and quality carbon manufacture.
The Contessa Scale RC combines the company's propietary CR1 technology with SDS (shock damping system) stays. The seatstays have been flattened vertically in a bid to improve the damping properties of the carbon and while we’re not convinced that you’ll ever feel a difference on trails that leave your eyeballs revolving in their sockets, it certainly hasn't proved detrimental to the Scale’s ability to shift power to pedals without a wasted watt.
Equipment: Great fork and reliable, race-ready kit
The 100mm-travel RockShox Reba SL fork is the perfect compliment to the frame. It’s stiffer than other racer faves and the weight penalty is minimal, as well as being worth every tweak of the reassuringly immediate steering response.
Sticking with the non-condescending approach to female bike spec, Scott have shunned overly padded contact points and instead gone for Fizik’s Vitesse – once marketed as a women’s saddle before becoming ‘unisex’ due to its all-round appeal.
Bars are kept comfortably wide for improved control and comfort. The full DT wheelset, zippy Rocket Ron tyres and Shimano XT drivechain take the Contessa Scale the rest of the way to long-running singletrack bliss.