Austrian brand KTM might not have the biggest presence in the UK, but with Victor Koretzky having signed for the KTM-sponsored B&B Hotels p/b KTM team for 2021, expect to see the 95mm-travel Scarp at the very sharpest end of the cross-country field next year.
The Scarp Master is a 95mm-travel XC race bike from Austria.
How we tested
This bike was tested as part of a three-bike group test. We wanted to see just how capable these bikes really are when placed between the legs of someone who isn’t a World Cup racer. During testing, we rallied them through berms and over jumps, slithered down slippery chutes and scared ourselves (to greater and lesser extents!) over matted roots, during a particularly damp early winter. To keep heart rates up, we’ve also given them every watt our legs can muster, both on long, draggy climbs and short, sharp technical ascents. Trail centre laps have given us consistent conditions in inclement weather, while forest tracks have really helped sort our podium’s ultimate order. Having raced locally, we’ve also put some times down around courses we’ve competed on previously.
To hit the top step of our test, the bikes not only have to efficiently dole out power on climbs, but also not cost us time on the descents. Value is an ever-present assessment in a bike review, so we’ve checked every part to make sure they pass muster, and we’ve stripped the essential parts of the bike down to make sure that when you’re giving your bike that final bit of prep on Friday night ready for Saturday’s race, you won’t be tearing your hair out.
Also on test
- Intense Sniper XC Expert
- Scott Spark RC Team Isuse AXS
KTM Scarp Master frame and suspension
KTM’s carbon frame has an incredibly svelte build, with smooth tube junctions and some of the skinniest flex stays I’ve seen, driving the short-stroke Fox shock that nestles neatly under the top tube. This is driven by a neat carbon swing link that moulds nicely around the seat and top-tube junction.
Flex is engineered into the seat or chainstays, allowing movement of the suspension linkage without the need for a weighty rear pivot Seat tube and multiple down tube bottle bosses mean ample on-bike hydration capabilities, ideal for XC and marathon racers alike. Cables, including the shock’s compression circuit cable, are routed internally, while the chainstay gains protection. Access to the shock’s controls is nice and easy.
KTM Scarp Master geometry
The geometry is at the slightly more traditional end, a theme running through the bike’s overall character. The reach is shorter than many of the more recent XC bikes, at 458mm, as is the wheelbase, and the head angle the steepest, at 1170mm and 68.5 degrees respectively.
The Fox shock is held neatly high in the frame. Conversely, I measured the seat angle at 75.8 degrees, which is fairly steep for an XC race bike.
|Seat tube length (mm)||380||430||480||560|
|Τop tube length (mm)||580||600||620||640|
|Seat angle (degrees)||75.8||75.8||75.8||75.8|
|Head angle (degrees)||68.5||68.5||68.5||68.5|
|Head tube length (mm)||95||105||115||125|
|Chainstay length (mm)||435||435||436||435|
|Standover height (mm)||780||780||780||786|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||45||45||45||45|
KTM Scarp Master specifications
Fox’s lightweight 32 SC Factory fork sits at the front of the bike. KTM packs plenty of kit onto its carbon frame, and it represents good value for money. The highlights will be the Factory-level Fox suspension, including the featherweight 32 Step-Cast fork with 100mm travel. This has a narrower chassis than a regular 32 fork, saving weight. It’s paired with a Float DPS shock, both of which have an on-bar remote lockout lever that controls both at the same time. It’s compact in shape and easy to use while riding hard.
The Step-Cast name comes from the cut-away at the base of the lowers, narrowing their chassis. Shimano’s XT drivetrain is a consistent performer, and it includes the brakes here. The bike rolls on Mavic’s Crossmax CL wheels, which will need specific spokes if you snap one. They’re wrapped in a Schwalbe Racing Ray and Racing Ralph combo, in the fastest SuperRace construction, including the lightweight transparent sidewall. Finishing kit all comes from KTM, save for the Selle San Marco saddle. It’s decent-feeling kit, but the bars, at 720mm, are narrow.
This new finish from Schwalbe is a transparent rather than black finishing compound on the sidewalls, available only on its XC-focused tyres. All this adds up to an 11.01kg weight (large), nearly a kilo lighter than the competition.
KTM Scarp Master ride impressions
The Scarp Master comes from the more traditional school of XC mountain biking, immediately feeling taller, more taught and incredibly aggressive from the off. Setting the bike up took a little more effort than some of the other XC bikes I’ve tested recently. Most notable was the process of getting the rear suspension set up just-so. I ended up running the rebound faster than I expected to, as the shock was packing down and feeling sluggish, something I initially attributed to the compression tune. With a little bit of time, though, I ended up with the shock performing as I wished.
KTM Scarp Master climbing performance
The Scarp Master proves to be one of the best climbers out there. Give it a long, undulating or punchy climb, and the Scarp would be top of my list of bikes to jump on. KTM has engineered the Scarp to be one of the most rock-solid bikes under pedalling forces I’ve ridden for a long time, even with the shock fully open. For the money, it has a competitive 11.01kg overall weight, with lightweight wheels and tyres (wheel/tyre weights of 11.75kg and 2.45kg for front and rear). Add in Schwalbe’s fastest-rolling rubber compound, and you have a bike that’s a rocket ship on nearly every climb going.
Even with stiff, no-compromise suspension, I found the Scarp dealt reasonably well with rooty climbs. The suspension doesn’t flatten the roots to the same extent I found with the Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS or Intense Sniper XC Expert, but there’s enough give to ensure reasonable grip, and the bike doesn’t compress and then lurch over rooty steps. On steep muddy climbs, I was surprised by how well the Racing Ralph dug in, generating more grip than I thought I’d get. Add in the steepest seat angle here, and it was my legs that gave up before the bike.
KTM Scarp Master descending performance
The Scarp Master needs to be ridden aggressively to get the best out of it. As you might expect, then, on the flat and smooth the Scarp appears eager to accelerate, encouraging you to push harder with every pedal stroke. On flat fire-road drags, I found myself flying along. The Scarp also impressed on smoother, roller-coaster trails, such as those commonly found at trail centre XC loops. With plenty to push against on the pedals, the bike pumps through terrain impeccably, enabling easy maintenance of speed and flow, so long as you’re confidently weighting the front wheel through corners. On rough traverses, the Scarp’s direct rear end does hold the bike back a touch, and I found it harder to maintain a pedalling rhythm.
The on-bar remote for the fork and shock’s compression damper makes it easy to firm up the suspension. A quick look at the geometry chart will probably hint that the Scarp wouldn’t be the best suited when it comes to more technical descents, and this was confirmed in testing. The shorter reach and steeper head angle conspire to make the handling a little twitchier than rival bikes. The fairly aggressive damping on the fork and rear suspension that’s oh so good on the climbs add to what proves to be a fairly involving ride characteristic on the descents.
I did run the suspension a little softer to give some more confidence on the descents, though this impacted on the climbing performance, and I found myself delving deep into the rear travel when I would have liked a little more backup. An extra volume spacer in the shock may have prevented it bottoming out so readily in this situation, though I feel I’d still have missed the taught feeling of the suspension under power.
Though it might not be the most natural playmate, you can still muscle the bike around. Similarly, while I was impressed overall with the Schwalbe tyre combo, over wet roots and rocks, their rounded profile and go-fast rubber proved skittery, compared to the higher-volume tyres found on a bike such as the Scott Spark.
In terms of kit, I found no surprises. Shimano’s XT drivetrain and brakes proved reliable, and there’s plenty of range in the 10-51t cassette, even with a 34t ring, to get up steep climbs. A wider handlebar might give the bike a touch more authority on rougher tracks, as 720mm feels narrow these days. Mavic’s UST Tubeless rims pop up easily, and while the freehub isn’t the fastest to react to pedal inputs, it’s on a par with the Scott Spark and Intense Sniper.
KTM Scarp Master bottom line
With a category-leading pedalling performance, the Scarp would be ideal for riders from a more road-based background who appreciate the direct connection between crank and wheel, and those tackling long marathon-type events where efficiency is key. With careful line choice and laser focus, the Scarp will capably negotiate XC course descents. There’s a more descent-friendly build available too, with a dropper and more trail-friendly Maxxis Rekon rubber – the Scarp MT.
A couple of years ago, the razor-sharp reactions of the KTM might have resulted in the bike scoring a touch higher. Its no-compromise nature flatters your power figures with instant accelerations and dogged determination on the climbs. However, you only need to glance at pictures from Nové Mesto’s World Cup XC course to know that to do well on this bike your handling skills need to be just as sharp – it’s certainly not going to mask your mistakes.