Words and photos by Justin Steiner
When it comes right down to it, there are two types of gravity rides: those where you pedal to the top—whether out of necessity, or desire—and rides were you let the lift do the work. Trek designed the 2010 Scratch and Scratch Air to bridge the gap between these two styles of riding. Both of these bikes are designed to pedal up, down and around, but they do have slightly different priorities: coil spring suspension performance vs. air spring weight savings.
Scratch frames are fabricated with Trek’s Alpha Red Aluminum, hydroformed into some pretty complex and sophisticated shapes. The E2 1-1/8” to 1-1/2” tapered head tube allows ample real estate for welding on a massive S-curve down tube and a beefy top tube. The head tube angle can be adjusted from 66.6º to 66º by rotating a spacer on the rearmost pivot of the rocker link—Trek calls this the MINO Link. Scratch frames also use a direct-mount front derailleur and ISCG03 chainguide tabs.
The Scratch’s 170mm of rear suspension travel is provided by some ingenious designs with the full compliment of acronyms and catchy marketing names we’ve come to love from Trek. Despite all the technology in this suspension design, it is fundamentally a single pivot with a rocker-actuated shock, but it goes far beyond your old-school single pivot.
The Fox DHX RC4 shock is mounted via Trek’s Full Floater design, meaning both the upper and lower shock mounts move throughout the travel range. This floating design allows for a great deal of leverage rate tunability throughout the suspension’s stroke.
The rearmost suspension pivot employs Trek’s Active Braking Pivot (ABP), which pivots concentrically around the rear axel. This design isolates brake forces so the suspension does not jack or squat under braking. The hub/pivot axle is a 142x12mm threaded thru-axle, which is said to be substantially stiffer than a traditional QR setup; this system can also be converted for use with 135x12mm hubs. Also adding to the stiffness of this rear end design is Trek’s EVO one-piece magnesium rocker link.
Up front, suspension duties are handled by a Fox Van 36 RC2 with rebound, high and low speed compression adjustability, as well as coil spring preload.
Parts-wise, the Scratch 9 is decked out with high-end SRAM stuff: X0 shifter and rear derailleur, Elixir CR Mag brakes with big rotors. These parts, along with the Bontrager Cousin Earl Elite Disc wheels and Crank Brothers Joplin seatpost, all performed flawlessly with one exception. We did manage to break one of the Elixir’s master cylinders due to a slightly dainty mounting system. Keep your controls tight enough that they don’t spin in use and just loose enough that they’re able to spin around the bar on impact to minimize these incidents.
The Bontrater FR-4 tires offered great traction in loose and wet conditions but squirmed a bit on hardpack. They are burly enough for spirited trail use, but not quite tough enough for aggressive park use, even with a reinforced single-ply casing.
While a bike that weighs 34lbs. is not light, the Scratch can certainly hold its own on rides where pedaling is mandatory. In fact, I really enjoyed riding the Scratch as a trail bike due to the creative freedom a bike this capable affords. You can hit stuff way harder than you normally would and take lines you wouldn’t consider otherwise. Pedaling uphill certainly isn’t fast, but is surprisingly pleasant and efficient for a 170mm-travel bike. As you might expect, the Scratch really finds its stride as speeds increase on the way down the trail. Thanks to the reasonably short wheelbase, the Scratch handles quick enough in the tight twisties, as long as you’re willing to crank the bike over into the corners.
In a gravity park setting such as our local park—Sevens Springs Mountain Resort—the Scratch is far more fun on the flowy and relatively smooth jump lines than it is on trails with punishing rocks. While this bike is more playful than a full-on DH rig due to a shorter wheelbase and steeper head tube angle, it understandably lacks the stability and travel to bomb rough sections of trail with speed and abandon. The 160mm-travel fork simply isn’t able to absorb gnarly braking bumps as well as a 180mm or 200mm fork might.
Nevertheless, the Scratch’s suspension delivers control and predictability in spades. Both the front and rear suspensions are highly tunable, and very well controlled. The Full Floater suspension design provides excellent small-bump compliance, a controlled mid-stroke and good bottom-out resistance. Also impressive is the ABP’s ability to keep brake forces from influencing the suspension in any way.
After a couple of rides on the Scratch, I found myself wondering just who this bike might be best for, as it’s kind of in a strange middle ground; for most people it’s too burly for everyday trail bike use, yet not quite burly enough for days spent sessioning your local bike park. Apparently Trek felt much the same way, as they’ve focused the 2011 Trek Scratch Coil more squarely at the gravity park market by installing a 180mm-travel Fox 36 fork and a single chainring with chain guide up front. Having ridden this updated version of the Scratch at the Trek Launch earlier this year [see “Inside Line,” p. 54], I can say these changes make the new coil bike much more suited to park use and abuse; the head tube is slackened out to 65.1º or 65.7º, while the extra 20mm of travel in the fork allows it to better keep up with the Scratch’s super-competent rear suspension.
The Scratch Air remains in the lineup as the option if you’re looking for a 160/170mm travel bike to pedal around. In the meantime, those of you with specific terrain needs or riding styles that a 160mm-travel coil sprung bike would suit should consider picking up a 2010 Scratch Coil while they’re still available.
Trek Scratch 9
Tester: Justin Steiner
Height: 5′ 7"
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Weight: 34.8lbs. w/pedals
Sizes available: 15.5", 17.5", 19.5" (tested), 21.5"