Country and Western star Kenny Rogers has a very famous song about The Gambler. Essentially the song is a metaphor for life; dealing with what you have been dealt, and knowing when to walk way from trouble. It has nothing to do with this bike as you can change what you’ve been dealt and should never need to be walking away from anything that may trouble you on the trail.
The Scott Gambler is a very slack, very capable and adjustable downhill race machine that can be easily dialled to suit you and/or the terrain you’re riding. Add to that a pretty good suspension platform, and some pretty capable spec, and you have a downhill machine that fits very nicely in its price-point.
Thredbo was the perfect testing track for the Gambler, especially as it was nearing the end of the bike season and the downhill track was at its best (roughest). Also, the rain gods sprinkled the hill with water the night prior so we had that ultimate testing environment to sink our tyres into.
The Scott is a beautifully built and solid bike that stands out amongst the crowd. A full aluminium bike with welds and neat hydroformed tubing with almost a carbon look to it. Everything is beefy and burly with large pivots and hardware, the whole rear end is obviously very stiff.
The suspension is what stands out. Scott call their design a “Floating Link” and to paraphrase of their own marketing: “There is a subtle dual progressive curve to achieve the goals, but not too exaggerated to avoid shock tuning limitations. The floating link creates a progressive feeling suspension with an almost direct compression of the shock, minimizing DU bushing rotation. This increases shock bushing life and improves small bump sensitivity.”
Basically all those links and pivots are there to support the suspension curves and feel, for what is a single pivot bike; which pivots on the seat stay, directly above and in-line with the bottom bracket. The Gambler uses a long 3.5″ shock stroke that ramps up progressively (slightly rising rate) as the shock compresses. Given that the travel of the bike is 210mm this also means a leverage ratio of around 2.3-2:5:1 (leverage ratio can change through the stroke). That’s a low number and the advantages of low leverage ratios are increased small bump performance and a wider range of shock tunability. The downside can be too much bob and action on the rear-end when you don’t want it but seeing as the Gambler is designed for super steep downhilsl then this should be less of an issue.
The Gambler’s geometry is super adjustable. The head angle can be adjusted in two different ways, the first is with the adjustable bottom bracket height. This little chip near the bottom of the shock can be flipped to raise the height of the bike (from 345mm to 354.5m) also sharpening the head angle by +0.7°. The second method to adjust the head angle was to play with the Syncros headset (either integrated or via a separate cup) for a change of either +/- 1°, or +/- 2°. The permutations of headset adjustably were massive however we left ours at the factory default of 62° – pretty damn slack already.
The other bit of adjustably was the bike’s overall length, which you can adjust by 15mm via another chip around the rear wheel axle. At the stock length of 425mm the Gambler is nice and short with an overall wheelbase of 1185mm (size tested). We did push the rear-end out to the longest setting but it did feel a little too long for us, especially considering the slack head angle. We also think there’s a chance to fit in a 27.5″ wheel at the longer setting however we didn’t try this ourselves.
The Gambler is also full of other neat and nice design features. Bumps stops on the down tube to prevent denting from the forks in a crash is a nice touch, as to is the rubber protection at the bottom of the down tube to protect against those hard rocks flinging up at the frame. The cable routing is also quite neat and we loved the little trick of routing the shifting cable through the chain stay. You will however need a few zip-ties when it comes time to change the cables.
Finally, you’re either going to love or hate the bright green colour of the Gambler 20 but but the looks and the questions we got when riding it sure made us feel popular.
The Gambler sits at the lower end of downhill bikes when it comes to price. The $4499 price tag does net you a very decent build kit though, with highlights being FOX 40 fork, a FOX Van RC rear shock and a Shimano Zee drivetrain.
The drivetrain is taken care of with all Shimano Zee parts. The Zee is the more affordable cousin to Shimano Saint. The rear derailleur uses a clutch mechanism to reduce the whole thing flapping around and worked perfectly, it’s just that it looked a bit plastically and we wonder how well it would hold up to a few hits. Chain retention is taken care of with a E.thirteen chain device (with bash guard) and during our test we noted no issues with shifting or chain loss.
The FOX 40 is a good entry level fork from FOX, however basic pre-load and rebound (and spring changes) are your only options for tuning. During our testing we found the fork to be fine, we only having issues with spring noise. The rear shock is also the more basic unit; FOX VAN RC with adjustable rebound and low-speed compression. The rear shock felt pretty good for us and the spring was pretty much spot on for our weight. It would be great again to have a little more adjustability but the lack of it is the norm at the this price-point.
The brakes are a lower spec single piston stoppers, Shimano Deore with big 203mm rotors. This would probably have been the low-light of the spec. Sure, the brakes did work well, but at Thredbo we were wishing for a little more. By the end of such a long run you were wishing for something with a bit more bite when your hands were tiring. A great upgrade to the bike would be a set of ZEE brakes.
Syncros rims with Formula hubs were all fine, and held up well to our testing. The Schwalbe Magic Marys are a great tyre and when Thredbo was a little wet they are exceptional. We actually ran tubes in the test (which is almost unheard of for us) and didn’t flat once. That’s a good sign but of we had the bike for the long term we would have converted it to tubeless.
The cock pit was comfortable and the 800mm Syncros bars were actually wider than we would normally run, however we got used to them pretty quickly. The quick release on the seat post clamp was a weird one as a downhill bike is a set-and-forget type of thing when it comes to seat height.
The Gambler is stable, and even more stable at speed. The slack head angle, low bottom bracket, and long front end all add up a very stable bike at speed, especially on the steeper sections of the track. The bike really does want you to go faster.
The other notable was the bike felt better when ridden a little further back, with your weight over the rear wheel. This would let the rear suspension shine as the rear suspension was a highlight, small bump performance was great and we never felt like we were bottoming out at all. If you see Scott world cup downhiller Brendan Fairclough ride you will see he is often hanging right off the back, and we can see why this bike suits him.
While the Gambler was really good at high speed and rough straight lines, it was a little harder to get around the tight stuff. We also found it a little harder to jump than other downhill bikes we had ridden.
All that slackness and lowness though does have its downside and it’s when the trails get a little less steep. If it’s flat, or you have to work a little more for your speed, the Gambler is a bit more of a slug. If you’re thinking about buying this bike, really think about how steep your riding will be. The steeper the better your experience will be.
The bike also rode pretty quiet, which is a nice thing. Some people have mentioned noise issues however we noted none.
Just like the FOX 40 on the Giant Glory 1 test, we had issues with the spring clanging around inside the fork. While where on the subject of the forks, the price you pay (or don’t pay) for a lower spec fork is lack of adjustability. The FOX 40 was good at it’s designed job, it’s just that we feel a better fork would have made the riding package a whole lot better as the rear did outshine the front.
We liked the Gambler and think you will too. It’s a bike that makes you feel very comfortable at speed and across the tough and rough stuff – as long as the terrain is steep and fast. We did find it a little harder to manoeuvre on the tight stuff, and it was a little harder to be playful and jump about on. However, we’re pretty confident that if we had more time to get more aggressive and comfortable with this beast it would have taught us a different way to ride.
We also dug the adjustably of the Gambler. 60 degrees is probably too slack for most Australian riding but if you’re heading off to the steeps of Europe then this beast can be pointed straight off Mt Blanc without any fear. The Gambler does 20 weighs in at 17.8kg, which is admittedly a smidge heavier than some of its competitors, but this is a bike designed to have plenty of gravity on its side.
Kenny Rogers didn’t sing about this Gambler bike but maybe if he had of ridden it he would have changed the words to his most famous song to: “You’ve got to know when to smash it, know when to jump it, know when to let off the brakes, and know when to have fun…”.