Photos: Jay Prasuhn
In 2005, Scott Bicycles made an impressive foray into the triathlon world with the debut of the Plasma. It didn’t have the aero acumen of bikes we’re accustomed to today, but it had the basics of teardrop-shaped tubesets, had a selling point as being one of the lightest carbon fiber tri bikes in the world, and had been developed with the help of late cycling legend and triathlete Steve Larsen.
Boy, have the times changed.
The Scott Plasma has undergone a few revamps in the last few years, but none come close (especially for triathletes) to the newest version, when the Plasma 5 was debuted Monday at the UCI Headquarters velodrome in Aigle, Switzerland.
The then-unknown new model drew a lot of interest when Sebastian Kienle rode the new bike at Challenge Kraichau, then at Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt. Scott—and Kienle—were tightlipped. Kienle exacerbated the interested when he didn’t just ride the bike with the dazzle camo paint job we find on concept cars; he smashed a field including reigning Hawaii Ironman World Champion Frederick Van Lierde and Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno, to the tune of a 4:12:14 bike split (best by nearly 10 minutes) and a highly significant race win at Ironman Germany.
Scott invited Kienle—along with British pro Jodie Swallow, Aussie Ironman World Championships runner-up Luke McKenzie, French Ironman pro Cyrille Viennot and Swiss short-course convert Jan Van Berkel—to Aigle for some aero fit testing on the center’s wooden velodrome. Scott also had its entire engineering team—engineer Benoit Grelier and triathlon product manager Frank Oberlie—on hand, as well as Simon Smart, the former F1 aerodynamic expert credited with much of the aero design work in this new bike, as well as with the previous model, the Plasma 3, and with ENVE’s Smart-ENVE wheel range. While not present, Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker will also be among Scott’s fleet of pros that will be soon receiving a new model.
First: a piece of irony: while the launch is taking place at UCI headquarters, with tons of functional integration, the bike was developed with triathletes first in mind. The seat angle was steepened, and the in order to be made UCI-legal, one only needs remove the front hydration nosecone. With geometries changing and the integration of frame-integrated fueling and storage features, one by one, cycling’s biggest brands are singing to the tune of development for their consumers, not solely for their ProTour teams.
“With a lot of bikes, you’ve had to sacrifice for aerodynamics—stiffness, braking performance, weight, function,” Kienle told LAVA. “Now, I think it’s more well rounded, with is important for triathletes. Rideability improved. We once had to make a bike that was developed for the UCI fit for triathlon, gluing bars on your frame. Now it’s way better with storage on the Plasma 5. I absolutely love it.”
The new frame shares a few visual cues with the company’s previous model, the Plasma 3, namely at the bulky, squared bottom bracket, the toptube/seattube junction, and toptube/headtube/downtube junction trailing edge, and the sharply-flared chainstays. But the details—well hidden by Kienle’s paintjob—tell the story. “When we came to develop the Plasma 5, we already had a great platform with the 3. It was up to us to identify all those small weaknesses,” Smart said. “We didn’t want to completely change the frame, but we had to do some UCI regulation adjustments on the seatstays. We also wanted to look at the downtube design so it worked with a water bottle. And on the front end, we wanted a stiffer configuration with the stem lower and the hydration system.
“The final stage,” Smart said, “we had Sebastian in the tunnel, where we were able to confirm the findings.”
The Plasma 5 was born on the computer, in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). After a few iterations were created, Scott created a modular frame with frame sections that could be interchanged at the wind tunnel. It’s not a new concept; Cervelo did it with the development of the P5. The difference here, however is that this modular bike was rideable in the tunnel.
And for Scott, this was a huge point of differentiation; not only was the bike developed in the tunnel, it was developed with a rider aboard, accounting for rider interaction of spinning wheels and legs. And since aero data without a rider has less bearing on it’s being a fast bike when compared to aero data culled with a rider aboard, that’s the data we want.
While repeatability is a key concern with a rider aboard that can often shift position from test to test, Smart said a new CFD code, made available to Smart through his F1 consultants, allowed for more finite data draw—to within plus or minus a half a percent, Smart told LAVA—despite the shifts and head bobs a cyclist introduces to a live aerodynamics test. If Scott can distill the FCD data despite the little shifts and moves, that’s data we as cyclists want; bikes don’t ride themselves down the road, and they don’t coast down the road like a mannequin; legs and wheels contribute in a big way to airflow behind the seattube. Building a bike with these elements in mind is Scott’s advantage with the Plasma 5.
If you put a rider on the bike in the tunnel, the repeatability is 3-4 percent. With pedaling, you have a bike stiff enough to ride, and the fidelity to measure within that half a percent. It was this that helped us with develop the back half of the bike,” Smart told LAVA. It’s like we did for wheels at ENVE making different depth and shaped front and rear wheels; it a different flow system. Once wind is at the back of the bike, it’s trying to pull in whole new directions, and that’s due to the turbulation of the legs.”
Said Grelier: “This requires experience, and that’s why we work with Simon.”
The modular bike was tested at Drag 2 Zero facility at Mercedes Benz wind tunnel in Brackley, Northhamtsonshire, UK. And in two instances—bike with rider, and bike with frame-mounted fueling accessories—the bike was faster. Scott put the number at a 7-percent improvement on aerodynamics versus its baseline bike, the Plasma 3. While Scott did test against market competitors, it is not at this time releasing any testing data.
“Our sweet spot is around 5 to 10 degrees. It’s tuned around that sweet spot,” Smart said. “We could’ve made the bike faster at 0 or 15, but we think this is the best package.”
The frame’s tubesets features a design we’re seeing increasingly on bikes, and one that Scott employed on it’s F01L aero road bike: a truncated trailing section. The de facto Kamm Tail is a patented cross-section for Scott, and provides a bendable trailing edge at high wind angles like 20 degrees, increasing the tubeset’s stalling point without adding material, and cutting weight in the process. It also makes the frame better designed to accept water bottles as an aero compoenent of the frame; the Plasma 5 and Plasma 4 each have one set of downtube bosses. It’s also affixed with horizontal dropouts and horizontal threaded set screws.
Scott says the Plasma 5 improves on the Plasma 3 by 47 percent at the head tube.
Much of that comes with the re-design of the stem, and how it interfaces with the rest of the headtube. Those familiar with the Plasma 3 will recall the head tube forms an I-beam, with a narrow central waist and a slight flare at the crown races, and that aero profile extends backward as it travels back toward the rider.
For one, Scott gained stiffness by using a larger lower 1 1/8” bearing diameter (For reference, the Plasma 3 used a 1” lower bearings). A re-design of the stem allowed Scott engineers to not only use that larger lower bearing, but permitted them to widen the distance between top and bottom bearing by 2cm, pushing the upper bearing much higher and widening the stance for better lateral stiffness. Happily, that also made for a longer—and narrower—leading edge between the bearings aerodynamically.
The new stem also carved about 90 grams off its previous iteration on the Plasma 3. On the whole, the Plasma 5 frame is 130 grams lighter than the Plasma 3, in medium, by using Scott’s Integrated Molding Process (IMP) to flush out excess, unnecessary internal material (resin) during the manufacturing process for a lighter frame with predictable ride characteristics from bike to bike.
In working with Profile Design, Scott made putting your food and drink into the bike a key, and did an excellent job. It starts with a top-tube mounted nutrition box. Not only does it have a rubber cover; it has a rubber base that protects the frame from base of the box when mounted using a standard M5 water bottle bolts at two bottle bosses on the frame. The fairly sizeable but totally in-line box has segments to keep your bars, gels, C02 canisters and salt tabs separate; a place for everything, and everything in its place.
But the star of the show is the new Fuel Cell hydration system, again developed in partnership with Profile Design. In lieu of a BTA bottle setup and the ensuing. In a design clever for its simplicity, Profile simply affixes the bottle to the frame by sliding it vertically into firm plastic C-channel slots. That’s all; no Velcro, no clamps, nothing. Once slid into place, it’s locked in. This leaves room for your computer between your aerobars, and a straw to come up in line for drinking.
Scott adds two flexible rubber gaskets that wedge easily into the gap between the bottle’s trailing edge and the front brake cover’s leading edge for a clean aero transition from bottle to frame (not to mention serving as a buffer that prevents potential bottle/frame rattling). A snap-on top cap for the bottle that cleans up the entire presentation.
It’s finished with a two-lipped slotted refill cap, reducing incidents of fluid splashing out on bumpy roads.
Kienle and McKenzie both noted that while many keel-design aero bottles, mounted far out on the extension often results in steering instability, with sloshing water weight existing forward of the steering axis. The Plasma’s Fuel Cell design and bottle location—directly underneath the aerobar, coupled with a firm, fixed attachment, results in a stable ride.
“The Fuel Cell in the front not only improves the aerodynamics, but you don’t have to leave the aero position, which is more important,” Kienle told LAVA. “And it doesn’t sacrifice the steering. It’s lower than a BTA, which puts the center of gravity lower. And it’s part of the bike, instead of something Velcro-strapped. And it doesn’t created any noises; I always found that annoying, having an expensive bike and there’s this rattling noise going over cobblestones. That’s not the case here. And it’s easy to refill, and easy to clean.
Each Fuel Cell bottle will be offered in a specific size and volume, based on space from the base of the aerobar to the bottom of the lower fork race/front tire’s top radius; a size small frame will have a 550ml bottle; Medium 625ml; L 700ml; XL 775ml.
Aero results of a Plasma 5 with the top tube nutrition box and Fuel Cell attached? 10 watts savings, with a rider at 50kph at 10 degrees way when compared to the baseline, Scott’s Plasma 3. Want the bike, got a UCI race in your future and don’t want the tri add-ons? The Plasma 5 still provides a claimed 7-watt advantage of the the Plasma 3.
BRAKES AND CABLES
The frame is completely cable and electronic-ready. Further, the seatpost includes a pivoting bracket that attaches a Shimano Di2 internal battery to the bottom of the seatpost for clean internal integration. While asked, Scott officials were not aware whether it would have the internal diameter space to receive a Campagnolo internal battery.
Ah, brakes… always the big question with integrated options: will they work? And if not, what are my options?
For one, you do have options; the front brake has receivers for both the two-post direct mount Tektro brake that comes with the Plasma 5, but also a standard mount at the center of the crown for those that wish to run a standard brake (giving up volume—and thus option—to install the brake cover.
The Plasma 5 rear brake—located under and behind the bottom bracket—is as solid as can be: a Shimano Dura-Ace direct mount caliper. A small plastic brake cover hides the setup from the wind and elements.
And that Tektro direct-mount front brake? It looks good, which is something I generally don’t say about their brakes. But Scott took the lead in partnering with Tektro in engineering this brake. “We used our kinematic experience in designing this,” Grelier said. “We wanted the same force displacement as a Shimano brake. It’s a bit heavier, but there’s no compromise in braking.
It will include an adjustment cam near the basebar that will allow users to open and close the caliper for wheel changes or adjust for changes between wheels of different width without a complicated 10-minute brake cable adjustment. Happily, a laterally-fixed, pivoting center cable pinch bolt won’t fall out of any slot and cause havoc during travel.
“We didn’t not want to compromise braking performance,
Grelier said, to which Kienle—sitting amongst the press gallery—mouthed lightly to Grelier “thank you.”
While steeper than previous models both the Plasma 5 and the Plasma 4 have a fairly slack seat angle, ranging from 74 degrees on the size small model, 75 degrees in medium and large, and 76 in XL sizing. However, the post has rain fore-aft offset of 10 millimeters. While this lends toward a fairly relaxed aero position, the bike’s cockpit allows for a very, very low front end…. See Sebastian Kienle’s highly aggressive, low aero position. This is no pedestrian bike… but can come up as needed.
Scott worked in concert with Profile Design design engineer Mark Vandermolen, a brand whom Benoit calls “a reference in the triathlon world” on the integrated aerobar. The Aeria basebar (offered in three versions: neutral/42cm width, +30/42cm width and -30/40cm width). Reach to the brake levers can be shortened by cutting the brake insert up to 15mm back. The basebar fits onto one of two frame-integrated stem options: a zero-rise version and a +45mm rise version. You can get as low as you want. None of the basebars are flippable.
And to get as high as you may need, beyond the +45mm stem, Profile has a set of pad risers that can come up as high as 75mm above the basebar (with a stabilization bridge for anything over 45mm above the basebar). Further, cable housing or electronic wires from the bar end shifters port out the back of the extension and cleanly down the back of the aerobar spacers externally, meaning you can adjust your pad rise at any time without having to un-cable your cockpit. It also makes breaking down the front end for travel a lot less of a hassle. The extensions (a new low ski rise offering that Profile Design will have in-line in it’s 2015 product line next year) are of a standard 22.2 diameter and thus interchangeable with many other brand extensions.
Pad adjust can move fore and aft of a central zero clamp point by plus or minus 15mm, and can move inward and outward up to 18.5mm in width.
SIZING, OPTIONS, AVAILABILITY AND PRICING
Not to go unnoticed with the debut of the Plasma 5 is it’s new little brother, the new Plasma 4. Targeted as a value offering with many cues from its big brother, it comes down in price by using a mid-range HMF carbon fiber version. The bike also comes out of a different mold, with a notably different headtube area and trailing seattube/seatstay juncture, in order to reach the target price.
Further, the Plasma 4 is all about standardization; it utlilzes standard brakes and stem for familiar operation and travel for timid mechanics or those new to the sport. Otherwise, the geometry to the Plasma 5 is the same. Aerodynamically, the Plasma 4 drew even with the Plasma 3, but increases stiffness versus the Plasma 3 by 47 percent. The result is a 1470-gram frame in 54cm frame.
The top-shelf Plasma 5 will come in a Team Issue version with SRAM Red 22 shifting, a Syncros saddle, a Zipp 808 rear/404 front Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheelset and the integrated Profile Design cockpit.
There will also be a Plasma 5 Premium, spec’ing with Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical and Syncros Race 27 Aero Profile alloy training wheelset.
The new Plasma 4 will be offered as the Plasma 10 with Shimano Ultegra mechanical 11-speed shifting, Syncros Race 27 wheelset and a Profile Design T2+ Cobra aerobar.
The Plasma 20 represents the new range’s entry offering, using Shimano’s new 105 11-speed gruppo.
The bike will also be available in two frameset options; a Plasma 5 including fork and integrated Profile Design aerobar and hydration, and a Plasma 4 version.
While the previous Plasma 3 was available in three sizes, the Plasma 5 and Plasma 4 are now offered in a fuller range of four sizes: S (51cm), M (54cm), L (57cm) and XL (60cm).
Pricing in U.S. dollars has not yet been set, but this story will update as this info becomes available. Currently only Euro pricing range was made available, ranging from $2,799 to $9,999 Euro.
Time to think about bucking for the ultimate holiday gift; Scott said both the Plasma 5 and the Plasma 4 will be available to the public in November or December. Currently, bikes are limited solely to those pro athletes on Scott’s top tier sponsorship.
TESTING AT THE UCI
On Monday, Kienle, Swallow and McKenzie each took turns doing power testing, with former pro cyclist Lars Teutenberg downloading and analyzing power data from each athlete as they adjusted fit and apparel between test runs on the track. Tuesday, Vientot and Van Berkel will take to the track for their own tests. While Swallow took possession of her new Plasma 5 today (and made her first runs ever on the boards), Kienle has plenty of mileage on his, and McKenzie has two weeks training in the French Alps on his Plasma 5 ahead of this weekend’s Challenge Roth.
ARMCHAIR QB OBSERVATIONS
While on its face the new Plasma 5 looks vaguely similar to the Plasma 3, namely at the toptube/seattube junction, stays it seems there was no reason for full overhaul. And really, the the devil is in the details that were so well concealed on Kienle’s ride. As Smart pointed out, the bike is designed very much like he developed ENVE’s wheels: the front half has a totally different makeup from the back, With tubesets shapes varying pointedly in shape and depth from the front of the bike to the back, to work in concert with the body. Few brands have built a bike
My biggest takeaway was the ingenuity of integration with the new hydration setup; it’s definitely a bike built for triathlon, not TT. On it’s profile, it looks much like the hulking wind-cutting nosecone of a Giant Trinity. But unlike the Trinity, it has fit variability for triathletes. And it has functional utility, and that’s shockingly simple; just slide the bottle into a C-channel slot in front of the front brake, and slide it out to wash it clean. Thorsten Frahm, European Marketing Manager of Profile Design told LAVA that once OE partners learn of this new integration system, Profile Design will be tasked with incorporating it with those brands—but will be at least another year if not more before they not only can integrated it within their frames, most of which are already in production for 2015. Beyond that, the project ought to at least remain solely with Scott, since it was a collaborative product.
I am also impressed on first glance at the Tektro front brake. I don’t even need to talk about the Shimano direct mount rear brake; any Dura-Ace brake from Shimano is beyond reproach, an absolutely reliable stopper. But feedback from Kienle and McKenzie, along with a look at the design, lead me to believe this Tektro front brake will be a reliable stopper….with critical brake width adjust capability. Nicely done.
The Plasma 5 looks like it will travel well. It’s not a standard-parts bike, so it won’t be beginner simple, but for such a beautifully-integrated front end, Scott allows it to disassemble and reassemble for travel with less headaches than most superbikes.
Apart from those details, much remains to be seen until the media is able to ride-test the bike… in October at the Hawaii Ironman. Until then, we can only go on what Kienle says. And certainly, we expect to see several of these bikes cutting a swath at the front of the race; Scott has done well to pick up some of the best bikers in the sport.
“It’s not only about the bike, but what really surprises me in a positive way was not only is it 10 watts faster in the wind tunnel, which you can’t really feel in the real world,” Kienle said. “But you can find it’s stiffer, it’s lighter, and you have everything integrated. Instead of bikes built for UCI. You see it transforms into something not that fast for triathlon. Now, we have something that’s real-world fast.”