By Tom Demerly, Sarah Lieneke and Jaclyn Applegate.
You could count it as a fifth generation triathlon bike. At the leading (but not bleeding) edge of a slew of superbike introductions Scott may have threaded the needle with the optimal compromise between superbike technology and everyman reality.
The New Scott Plasma 3 incorporates the key design themes we’ve seen in the top manufacturers’ flagship aerobikes. The difference is the Scott Plasma 3 retains an elegant mechanical simplicity that will provide a Honda type ownership experience with Ferrari-like performance.
It’s new-mold time for many high end brands in the cycling industry. Trek, Felt, Cervelo (with their now-legacy P4), Quintana Roo and others have introduced tooling in the past one to four years to reshape our concept of the most advanced triathlon frames. Scott’s new Plasma 3 enters that fray, and may do so at a sweet spot in aero bike evolution when Scott has learned enough from previous designs to know what to build in, what to improve on and what to leave off. The new Scott Plasma 3 is the sweet spot between advanced design and functional reality.
When we built our first production Scott Plasma 3’s one thing became apparent: This is an elegant design that is easy to work on. That is a major coup in the superbike world of finicky, one-off rear brake designs, fussy first generation front end integration, tricky cable routing and well conceived but marginally executed built-in accessory ideas. You can actually ride and travel with the Scott Plasma 3. Your bike shop won’t need special training, pages of service bulletins and in-store, online tech clinics to work on it.
The first clean design feature on the Scott Plasma 3 is the front end integration. They simply designed a conventional stem into the top tube. No science fiction. It just works. I can think of one manufacturer that came early to the integrated front end party that is probably ready to stab themselves with a Bayonet when they see how simple this is.
The steer tube clamp bolts are concealed in the back of the stem. You turn the stem to the side and tighten the bolts to the appropriate torque setting. When the cockpit is returned to the normal steering range, they disappear between the back of the stem and the front of the frame. Simple. Brilliant. The head set and fork are secured by tightening a bolt through the top cap that threads into the metal pin cottered into the thick-wall, narrow diameter and robust carbon steer tube. It will be a while before anything this simple and reliable is innovated. Imagine: A superbike front end you can probably work on yourself. In fairness to other designs this configuration does lack height and angular adjustment. Four stem configurations will be available to tune the front end fit and additional adjustment can be achieved through different elbow pad and aerobar set ups.
The clamshell stem clamps to the aero base bars with four bolts, two under, two over the stem itself. Scott will offer a range of four stem lengths and rises.
Our first bike shipment included the complete SRAM Red version of the Scott Plasma 3 and framesets. We built the first bikes box-stock for an evaluation.
The new version of the SRAM’s Return to Center bar end shifter is installed in the carbon fiber Profile “S” bend aero extensions. I’ll wager this is a refined version of the original Return to Center shifter since it had easier actuation than earlier versions. After each up or down shift the shifter pops back to the straight forward orientation, the way a dual control lever does on a road bike shifter. The shifters are petite, light and accurate. Upshifts (to a harder gear) are easier than downshifts (to easy gears).
The Profile Design Aerobars use better, more secure elbow pads than we’ve ever seen from a Profile. They clamp securely, don’t flex under heavy efforts and generally feel better than previous Profile Design aerobar elbow pads.
The wheelset on the complete bike version of the Scott Plasma 3 is the Zipp 80 mm deep front 808 wheel and the 108 mm deep 1080 in the rear. That is a deep set of wheels. This reviewer would have been more excited about a 404 style 60 mm front specification out of the box. The wheels are tubular (sew-up/glue-on) with a beautiful pair of Continental Competition 22 mm wide tubulars stretched on ready for gluing. A special touch is the black anodized Zipp hub bodies I haven’t seen on any other Zipp wheels.
The cockpit corners, brakes and climbs from a new Profile Design carbon fiber aerodynamic base bar. Labeled “PROSVET”, the base bar features nice internal cable routing for brake cables but is a trifle flexy at the grip section under very hard efforts. This tendency to feel a little flex at the ends of base bars is also indicative of how stiff the stem and front end of the bike are.
Brake levers are a nice Profile Design aero lever than is mostly carbon fiber and feels like it lacks a return spring- at least on feel. My normal test for a return spring is to clamp the caliper against the rim with my hand and see if the lever springs back to the open position. These levers did not. Profile does suggest all their levers are return spring equipped. The levers still felt responsive owing (at least partially) to good cable routing through the frame and excellent rear brake design- more on that in a moment.
Cable routing on the mechanical drivetrain version of the Scott Plasma 3, officially called the “Plasma Premium” on Scott’s website and catalog, is internal and well conceived but does ride outside the frame in boundary layer of air moving over the bike at speed. The Plasma Premium can be retrofitted with Shimano Di2 but the Di2 wiring will not be integrated into the frame as it will on the upcoming verson of the Scott Plasma 3 that is originally kitted out with and designed around Shimano Dura-Ace Di2.
As we leave the front end we notice there are no annoying safety tabs on the fork drop outs- the front quick release really is quick.
Sliding back the frame we meet the horizontal top tube and the airfoil shaped down tube with elegantly faired bottle mounts. A massive bottom bracket is cocooned in carbon that joins the seat tube where another bottle mount lives and the seat tube fairs the rear wheel closely. The front derailleur hanger is riveted and bonded to the frame and thus, difficult to replace if disaster strikes. A simple bolt-on aluminum cover routes the front derailleur cable upward from behind the crank.
The seatpost binder bolt is flush with the top tube and does not require an engineering degree to understand. As with every fastener on a new generation racing bike, use a torque wrench with a universal joint here. Expect some rough paint in the area around the seatpost entry hole.
The seatpost is adjustable for height in a semi-conventional manner but likely will have to be cut since the range of adjustment is limited to about 3-5 cm or the amount of seat post that is housed inside the frame. There is no minimum insertion line on the seatpost so use good judgment when shortening the post. It is better to make small cuts as you lower the post than to cut too much post off and not leave enough inside the frame. The binder bolt is an excellent and simple design but this is a low torque fastener so there is not much clamping force. For heavier riders the post may creep down, even with friction paste. A good strategy is to have the post cut to a precise enough length that the bottom of the seatpost rests on the stop inside the frame. If you cut too much, post sections cut off can be slid back inside the frame to act as a shim.
The seatpost head has an 8 cm rail for fore/aft adjustment that changes the virtual seat tube angle from moderate to effectively 80 degrees with the 29 cm long Fizik Arione Tri 2 carbon rail saddle. Saddle angle adjustment is done with one bolt from the side of the clamp, can be done on the road easily when dismounted and is infinite.
The complete Scott Plasma 3 SRAM Red bike features the SRAM Red crank with solid alloy Time Trial chainrings using a 53 tooth big ring and a 39 tooth small. Upshifts from small ring to big were fine even with the mini-shifters.
The rear brake on the Scott Plasma 3 is a reasonable compromise between drag shaving aerodynamics and anxiety producing mechanical frustration. The Scott configuration very closely mimics the successful design of the rear brake used on the Felt DA and B series triathlon bikes, and does well to do so since it is a solid mechanical design. The rear brake on the Scott Plasma 3 is simply a conventional Shimano Dura-Ace brake caliper that is light, strong and dependable mounted on top of the chain stays so the stiffness of the stays improve braking response. If you are leery of soft-feeling proprietary rear brake designs you’ll love the rear braking on the Scott. Grab the lever- the rear wheel stops. No special parts. Your mechanic won’t need a PowerPoint presentation and tech clinic on how to set it up. When you finally get to Kona you can adjust the rear brake after easily reassembling the bike out of your flight case. This brake design also leaves the underside of the bottom bracket deliciously bare.
The chainstays change shape on their way to the rear dropouts in an odd series of angulations that are said to strike a compromise between stiffness and aerodynamics. I can vouch for the stiffness but I’d be guessing at the aerodynamics. For an insight into the aerodynamic design and testing process it’s worth a look at this You Tube video on the development of the Scott Plasma 3:
The finish on the Scott Plasma 3 is a stealth-matt charcoal with integrated graphics that are sinister and subdued. It will match or at least not clash with your tri club’s race kit. I like the angular graphics that compliment the frame shape too.
On the road the bike is stiff and stable with this component spec. It punches hard with an out-of-the-saddle lunge and listens to your steering input. You may feel some bumps with these very deep section wheels, but on race day you are pedaling so hard you won’t care. My only handling beef is the stiffness of the front end tortures the base bars into partial submission. Settled into the aero position the bike is steady and easy to manage even when surprised by the gusty Tucson desert winds blowing across Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. I truly loved riding this bike and it is my favorite of the superbikes I’ve ridden due to its gutsy ride quality and everyman mechanical simplicity.
Fit on the bike trends toward the larger interpretation of the size names. This is a “T-shirt” sized bike in small, medium and large. The mediums we received and tested ran high and short with a 56 cm total center to top seat post, an effective 54 cm (center to center) top tube and a high-ish 14 cm head tube that does include the stem clamp. Four stem sizes are to be offered. If you are shorter than 5’6” you probably won’t be riding this bike. For my 5’9” height and torso to leg length ratio I would be on the Small frame size. Each of the sizes offers ample fit latitude owing to the variable geometry seat tube angle and the adjustable reach Profile Design aerobars.
The complete version of the Scott Plasma 3 with SRAM Red and Zipp 808 front and 1080 rear wheels is $9,999.99. It is also sold as a frameset for $3999.95.
I love the seductive lines of the new generation superbikes but am reluctant to consider owning and racing most of them due to finicky mechanical issues like special brakes and difficult to service front ends. The Scott Plasma 3 avoids those issues with good basic mechanical design combined with excellent aerodynamic integration. This is the Superbike for the Clark Kent customer that may make your bike split faster than a speeding bullet.