If fairy tales ever needed a place to seek inspiration I'm convinced they would find nothing but rainbows and gold in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Nestled in a valley between the towns of Chur and Tiefencastel, Lenzerheide is the quintessential Swiss village full of roaming cows with bells that never cease to ring, houses and chalets with red roofs, and footpaths winding through the endlessly beautiful green hillsides.
In any direction, you're treated to a visual palette of gorgeous mountains, alpine lakes, and rolling pastures. For the last several years Scott Sports has taken over the Valbella Inn situated at the base of the Lenzerheide Bike Park for five weeks hosting dealer and media camps to show off upcoming product, and we've just finished a few days there learning about their latest trail machine for women, the Contessa Genius 710.
About the Brand
Scott, whose headquarters sits about three hours to the east in Fribourg, isn't shy about their newly minted national pride. Formerly a US-based company, the now Swiss brand makes its whopping 257 bike models suited specifically for the local terrain: geared easy and built light to climb the Alps while being strong and aggressive enough to descend the thousands of feet of mountains in any given direction, whether on trail or road.
Confession: I rode Scott's shorter travel Contessa Spark at the Bible of Bike Tests and was a bit hard on it. I found the bike confusing to operate, with a busy cockpit that was way too complicated with a front derailleur, dropper post, rear derailleur and the levers for Scott's proprietary TwinLoc remote shock/fork lockout system. The memory of those frustrations was in the back of my mind as I arrived in Lenzerheide, but I kept an open mind knowing Scott has put in a ton of work on the updated 150mm travel Genius.
Worth noting is that this particular camp was lead by Sarah Merminod, Scott's women's marketing coordinator in PR and communications. I always really enjoy riding with locals that work for the brands and Merminod is a seriously talented athlete, holding court with Scott team riders Lorraine Blancher, Monet Rose Adams, and Karen Eller. A brand that exudes talent within their staff has the added benefit of using them as testers.
Merminod's experience as a racer (she's competed in the Trans Provence and won other Epics) shows in the aggressive, high-end design of the Contessa Genius 710. As someone who aspires to be a serious rider, I want a bike that is up to snuff for big days, challenging terrain, and aggressive riding. Knowing Merminod is ensuring these bikes will meet her standards, means everyone who rides the Contessa Genius line will benefit from having her at the helm.
The Techy Stuff
We were sent out on rides with monster descents, with the penultimate day being over 9,000 feet from the craggy alpine peaks of Lenzerheide through the velvety green mountains of Arosa and finally reaching the valley floor in Chur. The Genius' slack 65.6-degree head angle made for a comfortable, aggressive position on the downs and the 75.3-degree seat tube angle kept my body centered nicely on the climbs. Wheel spinouts were not an issue, even on looser terrain.
Before the big days, though, we did the typical test loops to ensure we were able to experience the bike in both of its personalities and figure out what we each liked best. The Contessa Genius is sold with 27.5 wheels set up with a 2.8 Maxxis Rekon tire on a 30-millimeter rim, but is easily adaptable to 29-inch wheels with the flip of a chip near the shock that essentially just evens out the bottom bracket height so overall geometry is similar between 27.5 and 29. Our tests showed that the bike could be swapped between the two sizes in less than 5 minutes with no special tools.
The ride was noticeably different between the two different wheel configurations. In 27.5 mode with the larger Rekon tires I found the bike to float over the shale sections of descents without any hesitation. Scott has opted to steer away from using the term "plus sized," saying their goal isn't to market the bike as a plus bike, but to simply build a bike that rides really well, and they feel the 2.8 tire width provides the optimum experience for their local terrain.
Curious about the 29-inch mode, I was eager to see how it would climb compared to the wide-tired 27.5 mode and then how it would handle the tight switchbacks Switzerland is known for on the descent. In either wheel size configurations, there was rarely a struggle when encountering steep ascents, but I noticed less resistance in 29er mode. The bike crawled over roots and rocks without hesitation. Climbing on the Contessa Genius is as easy as I've experienced on any bike in this travel range. This is due to the combination of wheel size, frame weight, Eagle and the TwinLoc suspension. It's a winning recipe.
When descending I surprised myself and preferred the 27.5 mode. The bike absolutely ate up everything in its path: fat rocks, roots, or massive cow pies, nothing stood in the way on our biggest day which clocked in around 19 miles. I never felt the tires were sluggish or slow rolling, a common complaint with fatter tires.
The bike still handled well in 29er mode, but I noticed the slightly narrower tire struggled a bit in the aggressive rocky sections. It required more effort to keep it pointed straight and battle the pinball effect that comes from larger, loose rocks. The net takeaway is that the bike rides well in either configuration. It's just a matter of the type of terrain, feel and handling that the rider prefers.
The Contessa Genius 710 is very well suited to aggressive terrain, but versatile enough to ride anywhere. The ability to switch between wheel sizes, reduce travel to 110mm with the push of a lever and run a wide range of tire widths really does give the rider a lot of options to tweak the bike to best suit their riding style. Scott has nailed it with this bike. The only thing missing is a cowbell.