In the middle of the year Scott Sports released a completely revamped Spark and Scale range. We have already taken a look at the Scale options, with an eye for spotting a great modern hardtail, but now let’s take a closer look at the Scott Spark. The Spark has come a long way since it arrived in late 2006. Replacing the Genius RC, the Spark delivered about 112mm rear travel, with a DT-Swiss Nude shock, controlled with a bar-mounted lever for three positions: Open, Traction Control, and Closed. I personally owned three versions of this Spark, and raced them in Australia, South Africa, the USA, England, Wales, Scotland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. They were a fantastic d0-anything bike for marathon and stage racing, and the back end of the bike could even be rebuilt with a multitool… handy for jamming your bike into the smallest of boxes.
The first overhaul of the Scott Spark
In 2012, change was due – and Scott introduced new versions of the Spark in mid-2011, for the 2012 model year. The 26″ model was re-designed, and a 29″ wheeled option was added. Having invested in a Scott Scale 29er in late 2010, then upgrading to the carbon model in late 2011, which other MarathonMTB.com team mates soon did as well, including London based Will Hayter.
My Scale 29er Premium had a short life. In fact the RC frames of 3 team mates all suffered just as much, and after a few months many of us were left without frames, or with hefty repair bills. I bit the bullet and tried the new 29″ wheeled Scott Spark.
And this same frame design is what has been rolling around until now, with a 27.5″ version introduced for 2014 – after we spied Nino Schurter getting around on one at the 2013 Cape Epic.
That 29er Spark was really good for a lot of things. With 100mm of travel, it had everything you needed for racing, and the handling was quite slack so it was at ease on steeper trails, and was far from nervous. It did have a pretty long back end though, and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to call it sluggish. With Twin-Loc as standard, you could have it full open to fully-locked out front and rear in an instant. I opted for custom tuned Fox suspension on my own bike – but to each their own.
2016 – an Olympic year for the Scott Spark
It should be no surprise that many brands overhauled their XC bikes in 2015 or 2016, ready for an all-out onslaught on Olympic qualification, and the race itself. Many brands looked at both their hardtails and dual-suspension bikes, like Trek, Focus, Stockli and to a point Specialized. but Scott’s aim was broader. They did their whole Spark and Scale line. So while the Scale was revamped for the 27.5″ and 29″ options, and a 27.5″ Plus option, the Spark got the same treatment. Plus a bit more.
For the Scott Spark, there are three wheel standard, with 27.5″, 29″ and 27.5″ Plus all being catered for. However, their is also the Spark RC with 100mm of travel and a Fox 32 SC fork, or the Spark, with 120mm and Fox 34 forks. This is a lot of bikes, and some markets won’t see every option.
So while they have lots of models – they also have a lot in common. The easiest thing to spot is the changed shock location, and dropped top tube. This was noticed when Schurter started riding prototypes earlier this year. At the time, it was also very noteworthy he was on a 29er – after the practice event in Rio last year, he must have been certain a 29″ wheel would be faster on that course.
Some of the biggest changes are in geometry and fit, with longer reaches, lower stack heights, shorter stems and steeper seat angles. There is also more standover height, and clearly the frames work with internally routed dropper posts – the Spark models come stock with them, save for the most entry-level bikes (and the Spark RCs).
The shock is in a vertical position, attached directly to the side of the air can using a Trunnion Mount, letting the shock sit super low, and therefore using a neat internal cable for the lockout. The down tube itself is immense, and the bikes use a BB92 press fit standard, with two options for bottle cage placement. The mainframe on the RC frames is 1x specific, but on the Spark frames there is a mount (and routing) for 2x options.
The rocker link is small, and quite narrow, helping keep the back end stiff. It is also carbon on the Spark RC models, keeping the weight down. The Spark and Spark Plus sport alloy rockers. The suspension kinematics are new. With a higher main pivot the bike is a little more efficient when fully open, even though that part of the travel is more sensitive – with greater support as the bikes moves into the sag point and then beyond. In short, it will have excellent small bump performance, without wallowing in travel when ridden in the Open setting.
The frames have been designed around the Boost standard, and the 148x12mm rear spacing has been used to reduce chain stay length by 13mm. But there is a lot mroe going on in the swing arm. There is no drop out pivot, the frames instead rely on flex. To achieve this, Scott have moved the disc mount off the frame, and instead it is supported on the axle. This means the frame is designed to flex vertically in this area, and the presence of a disc mount doesn’t interfere.
The through-axle has another task, and that is to hold the derailleur hanger. By have the hanger attached this way, the shifting stays really crisp, and there is no bolt going through the frame vertically to interfere with flex. Plus it’s light.
The chain stays are tall and thin, and the tolerances are quite narrow. Really muddy races might create some difficulty – but many modern bikes run extremely tight tolerances.
What hasn’t changed on the Scott Spark?
Plenty of elements have remained with the Scott Spark. It is still quite slack, and the head angle has actually become 1.3 degrees slacker, to 68.5 degrees. And while there are some changes in the carbon layup to achieve the ride and weight Scott desired – they are still setting a bench mark in terms of light weight, as they often have done. And with a 1749g frame weight with shock and hardware for the RC 700 SL – it’s astonishingly light.
The TwinLoc remains too, with the Spark RC having 100mm of travel, 70mm in Traction Control, or fully locked. The Spark has 120 in Open, 85 in Traction Control and can also be fully locked.
So what Spark is best for marathon and stage racing?
That’s the question, isn’t it? The Spark RC range is very attractive, be it in the 700 series for 27.5″ wheels, or the 900 series for 29″ wheels. Larger wheels really do rule for the majority of marathon and stage races, but the 700 series will suit shorter riders and terrain which is far tighter. The Scott-SRAM Team won the men’s and mixed competition aboard their team bikes at the 2017 Cape Epic, surely that’s quite telling?
The Scott Spark RC 900 SL looks to be a fantastic bike with Fox Factory suspension and weighing well less than 10kg. But being 1x specific means you really would be using a SRAM Eagle group set as the bike comes with, and possibly avoiding a frame only option.
The Spark 910 looks really attractive for a very versatile bike, especially if you are likely to venture to some more rugged trails. With 120mm of travel, stiffer Fox 34 forks and a Fox Transfer 125mm drop seat post – it’s an awesome race/trail bike that would be comfortable at the Swiss Epic, Singletrack 6, BC Bike Race, or a whole number of events which are really focusing on taking riders through prime technical singletrack.
This might be the only problem with the Scott Spark range – the RC models are stuck in the highest price points with the SL, Ultimate, World Cup and Pro. but with just 100mm of travel, they truly are focused on race performance. So if you want a race bike, you invest in the carbon fibre models. If you aren’t so serious, you look at a Spark, perhaps a 940 in all alloy. It’s hard to look past the Scott Spark 900 RC World Cup. With Fox Performance suspension, a SRAM Eagle 1×12 group set for immense range, and room to upgrade to your own race wheel set at a later date, it could be the pick. You would need to check with your local stockist for pricing – but it won’t be cheap.
I haven’t had a chance to ride one of the new Scott Spark bikes, but having ridden so many in the past I hope to soon. with such a large range, chances are there would be one to suit most competitively focused racers – and World and Olympic Titles show that the bikes can perform. The last two Scott Spark designs are still seen very frequently on the trails and at races – just like the Scale. With three new wheel sizes across both model ranges, I’m pretty certain there will be plenty of bikes from the Swiss brand at events, from XCO, to marathon, to stage races and trail-style stage races – Scott look to have all based covered. The frame weight is impressively low, and hopefully previous experiences with the reliability of the frames will have been addressed.