CRESTED BUTTE, Colorado (VN) — Remember those “choose your adventure” books that let you change the story by making decisions at key plot moments? Heading to Crested Butte, Colorado for the launch of Scott’s revamped Spark line was sort of like that: Decide what kind of trails you want to ride, and choose your Spark. Scott didn’t just update last year’s version of its XC-oriented full-suspension bike. It instead created an entire Spark quiver, from XC-inspired race bikes to more trail-friendly rides. And the results were impressive.
While each bike in the line has its own personality, they share a major change to the rear suspension: It’s a rocker link design, and unlike previous Spark iterations, the rear shock is not mounted to the top tube. Instead, it sits between the rocker link and the bottom bracket, and the shock is upside down. Zack Vestal, Scott’s U.S. bike marketing manager, says this design completely changes the suspension kinematics. “Essentially, mechanical forces work against the shock. The leverage ratio on the new Spark changes as the rear wheel moves through the travel,” he says. “There’s high leverage that makes the Spark more sensitive in the early part of the shock’s travel. In the mid stroke, the leverage decreases, so you get more support. At the end of the stroke, it goes a bit higher again to give the bike that bottomless feel.”
That’s possible in part because of the rocker link design, but also because rear shocks have simply become better, more sensitive to small bumps and more consistent through the stroke. “If you think back five years,” Vestal says, “air cans were different. Damping wasn’t sophisticated. We’re taking advantage of better rear shock technology.”
The rear triangle is also pivotless at the rear axle. That should stiffen the rear end, and it also eliminates several components from the overall structure, thereby reducing weight by up to 130 grams, according to Scott.
All new Spark models get Boost spacing, which allows for shorter chain stays, which is particularly important on 29ers: Shorter chain stays generally equal quicker handling, and also allow the rider to center his weight over the rear wheel for more confident handling.
Now it’s time for you to “choose your adventure.” Click on each link to see my first ride thoughts.
Today, you’re shredding:
It’s amazing how much the 29er platform has changed in just the last few seasons, and the Spark 900 Ultimate exemplifies much of what is going right with big wheels today. It’s still rooted in cross-country, but with a slack 67.2-degree head tube angle, 438mm (17.2-inch) chain stays, and 327mm (12.9 inch) bottom bracket height, the Spark 900 Ultimate thoroughly blurs the line between XC and trail.
The XC personality came out in spades while climbing the endless high-alpine trails outside Crested Butte. Pedaling bob was nearly non-existent; you could mistake this for an XC race bike. Despite the lack of bob, Scott’s TwinLoc still came in handy on a long fire-road climb. It’s not a necessary bit, especially for this bike, but I’ve always found it nice to be able to lock out both front and rear suspension at once. Yes, TwinLoc crowds your handlebars a bit, and my test bike had the dropper post lever mounted on the right side of the bar, which took some getting used to. But if getting to singletrack means climbing paved roads or dirt roads, don’t discount TwinLoc out of hand.
With all that climbing prowess, I expected a somewhat jarring descent. Not so on this Spark, with its surprisingly bottomless rear suspension feel, though I did have to dump some air pressure from the fork and from my tires to get the front feeling as plush as I wanted it. Even then, you’re still on a bike that leans more toward XC riding and less toward trail/enduro, so expect to choose a line rather than point-and-shoot through rock gardens.
Still, it’s peppy and quick, especially for a long 29er, and while there’s a bit of that slow steering/long front end that plagues just about all bikes in this category, the Spark never felt unwieldy. Quite the contrary: This is about as responsive as it gets with big wheels. Toss in a dropper post and you can get in a pretty aggressive descending position. I was comfortable and confident on all but the steepest and gnarliest sections.
The XC race course
The very top of the line Spark is a race-specific XC full-suspension bike with 100mm of travel front and rear. Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds saw success on the Spark RC 900 at World Cup races in 2016, with Rissveds nabbing the top spot on the podium at Lenzerheide and Schurter doing the same in Albstadt. The Spark RC is a serious race machine.
Full disclosure: I haven’t ridden the Spark RC, so I can’t give you ride impressions. But here’s the nitty gritty: The frame weighs in at 1,779 grams (Spark 900 RC SL, HMX-SL carbon) with shock, which makes the Spark RC the lightest XC race bike on the market, according to Scott. Like the other Sparks in the lineup, the rear suspension is pivotless and takes advantage of a wider bottom bracket area to up the power transfer. That means the chain and seat stays flex to accommodate suspension movement; Scott added an isolated rear brake mount that allows the stays to flex with the suspension, as well as sandwich dropouts that sit between lobes of the frame tubing.
Think of this as a highly-specialized tool: XC racers will want this because it’s super light, quick-steering, and short travel — just enough for control and comfort, but the daily shredder will likely want more travel and a bit slacker geometry, depending on what your local trails look like.
Lots of buffed-out climbing? This might be your rig. Rock gardens galore and descents for days? Pass on this one.
Two hours of chunder
I rode the Spark 700 Tuned Plus, with its 130mm of front travel and 120mm of rear travel, on the lift-service trails at Mt. Crested Butte, and it’s fair to say the bike felt capable on trails I would normally reserve for an enduro rig with 160mm of travel or more. Sure, you won’t be ripping down DH trails, but the Spark definitely sold me more travel than it actually had. Perhaps the big tires that I ran around 17psi added more suspension, or maybe the geometry was just right for tackling steeps; either way, the Spark 700 was fun to huck, easy to roll down steep technical rock gardens, and fast digging into loamy corners. It even bit well into dusty, dried-out marbles-on-concrete.
While those 27.5+ tires add heaps of traction, you do need to work a bit harder for it in corners. There’s more surface area, after all, which means you’ll need to input some more force on the bars to really lean the bike over. Still, that big contact patch saved me more than once in sharp corners at high speeds. I’m certain I would have lost some skin during my day out on the mountain had I been running narrower tires.
Speaking of narrower tires, you can run the Spark 700 Plus as a 29er, making this a very versatile rig. The only time I felt like I wanted those taller, skinnier wheels was on climbs (I only hit a few of those during my test ride) where the plus-size tires definitely felt like a bit of a burden. But when I compare that feeling to other plus-size rigs I’ve tried, most of which have more suspension travel, the Spark comes out feeling downright spritely. I would confidently take this to my local trails, those with the 30-minute climb out of the parking lot … Though I probably wouldn’t throw down my fastest time.
Ultimately, the Spark 700 Tuned plus is a rowdy, fun bike that wants to show you how tough it is when it picks on guys twice its size. It’s a scrappy trail bike, and while you’ll have to give it some go-juice on the climbs and some extra push in the corners, the Spark won’t let you down in either scenario.