Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!
Scott’s cross-country specific Spark carries World Championship lineage. The brand’s marque rider Nino Schurter won gold a few months ago in Andorra on a tricked-out carbon Spark 700 SL with custom parts and accessories. While a replica of his personal ride is off-the-charts, budget-wise, Scott offers a very broad line of Spark’s at many price points, including this nice $2,699 aluminum 950.
Additionally the brand gives you wheel size options. While Schurter races on 27.5 , Canadian Geoff Kabush—who happens to be a 13-time national cross-country champion—chooses the same bike with 29-inch shoes. Our choice? We went 29er because, for XC applications, the bigger hoops seem to handle our rocky and rooty East Coast trails better and we also recently tested the $9,000 Spark 700 SL with 27.5 wheels in Issue #182. Scott makes this same bike in the smaller wheel size, as well.
Like the higher-end models, this sub-$3,000 Spark 950 gets TwinLoc suspension technology. The three-position handlebar mounted lever controls both the fork and shock at the same time. Going from fully open (Descend), one click switches the Fox Float shock to Trail mode while the Fox 32 Float fork remains in Descend. The next click puts both the shock and fork into Climb mode. It’s a handy system but it needs to be set up just right to work properly because both shock and fork work off the same lever. Our test bike came with too short fork housing that gummed up the works a bit. It was an easy fix but, still…
All Sparks have an adjustable geometry chip on the suspension linkage. The low bottom bracket setting has a 69.5-degree head angle and 72.5-degree seat tube angle. The high setting measures in at 70.1 degrees and 73.1 degrees, respectfully. Bottom bracket height goes from 12.5-inches up to 12.75. We’ve kept ours in the low setting thus far for the best, most versatile performance that combines cross-country speed with some inherent trail bike mannerisms. For serious racing, like the wide-open Sea Otter Classic course or a smoother dirt crit format, the high setting brings the Spark’s gun and run heritage to life.
Parts selection is all top notch with plenty of Shimano and Syncros aluminum parts to go with the aluminum frame. While everything worked great, it’s unfortunate that neither the wheels nor tires are tubeless ready. Any bike over a grand should at least have taped rims and tubeless ready tires.
Ultimately, the Spark had a few growing pains on its way to the full test that will appear in the next issue of Dirt Rag. After overhauling the TwinLoc cabling and setting up the wheels tubeless the bike is ready to roll and is, so far, delivering capable performance that ideally fits day-to-day cross-country style riding without being overly aggressive or twitchy when it’s time to just have some fun on the trail. An easy adjustment transforms it into a racing rocket ship.