By Josh Patterson
The trails surrounding Sun Valley, Idaho are the stuff of legend. Hundreds of miles of singletrack wind up and down the mountainsides. The lung-searing climbs and scorching descents are the perfect terrain to get acquainted with the completely-redesigned 2012 Scott Spark.
Changes for 2012
The most notable change for 2012 is the addition of 29 inch-wheeled models to the Spark lineup. The 29er Spark has 100mm of front and rear travel. It will be offered in three carbon and three aluminum models. The price range for the Spark 29er series starts at $1,650 for the entry-level aluminum bike, and tops out at $6,500 for the highest spec’d carbon Spark 29. The 29er Spark will also be offered as a frameset.
For 2012, the 26 inch Spark goes from 100mm to 120mm of front and rear travel. This may be a sign of things to come in 26” full suspension race bikes. Since most professional racers now have a 29er hardtail in their quiver; longer-travel 26” bike may be a good choice for those, wanting a bike for rougher courses without the additional weight penalty of 29” wheels. The 26” Spark will be available in seven carbon and four aluminum models. The price range for the Spark 26” series starts at $1,500 for the entry-level aluminum bike and tops out at a wallet-razing $10,500 for the highest spec’d 26” bike.
TwinLoc and suspension integration
Scott’s Twin Lock handlebar-mounted lever simultaneously adjusts the Spark’s front and rear suspension between fully-open, traction and lock-out modes. Open and lockout modes work just like they sound. Traction mode has been updated to limit the fork and rear shock’s useable travel by increasing compression damping. When engaged, traction mode provides a substantially firmer, but not locked out, ride. The 26” Spark’s usable travel goes from 120mm of front and rear to 85mm. The 29er Spark’s go from 100mm to 70mm. The lower-end aluminum models will only feature the ability to switch between open and lock-out.
One click of the black lever engages the traction mode; a second click locks out the suspension. A single click of the silver lever returns the suspension to fully-open operation.
How it works
Front Suspension: Scott collaborated with RockShox to create the DNA 3 system. Exclusive to Scott, DNA 3 uses a three-position damper, based on RockShox motion control system to limit suspension travel by limiting the flow of oil through the forks damping circuit.
Rear Suspension: The new, 220-gram, DT Swiss Nude 2 shock does away with the previous version’s piggyback air chamber, which could cause interference with full-sized water bottles on small and medium frames. The redesigned shock is still a dual chamber model—the secondary air chamber is now integrated into the main shock body. The secondary chamber is used to adjust the spring rate between the open and traction modes. The smaller, secondary air chamber is closed off when the rider switches from open to traction mode. The air pressure in the main chamber remains the same, but since the shock’s air volume has been decreased, the spring rate is greatly increased, firming up the ride and decreasing the shock’s usable travel.
Other notable changes to the 2012 Spark
New Forged Link
Previous versions of the Spark used a link made of multiple pieces. For 2012 the Spark gets a one-piece, forged link, the size of the pivots has been increased and the width of the link, which caused knee interference issues for some riders, has been decreased.
The redesigned suspension linkage now features a chip that adjusts the bike’s geometry. When switching chip from the “high” to “low” position, the Spark’s head angle decreases by .5° and the bottom bracket is lowered by 7mm—these numbers are consistent between the 26 and 29 inch bikes.
Taking a cue from last year’s Scale (see our review of the 2011 Scott Scale here) te Spark’s rear brake is now post-mount. The brake’s mounting position has been moved from the seatstay to the chainstay, allowing the use of lighter weight seatstays and decreasing the effect of braking on the suspension.
The Spark now features replaceable dropouts that to accommodate 139x9mm quick release, and 135×12 or 142×12 thru-axle standards. Unfortunately, the forks used throughout the Spark line still use a 9mm quick-release, as opposed to the increasingly common, and significantly stiffer, 15mm thru-axle.
Not counting grams this go ‘round
A size medium 26 inch carbon Spark weights 1,790 grams, including the rear shock and TwinLoc. “Saving weight was not our goal,” said Adrian Montgomery, Scott’s director of marketing. “Increasing stiffness was out goal,” he continued. Montgomery claims the 2012 Spark’s frame is 60 percent stiffer than the 2011 model. New for 2012 are a tapered headtube and BB92 bottom bracket, both of which were incorporated in the new frame to bolster frame stiffness.
The trails we rode were a cross country rider’s paradise. We traversed scree fields littered with fist-sized rocks, rode sketchy kitty litter-over-hardpack swtichbacks, and blasted down truly buff singletrack descents. Our Western Spirit guides lead our merry band of journalists on five days of epic riding. Plenty of time to become acquainted with the redesigned Spark.
The geometry numbers of both the 26 inch and 29 inch Spark are on the slack end of the XC race spectrum. As such, they are best suited to high speed, steer-from-the-hips riding; both wheel sizes favor stability over outright agility.
Despite the fork and rear suspension’s differing approaches to limiting suspension travel when traction mode is engaged—the fork uses hydraulic compression damping, while the rear uses pneumatic compression damping to limit suspension travel—both the fork and rear shock work well together and provide a balanced feel. The Spark’s suspension is very progressive. So much so that the traction mode firms up the Spark’s suspension to the point that it is best suited to extended climbs without significant technical sections. When climbing rougher terrain with the traction mode engaged the rear end ramped up quickly and did little to keep the rear wheel tracking smoothly over rough terrain. As a result, I left the bike in the open mode for loose and rocky ascents.
Both the aluminum 26 inch and 29 inch models rode extremely well. The 26 inch aluminum Spark could be the perfect bike for the trail rider who occasionally toes the start line at his or her local race series. I preferred to ride the 26 inch Spark in the “low” position. The slacker head angle, longer front center and lower bottom bracket contributed to confidence-inspiring high speed handling. On the flipside, the 29” Spark rode better in the “high” position—it climbed noticeably better and gave up nothing on the descents.
While I was impressed with the handling of the 26 inch and 29 inch aluminum Sparks, there was a noticeable amount of flex in the carbon 29er. It was glaringly apparent while navigating the apex of downhill switchbacks. I could push the aluminum bike through corners without complaint (The aluminum 29er Spark was a hell of a lot of fun!), but the carbon bike needed significantly more steering input and finesse to keep both wheels on the same line.
Montgomery confirmed my impressions: He claims the the production bikes—slated to arrive early this fall—are constructed with a significantly different carbon layup, resulting in frames that met the company’s goals of a 60 percent increase in stiffness over the previous version. We plan to test a production model to see if the claims of increased stiffness ring true on the trail. Look for a full review of the Scott Spark 29 in an upcoming issue.