Opening the discussion at the 2017 Scott Spark 29er introduction in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, which happens to be the home of the brand’s marque rider and current cross-country World Champion Nino Schurter, its engineers made it very clear that that Spark’s main focus is competition and going fast. In fact, the resort town and mountain bike destination was chosen to showcase the bikes not only because it is Nino’s home trails but also a three year World Cup location (2015-2017) as well as the site for the 2018 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. You could say the focus was clear. But the story doesn’t end there.
The Spark RC is indeed a cross-county dedicated race bike that was three years in development with a long-term goal of being an Olympic winner in Rio this summer but within this platform and its new suspension design come two additional models: a trail bike version simply called Spark with 120 mm of travel as well as a very capable Spark Plus with 120 mm of rear suspension mated to a 130 mm travel fork. This is the bike, by choice, I spent most of my time on during the launch.
In 2013 Scott began development of the new platform. The long-term goal was Rio to give team racers the best tool to win. Requirements were clear: light weight first but with modern cross-country courses becoming rougher and more technical that wasn’t enough.
Impact absorption and improved performance was the impetus for the new Spark line. Most noticeable is the new single pivot rocker link suspension design and the elimination of links at the dropouts. This is because the old configuration, developed way back in 2007, tended to be harsh off the top of its travel and then blow through the midstroke too easily. According to Scott this was based on the progressive nature of previous air shocks. With more liner tuned air shocks available it because obvious it was time for a change. In regards to comfort, the old design had its “shock zone” on the top tube, which required a not so optimal stiff top tube. The new design has its shock zone at the bottom bracket junction, just where you need it. Shock forces now go into the bottom bracket area so strength was boosted there. It also allowed Scott to make a more comfortable top tube that doesn’t send vibrations to the rider. This new single pivot linkage uses a Fox Nude CTD shock with the new Trunnion sizing mount. Besides giving frame designers more design space the shock has a longer stroke for a given overall length. This means a more compact area with smaller links so everything can sit tighter and closer to the frame.
The frame also needed to be stiff yet comfortable. To do this Scott looked at the Spark frame in the same pieces as the revamped Scale hardtail: controlled flex in the top tube and seat stays provide additional comfort where it’s desired while the down tube, bottom bracket junction and chain stays control stiffness where it’s required.
Geometry has also been fine tuned on the 29er, coming from a demand from Nino. Traditionally a 27.5 rider, Scott was tasked to get his positioning, including saddle to handlebar drop measurement and handling characteristics equal so he could make the switch to a 29er by the Olympics. While the 27.5 bike’s geo remains the same for 2017 the 29er gets a 67.2 degree head angle (the Spark and Plus have 67 and 66.9 degrees respectfully due to longer travel forks), 13 mm shorter stays thanks to Boost spacing, making them just 10 mm longer than the 27.5. The seat angle has been steepened by a degree to 73.8 degrees to better center the rider and the bike has a 17 mm longer reach to increase stability without sacrificing quickness and response. Stack height is also lowered due to a shorter head tube and in-milled bearing cups. According to Nino his 29er handles just like his 27.5 so he’s shelving the smaller wheels he’s been famous for riding and going big.
Now that the seatstay pivots are removed and the design relives on the natural flex of the stays a new brake mount was designed which is anchored directly to the chainstay and wheel axle. This prevents braking forces from inhibiting movement. When the stays flex they actually bow outboard, further increasing the ability to run a fatter tire.
So what does all this mean for non-racers? All this technology goes directly into the trail bike and 27plus frames, which are identical. And while the Spark RC is single ring only, the Spark and 27plus bikes are single or double compatible.
On The Trail
Within the first mile on the World Cup cross-county loop the speedy nature of the 120 mm Spark with its RC heritage is evident. The new suspension design is a very noticeable improvement over the previous layout. The bike sits higher with more support in the critical sag area of its travel yet remains sensitive to small bumps in the initial part of the stroke. It did take a bit more trail and error to find just the right air pressure but once I did I found that the bike pedals vastly superior to the old design in Descend mode, so much so that on off-road climbs I kept it there and only went to Trail (which reduces air volume to give the back 85 mm of travel) on smooth fireroads. And of course Climb was great to have on the road ride back to the hotel.
Its 120 mm of travel is in the sweet spot of aggressive cross-country, very fitting for higher speed singletrack and rough sections that have small booters that could be rolled as well as jumped. This travel is also ideas for adventure cross-country as well as 100 mile or stage racing over unexpected terrain. While I didn’t get a chance to weigh it the bike feels incredibly light (the frame weighs a claimed 4.42 pounds with shock and hardware.)
The Spark Plus carries over all these traits with the added benefit of Maxxis Rekon 2.8” tires. Because the head tube measures 66.7 degrees with the big tires and 130 mm travel fork the Plus has a decidedly trail bike feel when it’s pointed downhill–pin it and go. While one day was pure trail riding the other was spent using the collection of lifts in the area to hit a multitude of downhills that were just technical enough to keep you sharp but not over the top gnarly and the Plus was a blast to ride. It had traction for days and carved and sliced through corners better than a bike of this ilk ever should. While lifts were involved that didn’t mean it was all downhill. When it came time to ascend to the next singletrack the Plus climbed lively and responsive thanks to its light weight, able suspension and TwinLoc adjust. Frame weight for the top level carbon is a mere 4.7 pounds with shock and hardware.
Like the long-travel Spark, once the suspension was dialed it was smiles for miles the whole way down the mountain. Slick rocks and roots? No problem with the high volume tires. Tacky, bermed sections with a rocky entrance? Just point and shoot, it’s that easy, fun and fast.
As you’d expect, there will be a full range of prices and models available (25 total to be exact) between all the versions, from top-shelf carbon to affordable aluminum frames with a multitude of parts options as well as women’s specific Contessa Spark and Spark Plus. If you prefer 27.5 each model will feature a twin with the same new suspension configuration and lighter weight frames in the smaller wheel size.