By Marc Peruzzi | Photographs by Devon Balet
They’ve been positioned as race bikes, but to me, Scott’s full suspension Spark 29ers have always been hyper fast trail bikes, too. The angles were just slack enough to handle 90 percent of what your typical backcountry ride or epic race would throw at you, but lock out the suspension with the remote and you could sprint with the hardtails on smooth track. A 2013 Spark RC with an aftermarket dropper post and some fatter rubber is my daily driver.
Still, there are some trails where the original Spark 900’s climbing-focused head tube angles and 100mm of travel just aren’t up to the task. I’m thinking of a few local sandstone ledge descents where there’s not just one two-foot drop, but dozens. In that type of terrain, the 100mm fork bottoms out harshly, and the steep angles make it tough to keep the front wheel clear of bike-stopping compressions. This is also when you miss the wider handlebars and shorter stems of a modern trail bike—the better to throw the bike ahead of you and out of trouble. So the old Spark was a daily driver—with limits.
The fix? Scott redesigned the Spark 900 line from the ground up to make it more trail friendly, lighter weight, and more responsive. The new 100mm Spark 900 RC race version already earned two gold medals in Rio. The lightest full suspension race bike now on the market, it benefits from a half pound in weight savings from the frame alone, but it also gets the wider bars, shorter stem, and slacker (67 degrees) head tube angles of the rest of the Spark lineup. There’s also a 27.5-inch plus tire version called the Spark 700 Tuned for pure trail riders. But it’s the ultra versatile new 120mm travel line of Spark 900 (29ers) that should have the broadest appeal in the U.S.
The build kits vary (on the high end it’s a choice between 1X12 SRAM or 2X11 Shimano, shown here), but the line shares the same basic features. Gone are the pivots on the rear triangle; it’s now a simple two-piece design to save weight and boost lateral stiffness—an effect that’s enhanced by front and rear Boost hubs (wider and stiffer again). The frame shock is repositioned vertically and mounts just above and forward of the bottom bracket. The goal with that change was to apply more leverage on the shock in the early stoke, while offering more mid-stroke support. (The old Spark could bog down in the mid-stroke when you left the remote lockouts wide open.) And the overall geometry of the bike is now longer (trail) and lower (bottom bracket). Add on 120mm of travel front and rear and a dropper post (included), and the new Spark is an all-in, race-able trail bike.
Scott Bikes launched the Spark to the U.S. media this month in Crested Butte, where representatives of Crested Butte resort and local mountain bike advocates with the Crested Butte Mountain Biking Association (CMBA) guided our group of bike industry journalists. The best one-day test of the longer travel Spark’s abilities? A climb and descent of the rollicking 403 Trail followed by the fast and smooth 401—two of the many heritage trails in Crested Butte’s burgeoning network. We added on a climb and descent on the ski area for a total ride time of just under four hours.
My initial feedback: I thought I’d notice some diminishment in the new Spark’s climbing abilities thanks to the comfy rider positioning and slacker angles, but the 900 billy-goated up steep track just fine. Like my old Spark, there’s ample traction with the remote set to climbing mode. But unlike my old Spark, you can climb and hammer on the flats with the suspension fully opened up: The repositioned shock eats small trail chatter but doesn’t squish out. While heavier and faster descenders might like more travel for the rooty and rocky descent of the 403, the 120mm travel Fox 34 felt perfectly plush to me. And again the wide bars, slack angles, dropper post, and low bottom bracket just boost confidence on steep sections where you’d risk supermanning off a pure race bike. For most of the cyclists that I know—people who ride trail at speed and enter a handful of endurance races a year—the Spark 900 Premium XTR is all the bike they’d ever need. scott-sports.com