The Scott Spark is well known for its XC prowess and ultra light weight. Winning numerous XC races and championships. The 2017 Spark continues that lineage but now sports a more modern trail geometry and kinematics.
I’ve always been a long travel bike fan. However, over the last few years my bikes have been getting shorter in travel. Mainly due to the fact that a majority of the trails in our area do not demand a lot of travel. Sure there are a few trails that demand, or are more confidently ridden on a longer travel bike. But I would say 95% of trails are easily ridden on a short travel bike. I also love efficiency. I want my energy to be used effectively.
I was in the market to replace my aged Santa Cruz Blur TrC. I’ve been mostly riding my 2016 SC Nomad and a light weight Grammo Pako XC hardtail the last 14 months.
While I love the Nomad, it is a lot of bike. It weighs in just shy of 29lbs but definitely behaves like a long travel bike. Which limits its efficiency on trails that do not require its big hit capabilities. But hey. That’s why I bought it. To tackle the more extreme trails and bike parks. So I can’t fault it for what it likes to do.
The Grammo Pako is a light weight XC machine. Technical xc rides and the toughest climbs are it’s fortay. Super fun bike for its intended use.
With my Blur going the way of the Dodo bird. It was time for a new short travel machine.
I had my eyes set on a Yeti SB 4.5. I rode a 5.5 last fall and was blown away with how that bike performed. It was literally like having the best of both worlds touting incredible efficiency and DH capability. I was planning on keeping the Nomad so I felt that the 5.5 would have too much overlap with the Nomad. I was also looking for something that leaned more XC than All Mountain. The new crop of trail bikes continue to be more and more capable and definitely blur the lines when it comes to bike categorization.
The Yeti 4.5 was at the top of my list along with the Santa Cruz Tall Boy, Transition Smuggler, Scott Spark and a couple of other bikes in that category.
After researching, pouring over numbers and internal debating. I had it down to the Yeti and the Spark. Both options were available thru Unreal Cycles.
Scott being relatively underrepresented in our area, and with reviews of the previous model being lack luster in suspension performance, I was steering heavily towards the Yeti. However. As everyone knows, Yeti pulls a premium. Not that the top tier Scott bikes are cheap. Scott certainly offers quite a few good spec options to get you into a bike that fits your budget. That there is where my conundrum laid. In the budget. While I drooled heavily over the Yeti, my pockets just weren’t quite deep enough at the time.
Scott’s new iteration of the Spark was a long way from its predecessor. Geometry, lengths and nearly everything about the frame had been redesigned and modernized. The numbers look pretty dialed to me. I also like the idea of the Twinloc. Normally I’m not into gimmicks and I like to keep my bikes simple. I was an early adopter of 1x for its simplicity. However, being able to toggle the suspension on the fly with the Twinloc system between fully locked out, trail and descend modes appealed to me. Not to mention I have always been a fan of single pivot bikes.
So. I picked up the Spark on a blind faith purchase never having ridden the bike before.
I have to admit. I was skeptical. The the numbers looked dialed to me and it was in the suspension travel ball park I was looking at. But numbers on paper and actual performance are very different things.
Climbing. What can I say. Fully locking out the suspension essentially turning the bike into a 27lb fully rigid bike made fire road climbing easier and faster. Since I have been on the Spark, I have PR’d nearly all of my fire road climbs. That being said. I find that having locked out suspension does not necessarily help on steep and technical climbing. Having some suspension action actually helps the tires dig in for better traction. So on more technical climbs I switch from full lock out to trail mode as this helps in keeping the rear from spinning and allows me to load the front end. The clock doesn’t lie. This has been the fastest climbing full suspension bike I have owned.
Trail riding. Leaving the suspension in trail mode, the bike does what it is meant to do. Shred trail. Being my first 29er I had to get used to the wider turning radius and the idiosyncrasies that come with the 29″ wheel. I found that the bike liked to be pushed and leaned hard into corners. It loves it when you get low on the bike. It carries speed well and has a very lively and poppy feel which makes gapping sections of trail and placing the bike where and when you want it a breeze. Much more lively than I thought a 29er could be. Switching suspension modes with the Twinloc helps with efficiency on varied trail helping maintain over all speed when the trail includes climbs, flat pedally sections and descents. Using the Twinloc mech isn’t the easiest thing to get used too. But once I got used to it I found myself using it a lot. More in the Twinloc later.
Descending. The Spark is a well known XC machine that has been piloted by Nino Schurter to numerous XC victories. With that in mind, you would likely think the bike would be a lackluster descender. While that may have been the case with its predecessor. This newly redesigned bike is fully capable. Being long , low and slack, it is up to date with the latest geometry. I was pleasantly surprised by the it’s descending ability. I was not expecting the bike to be as competent as it is when pointed down hill. It is stable, stiff and the suspension is supple yet supportive. The 29″ wheels definitely help the 120mm of travel eat up rough trail. Is it a Nomad ? No. But my Strava times are near identical on some of our local descending trails and actually a bit faster than my Nomad on more pedally descents. I know my Nomad will out perform the Spark on our gnarlier high elevation trails. But for my go to weekly riding spots the Spark is the one I will grab every time.
Spec. The Maxxis Forekaster tires are doing a great job of keeping traction on the varied terrains and soil types here in S. Oregon. The GX drivetrain does the job shifting and the shimano brakes do the stopping. Are they as refined as the top tier stuff ? No. But they do the job well. The Syncros saddle is pretty comfortable and the Syncros dropper post so far has done the job without issues. No side to side play. It’s a little slow to pop up but nothing that is problematic. We will see how reliable it is long term. The Syncros 3.0 wheelset is pretty solid and does not feel flexy at all. I do notice the rotational weight when trying to get up to speed and the rear hub is clunky. I will likely be upgrading the wheelset sooner than later. The bars are comfortable to me and the stem is a good length at 70mm but I think I will shorten it up. The grips are too fat for my liking so I will swap those out.
Twinloc. I do have a gripe about the Twinloc assembly. First of all. The designer must have been drunk or it was late in the day on a Friday when they designed it. The new twin lock mechanism combines the dropper lever along with the lock out system in one fairly tidy package which is a great idea in theory. However, there are some issues. They used a standard ridged noodle for the cable coming out of the mechanism which completely blocks the the pinch bolt that tightens the clamp to the bars. Hello ! Major over site that makes it a pain in the butt to remove or adjust the mechanism. Luckily there is a simple fix. Installing a flexible noodle provides just enough access to the bolt. This is something that should have come factory. Secondly. The mechanism acts as the inside bar clamp for the grip which is proprietary. So swapping out the grip for a different brand and using the the mechanism as the clamp is impossible. They obviously under stood the issue as they included a spacer that the mechanism clamps around so you can use other grips. This however pushes the Twinloc mechanism further inboard which makes it that much further to reach with your thumb. Thirdly. Their is no way to adjust the spacing between the Twinloc levers and dropper post lever which kind of sucks because the positioning of the levers is not the most ergonomic. And lastly. The throw distance to lock out the suspension is to far out. This is likely not a problem for guys with larger hands. But for guys like me with smaller hands it’s a bit of reach to lock it out. Unfortunately, I think Scott needs to go back to the drawing board on the combination Twinloc/dropper mech.
The Spark was a pleasant surprise for a leap of faith purchase. It does everything that I had hoped it would be capable of and more. Other than the design issues with the Twinloc mech, Scott has put together a very capable trail bike that I would recommend buying if your in the market for a new trail/XC bike