Scott have always marketed their marathon-race-inspired Spark range as pure race bikes with a small dose of trailworthiness thrown in. Every time we’ve encountered a Spark, though, we’ve been impressed by the platform’s all-round versatility and fun, accessible ride character.
With 120mm of travel, the sub-£2,000 Spark 50 is a good bet for marathons, racing or just mucking about. Efficient on the climbs and a whole heap of fun on the descents, it's a consummate trail pounder. With a better shock it’d be even more compelling but it’s worth considering as is.
Ride & handling: Ultra-efficient speed machine that won’t hinder your fun on the descents
The Spark’s handlebar has an 18mm rise, which is lower than the trail-riding-inspired norm, and a pronounced backsweep. Combined with the 75mm stem, which is unusually stubby for a race bike, this pushes the rider’s back away from the front axle. The result, in handling terms, is an interesting mix of race efficiency and trail fun.
On climbs, sprints and in any situation where power uber alles is the priority, the low front end does its job by maximising the rider’s output. When it’s time to cash in all those gravity credits, the swept-back bar position pulls enough weight off the front wheel to make hoiking the Scott from line to line a pleasure rather than a chore. And 120mm of travel means this race whippet will hop, skip and jump down the trail with the best of them.
The only fly in the ointment is the rear shock. DT Swiss’s shocks are better than they used to be but this is still no Fox Float. While we’re moaning, it’d be nice to have an intermediate position on the bar-mounted remote, adding a bit of compression damping to both fork and shock – but that’s probably asking too much at this price.
Frame & equipment: Long, low ride position won’t suit everyone – and rear shock could be better
A neat linkage pivoting from the Spark 50’s top tube connects the top of the stays to the DT Swiss shock at the rear, while a cable runs from the front of the shock to a bar-mounted lockout lever. Cunningly, this single lever also connects to the RockShox Recon fork’s lockout switch, making it possible to lock out the entire suspension system with a single push. This beats fumbling around between your knees any day of the week.
A small shock mount ‘chip’ situated in the front of the rocker arm can be flipped over to tweak the Spark 50’s geometry, raising the bottom bracket by 7mm and steepening the head angle by 0.5 degrees. Scott point out that the Spark is the only cross-country bike on the market with this feature, which could be useful if you ride a lot of technical trails.
Just because it’s primarily designed as a racing snake, that doesn’t mean Scott’s designers have lumbered the Spark with a whippy, flexy front end. Short though it may be, the head tube is tapered to improve torsional rigidity and steering precision. The larger lower bearing race is likely to mean better bearing life, too.
This bike also boasts one of the neatest rear disc mounts we’ve seen, with the post mounts integrated into the design of the chainstay. This tucks the brake calliper out the way and, point out Scott, also reduces weight and the stress imposed by braking on the rear pivot. It’s so tidy, we wonder why more manufacturers don’t go down this route.
Full-length cables run externally, while a rubber chainstay protector helps keep the noise from chain clatter to a reasonable minimum. Shimano’s ever-reliable Deore and Deore XT components make up the bulk of the transmission, and Avid’s Elixir 3 hydraulic discs do the slowing down bit. Unusually for a race bike, the stem on our medium test bike is a stubby 75mm – and it’s mated to a handlebar with a pronounced backsweep.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.