Scott Spark 35 £2200

Lively carbon racer

BikeRadar score 4/5

Occupying a mid-range position somewhere between the giddy heights of the ultra-light, tricked-out Spark Limited and the entry-level Spark 60, the Spark 35 is what Scott would probably like to think of as an everyman’s racer.

Affordable enough for most keen riders but with most of the performance credentials of the range-toppers, it’s the kind of bike that you’ll find lining up at the start line of cross-country races every weekend.

And it's a great pocket rocket – extremely light, pleasingly nimble and very fast, with enough travel to tame most trails. Its willingness to be ridden ‘pedal to the metal’ in situations where a race bike has no place being pushed so hard transforms this race bike into a genuinely light and versatile all-rounder.

Ride & handling: Light, stiff, fast and agile; way more versatile than its race tag suggests

Anyone expecting an old-school cross-country race experience, sacrificing comfort for the sake of speed, is in for a rude shock – or perhaps that should read ‘pleasant surprise’ – with the Spark 35. The Scott’s ride position combines the efficiently stretched ethos of race-bred geometry with comfortably relaxed angles.

The stem is short enough to make last-second disaster-averting front end flicks a mere dropped shoulder away, and the bar is wide enough to wrestle through protracted sections of vision-blurring rocks or roots. The result is spot-on weight distribution and enough comfort to make day-long epics a pleasure rather than a chore.

By squeezing an extra 10mm of rear wheel travel out of their cross-country race full-susser – and speccing a 120mm-travel fork up front – you might think that Scott’s product designers have brazenly parked their tanks on the lawn of the all-mountain competition.

But it isn’t that simple. The light build, skinny stays, small pivots and standard quick-release fork up front all contribute just enough twist and shimmy through rough trail sections to remind the rider that this is a precision instrument, not a wrecking ball.

On the other hand, the powerful riding position, wide bars and acres of clearance beneath the pedals allow you to keep the power down through the kind of rock gardens that’ll have most shorter travel riders backing off. That’s an addictive advantage that puts the Scott a notch above many race-bred rigs, and demonstrates that the extra travel isn’t just a gimmick.

The Spark 35’s Achilles’ heel is the DT Swiss rear shock. Sure, it’s nice to be able to lock both shock and fork out with one bar-mounted lever – why did no-one think of this before? – but it also shows up just how bouncy the rear end can be next to the best of the Spark’s (largely Fox-shocked) rivals. Can you live with it? Yes. Could the rear end’s performance be improved? We think so, with judicious application of some compression damping.

Frame & equipment: Stiff chassis paired with effective suspension; ready-to-race spec

Just over 25lb all-in weight for a bike sporting a fair chunk of mid-range componentry is impressive. It’s also a clue to where most of the weight has been lost: from the Spark 35’s carbon mainframe. A distinctly ordinary-looking profile disguises the careful thought and attention to detail that’s gone into Scott’s proprietary Integrated Moulding Process (IMP), which allows the top, head and down tubes to be manufactured in a single step.

Removing the need to join separately manufactured tubes allows Scott engineers to shave material from the head tube junction without compromising strength or stiffness. Thin-walled aluminium stays continue the lightweight theme at the rear, driving a DT Swiss air shock via a pair of heavily pared-down linkage plates. There’s 110mm of travel out back and 120mm up front courtesy of the RockShox Reba fork, all of which can be locked out instantly.

It’s not unusual to see a mixture of SRAM and Shimano components in a transmission, and the Spark 35’s no exception. There’s little to choose between them in terms of out-of-the-box performance, although Shimano’s rear mechs stand up to hard use a little better.

Riser bars are more about fashion than function, but the extra width and height make for greater control when things get sketchy, giving you more leverage to pull the front wheel out of trouble. Schwalbe’s Rocket Ron tyres are fast-rolling and great for racing; for general trail riding, we’d fit something a little chunkier though.

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