Don’t be fooled by the name – or Scott’s enthusiasm, as a company – for the in-betweener wheel size du jour, 650b. The Spark 650 features good old 26in wheels and the now-familiar Spark setup of 120mm (4.7in) of front and rear travel, all served up in a format that’s aimed, we’re told, at endurance racers and trail riders. Can it still cut it?
Ride & handling: Confident high speed handling and excellent stability
The Spark’s racing roots are obvious in its low front and stretched out ride position, but its slack angles shout ‘trail’ loud and clear.
In practice, the result is one-of-a-kind handling that blends excellent high-speed stability with a rather high maintenance and wander-prone low-speed front end. It’s definitely an acquired taste, although one that’s easy enough to get used to.
The bike’s low-ish weight and easy access to the TwinlLoc lever make it easy to hustle the Spark 650 up climbs in a way that many 120mm (4.7in) travel bikes might struggle to emulate, making this a fast and efficient mile-muncher in theory.
The trouble is that the Scott/DT Swiss rear shock can’t hold a candle to the plush alacrity of the Fox fork – a fact that is particularly obvious on fast, technical descents. Full travel is only achievable by running the shock unrealistically soft, while even at firmer settings it tends to fidget around under pedalling loads.
If it had a better shock, we think the Spark 650 could make a case for itself as a fast, fun cross-country machine. As it stands at the moment, it’s not quite there though.
Frame & equipment: Mature and established design
For a bike with 120mm (4.7in) of rear wheel travel, the Spark has amazingly clean lines. There are lots of little details that contribute to the stealth look, from the way the rear brake calliper mounts unobtrusively between seat and chainstays to the fact that the seatstays are in line with the shock. If you like your suspension subtle, you will love it.
The detail extends to a ‘chip’ housing the shock mount in the end of the rocker link, which can be flipped in order to tweak the Spark’s geometry. Don’t get too excited though – the changes are very subtle. The bottom bracket can be altered by around 7mm and frame angles by about 0.5 degrees. We doubt most riders will notice, particularly since the better setting for technical trails – with a higher bottom bracket – also steepens the angles. Which is kind of the wrong way round.
The Scott’s blend of Shimano XT, SLX and Deore kit that makes up the bulk of the stop-and-go parts is all good, functional and hard-wearing stuff. The Syncros finishing kit adds a touch of understated class to the contact points too.
The Spark 650’s biggest news is its TwinLoc lever, which contributes to the spaghetti-esque mass of cables that emanates from the handlebar area by running remote cables to the shock and fork. The three positions on the lever correspond to the compression damping settings of lockout, ‘traction’ – or ‘trail’, in the case of Fox shocks – and fully open.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.