If there was ever a bike that was named in anticipation of Shimano’s shifting electrification it was Scott’s Spark. The fact that it’s always relied on linked remote control suspension also makes it an ideal host for Fox’s iCTD electrically controlled suspension.
Frame and equipment: smooth-shifting glimpse of the future
Add the fact that Shimano and Fox have worked together to sync the whole system into the same top tube mounted battery, and the Spark Ultimate Di2 really is the ultimate off-the-peg taste of the future.
Our experience so far with XTR Di2 has, appropriately, been positively charged. The Syncro Shift option automatically combines the motorised Side Swing front derailleur and its rear counterpart through 22 smoothly sequential shifts.
If you’re happy to occasionally grunt a gear rather than spinning, it's worth noting that the SRAM XX1-equipped Spark 700SL is half a kilo lighter and one hell of a lot cheaper. But there's no denying that the much finer gear gaps and greater overall range compared with a 1x11 system will have pedalling cadence pedants licking their lips.
The kit finesse is hardly restricted to the shifting either. After years of sacrificing control and smoothness in the fully open mode to create the reduced travel and sensitivity ‘Traction’ and fully locked modes, the Nude shock is now as smooth and controlled as a standard Factory CTD shock on descents and techy terrain.
The frame and wheelset deliver smooth precision wherever you take them
Ride and handling: stiff, precise and versatile – apart from the wheel size
Being able to firm up that rear shock or lock it out completely with just a switch flick is an obvious advantage to racers on mixed surface or sprint section courses, but it’s just as useful on technical trails. That means the Spark feels more like a 120mm travel bike than ever before, but can still punch out of corners or smooth climb segments like a hardtail.
The Spark frame is also impressively stiff and precise whether you’re putting the power down or placing the front wheel and holding it there across hooligan terrain. The carbon 27.5in wheels are noticeably stiffer and more aggressive in feel than those on Spark 29ers we’ve ridden.
Add an impressively low 10.56kg weight despite the extra mass of battery plus suspension and derailleur actuator motors and the Spark really will light a fire under your backside on the trail – and leave most other bikes choking on the smoke.
The comparatively slack trail bike style angles (almost identical to Santa Cruz’s 5010) give it genuine raver not just racer potential if you stick a shorter stem and wider bar on than the current style setup.
Lest we come across too gushing though, one notable omission got us riled – though to be fair it's got nothing to do with our test ride. Although we enjoyed the rigidity and responsiveness of the 27.5in wheeled 700, it’s both disappointing and surprising that the electrified Ultimate is the only Spark model that’s not available in a faster and smoother rolling 29in format as well.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.