Structurally nothing has changed on Scott’s evergreen super-fast full suspension machine, but its pricing seems much more aggressive right across the range and the ultra-light Spark RC should ignite a lot of interest among racers and all day ravers.
Frame and equipment: enduringly futureproofed
While the frame only gets graphic changes this year, that’s not the problem it could be with other machines – because Scott futureproofed the chassis from the start. The steering angle and low bottom bracket height are still more fast and loose friendly than most short travel 29ers. The IMP tube-on-tube construction means maximum compaction and easy pre-assembly inspection of the top grade HMX carbon as well as minimal extra weight material overlap at the junctions. That means the 1900g (including shock) frameset is one of the lightest full suspension frames available in either its 650b or 29er sizes.
Long stem and narrow bars sacrifice control for race positioning
There’s no doubt that this RC model – based on the bike raced by the Scott Odlo MTB Racing and 3Rox teams – is rigged as a performance thoroughbred to fully exploit the frame advantage. It’s startling how narrow 700mm handlebars feel these days and the carbon Ritchey stem seems a stretch after coming off enduro shaped cockpits. For what the Spark RC is designed for though – fast XC riding – it’s a good stable, straight-line seeking setup that doesn’t constantly wander off line or need correcting like a shorter stem, wider bar combo.
Having a front end that naturally stays on line is a big bonus when you go full gas too, because the Spark is built to properly explode forwards. That's in large part down to the just over 10kg weight and very light wheels, but the Spark frame is also impressively stiff. The mainframe uses oversized tubes for maximum rigidity and the carbon shock driver linkage is kept short and tightly wrapped around the seat tube to keep the potential for flex to a minimum.
The remote shock aspect remains a love/hate splitter, but this is a seriously rapid and responsive racer
Symmetrical deep chainstays attach onto the big flared asymmetric seat tube base and with the rear pivot above the 142x12mm rear axle, rather than the chainstay, it’s an unbroken propulsion connection. That does mean some chain torque compression and pedal bob with the rear shock in full travel mode.
Ride and handling: click, click, boom
One click forward on the neat grip-mounted RideLoc remote lever cuts shock volume and travel (to 85mm), creates a more progressive spring rate and makes pedal nod negligible. Two clicks let you totally lock out both fork and shock for smooth surface situations, and the more time you spend on a Spark the more you’ll get used to toggling the suspension through its modes almost as much as you change gear. SRAM’s XX1/X01 single ring drivetrain means there’s nothing else for your left-hand thumb to do anyway as well as saving a big slab of weight and adding rough terrain chain retention over a twin ring system.
The finishing kit is all race focused, with a SRAM XX1 drivetrain
Another weight saving component selection that surprised us with how well it worked was the Ritchey WCS Streem Evo saddle. We’ve raced on SDG’s I-Beam system for years because it’s absolutely bombproof in terms of saddle stability and really light, but we’ve always had to accept a brutally firm ride from the solid base single rail saddle. Ritchey’s saddle uses a similar single beam design, but with a long cutout between saddle and rail that allows almost as much flex as a conventional saddle. The Schwalbe Rocket Rons are a generous enough volume to add float to the ride and reduce vibration fatigue over long marathon sessions too.
Having ridden the Spark family through various generations we know that the unique twin chamber shocks needed for the multi-mode remote control suspension have always come at a cost in terms of ultimate suspension control compared with conventional dampers. What surprised us in the desert was how sorted the Scott felt on the terrain it’s designed for.
Twangy wheels are a weak link
Yes, you can get the shock to clatter and choke slightly if you really batter it into staccato rock sections or sequential step-downs. Over random rough trails, braking bumps and even off single drops it was much more composed, keeping the bike taut and driving hard in Traction mode or sucking up hits and maintaining descending momentum well in full open mode. Front and rear shocks work well in tandem, so once you’re dialled into the XC-style handling it’s a bike that lets you get away with far more than you expect at first – and one you soon come to rely on to push the pace properly hard on technical trails.
The only obvious issue we had once we started dropping our shoulders and taking liberties with lines is that it could wander off the narrow desert singletrack easily, then struggle to cut back quick enough to avoid a spill. Swapping wheels with a Niner we were also testing proved it was twangy wheels that were the culprits, not a fork or chassis issue. Given the impressive level of spec and super-light performance of the frame, it’s still very good value for riders after a seriously high velocity yet surprisingly fun and versatile machine.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.