Scott’s short-travel full-suspension bikes have always been a top choice for racers and epic trail riders, but this year’s Sparks are the best by far.
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If you’re a Lycra-clad speed freak then the super-light, Olympic and World Cup dominating, 100mm-travel RC bikes are the Sparks for you. For most fast trail, fun rides, though, the 120mm travel, 27.5 or 29in wheeled options are far more versatile and still quicker than most race-dedicated machines.
The 730 here gets Scott’s more affordable HMF carbon mainframe mated to an alloy rear-end with super-deep chainstays and 148mm-wide Boost spacing for maximum power transfer efficiency. It’s the unique Fox Nude TwinLoc rear shock that creates the dynamic heart of the Spark, though.
A handlebar-operated remote toggles the shock between fully open 120mm travel, more progressive 85mm travel or complete lockout setting. The same TwinLoc lever is linked to open, firm and locked modes on the Fox 34 fork, too.
This has been a feature of all Scott’s Spark and Genius full-suspension bikes for years, but the big difference this year is that the new shock damper and suspension layout mean it’s achieved without any obvious compromise in control.
In fact, the FIT damper in the Fox 34 is actually significantly smoother than the Performance Grip set-ups that undermine the confidence of other forks we've tested. That means you can attack the roughest descents as hard as you can on other 120mm travel bikes, and you even get a mini chain guide and dropper post for maxing out descending speed.
The impressive traction from the plush suspension and top-quality triple-compound Forekaster tyres carry that speed through corners, bumpy sections or up ragged climbs. Even with the shock fully open it pedals efficiently enough to accelerate the 12.4kg weight with addictive urgency, but firming it up with a quick dab of the thumb means you can go absolutely crazy through the pedals without bouncing off the trail.
As neatly as it’s all integrated, the Spark is far more than just a smart suspension system. The steering geometry is fully slack and trail stable, and while Scott could only get us a medium sample for test, the large has a 465mm reach that’s perfect for driving the front tyre as hard as you dare into turns or down descents.
A 428mm back end and minimal weight means it still hops and pops energetically around the trail, and even the 740mm bar is a well-judged balance of control and tree gap/ overtaking clearance.
While the 700 series bikes are the most lively, the 29er-wheeled 900 series bikes are naturally faster and smoother with essentially identical spec and pricing. And with so many options (eight ultra-light RC, 24 29 and 27.5in XC, seven women’s Contessa models and six 27.5x2.8in plus models) the biggest problem you face might be working out exactly which one to buy.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.