Scott’s new 2012 Spark has already received plaudits, but there’s a whole range of 29in-wheeled Sparks running alongside the 26in models. The 29 Comp is the cheapest, and one of the most affordable 29er full-suspension bikes you’ll ﬁnd.
Getting a big-wheeled suspension bike together at a competitive weight and price is no mean feat. The fork and shock let the Comp down a little, though – we suspect that the Spark 29’s real strengths only start to shine at higher pricepoints.
Ride & handling: Batters the trail into submission; held back by budget dampers
The 26in Spark is pretty laid-back and the 29in model follows suit, albeit with adjustments to allow for the bigger wheels. This is pretty much third generation 29er geometry, with a distinct trail/all-mountain slant.
The 29 Comp doesn’t get any of the remote lockout/travel adjust toys of the higher-end models and the X-Fusion shock is slightly idiosyncratic – a sensible amount of static sag as suggested by the guide stickered to the down tube leads to a soggy feel once you start riding. We added enough air pressure to ward off mid-stroke wallow. Once set up the shock exhibited reasonable control.
The coil-sprung RockShox XC fork feels pretty smooth up to a point, but start hitting things harder and faster and it starts to feel a bit overwhelmed, spiking on compression and gasping on rebound. On the upside, it’s sturdy enough and a through-axle is a welcome feature on a budget fork.
It’s a reasonable weight but the Spark 29 isn’t light per se and its mass does hinder acceleration. The big wheels also have an effect – a bigger diameter means more rotational inertia. It’s harder to accelerate a mass that’s further out from the axis you’re trying to accelerate it around. Combined with geometry that responds best to you putting some work in and you’ve got a bike that’s most at home on the hills on steep, fast, rough trails.
Frame & equipment: Impressive for the price, but with some compromises
The resemblance between the 26 and 29in Sparks is clear, with the same suspension layout, neat wraparound 3D swing link and asymmetric seat tube. However, packaging a big wheel in the back of a suspension bike presents some challenges.
The Spark 29 has a more dramatically cranked seat tube than the 26in bike, which means more horizontal saddle movement as you adjust its height. The big head tube will take a tapered steerer, although the RockShox XC ﬁtted (the brand’s new entry-level fork) is a straight one.
Scott have done an impressive job to get a 29in full-suspension bike out at this price. It comes with some compromises. You only get a nine-speed transmission and an Octalink crank, for example. Shimano M446 brakes are their usual reliable selves, and the 680mm, nine-degree bend ﬂat bar gives an effective riding position.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.