Tester: Mike Cushionbury
Weight: 158 lbs.
Scott’s revamped Spark line is vast and thorough. It hosts 39 models all based on a new-single pivot rocker-link suspension design and the elimination of links at the dropouts. Included in the lineup are options to choose 27.5 or 29 inch wheels at each price point, women’s models, 27plus and even two different travel choices. For years the Spark moniker was recognized as a short travel cross-country purist and that remains with the 100 mm travel Spark RC. But now when you drop the RC (which stands for Racing Concept) you get what’s known as just Spark, a 120 mm “cross-country” bike that, thanks to more travel and slightly slacker geometry mated to a longer top tube and shorter stem (compared to the RC), becomes trail bike-esque and better suited for long-distance competitions and all-around trail riding.
It’s certainly easy to swoon over an $8,000-plus carbon superbike, so, with such a vast array of options available including SRAM Eagle 1×12 or a Shimano XTR 2×11 drivetrain, we decided to put the sub-$3,000 aluminum framed Spark 950 29er on task. The suspension design is the same, so on paper this should be a case of finding a quality ride without breaking the bank. But paper isn’t singletrack, so let’s get started.
Upon first look the 950 has most of the same features as the higher level bikes including Boost 148×12 mm rear thru-axle, internal cable routing, dropper post, Press Fit headset and tapered head tube. The other big inclusion is the TwinLoc Remote suspension system—Scott’s suspension claim to fame. While the suspension design has changed, the concept remains the same. The 950 gets a new Fox Float Performance trunnion mounted metric shock mated to a Fox 32 Float Performance Air shock with three modes: lockout, trail and descend. Both front and rear settings are simultaneously controlled by a handlebar mounted lever. While by today’s standards this isn’t new technology in suspension, it is something Scott pioneered in 2010 (at that time it was on a DT Swiss shock and the settings were called full travel, traction and lock out) and has stuck with since.
The parts package is a solid affair with full Shimano Deore/XT drivetrain, M627 double-ring crankset and M506 disc brakes with 180 mm rotors front and rear. A nice addition are Shimano hubs laced to Syncros tubeless ready rims. The rest of the bike is rounded out with Scott’s now in-house brand Syncros including aluminum handlebars, stem, dropper post with 120 mm of movement and saddle.
As previously mentioned, Scott also offers this bike, called the Spark 750, in 27.5 wheeled format with the same parts spec.
Compared to past versions, it is immediately noticeable that the 2017 Spark sits higher. While the previous suspension configuration included a low/high adjustment, this design eliminates that, and the bike sits just a tick higher than the old high setting. The suspension has more support in the critical sag area of its travel yet remains sensitive to small bumps in the initial part of the stroke. It did take a bit more trial and error to find just the right air pressure, but once I did the bike pedals far better compared to the old design in descend mode, so much so that on off-road climbs I kept it there and only went to trail mode on smooth fire roads. Having ridden the high-end carbon Spark 900 Ultimate, I can safely say that when it comes to suspension design and performance of the 950 is extremely comparable to the Ultimate, as it should because the design is the same and Fox makes great suspension bits at most every price point.
I’m a big fan of the “new school” cross- country bike: longer travel, a longer top tube mated to a shorter stem and slacker than 70 degree head tube angle. It creates a quick bike that does more than just speed around a racecourse. In the instance of the Spark, it’s a capable bike that’s fun on tough trails and convenient to ride to them as well.
Getting to the concept of the TwinLoc bar mount, I’m a bit torn. It’s been around for many years, and possibly the idea has run its course. It’s not bad per se and wouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it does add a whole lot of excess cabling at the handlebar, and I don’t miss it when riding other bikes. I like to be able to adjust platform on my fork and shock independently, plus if something goes wrong, like a slipped cable, it can very tricky to set up both ends to work properly in concert for many home mechanics who aren’t familiar with it (heck, it’s tough for the pros as well). With a suspension design that works this nicely, if it weren’t there I wouldn’t mind.
The revamped Spark is a decidedly better performer than the previous design. Going with a single pivot rocker-link over the previous top-link configuration has added much needed sensitivity to the initial part of the stroke with more support in the middle. These new characteristics give the Spark a more trail bike feel, and then increase in travel, it’s a win-win situation for cross-country style riders who value comfort over teeth-rattling speed. Still, even as such the Spark is a very capable climber, so don’t overlook that. Ultimately Scott has done an amazing job with trickle-down technology and the idea of a bike for everyone. You can get this design in 27.5, 29er, 27plus or women’s specific and confidently know the performance will be there no matter what you pay. I like the 950 for how well it performs in relation to its cost. And if one day TwinLoc disappeared, I wouldn’t even notice.
Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL
This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag 198. Subscribe today so that you never miss an issue and while you’re at it, sign up for our email newsletter to get fresh web content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!