Nino’s Scott Spark RC 900 is a real beauty, with amazing finishing touches and attention to detail everywhere you look.
We’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Nino’s Scott Spark RC 900 is a real beauty, with amazing finishing touches and attention to detail everywhere you look.
We’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Following on from the drastic changes to the featherweight Scott Spark last year, it was no surprise to see the new Genius has adopted many of the design and construction methods into the longer travel platform to achieve a ridiculously low frame weight of 2249g with shock and hardware. In true Scott fashion, the new frame is leading the 150mm travel trail bike category on the scales; we’re very impressed.
One frame, two wheel sizes, and for many reasons.
The new Genius has been designed to accept 27.5” and 29” using one frame, changing wheel diameters will only requiring a flipping of the geometry chip on the upper shock mount to change bottom bracket height. Scott are confident that without the need to change parts like the headset and forks, the bike can ride in a manner that they are happy with. This means less models to manufacture, and in the end the pricing will reflect at dealer level, that is always a plus (ha, get it…).
Choose your size, 27.5″ and 29er.
The names remain the same, any Genius models in the 700 range use 27.5″ wheels with 2.7″ tyres, and the Genius 900 models use 29″ wheels with 2.6″ tyres.
Don’t call a Genius a ‘plus’ no more.
Well, sort of, plus it is still there, but in an effort to simplify the enormous Scott range there will be with fewer models in the catalogue. All the 27.5” Genius bikes will have 2.8” tyres (plus, pretty much) and not called ‘plus’ bikes as such. We’d be happy if the rest of the industry followed suit on this move, tyres are tyres, bigger tyres are bigger tyres, that should do it.
The new Maxxis 2.8” Rekon tyres are the rubber of choice for the Genius, and when compared to the Maxxis 2.5” Minion WT tyre, there is an only 1mm difference in the width between them, though the 2.8″ does appear to have the larger volume. Like what we have seen with the release of the new Pivot Mach 5.5, we predict the era of plus tyres bikes to shrink in size and find the sweet spot, and 2.6″ on 30-35mm wide rims seems to provide enough air volume and tread patch without too much bounce and roll from being too huge. Traction is a good thing, but not with a sacrifice of weight, speed and the ability to blast into a berm without the tyre blowing off. We like this.
An entirely new frame construction.
Put the new Genius and the cross country oriented Scott Spark side by side and you’ll see a strong resemblance, the tiny carbon linkage drives the new trunnion mount rear shock down toward the bottom bracket region, this frees the top tube to become much lighter without having to bear the load of the shock. Also, the whole bottom bracket area needs to be strong to manage all the forces that go into the bottom bracket and crank region, so to combine it with the rear shock it’s a no-brainer.
While the 100/120mm travel Spark uses a one-piece rear end and a flex-stay arrangement, the Genius uses 150mm of goodness so a flex pivot arrangement wasn’t achievable and they’ve opted for a lightweight bushing in place of a cartridge bearing on the chainstay. Bushings are so 1995, but we’re totally going to trust the engineers on this one, as this pivot has only a small jog to do, and a bushing can do it.
Taking advantage of the expired patent surrounding the Horst Link that Specialized held for many years, the Genius shifts the suspension pivot from the seat stay to the chain stay.
TwinLoc, the remote lever that simultaneously adjusts the front and rear suspension.
Nothing new here, Scott’s tried and tested Twinloc lets you toggle between open, traction and locked mode. In open mode you have all the 150mm of travel out the back, traction mode closes part of the FOX Nude rear shock’s air chamber limiting it to 110mm of travel with a much more progressive feel, and then the climb mode is locked out completely.
The three modes also have an effect on the fork, adding compression and locking it out to match the rear. It’s a great system, and so very easy to activate.
The moment we set eyes on the thing, it was the one-piece Syncros cockpit that had our attention. Scott’s in-house parts and accessories brand – Syncros – have come up with a crazy new one-piece bar and stem called the Hixon iC. With a virtual stem length of 50mm and 760mm wide, it weighs only 290g. It’s not eh first-time Syncros have done such a thing, the Scott Foil aero road bike also uses a one-piece cockpit.
While we would usually expect a 150mm travel bike to be fitted with a 780mm handlebar, we typically would trim to 760mm anyhow. There is a 780mm bar in the pipeline, perhaps a feature on a longer travel Genius LT to be released next year.
Getting dirty, how does it ride? Oh yes, and ride we did.
Sticking to its heritage as a bike born in the Alps of Europe, the Genius is the all-day trail bike personified. It is super-light, efficient to climb, and for want of a better description, not too big or not too small. 150mm travel at both ends may seem like a lot, and it does feel super plush when you jump on, but with a flick of the Twinloc lever, the bike can be quickly adapted. While we are a long way down under from the snow-capped craggy peaks of the Alps where cows roam the fields and trails are often hundreds of years old, the adage of ‘earning your turns’, or simply climbing long roads to bomb back down gnarly singletrack translates anywhere in the world.
Scott have always put a lot of emphasis on creating bikes that climb well, hence the Twinloc and frame geometry that remains sensible and practical, rather than going for the buzz-word trends like; short chain stays, massive top tubes and slack head angles the Genius plays it fairly safe with numbers, and that is its key to the balance. Scott were keen to stress te point that the new Genius is not an enduro race bike, rather a trail bike with a wide range of versatility. We can only bet a Genius LT using the new frame configuration will be up for renewal next year
Talking frame geometry the new Genius is far longer in reach, slacker in the head angle and steeper in the seat angle. We’re happy to see the chain stays shorten too, down from 445 to 436mm, a big difference and gripe we had with the Genius we reviewed recently.
It was only very recently that we reviewed the outgoing 2017 model Genius Plus 700 Tuned, so it was very fresh in our minds how that bike performed. In comparison, the new model feels to have made improvements in key areas, especially the suspension curve, now with a very nice and supple feeling off the top of the stroke. The geometry tweaks make the bike more nimble in the turns, easier to manual and jump through tight landings. With the suspension, pivot moved from the seat stay to the chain stay the bike feels more planted under brakes and very supportive beneath you when pumping through the trails, and resists pedal strikes well.
27.5″ or 29″ then?
We rode both, after two long days of riding a huge variety of trails on the 27.5″ wheels with 2.8″ tyres we changed to the 29″ wheels and got back to it. The trails in Aosta Valley were ideal to gain a great understanding of what wheel size suits best, with nail-bitingly fast straights, rough embedded rock gardens all joined with the tightest switchback corners we’d ever seen. That’s Europe for you!
It was the 29er variation that we stuck with, the stability in traction won us over, though it was certainly a tougher task to ride the tight switchback turns, even resulting in one over the bars incident while attempting a nose-pivot turn at speed. Scott give you the option to choose what wheel size you want, offering many models.
How were all the parts?
The bike we rode was the Genius 700 Ultimate, a bike that will be available in Australia as a special order only as it’s going to hit a price point that would make you weak at the knees, a top-spec model with nothing shy of the ultimate parts. A SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain with its lustrous gold finish, FOX 34 forks (the 700 and 900 Tuned Genius models come with a FOX 36), DT-Swiss 30mm wide carbon wheels and a very slick black/black paint job.
Our only gripes were that on the steep, dry and loose trails of Aosta, we wished for a more aggressive front tyre, though we’re sure that on our home trails we’d have no qualms with the fast and light Maxxis Rekon, and the SRAM Guide brakes even with 180mm rotors at both ends didn’t particularly like the insanely flat-out descents into hairpin corners, though like the tyres we would surely be happy with the power of the Guide brakes on our regular trails.
Give me more Genius!
Following the might impressive launch of the Spark last year, the release of the new Genius will solidify its place in the long-travel trail bike segment. If your rides involve a blend of exploring new places, climbing to the top on your own steam, descending hard and fast, then from our early impressions, we will back this bike with full confidence.
We’ll be back with more from the 2018 Scott range with pricing and availability, stay tuned.
We love these type of reviews, where we carefully set both bikes up and jump between them multiple times over a few solid rides to feel the differences, then we sit back and pick the finer details apart taking into consideration everything that would concern a potential buyer.
Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29er: $7000, 12.82kg.
Scott Spark 900: $6500, 12.32kg.
We chose the Spark and Camber for many reasons, they share the same wheel size, suspension travel amount and are aimed at the all-round trail rider. The Specialized Camber Expert Carbon 29 and the Scott Spark 900 are only $500 Australian dollaroos apart too, see, very close in many ways. Still, no matter how similar they may appear on paper, there were quite a few subtleties that helped us to our final verdict.
Where these two sit.
Slotting in between the lean World Cup cross-country racer, the Epic and immensely popular all-mountain Stumpjumper, the current iteration of the Camber has been around for a few years now and is a touch older in its development cycle than the Scott Spark which was completely revised for the 2017-year model. The Camber uses the outgoing non-boost standard hubs and could possibly be due for a refresh soon-ish, while the Spark is up to date with all the modern standards. The Camber is available in 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes, and in a wide range of price points from $2500 right up to the $11000 S-Works.
The Spark has won its fair of World Cup races too and recently both gold medals at the Rio Olympics. While the longer travel and more laid back Spark 900 we have on test is not the ultra-light and mighty sharp version that Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds race, it’s built on the same platform. It must be confusing to work at Scott with so many Spark models in the catalogue – there are dozens of variants, in three wheel sizes, 27.5”, 27.5” Plus and 29er.
Frame and build:
The Camber and Spark both have lovely carbon front triangles mated to an aluminium rear end. The well-regarded FSR suspension design used across all Specialized suspension bikes gives the Camber top marks straight away. The Spark uses the one-piece rear end with a flex stay taking place of a suspension pivot on the rear end. Both bikes have 120mm of rear travel.
Scott haven’t done much at all in the way of frame protection with this Spark, leaving the underside of the frame vulnerable to flying trail debris, even the chain stay is bare, resulting in noisy chain slap and chipped paint. In fact, this is our second Scott Spark 900. An unfortunate incident on the Juggernaut Trail in Launceston rendered the first one useless as a random rock kicked up and put a whopping hole in the down tube. Unlucky? Yes, but it could have been avoided with protection like the thick rubber shielding found on the downtube and along the chain stay.
On the scales, the Spark is 500g lighter than the Camber. The wheels and drivetrain are the bulk of the weight savings on the Spark.
Aesthetically, they’re both winners. The Specialized is a real jaw dropper, its understated glossy finish and minimal graphics are appreciated, take a step closer and the glittering blue paint will wink back at you in the sunlight, very slick indeed. The Spark’s light grey and green scheme is also well done and matched nicely with all the components, sharp indeed.
With Scott’s new frame design placing the rear shock and linkage low and centred in the frame it gives the bike a low centre of gravity and loads of space in the frame for a full-size water bottle. The move to this new shape, suspension configuration and one-piece rear end allowed Scott to make the lightest suspension frame on the market with the Scott Spark RC model.
Both bikes have very neat internally routed cabling through the frame, and we appreciate the way the Spark so neatly gets the TwinLoc cable to the rear shock, you can barely even see where it exits the frame.
Unique to Specialized is the SWAT system, a very clever way of incorporating storage inside the frame. By removing the ‘trapdoor’ underneath the bottle cage you can access a large amount of space in the Camber’s down tube to stash an inner tube, chicken burrito and spare parts. An allen key set clips securely into the underside of the top tube, it’s amazing how handy that can be!
The Camber is a real set and forget type of bike, with the Auto-Sag system taking the guess work out of the rear shock setup. With a standard three-position compression lever on the rear shock (open, medium and locked) and indexed GRIP damper in the fork, it is very easy to get your head around.
In classic Scott fashion, the Spark’s suspension revolves around their Twinloc design, which allows the rider immediate control over the suspension at both ends. The Twinloc has three settings; 120mm travel, an 85mm travel setting (which gives you a much firmer spring rate and less sag), and then fully locked out, while simultaneously adding compression damping to the fork to match. The Twinloc does a stellar job of adapting the bike’s characteristic – not just travel amount – to suit the moment. Use full-travel mode for descents and rough surfaces, the medium one for the climbs (less travel, firmer compression and less sag) and locked out for tarmac or out-sprinting Julien Absalon.
The Twinloc lever sits close to the thumb on the left side of the bar, it’s is incredibly ergonomic which promotes you to use it often during the ride to your advantage. A lot of people dislike the cabling associated with TwinLoc, but once you’ve used the system for a while, you’ll be less concerned about the cabling and stoked on the performance, we promise.
Parts and spec:
Both bikes have a solid dose of in-house components. Scott’s own component brand Syncros dominates on the Spark, and the Camber is dressed Specialized’s own parts. With the Camber, Specialized gear is used everywhere except the drivetrain and suspension. While the Scott uses Maxxis for tyres and FOX for the dropper post amongst their Syncros parts.
The Spark is a real winner in our eyes when talking spec – the 12-speed SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a HUGE upgrade from the Camber’s 11-speed SRAM GX drivetrain. We’d also pick the FOX Transfer post over the Specialized Command Post, it’s really our favourite dropper on the market right now.
The Spark’s brakes are a level higher than the Camber with Shimano XT vs SLX (we dig the Camber’s integration of the SRAM shifter and Shimano brake levers, nice one!), not a huge difference in braking performance while riding though. The difference in suspension, on the other hand, is quite noticeable – the Spark’s FOX FIT 4 Performance Elite fork feels leagues ahead of the GRIP damper in the Camber’s fork.
There’s a big difference in the wheels with the two bikes too. The Roval Transfer rims are 29mm wide versus the terribly narrow 20mm Syncros rims. The sturdier rims and tacky tyres gave the Camber a sure-footed feeling when the trails got faster. We also bent the Spark’s rear wheel out of shape on one ride. The narrow Syncros rims may feel light and contribute to the Spark’s fast rolling, but we’d ditch them in favour of something wider in a flash.
The Maxxis Forekaster tyres seem to feel more at home on softer soils while the Specialized Purgatory/Ground Control combo is a great pair of tyres for a wider range of trails. During our testing, the trails were dry and handpicked, so the Forecasters on the narrow Syncros rims felt a little on the sketchy side in comparison to the Specialized tyres.
The higher specced drivetrain and suspension has a real impact on the way the bike rides, it feels lighter, smoother and the increased gear range is a big bonus.
Pricing and value:
The pricing came as a real surprise to us. Without checking we’d have sworn the Spark would have been dearer than the Camber, but it’s the other way around. Considering they are both from well-established brands with subsidiary headquarters in Australia the pricing is quite a contrast. The Specialized is priced $500 higher than the Scott, but with a level of spec that comes in well under that of the Spark. We have to question why it’s so expensive, it does seem fairly uncompetitive on that front.
**UPDATE** Specialized have informed us of updated pricing on the Camber, since April’s Autumn Savings sale the price dropped from $7000 to $6000, a big drop in price for sure!
Shredding the trails on these two steeds was unreal. They both meld the best bits of a cross country race bike with just the right amount of trail bike performance. We’re often watching riders, white-knuckled and tense, trying to wrangle their sharp cross country race bikes around the local trails. If only they knew how much better off they’d be on bikes like these two!
With 120mm of travel, dropper posts and decent width bars you’re able to relax and tackle the trails with more confidence and comfort. If you’re considering a Specialized Epic or Spark RC/World Cup we’d suggest trying one of these too, for 90% of the trails they are just as efficient and can also cross over to a race a few times a year too.
The Spark has slightly slacker geometry than the Camber, which will let you push a little harder when trails get steep and technical, and in the hands of a skilled pilot, you could let it rip very hard. It’s got more fire about it, encouraging you to get up and attack, weighting the front wheel, and the suspension is very smooth. If you’re diligent with the TwinLoc lever, it’s fast and efficient too – hit a climb, push the lever, and sprint away.
In comparison, the Camber felt slightly more laid-back to ride; we found ourselves seated more, pedalling through the trails, less aggressive overall. It’s calm demeanour and grippy tyres make it a very stable and relaxed bike, but without at the same sense of urgency as the Spark.
Best aspects for the Camber:
It’s a sturdy bike to ride with zero-fuss suspension, easy to understand the setup. We love the clean aesthetics, minimal graphics and lustrous finish. The SWAT system is nifty and handy. On the trail the Camber is a comfortable and confident bike to ride, the sure-footed manners from the wider rims and tacky tyres really set it apart from the Scott.
Low points for the Camber:
It’s the value in the spec that received low marks in this comparison – the drivetrain, brakes, less sophisticated fork and shock are all good performers though for $7000 we’d have to wish for more coming from one of the biggest brands in the world. There was rattling in the dropper post while the FOX Transfer felt smooth and quiet all the time.
Best aspects for the Spark:
The Spark is quite good value for the money, excluding the rims, the spec is dialled. The Twinloc broadens its usage ability; it could well dabble in a marathon or multi-day event with its quick adjustable suspension, low weight and fast rolling wheels.
The frame geometry is very trail friendly; it will be a great bike for an aggressive rider without isolating a cross country rider who requires efficiency.
There’s a lot to like with its attention to detail, the way the Syncros grips integrate both the FOX Transfer post remote with the Twinloc lever and the stem spacers shaped like the stem to give a unique and clean aesthetic. We appreciate the nice Syncros chain guide for peace of mind and the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is a standout spec choice we are totally impressed by.
Low points for the Spark:
We are dumbfounded that there’s no frame protection either underneath the downtube and across the chainstay. We have had firsthand experience how that can play out.
The 20mm wide rims are too narrow which give the bike nerves over loose terrain, and we bent the rear wheel way out of shape during testing.
A debatable point is the Twinloc’s added complication. It adds an element of untidiness to the cockpit with two extra cables to manage and of course, maintain. There are a lot of fussy neat-freaks out there (us included) and the added cables might deter them, though really with some time and TLC (and a pair of cutters) you can tidy the Spark’s front end up just fine.
If it’s a question of practicality vs performance, the Specialized has that edge with its zero-fuss suspension, frame protection, the ability to store your tools and spares on the bike so they’re ready to go, and robust wheels and sure-footed tyres.
**UPDATE** Note the updated pricing from April onwards, the Camber went on sale for $6000.
Though from a performance standpoint the Scott has its measure, we found it a more exciting and versatile bike to ride and the higher quality suspension and drivetrain are noticeable on the trail. It’s hard to pass up, especially when you consider the price.
Not even our concerns about the fragile wheels and unprotected frame could turn us off the Spark in this head to head review. Its superior spec, adaptable suspension, low weight and price impressed us. Once you trash the rims, stick on some wider ones, and you’ll be good to go.
Pick one? The Scott.
What’s the Spark model we’ve got on test?
The Spark 900 we’ve got on test is a 120mm, 29” trail bike. With a dropper post and a beefy fork, it’s a world apart from the Spark RC 900 World Cup we recently tested.
What’s the Scott Spark 900 all about?
The 120mm trail bike hasn’t received much love recently, with many companies increasing their trail bike model’s travel to 130mm, and going with beefier components than in years past.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the evolution of more aggressive trail bikes, and indeed a 130mm trail bike with solid kit is a great quiver killer, a 120mm bike with a slightly lighter build gives you that extra versatility you don’t get from an XC race bike, whilst remaining light and zippy in the singletrack.
What do you get for your money with the Scott Spark 900?
The Scott Spark 900 retails for $6499, and comes with an acceptable rather than astounding build kit for the price. The front triangle is carbon, paired with an alloy rear end.
What’s the frame’s build quality like?
The Scott Spark 900 is a lovely bike on the eye, and a scan over the frame reveals real attention to detail.
The front triangle is very similar to the Spark RC model we tested earlier this year; Scott have once again integrated a very neat chainguide that attaches to the main pivot, however the grade of carbon is slightly heavier than what you’ll find on the RC models.
The sloping top tube gives solid standover clearance, and the headtube and downtube are chunky and look ready for some straight-line ploughing.
The rear end is alloy, a definite nod to the Spark 900’s trail riding intentions as opposed to its race oriented RC siblings, as well as a point of difference between the 900 and the Ultimate and Premium Spark models, which come with a full carbon rear end.
What about the squishy bits?
the suspension is from Fox, with the Performance Elite fork and shock utilising the same internals as the top of the line Factory series, but without the Kashima coating.
The 34mm fork with low speed compression adjustment is a great choice, providing a stiff front end with tonnes of adjustment.
Both the front and rear end are hooked up to a Twinloc remote on the left-hand side of the handlebar, which has fully open, 95mm travel and fully locked out settings.
In the dropper post department, the bike comes stock with a Fox Transfer dropper post that’s integrated nicely into the Twinloc suspension remote, which also doubles as the lockring for the grip.
As we discussed in our First Bite of the Transfer, it’s a very impressive offering. Disappointingly however, the post only features 125mm of drop in a size large- we’d like to see a 150mm post specced for larger sizes.
Is that an Eagle drivetrain?
It is indeed! The drivetrain is Sram’s Eagle paired with a 32 tooth chainring up front.
Yep- we won’t waste your time here, Shimano’s XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear will work exceptionally
Where will we ride the Scott Spark 900?
We started this First Bite discussing how many brands are beefing up their trail bikes to cope in gnarlier terrain, at times to the detriment of how fun a lightweight trail bike can be in flowy singletrack.
We’re excited to see how the Spark goes on the flowy trails it was designed for, but we’re also interested as to whether its 120mm of squish will be noticeably different to beefier 130mm trail bikes on more technical trails.
Much like the Fed wouldn’t settle for a rubbish racquet, Nino Schurter wouldn’t rock up to the start line aboard anything but the best, so when Scott released an all new Spark frame last year, we sat up and paid attention.
What’s the Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup all about?
The Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup is about going fast everywhere, all the time. Every watt of power that you put into the pedals goes straight into moving you forward, at pace, through the incredibly stiff frame, efficient suspension and light overall weight.
The seated position is a real winner, comfortably stretched, and perfectly suited to spending extended periods of time on the bike, either racing or chewing up long training rides. In the saddle, the Spark’s riding position felt long enough in the front end to give stability and confidence, and short enough in the rear to feel like you could whip the bike through a corner or take the tighter line.
In terms of pumping and weaving the Spark through the trails, we’re seriously impressed with how the new Spark has improved upon its predecessor not only with lighter weight but with increased frame stiffness, which means the Spark goes where you want it, without feeling squirmy or deflecting off track.
The Spark climbs like a scalded cat. Seated pedalling puts you in a good position to grind away powerfully, but for short bursts of power, utilising the Twin Loc remote, locking the rear shock out and pounding out of the saddle delivers devastating efficiency.
If the climb is loose or technical, we found leaving the shock open useful to increase traction to the rear wheel. With the TwinLoc system in its open position, the suspension is very smooth at the top of the stroke, so the rear wheel tracks over loose terrain nicely. Around switchback corners, the Spark goes exactly where you point it, which was a refreshing reminder that not all bikes have 65-degree head angles and kilometre long wheelbases!
Whilst it’s a bit of a given that a ten-kilogram XC bike is going to climb well, the descending performance of the Spark was sound too. The combination of the longer front centre, slacker head angle and shorter chainstays than the previous Spark was noticeable, meant the bike felt confident in some pretty technical terrain.
The biggest limiter for the Spark on the descents was cornering traction with the race focused Rocket Ron tyres, which we had to run quite hard due to the combination of the flexy sidewalls, narrow rims and minimal puncture protection.
The other limiter on descents was the lack of dropper post- we stopped to put our seat down for a couple of descents and it demonstrated just how capable the Spark has the potential to be. Even if you’re a racer who wants the lightest possible weight, unless your descending technique is flawless, we seriously think a dropper post could be the faster option, not to mention a ton more fun riding with your mates on the weekend.
Through twisty and undulating singletrack, the Spark delivers an efficient and addictive ride. We always found ourselves wanting to push harder aboard the Spark, it just rushes forward, even when you should be exhausted – this thing would be an XC Marathon destroyer.
The only criticism we would have about the Spark out on the trail is the commitment it requires from the rider to get the most out of the bike.
Where on a trail bike with a more relaxed geometry a rider can safely potter through singletrack in the saddle if they’re not feeling it, and ride technical sections with a dropped saddle and slacker geometry, the upright and forward position of the Spark rewards hitting the trails at pace, as the steering is twitchy at slow speeds, and the bike feels tippy coming into technical terrain slowly.
Put faith in the Spark’s stiff frame and excellent geometry however, and you’ll find yourself negotiating tricky sections and singletrack with more confidence than you would think aboard an XC race bike. It just takes a more confident approach!
As we discussed before, with the addition of a dropper post and in the hands of a skilled pilot, you would have yourself a super light and super capable bike not just for the race track, but a bit of lighter trail riding also.
Who is this bike for?
There’s no doubt that the Spark is aimed at the gel-munching, leg shaving XC racer. Its race credentials in the hands of Nino Schurter prove far beyond our amateur opinions that this bike is ready to be ridden up, down and all around at serious pace.
Despite this, we think that if you place a high value on having a bike that is light and fast, and your trails are relatively smooth and non-technical, then a skilled rider could have a lot of fun aboard the Spark. Fit it out with a dropper post and you’ll surprise yourself with how capable this machine is, not to mention the fact that on a bike this light you’ll be able to ride much further before getting tired.
What upgrades could you make?
As we discussed in our First Bite, it would be difficult to blame your bike if this was your race weapon and you had a bit of an off day.
Despite this, if you really wanted the ultimate race machine, you could go for the Spark 900 RC SL model, which is the lightest full-suspension bike in existence, weighing in as a complete build at under 10kg, and coming stock with Fox’s Factory level suspension, a full Eagle XX1 groupset and carbon Syncros wheels.
Another option is to get yourself a set of race wheels for the World Cup model tested here. The stock Syncros XR RC wheels aren’t a bad wheelset whatsoever, and they did the job perfectly throughout the review. Impressively, the lightweight and relatively nondescript aluminium wheelset stayed true throughout testing. However, a set of slightly wider, lightweight hoops for race day would give the Spark even more zing.
Is it good value for money?
Cynics will probably point to the Fox Performance level suspension, Eagle X01 drivetrain and alloy Syncros wheels and see them as below par for a bike of this cost. However we think the Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup is hard to go past for the discerning XC racer.
With an overall weight of ten kilograms on the dot, and perhaps the best dual suspension XC frame currently on the market, not only in terms of weight but in the areas of stiffness and geometry, we would sacrifice the top of the line components in a couple of areas.
How did the components perform?
The Eagle X01 drivetrain was flawless throughout testing, as were the wheels as we discussed earlier. If you bought a set of race wheels, the XR RC’s would make an excellent training wheelset. Another potential upgrade you could make to the bike with a second wheelset is saving the lightweight Rocket Ron tyres for race day, and using something a bit sturdier that can be safely run at lower pressures for everyday riding.
The Fox Performance series suspension was a real eye opener. Far from feeling like Fox’s second tier offering, the fork and shock felt supple, stiff and well tuned to the purpose of the bike. The way Fox have managed to lower the weight of their 32mm fork offerings through their ‘Step-Cast’ technology has not led to any loss in stiffness or increased flex, which is astounding.
As we noted in the First Bite, the Ritchey World Cup Series components are real standouts on this bike. Not only do they look gorgeous, but the stem and handlebar combination worked well, and the seatpost stayed put with just 4nm of torque and a smear of carbon paste.
Scott’s Twin-Loc remote system worked excellently on the Spark, as its pace-demanding attitude meant that having the option to stiffen or lock out the suspension completely was highly useful during short sprints, climbs and smoother sections of trail. The ergonomic positioning of the remote with its integration with the grip clamp meant it was easy to reach the levers for on-the-fly suspension adjustments.
We think the rims should be slightly wider internally, as their narrowness meant we were forced to run the Rocket Ron tyres at very high pressures or they felt very squirmy, which meant there wasn’t a heap of traction available on loose trail surfaces.
Secondly, whilst the integration of the Twin-Loc remote onto the Syncros grips gives the handlebar a clean look, it means you can only run grips with the same lock ring fitting as the stock Syncros offering. As grips are often a personal preference on a bike, we see the lack of options for changing them out as a potential dilemma for some riders- for example, lots of XC riders use push on foam grips, which is not an option aboard the Spark.
So, who would the Spark light up the trails for?
The all-new Scott Spark is a cross-country race bike through and through, but it’s reminded us how much fun blasting through the singletrack at full pace and having a bike that responds with ferociously sharp steering can be. Whilst the majority of people that own this bike will probably enjoy racing, it doesn’t have to be your number one focus to have a good time aboard the Spark.
Okay, maybe nobody said that to us, and we certainly haven’t thrown the Spark sideways through the air like the Swiss wizard himself, but the all new 2017 Scott Spark has been filling our heads with thoughts that maybe we missed our calling in life as fit and powerful cross-country racers.
So, this is a brand-new Scott Spark for 2017?
Yep! We were lucky enough to attend the launch of the new Spark range earlier this year, and we won’t go into the incredible number of changes and new additions the 2017 frame features here, but check out our recap of the launch to see just why the new Spark is perhaps the most desirable cross-country bike on the planet right now!
It looks like there’s some top of the line kit on the Spark- is there anything on this bike that you can upgrade?
Our large sized Spark RC 900 World Cup weighs in at ten kilograms on the dot without pedals, and the only components that aren’t top of the line are FOX’s Performance Line suspension, a set of alloy Syncros wheels and SRAM’s XO1 Eagle groupset rather than the flagship XX1.
Despite this, we’re pretty much of the opinion that if you’re on this bike you instantly relinquish any bike/weight/equipment related excuse that you may have used in the past.
The Scott Spark RC 900 World Cup sits one model below the top of the line SL model, which comes decked out with factory level Fox suspension, a full complement of Syncros carbon finishing kit and some super light carbon wheels made for Syncros by DT Swiss.
What sort of geometry numbers are we looking at?
The Spark is an out and out cross-country race bike, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t received some of the ‘modern’ geometry touches that have increased the capabilities of bikes in all travel categories. The new Spark has moved from a 70-degree head angle to 68.5 degrees; the reach has been lengthened in every size (for example, our large sized bike has gone from 438mm to 456.8mm) and the chainstays have been shortened across the range by 13mm to a very snappy 435mm.
What’s the lever on the left hand side of the handlebar if there’s no front derailleur or dropper post?
Scott loves their bikes to be adjustable, and the new Spark is no exception. The bike features a Twin Loc remote that controls both front and rear suspension simultaneously. The system has three positions. Firstly, a fully open position that allows full travel, front and rear. One click of the black lever switches the rear shock to Traction mode, while the fork remains fully active and the shock is switched to a firmer setting. Click again and rear shock and fork both lockout fully. The silver lever returns the suspension to full travel.
On trail bikes, we’re not huge fans of lockout levers cluttering the handlebar and creating a bird’s nest of cables adorning the front of the bike, but the Twin Loc system on the Spark makes a lot of sense for cross-country racing and is well integrated. In a recent interview, Nino Schurter commented that he often finishes races with a sore thumb from using the Twin-Loc system continuously throughout a race!
What about if I don’t want to race cross-country World Cups?
We’ll point this out now after only a few rides on this rig- it’s not a trail bike. Every single element of the Spark has been engineered to optimise performance on the cross-country race track. You don’t have to be Nino Schurter to reap the benefits of this machine, but unless you’re racing, or your riding consists of flowing, non-technical trails, then perhaps this bike isn’t the right choice.
Despite this bike being a dedicated race bike, look out for a full review soon, where we’ll go into more detail about how the Spark handles the variety of riding we plan to throw at it.
Check out how Nino shaped the development of the new Scale and Spark in the latest release of “Hunt for Glory.”
See our first ride impressions of the new Scott Spark range here:
And the Scott Scale range too!
“Engineers don’t like design compromises. Splitting the Spark family into three models allowed us to create bikes with a shared DNA and distinct purpose. The Spark RC is a 100% race dedicated full suspension bike – by designing a 1x specific platform and using HMX-SL fibres for the first time on MTB we’ve set a new benchmark in terms of weight. The final bike is the result of hundreds of careful design decisions which combine to create the perfect racing tool for our racers to keep on winning.” – Joe Higgins, Chief of MTB Engineering.
Check out the insanely light 2017 Scott Scale hardtail in our first impressions piece here: 2017 Scott Scale.
First spotted in the hands of World Champion Nino Schurter, the new Spark sent the internet forums into a whirlwind. What was this crazy looking thing, visibly so different to the current Spark!? Let alone that it was in fact a 29er (sorry 27.5″ fans, Nino will choose to race a 29er Spark or Scale at Rio).
Well, firstly the lightest configuration of the new Spark SL frame is a ridiculous 1779g for the 29er and 1749g for 27.5″. Taking 217 grams out of the already category leading 2016 frame was a result of hundreds of marginal gains. For 2017 the R&D gurus at Scott drew upon a deep wealth of expertise in carbon, and especially road bike technology to take their Spark and Scale frames to the next level.
The weight loss comes down to more intelligent shapes for the new carbon composite layers, simplifying the frame with 1X and 2X drivetrains, a new pivot-free rear triangle, a new brake mount, and a lighter rocker link. And a lot of this can be attributed to the emergence of a few new standards, like Boost hub spacing and the new Trunnion Mount rear shock.
Frame geometry and suspension curves also score an overhaul, bringing it up to speed with the modern demands. Scott’s excellent Twin-Loc suspension adjustment system carries forward, the tw0-position air volume adjustment controlled at the handlebar is key to the Scott range’s impressive versatility choose between Descend Mode, Traction Mode and locked out.
New Rear Triangle: The new pivotless swingarm allows the rear triangle to be moulded in just two continuos carbon parts, where the older version was made up from 18 seperate parts. The 130g saving is where most of the weight has been taken from the frame. The rear end will now give a few degrees of flex to allow the suspension to do its thing, instead of a bushing pivot and all its hardware.
To allow the frame to flex freely a new brake mount was designed, anchored around the axle and chain stay, this allows the seat stay to move the way it needs to. A 160mm and 180mm disc rotor size mount is available.
Metric Trunnion Shock Mount: Two new standards of the rear shock is found on the new Spark, metric shock sizing and the shorter sized Trunnion Mounting arrangement. The stout and short shock allows greater freedom for the frame design, sitting lower and wider in the frame, and also more stroke length with the same eye-to-eye length.
The new downward pointing rear shock allows freedom with frame sizes too, removing the shock from fixing to the top tube (which grows as the sizes do) is an obvious benefit and more economical.
New Sandwich Dropout: The new dropout is also an area of weight saving, on the Scale hardtail also. Available for both Shimano Direct Mount and SRAM it integrates into the thu-axle for a leaner and stiffer section.
Suspension and Geometry: A criticism we had with our review of the 2016 Scott Spark 900 Premium recently was the frame geometry was a little out-dated, we wanted shorter stays, and slacker angles to let the bike ride better. So we’re stoked that the new Spark is all that and more.
For the 29er the chain stays are 13mm shorter than before, now a respectable 435mm. Reach is longer, head angle slackens off 1.3 degrees and the whole standover is a huge 28mm lower.
Scott have worked on developing a more sensitive suspension curve too, and coupled with the Twin-Loc dual air chamber of the rear shock, this is one seriously adaptable bike.
While we are sure to admit the Scott range is overwhelming and a little confusing at times, the result is excellent choice and options for the rider. Here’s a quick overview of the Spark range coming to Australia.
The new Spark platform comes with three different wheel sizes and different travel options. The frame of the 27.5″ wheel Spark RC 700 SL weighs in at only 1749 g (including shock and hardware). The frame of the 29″ frame Spark RC 900 SL weighs in at only 1779g (including shock and hardware).
Spark RC 900 / Spark 900: The all-out 29er race bike.
First impressions: You want to race? This is your weapon, there are few bikes as successful on the race circuit as the new Spark, and the new version cements itself at the top by shaving serious weight. Hitting the trails on the Spark 900 RC was quite an experience, the acceleration and rolling speed is outstanding. Your power goes straight to the rear wheel, and the perfectly ergonomic Twin-Loc lever is there for the sprints and climbs, lock it or switch to climb mode and you’re so well supported to mash on the pedals in anger.
Spark RC 700 / Spark 700: Lightweight 27.5″ wheel race bike.The 120mm trail-ready version of the Spark.
First Impressions: This is the Spark for the trail rider, with both wheel size options, the ‘regular’ spark feels so much more neutral than it’s racey RC brother. With meatier tyres, dropper posts, 34mm leg forks this is a seriously progressive bike from Scott.
We spent a lot of time on this bike, and we can see massive appeal for the trail rider that races a few times a year.
Spark 700 Plus: Super fun and capable trail bike. So much traction!
The Plus is a 130/12omm travel bike with 2.8″ Maxxis tyres for a completely different character to the racey Spark range but sharing the same incredibly light frame.
First Impressions: For those who are yet to experience a plus bike, we urge you to try one. This Spark Plus is a completely different bike, while it shares the same lightweight frame, the extra fork travel and 2.8″ Maxxis plus tyres transform it into a capable and fun bike to blast through trails in confidence. 2.8″ tyres can climb up harder, steeper and looser ascents, and turn the bike into a descent and you’ve got control in spades.
Maxxis make an appearance on the new Scott range, previously very involved with Schwalbe, testing proved them not to be durable enough, and Maxxis are much more affordable too, all good from our end.
We could bang on about plus bikes for ages, they really are great fun to ride. Check out review of the Scott Genius Plus here: Scott Genius Plus review.
New the concept of plus? What’s it all about? Click here for a little more on Plus.
We know riders win races, not bikes, but you still can’t ignore the fact the Scott Spark is one of the most successful World Cup cross-country racing bikes on the planet. There are now two versions of the Spark to choose from (29er or 27.5″) across a broad range of price points. The 900 Premium is a 29er, and it’s the second top tier model in the Spark range. But no matter which wheel size or particular model you opt for, you’re getting a bike with real racing intentions.
With a weight figure (10.3kg) and spec list that befits its $8999 price tag, the Spark 900 Premium is obviously pitched at the serious (or seriously well-off) cross country or marathon racer. It’s a wheels-on-the-ground, foot-on-the-gas kind of bike. Roll it off the showroom floor, put a bottle cage and a number plate on it, and get to it.
With its strikingly swept back seat tube and schmick graphic highlights, the Spark frameset is a gorgeous, lightweight wedge of a thing. It’s constructed from Scott’s HMX carbon throughout, which they claim is a unique blend, yielding 20% more stiffness and 9% more statistics than other carbon. It’s light, and it’s plenty stiff for its intended use. Ignoring the clump of cables around the bars, the frameset is remarkably clutter free; the way the upper link kind of envelopes the seat tube is beautiful, and the seat stays are sleek and minimalist.
We praise Scott for resisting the temptation to make the pivot assemblies weedy and overly light. They’ve opted for tough and properly sized hardware instead, with 8mm Allen key fittings, which helps give the rear end more stiffness than we expected, especially given the bike’s weight. The dropouts are 142x12mm, but you can swap them out for 135mm if have some absurdly light set of Euro tubular wheels with old-school hubs.
The rear brake mount is squeezed into the tight space between the chain stay and seat stay. It’s tucked out of the way but at the expense of ease of adjustment – we found it quite fiddly to line up properly. There’s more room up front, with plenty of space for a full-sized water bottle.
Unlike the paint job, the Spark’s geometry numbers are pretty traditional. You do have some geometry adjustment via the rear shock mount, but even in the slacker setting the bike is still more edgy than a drug mule passing through customs, with a head angle of 69.5 degree.
The chain stays are longer than a West Wing binge, at 448mm, which has a real impact on the bike’s handling as you’ll read below. We can’t help but feel this is where Scott will tweak the Spark next – going to a Boost rear hub would afford Scott’s engineers a bit more room to move and perhaps shorten it all up. By way of comparison, the rear-centre on a Specialized Epic is 439mm, a Trek Top Fuel is a tight 433mm.
It’s interesting to note just how different the Spark 27.5’s geometry is – the head angle is more than a degree slacker and the chain stays are 433mm, plus it has more travel (120mm). We’d love to try one of the 27.5″ models out as a comparison.
Scott’s approach to the Spark’s suspension is pretty different to that employed on most other cross country race bikes. The suspension configuration is unremarkable – it’s a traditional single-pivot, with the link driving the shock – but the approach to damping and adjustability is unique. We’re talking about TwinLoc, which is not a wrestling manoeuvre, but a holistic suspension and geometry adjustment that allows you to change the Spark’s character on the fly via a well constructed, bar-mounted lever.
You’ll either love the TwinLoc system for its effectiveness, or you’ll hate it for the complexity, but it’s intrinsic to the Spark’s performance. Push the main lever to move to a firmer suspension mode, the silver lever drops you back down a level.
In the ‘open’ mode, the Spark has 100mm of rear travel and the suspension is fully active, and we mean ‘fully’ – there is no pedalling platform, slow-speed compression damping and minimal anti-squat chain tension forces at play, allowing the shock to work to maximum effect. Scott figure you should be able to get the full benefit of the suspension, without compromise, when you want it (e.g. descents or rough climbs).
Push the lever one click and you’ll engage Traction mode. This simultaneously stiffens the fork compression, as well as reducing the rear travel to 70mm. The reduction in travel firms up the suspension considerably, which means a huge leap in suspension pedalling efficiency. Traction mode also has less suspension sag so you get a higher bottom bracket height and steeper angles, which is perfect for climbing.
The third position is a proper lockout. The rear end becomes almost completely locked out, and the fork is stiffened even further. Essentially it’s a mode for tarmac, sprints or super smooth fireroad only.
Of course, all this adjustability is only useful if you remember to use it! If you’re coming from a bike that has a more set-and-forget suspension system, all the button pushing might seem infuriating. But it’s worth persevering as it has a huge impact on the bike’s abilities.
While we didn’t need to carry out any maintenance on the TwinLoc system during our testing, it is still a cable system, so don’t neglect to give the cables a little bit of lube love to keep it all working smoothly if you ride in dusty, wet or muddy conditions a lot.
If you decide to run this bike single-ring, it’s good to know that there’s a neat ‘under-the-bar’ DownSide TwinLoc lever available. We like the sound of this as, as it’d be nice to have access to the TwinLoc lever without having to lift your thumb above the bars.
Scott have gone to town with some of the lightest racing kit out there for the 900 Premium, so banish any thoughts you had about hucking this bike off a drop of any considerable height, ok?
Syncros bits: Scott acquired legendary component brand Syncros not long ago, and some of their lightest components are found on the 900 Premium. It’s good kit; the 720mm-wide FL1.0 carbon bar has a comfy sweep and is zero-rise to help keep the front end racy. We initially had some misgivings about the stem, but it turns out to be just a carbon-wrap, not full carbon, which we think is sensible.
Narrow rims: Syncros also provide the xR1.5 wheelset, which is a scant 1630g. The rear hub has a 36-point engagement with a light, crisp feel. We’re not overly fond of the narrow 20mm internal rim width, which is certainly on the skinny side. We understand this is a race bike, but even XC racers can benefit from a slightly wider rim to provide more tyre support. We never felt comfortable dropping the tyre pressures to the degree we’d have liked on such narrow rims.
XTR mechanical: There is a Di2 version on the 900 Premium available if you’re up for the full XTR experience, but the mechanical shifting is sensational too. The 900 Premium has a twin chain ring (24/34) with an 11-40 XTR cassette out back. If this were the Di2 bike, we’d leave both chainrings in place and use Shimano’s cool Syncro Shift mode (one shifter, two derailleurs) but as a mechanical setup our preference would be to run a single ring to declutter the bars and simplify things. The rear shifting is superb; for the first 30km or so on this bike, the drivetrain was a tad noisy, but it seemed to quite down soon after and delivered flawless performance.
XTR Race brakes: As noted above, we found it tricky to properly align the rear brake on the Spark, which meant our rear brake always felt a tiny bit spongy in comparison to the front, which had a light, snappy feel. The power certainly wasn’t effected though, and we found the 180/160mm rotor combo served up a huge amount of power.
Fast Schwalbe rubber: The name ‘Rocket Ron’ says it all – these tyres are super quick – and they’re a great improvement over their predecessor (which seemed traction-phobic on most surfaces). The 900 Premium has the firmer Pace Star compound front and rear, we found them good on loose or loam surfaces, but still a bit nervous on roots or anytime things got off-camber. Maybe a Nobby Nic up front could be a good idea?
The 900 is pure-bred; its window of intended use is narrow, but it excels in that domain. It’s an accomplished mile-eater, a race winner, with riding position that is easy on your body and a weight that is easy on your legs. That said, you’ve really got to make sure you’re using the TwinLoc to full effect to get the most out of this bike.
Climbing: With the Traction mode engaged, the 900 absolutely motors along smooth fireroads, the light wheels and fast tyres are easy to prod into life, accelerating with just the lightest stab on the pedals. We were blown away by the ease with which this bike sailed up smoother climbs, and we found ourselves holding our cadence and gear, where we’d normally be slowing down and clicking for easier gears like mad. If you do need to drop into the small chain ring, you’ll find the shifting to be flawless – we never worried about a mis-shift or dropped chain with the XTR drivetrain. With the roomy 720mm bar, you’ve got plenty of leverage to engage your upper body in the climbing efforts too, sharing the load with your legs.
Forget to engage Traction mode, however, and the climbing is less effortless. Because the shock doesn’t have a pedalling platform, choppy, tired pedalling will set the bike bobbing. That’s not to say we didn’t sometimes use the Open mode for climbing, but we limited its use to those times where we really needed maximum traction, on loose, rock-strewn climbs. The Rocket Rons aren’t the greatest on really scrambly rocky climbs either, so having the extra suppleness of the Open mode helps get the most grip possible.
Descending: Flick the bike into Open mode, and point it down the hill and you’ll find the 900’s descending abilities are a mixed bag. On fast, sweeping descents it’s like a comet blazing out of the sky, stable and smooth. The long rear end and supple suspension (in Open mode) keeps it all planted and calm, and in a straight line at pace it’ll skim over rough terrain. The FOX Float 32 might have slender legs, but it’s a good pairing for this bike and the slick Kashima coating on both fork and shock mean that the bump performance in Open mode is near frictionless.
Slower speed descents or those with steep ledges that require a lot of body language are the bike’s nemesis though. The rear wheel trails along way behind you, and without a dropper post to let you get lower on the bike, you sometimes get the feeling of riding a bucking horse – you can’t get much weight over the rear axle with such long stays, so the bike tends to dive onto its front wheel, which can be a nervous experience!
100mm isn’t a lot of travel, and we feel the Spark 900 does a fine job of delivering its bounce for the job at hand. You don’t need a particularly bit jump or drop to bottom the fork and shock out, but nor should you – this bike is built for wheels on the ground riding primarily, so it should be able to deliver full travel without being thrashed.
Cornering: Once again the Spark’s performance in this area isn’t one-dimensional. With the long stays, to get the bike through tight whippy turns, you’re either going to have to do a lot of steering or get used to sliding the back wheel in (much more fun). You can’t steer it off the rear wheel easily, and it’s near impossible to manual, so if that’s how you like to corner you’ll be frustrated. Thankfully, even if you do lose a bit of speed on the tight turns, it takes the blink of an eye to have the bike back up to full speed.
The flipside of the ungainliness in the tight turns is the performance at speed, which is where are race bike will spend most of its ride time. It slots into a long corner beautifully. The tyres aren’t the world’s most aggressive, but in a fast turn they’re super consistent and offer no surprises as you crank it over from centre tread to side knobs.
The Spark 900 Premium is a true cross country bike – fast, sharp and light, a race winner. If you’re after a trail bike/race bike, perhaps the 700 (27.5″ wheels) will be a better option, with its longer travel and slacker angles. But if hunting down the rider in front, powering over the crest of a climb and flying through fireroads of a marathon race is your game, then you’re not going to be disappointed.
The Spark’s weight, TwinLoc system and sharp handling make it one you must put on the shortlist.
For the past few seasons, the Spark has been available in both 27.5 and 29er formats. We’ve opted to test the 29er version, which has slightly less travel than the 27.5″ model (100mm vs 120mm). In this category of bike we’re still inclined to prefer the larger wheel; when you’re hammering along a fireroad or hanging onto the bars at the end of a five hour marathon, we find the big wheels really help cover ground and cover up mistakes.
Coming in at 10.3kg, the 900 Premium is lighter than an angel’s fart. Scarily enough, there are even lighter models in the Spark range – the frameset is one of the lightest on the market, which is part of the appeal these bikes possess for racing.
A full XTR drivetrain and brakes, super light Syncros carbon bar, post and stem, and some very racy Syncros wheels all help to keep this bike incredibly lean. Needless to say, we were diligent about using a torque wrench when it came to building this bike – a carbon stem is a weight saving we’d happily forego, tightening that sucker up is terrifying!
The TwinLoc suspension system is well-proven and extremely effective, giving you simultaneous control over the damping (and travel) of both fork and shock. The handlebar-mounted lever has three positions: open – the fork and shock are fully active; traction mode – the fork is toggled to a firmer damping setting and the rear travel drops to 70mm, which firms up the suspension and raises the bottom bracket slightly; lock out – the fork and shock are fully locked out. This system is incorporated into a FOX Nude shock, which you won’t find on any other brands’ bikes.
Because the Spark 900 Premium has a twin chain ring in addition to the TwinLoc system, there are a lot of cables to keep an eye on! It’s executed very neatly all things considered, but we’d probably be inclined to run a single chain ring, then get a TwinLoc ‘Downside’ remote which positions the TwinLoc lever under the bar in place of the front shifter.
Set up has been simple – the TwinLoc system doesn’t require any funky shock pumps or use two rebound dials like the Cannondale Jekyll’s DYAD shock which also has travel adjustability. We’ve opted to leave the Spark’s geometry adjustment in the lower/slacker of the two settings, and we’ve gone tubeless with the wheels of course too. Now all that’s left is to go hunt down our mates and leave them in our dust!
We weren’t without frustration when the news of a new standard broke, and are happy to admit that initially we didn’t give a toss for all this fuss. But looking back we can safely put all that behind us now. It’s a hard story to tell in words, you need to ride one to make it crystal.
We spent a few days in Deer Valley, Utah on new bikes from the 2016 Plus bikes – Genius and Scale – we wanted to know exactly where these ‘diet fat’ bikes fit in and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. For more on 2016 Scotts, take a peek at our quick look at the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.
What’s it all about, what the hell is a ‘Plus bike’?
It’s all about really big tyres. To benefit the experience of mountain biking by enhancing the control of the rider through increased traction and stability, Plus bikes use 27.5″ diameter wheels with wider rims and bigger tyres.
– The Scott Plus bikes are from the new category of 27.5+ bikes.
– 27.5+ will use a 40mm wide (internal width) rim and a specifically developed Schwalbe 2.8″ width tyre. Typically the average trail bike uses a rim between 21-27mm wide and a tyre between 2.0″ and 2.4″.
– Scott and Schwalbe worked to develop the best tyre size for the job, initially beginning testing with a 3″ width prototype, then down to a 2.8″ and ultimately residing with a 2.8″ with lower profile tread. The third generation tyre wasn’t ready for our media launch, all the bikes we rode and are pictured here with the second version with taller tread.
– Scott will have the 2.8″ Schwalbe Plus tyres to themselves for one year before other brands can spec them.
– The tyres will weigh around 800-850 grams.
– Genius Plus is 250g heavier than a comparable spec Genius 29er.
– All the main tyre manufacturers will have 27.5 Plus tyres soon.
– Genius Plus uses the new standard Boost 148mm wide rear hubs and 110mm front hubs.
– The Scott Genius Plus uses a 29er front triangle, with a new aluminium rear end to compensate for extra tyre clearance.
– The bigger tyre gives you a larger contact patch on the ground, for a huge increase in traction.
– The rider can run low tyre pressure without the tyre rolling around on the rim.
– With such a large air volume, the risk of flat tyres is significantly reduced.
– Scott’s Plus bike range will consist of three bikes for 2016 in various models. The Genius with 140mm travel, it’s bigger brother the 160mm travel Genius LT (unfortunately not a model distributed into Australia for 2016) and the Scale Plus hardtail. More details on the range here – Scott 2016 bikes.
Our first impressions were not clear, nor was our mind after a numbing flight to Utah from Sydney. In all honesty we were a little unsure whether we liked it or not, the Genius Plus felt so different to anything we’ve ever ridden here at Flow. The closest we’d ridden was testing the Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie hardtail, but this was our first time on a dually.
The sheer amount of traction on offer really does take some getting used to. But in this case it wasn’t just the foreign bike that threw us into a spin, being at altitude in Deer Valley the trail conditions were a world apart from a cold and wet Sydney, the bike park trails were open, super-fast, loose, rough and bone dry. We found the tyres to sit on top of the trail surfaces, rather than biting into it and on loose gravel the big bag would swim across the surface somewhat, we can only imagine that this is how it would feel in deep mud.
It was at that point after a couple laps of the trails that we couldn’t help but suspect this could have been an over-hyped and unnecessary new fad, but we were wrong.
To paint a clearer picture in our minds, we swapped back to the standard 27.5″ wheel Genius with 2.35″ width tyres for a few laps. After a whole day riding the chunky Plus bike switching back gave us the feeling like we’d just thrown a leg over a skinny cyclocross bike! The ‘tiny’ 2.35″ tyres were certainly very zippy and quick, but felt too sketchy and nervous on the trails we were only just getting the feel for. We’d grown used to the feeling of the Plus bike without really knowing it. So it was time to jump back onto the big 2.8er, really give it some and open the throttle wide open. Our ambitious riding went to another level and we loved every minute of it!
When pushed harder and harder, the big tyres held on to the ground like nothing we’ve ever ridden. We braked later coming into turns, and generally braked less across the board, holding more speed and blasting around the trails with a brave sense of renewed ambition.
We’ve spent plenty of time on downhill bikes over the years, but to find the limits of traction on big DH bikes you need to be going really, really fast. The Genius Plus was so much more agile than that, and twice as playful.
You do notice the bigger tyres when making quick direction changes, the added weight on the outer of the wheels creates a gyroscopic effect, and it’s hard to ignore. Throwing the bike around the bike felt slightly slower to react, like you were riding a 29er with heavy wheels. Dropping the bike down onto the side knobs of the tyres into a corner, or quickly smashing a berm required a bit more body language. We did get used to it, and intuitively adapted our riding style.
We found ourselves taking wider lines into turns and staying off the brakes, putting unprecedented faith in the traction of the big tyres. Grabbing a handful of brakes would almost send you over the bars as the bike would bite down into the dirt rather than skimming across the top. And the noise the tyres make is pretty crazy, so much rubber amplifies the sound of the tread grabbing the trail, in a group of riders on Plus bikes it sounds like a traction party at happy hour!
For the fun of it you could also ignore the best line through a berm and go right through the inside, with a confident trust in the big treads. With 445mm chain stays the bike does feel quite long, making super tight corners and popping a manual a bit harder than we’d like, but at speed the stability from the length is well and truly worth a little compromise.
Climbing loose trails is another area that the Plus shines, with more grip under your rear wheel you don’t need to hunt for the best line nearly as much. You’re able to really put more effort into the pedals, rather than dividing your attention between finding traction and laying down strong pedal strokes.
At slow speed the big tyres really conform to the terrain underneath you resisting slipping around, we could ride the steepest sections of trail, controlling your speed easily with one finger on the brakes.
With such a massive volume of air in the tyres, setting your tyre pressure becomes more important than ever. Too high and you won’t benefit from the potential traction, and too low and it’ll feel like pedalling through wet sand. After much experimenting with tyre pressure by going too high, then too low and resting at the sweet spot of 13 and 15 psi for the front and rear tyre. Mick weighs 70kg plus gear and would increase pressure when carrying more gear and water etc.
Next up was suspension, we chatted to Rene Krattinger the head of mountain bike engineering at Scott about how suggested we go about it. With a lighter compression setting and slower rebound the tyre won’t squash underneath your weight as much, and/or bounce and oscillate from repeated impacts like braking bumps or hardpacked ruts.
The Genius has been a Flow favourite forever. Lightweight frames, stable geometry and a category leading suspension efficiency via their long serving TwinLoc system.
TwinLoc is a thumb actuated remote lever that allows you to toggle between three modes offering simultaneous control of rear shock travel and fork lockout.
There’s less travel than the regular Genius line, with a 14omm travel FOX Float fork, and 130mm of travel out back via Scott’s proprietary FOX Nude shock. The open position allows full travel, front and rear. One click switches the rear shock to Traction mode, while the fork receives a light compression setting. One more click and rear shock and fork lock at the same time.
For 2016 the Scott Genius will benefit from the FOX EVOL air can, with the extra air volume the suppleness in the suspension is magnificent. With what is effectively a single pivot suspension design, the Genius isn’t known for being the most supple and grounded bike, yet it has always been very efficient under pedalling action. With the EVOL rear shock the new bikes feel significantly more supple and plush.
The Genius Plus uses a Genius 29er front end, and is also compatible with 29″ wheels using Boost hubs (148mm rear and 110mm front). The Plus uses a 445mm long chain stay and a 67.5 degree head angle. For 2016 Australian consumers will have the choice of two Genius Plus bikes. The Genius 710 Plus for $5999 and the Genius 720 Plus for $4599.
If in the worst case scenario and none of this Plus takes off with dual suspension bikes, you can bet it will with a hardtail. It makes absolute sense, if you’re a hardtail fan or don’t have at least $4k to spend, a Scale Plus would be a seriously good prospect for real mountain biking.
We cut some hard and fast laps on the Scale 710 Plus and had a really good time. Where having no rear suspension would usually make the bike skip around harshly, the low pressure tyres did more than just take the sting out the trail, it really felt like we were riding a short travel dually at times.
The first thing we’d do it it were ours would be to fit a dropper post.
The Scale 720 Plus is coming to Australia and will retail for $2299.
We weren’t into it at first, we really thought that with a standard 27.5″ bike and big tyres we’d be able to have just as much fun without the distraction and introduction of a new wheel standard, but the Scott Plus bikes are a whole lot more than we’d anticipated.
With all the stability and traction you could ever wish for in a package that ride and handles a lot more like a regular bike it’ll let both newcomers and more experienced riders do more. You can go faster and in more control, climb steeper sections, and negotiate steeper descents.
There is less risk of pesky flat tyres, and that’s always a good thing.
Is this progression? Will it replace whole categories of mountain bikes or remain a niche? Time will tell, but our bet is that it will catch on, and if a beginner can benefit from increased control so can a pro.
With singletrack galore at our glove tips, Flow’s Mick Ross took a hit for the team in the name of journalism and put time on both wheel size Scott Sparks, a 27.5″ Genius and its bigger brother the Genius LT, and lastly the all-new highly adjustable 27.5″ wheeled Gambler downhill bike.
Scott offer wheel size as an option, meaning the exact bike is available in either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels, which could be a headache for smaller markets like Australia, with bike stores and the distributors managing double options for the Scale, Spark and Genius models. This is an interesting moment for the bike industry – along with Scott, Specialized, Trek and Lapierre also offer the same bike in two wheel sizes, whilst some brands (like Giant) on the other hand have wholly adopted the 27.5″ wheel across their entire range of mountain bikes.
Regardless, rhe 29″ Sparks have slightly less suspension travel front and back (100mm) than the 27.5″ Spark (120mm) to play to the strengths the larger wheel We are seeing it more and more these days, where brands are helping the consumer decide on the wheel size by relating the decision to frame size. Below is a graph that Scott use to communicate the ‘sizes for sizes’ concept – food for thought, anyhow.
Slight shock tune changes and new spec choices aside, next season’s Spark remains largely the same as the 2014 version but we were eager to spend time on them anyhow as we hold them very high on our list of preferred bikes for cross country . We seized the opportunity to take the Spark 700 Tuned and Spark 900 Tuned, the top level Spark identical in spec, size medium, in both wheel sizes out for a good old back-to-back wheel size comparison on a short and punchy test loop. Same tyres, same everything. Trying to forget any pre-existing opinions of the wheel size debate, we approached it like it was our first time.
Highlights of the 27.5″ Spark.
Favourite aspects of the 29″ Spark.
What would we choose, 27.5″ or 29″?
It’s hard not to love the Scott Genius, with its category leading lightweight frame and the proven Twinloc system controlling an adaptable, supple and sensitive 150mm of rear suspension. It’s a real winner, plus since the move to FOX rear shocks last year, they just got more favourable in our books.
Like the shorter travel Spark, the Genius comes in two flavours, 27.5″ or 29″ with a few of models to choose from $3500 – $6300 in aluminium and carbon. We spent a great deal of time on the Genius 700 Tuned, the cream of the crop model, dripping in the finest components, and constructed from Scott’s HMX highest grade carbon magic material.
On the trail, the Genius doesn’t ride like a lot of the other 150mm bikes, like the Trek Slash, Lapierre Zesty, or a Giant Trance SX for example. The Genius swings more toward the theme of a long legged trail bike, rather than a mega plush, slack ground-hugging bike, with a combination of sharper angles, upright seating position, and a suspension rate that feels firm and supported. Frame geometry is adjustable via a tiny and unobtrusive reversible chip at the bottom shock mount, which allows a little bit of an ‘attitude adjustment’; we ran it in the low/slack setting, but would opt for steeper head angled if the riding was to be dominated by tighter, slower trails or more climbing.
Scott insist on speccing a 32mm legged fork on the Genius, we’d love to see a 35mm leg RockShox Pike, or a FOX 34mm legged fork up front for a little bit more front end rigidity and confidence when turning the bike under brakes.
After spending time on the Spark and Genius LT we gravitated back to the 27.5″ Genius. It’s just so capable everywhere, up the climbs, down them and anything in between. It’s a true all-mountain bike, capable of letting you explore and ride anything. If you’re always travelling, or riding new trails, the Genius would be that perfect bike for arriving at a trail unseen, you will never be under gunned or over prepared.
Rejoice! The Scott Genius LT is coming to Australia. We’ll soon see three models ranging from $4799 for the Genius LT 720, up to the model we tested here, the Genius LT 700 Tuned for $8999.
The Genius LT, is a big rig. With a whopping 170mm of travel, big rubber and a healthy dose of burly components, this is the bike Scott’s enduro racers use. The Genius LT personifies enduro in every aspect, it’s a big rig capable of riding the roughest, steepest and fastest trails around the world. Be warned though, it needs real terrain and elevation to make the most of it. After seeking out the steepest and roughest black diamond trails in Deer Valley, we never got close to finding the upper limits of this mighty capable bike. But, we still got a very good idea what it is all about.
What the Genius LT does well is squashing a whole lot of gravity loving attitude and components into a super efficient riding bike. Just like the regular Genius and the Spark, it uses the Twinloc suspension, which does much more than lock out the suspension via a remote lever. The instant you hit that Twinloc lever, the bike jumps up, the suspension firms up and you get a real boost. It really feels like you’ve been given a push.
The frame geometry is also quite tuneable, an interchangeable headset is included with the Genius LT, and the lower rear shock mount is reversible too, to give the rider a healthy dose of options to tweak the bike to excel in the climbs, slower, faster or steeper terrain with some trial and error experimenting.
Don’t get too excited yet, the Voltage ain’t coming to Australia. But maybe if we hassle the Scott distributor enough they may be able to put a special order in, or we’ll see them next year at least. Call it a freeride bike or a mini downhill bike, this guy would actually be a suitable choice for many downhill races at regional level.
Like a scaled down version of a downhill race bike, this chunky bike boasts a coil shock with a whopping 170-190mm of travel. It’s adjustable in its geometry and travel by reversing the lower shock mount, so it can be just as at home in the bike park throwing down tricks and jumps, or slacken it off for some higher speed downhill racing.
The final test we did on the 2015 Scott rigs was the biggest, baddest bike in the range: the all-new Gambler. Up a wheel size for 2015 but that’s not all, with the frame completely different in almost every single aspect. The Gstaad-Scott team were racing these bikes at the Cairns World Cup in April this year, but went unnoticed as from a far looks a lot like the 26″ version.
The downhill tracks at Deer Valley were a pretty good test for the Gambler, with frightening rock gardens and heart stoppingly steep chutes everywhere. The Gambler loved it all, and confirmed our love for the 27.5″ wheel on a downhill bike. For example, take your average rock garden – just stay off the brakes, and you instantly notice that the wheels don’t get as hung up on the edges, or fall into holes. A bigger wheel is always going to help that, but when you put a big tyre on a 27.5″ wheel, you’re unstoppable.
We quickly became confident, and after a couple runs we were hitting the rock gardens at full pelt, smashing the bike into the sharpest, ugliest rocky straights we’ve ridden in ages. The Gambler is also dead quiet, the thud of the tyres is all you really hear when descending. That has always given us a little bit of a extra confidence boost, if the bike is silent the harder we will push.
Is big too big? With advice from the guys at Scott, we opted to run the Gambler in the shortest wheelbase setting, and highest bottom bracket mode. Then we lowered the fork crowns as low as possible, sharpening the head angle even further. Still, we found the Gambler to be a mighty stable, long and confident ride.
With a massive adjustability range from a 61° – 65° head angle and a chain stay length that is adjustable from 422 – 440mm, in the right hands it could be fine tuned to suit such a wide variety of terrain. Plus you can fit 26″ wheels into the frame, and then tweak the geometry to suit the smaller wheels, nifty!
The rear suspension is so incredibly supple off the top of the stroke, it helps the wheels glue to the dirt and the tyres maintain contact with the loose surface as you bounce around. Sure the tyres are great, but the traction that such a supple suspension feeling gives this bike is unreal.
In all, we found the revisions to the popular Spark, Genius and Genius LT to be a small but good step in the right direction. The Gambler is amazing, and is surely going to make for a capable and fast downhill bike for the gravity crowd. Fingers crossed the Voltage will land on our shores one day, as we’d love to hit up some freeride lines and big jumps on the downhill tracks over here.
Keep your eyes out for the full range on http://www.scott-sports.com soon.