Welcome to our head to head battle between two of the greatest trail bikes on the market; the Scott Spark and Specialized Camber.
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.