First Ride: Scott Spark Plus

The iconic XC race whip gets a modern trail makeover

Scott Bikes has completely revamped its popular Spark and Scale line of bikes for 2017, making them even lighter than they already were, while also updating their geometry and modifying the suspension platforms of its full-squish models. We’ve recently had the chance to ride these new bikes, which will shortly be available in North America (as will their prices)—and on all fronts they proved to be far more exciting and dynamic than their purely cross-country focused predecessors.

We first rode the new bikes on Scott’s home turf in Switzerland, in the stunning mountains surrounding the resort town of Lenzerheide—a place more known for its gravity-fueled trails than what most of us typically associate with XC riding—and the steep, rocky and root-filled terrain proved to be the perfect testing ground for a line of ultra-lightweight bikes that has easily crossed the threshold into trail-shredding (and even light all-mountain) territory.

The Swiss brand has long been known for its focus on lightness and speed—and this is clearly evidenced by its long-term support of the world’s fastest XC racer, Nino Schurter, who has been slaying World Cup XC courses again this year in preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. But Schurter shatters the classic mold of the uber-fit, Lycra-clad XC climber, with technical skills and style that could probably put him on Enduro World Series podiums—and the new Spark models reflect this more aggressive approach to trail riding.

Though there were a couple-dozen models available for test rides, one quickly stole the show: The Spark 700 Plus Tuned, with its playful geometry and plus-sized wheels and tires, practically screamed to be shredded on Lenzerheide’s steep, muddy alpine singletrack. While the overall focus of the launch was on the complete overhaul of the Spark and Scale lines, the all-new Spark Plus seemed to best exemplify how all the changes to geometry and linkage translate into performance on technical trails. And the bike had journalists skipping breakfast and lunch to jump the queue for their dance with the plus-sized devil.

The new Spark 700 Plus Tuned stole more than its share of the limelight, its sensibly playful geometry and plus-sized wheels and tires translating into an all-around trail shredder with shocking amounts of traction.
The new Spark 700 Plus Tuned stole more than its share of the limelight, its sensibly playful geometry and plus-sized wheels and tires translating into an all-around trail shredder with shocking amounts of traction.

With rain (and a fair amount of snow in the highlands) greeting our arrival, it was clear that our first rides would be muddy affairs, and this only added to the appeal of the Spark Plus. As some trails turned into veritable creek beds filled with alpine meltwater, the plus-sized rims and tires came into their own, giving us the ability to run ridiculously low tire pressures: I weigh 150 pounds, and I found my sweet spot at 13 psi in the front and 14 psi in the rear. This, coupled with the impressive Maxxis Rekon 2.8 tires (my favorite plus tires to date), allowed for aggressive cornering in slick turns and unbelievable traction through scary sections of greasy, off-camber roots.

The capability of the Spark Plus is not solely due to the oversized wheels and tires, however. The bike benefits from the Spark line’s redesigned suspension platform, while also possessing a purposely trail-oriented geometry. All four Spark Plus models sport a sensibly slack, 66.9-degree head angle that puts this bike squarely into the trail category. The slackish head angle, along with the 130-millimeter Fox Factory 34 fork and the extra impact absorption provided by the bigger tires, gave the bike an almost all-mountain feel and begged us to charge through rocky, high-alpine terrain as well as the steep, root-choked chutes of the foothills.

The Spark’s new suspension design also represents a drastic improvement over the previous iteration, which featured a dearth of sensitivity and support in the early part of the shock stroke. This gave the bike a chattery and at times harsh feel through small bumps, and this was something that Scott’s chief mountain-bike engineer, Joe Higgins, was keen to fix. Though Higgins and his team opted to retain the single-pivot platform of the previous Spark, they forsook the old top-link design in favor of a rocker link with a pivotless swingarm, allowing them to achieve a more consistent leverage ratio.

While the new Spark retains the single-pivot platform of the previous iteration, it has forsaken the old top-link design in favor of a rocker link with a pivotless swingarm, which the company's engineers say allows them to achieve more sensitivity and support, especially in the initial part of a modern air shock's stroke.
While the new Spark retains the single-pivot platform of the previous iteration, it has forsaken the old top-link design in favor of a rocker link with a pivotless swingarm, which the company’s engineers say allows them to achieve more sensitivity and support, especially in the initial part of a modern air shock’s stroke.

Though the shock force of the previous Spark went primarily into the toptube, with the new design the shock force is more heavily concentrated into the bottom bracket and downtube, so the engineers focused on reinforcing the carbon layup in high-stress areas such as the downtube and chainstay connection. This also allowed them to keep the predominant areas of weight low.

The new Spark features a Trunnion mount, which provides a stiffer foundation for the shock and also allows for a lower center of gravity. In addition, this engenders a more compact frame design, since the body of the shock slides neatly in between the two mounting bolts.
The new Spark features a Trunnion mount, which provides a stiffer foundation for the shock and also allows for a lower center of gravity. In addition, this engenders a more compact frame design, since the body of the shock slides neatly in between the two mounting bolts.
Further enhancing the Spark's trail-slaying credentials, all the models in the new line come with a modern cockpit: Wider bars and a shorter stem provide greater control when the going gets rough.
Further enhancing the Spark’s trail-slaying credentials, all the models in the new line come with a modern cockpit: Wider bars and a shorter stem provide greater control when the going gets rough.
Another advantage of a one-by drivetrain is that it frees up handlebar space—and for Scott, which has a patent for its Twinloc suspension lockout system, that space is used for the dual-remote lockout lever. While some riders insist that they don't need a remote lockout system for their suspension, it certainly is convenient in places where prime singletrack is accessed via long fire-road climbs (ie, British Columbia and much of continental Europe).
Another advantage of a one-by drivetrain is that it frees up handlebar space—and for Scott, which has a patent for its Twinloc suspension lockout system, that space is used for the dual-remote lockout lever. While some riders insist that they don’t need a remote lockout system for their suspension, it certainly is convenient in places where prime singletrack is accessed via long fire-road climbs (ie, British Columbia and much of continental Europe).

Perhaps unfairly in the shadow of the Spark Plus was the Spark RC 900 SL, the new 29er race whip that also benefits from the same suspension improvements made to the Spark Plus. With 100 millimeters of front- and rear-wheel travel, a one-by optimized frame and beefed-up Boost 148 rear hub spacing, the Spark RC possesses a more aggressive disposition than the previous incarnation. And Nino Schurter, who has until recently insisted on racing 27.5-inch-wheeled bikes, has chosen the new Spark RC 900 as his preferred weapon in the lead-up to the Olympics. Dramatic changes to the rear triangle, which now consists of only three separately-molded parts—as opposed to the 18 individual parts that comprised the previous Spark’s swingarm—allowed Scott to save 130 grams of weight that they could shift to reinforcing areas such as the downtube and bottom bracket. The final result is a lowest-in-class frame weight of only 1,749 grams.

The Spark RC 900 is an XC bike that can pull double duty on more aggressive trails. With 29-inch wheels, a one-by optimized frame, dramatically improved suspension and increased rear-end stiffness, it's the bike that convinced Nino Schurter that a 29er could be the bike that propels him to Olympic gold.
The Spark RC 900 is an XC bike that can pull double duty on more aggressive trails. With 29-inch wheels, a one-by optimized frame, dramatically improved suspension and increased rear-end stiffness, it’s the bike that convinced Nino Schurter that a 29er could be the machine that propels him to Olympic gold.
And for anyone who witnessed Schurter ripping around the World Cup XC racecourse in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, it certainly seems like he's made the right choice. Barely three weeks after this photo was taken, Schurter took first in Round 4 of the XCO World Cup on this, his hometown course. Who's to say that Nino should be running a dropper post?
And for anyone who witnessed Schurter ripping around the World Cup XC racecourse in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, it certainly seems like he’s made the right choice. Barely three weeks after this photo was taken, Schurter took first in Round 4 of the XCO World Cup on this, his hometown course. Who’s to say that Nino should be running a dropper post?
For those who aren't convinced that all XC race bikes should be 29ers, the Spark RC comes in several 27.5-inch-wheeled models. This one, the Spark RC 700 Ultimate, is one playful little race rocket.
For those who aren’t convinced that all XC race bikes should be 29ers, the Spark RC comes in several 27.5-inch-wheeled models. This one, the Spark RC 700 Ultimate, is a playful little race rocket.
With the 2016 Olympic cross-country mountain bike finals barely 10 days away, Nino Schurter has a lot more on his mind than the diameter of wheels he'll race in pursuit of a gold medal.
With the 2016 Olympic cross-country mountain bike finals barely 10 days away, Nino Schurter has a lot more on his mind than the diameter of wheels he’ll race in pursuit of a gold medal.

Related:

Review: Scott Genius 700 Tuned Plus

Review: Scott Contessa Genius 710

First Impressions: Scott Scale 710 Plus

Tested: Scott Genius LT Plus vs Genius LT

Tested: Scott Genius 900 Tuned

First Impressions: 2015 Scott Gravity Bikes