Review: Scott Contessa Spark

A modern slant ushers this historically XC rig into new territory

Of all the bikes in our women’s test, the Scott Contessa Spark 710 underwent the most drastic changes since we last saw the model at the 2015 Bible. Back then, the Spark was seeking more of a trail identity, but still displayed distinct XC characteristics with its fixed seatpost, steepish angles, narrow handlebar and 32-millimeter-stanchion fork. This time, Scott really has redefined the Spark’s identity, giving the 120-millimeter-travel, 27.5-inch-wheeled bike multiple trail attributes, such as a 67-degree head angle, a Fox 34 Performance fork, a Fox Transfer dropper and grippy Maxxis 2.35-inch Forekaster tires. Scott stuck to its guns on the twoby drivetrain, opting for a Shimano SLX/XT kit. While testers would have preferred a one-by option, the components performed flawlessly, foreshadowing long-lasting reliability.

The Spark’s most noticeable change is the trunnion box construction in the frame, which moves the placement of the Fox Nude rear shock to a vertical, upside-down orientation. The mount allows for a shorter shock body, without needing to reduce stroke, enabling a more compact frame with lower standover and space to accommodate a large water bottle. Scott also eliminated the adjustable geometry ‘flip chip’ from previous years’ models in favor of a single modernized geometry. Along with the lower and slacker attributes, the new Spark also has a longer reach and wheelbase, a steeper seat tube angle, shorter chainstays and a lower bottom-bracket height.

Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark
Scott Contessa Spark

Even with more relaxed geometry, the Spark’s XC pedigree still shines. The carbon main frame provides a stiff ride that feels more at home on smooth, fast trails than steep, loose, rocky terrain. And the TwinLoc remote suspension lockout seems tailor-made for racers who crave on-the-fly adjustability. Still, when we did get the Spark into the slow-speed technical sections of our test loop, its 120 millimeters of suspension felt incredibly capable.

As in the past, testers’ primary nitpick with the Spark was its crowded cockpit. We also felt like 29er wheels would be an ideal match for this 120-mil whip, an option Scott only offers in the unisex version of the Spark.

MSRP: $4,300

scott-sports.com


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Q&A with Scott Sports

What was the design intent of the Spark Contessa 710? What kind of rider is it designed for?
After years of success with the original Spark design, SCOTT recognized that this bicycle was being used by riders not just for cross-country racing. Many riders appreciated the original Spark for all-purpose trail riding. So the new 2017 Spark was redesigned to take these riders into account.

A Contessa Spark rider is someone who needs a bike that can do almost everything, with an emphasis on light, efficient pedaling performance. They need a great bike for climbing, because they prefer to pedal, rather than push, up the hills. They need a bike with a lockout, because they might choose to spin 5 miles to the nearest trailhead, rather than drive. They need a bike that is light, stiff, and efficient, because they might motivate and enter the Breck Epic. But they need a capable descender, because they don’t want to be left behind if their friends are going to shuttle the Whole Enchilada. The 2017 Spark series is the lightest, most efficient bike available that can hold its own when going downhill.

The new Spark has a longer top tube, slacker geometry, lower top tube and head tube, and slightly steeper seat tube. The suspension kinematic is greatly improved for better small bump compliance in the early stroke, better mid-stroke support, and nice, progressive bottom out resistance. Further, the spec is better suited to trail riders, with a dropper post, durable tires, and shorter cockpit reach.

We really appreciated the quality of the XT/SLX drivetrain, but testers universally wondered why this bike isn’t available in a one-by configuration. Is Scott still seeing more demand for two-by drivetrains, even with wider gear ranges available now on one-by systems?
We do recognize that one-by gearing is very popular and a growing number of our bikes are available that way. However, there’s still quite a bit of interest in 2x systems. More riders that you would imagine prefer the 2x option, especially at the mid to entry level. The Shimano front shifting is so good, many riders actually find they appreciate this option for smaller jumps between gears. And the great thing about the XT system is that it converts easily to 1x, with a simple chainring swap and removal of the front der and shifter. So, offering this drivetrain choice really adds versatility and value to the bike and makes it approachable for riders at all levels.

While the Spark is available as a 29er in the unisex version, it only comes as a 27.5 in the Contessa build. Why is this? A 120-mil trail bike seems like it would be an ideal match for the larger wheels.
SCOTT has a long history of making the entire range of mountain bikes available in both 27.5- and 29-inch wheel sizes. But as the preferences of riders have evolved, we’ve narrowed down the bike offer. For example, 27.5-inch Scale hardtails don’t make as much sense as the 29-inch Scale series. People “get” the big wheels on that platform.

A similar evolution of what riders seem to want has guided the Contessa Spark range toward the 27.5-inch wheel size. The men’s bikes and the larger frame sizes seem to do well with 29-inch wheels. On the other hand, feedback from female testers (who are generally smaller, lighter, and prefer lighter, nimbler handling) was that they preferred the smaller wheeled bikes.

 

Following up, we’ve noticed a larger trend of brands moving away from 29ers for women’s-specific bikes, has Scott received feedback that has guided it toward the smaller wheel size for Contessa bikes?
That’s pretty much the case. Market and rider feedback has dictated that our full suspension range for women is dedicated to the 27.5 wheel size, whereas with the Contessa Scale hardtails, they’re almost all 29er wheels.

 

This has come up in the past, but continues to draw comments from testers: the cockpit is awfully crowded, with the TwinLoc remote lockout, front shifter, dropper lever, etc. all vying for space. Although this doesn’t affect how the bike rides, it could be a turnoff to those who prefer a simpler, cleaner look. What would you say to that prospective buyer who loves everything about the bike, but can’t get past all the gadgets (and associated cables)?
Many riders discover that after a week with TwinLoc, they can’t go back to manually flipping suspension control levers. In particular, racers and riders who like to pedal really appreciate the lockout. SCOTT is not the only brand to offer a handlebar mounted remote, but we often get called out for the extra cables and lever.

If someone wanted to tidy up the handlebar on their bicycle, there are some options. First, going to the XT single chainring option is a possibility. It’s a matter of swapping out a few parts. Second, a $30 fork top cap from FOX can allow riders to remove the TwinLoc front fork cable, yet keep the rear remote lockout.

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Welcome to the 2017 Bible of Bike Tests