It’s a shame what we’ve done to the term ‘epic.’ Like the buffalo that used to roam the western states, this majestic word sustainably coexisted with humans for centuries. But along came mountain bikers, and in just a few short years, we exploited it past the point of cliché and into near-irrelevance.
But there’s really no better way to describe most of my rides on the newly amplified Spark 900. Scott still offers the 100/100, race-only Spark RC, but now the entire lineup of both 27.5- and 29-inch Sparks runs 120/120. Of course, it got the requisite slacker head angle, steeper seat angle, longer reach and shorter chainstays that every XC bike got this year. But this year also brought a few other design tweaks to the Spark.
In addition to the rear end’s adoption of flex stays instead of Scott’s distinctive chainstay pivots, the shock is now compressed by a rocker link instead of a swing link. Not only did that allow for an updated leverage curve, but the trunnion-mount rear shock now bolts in at the bottom bracket, stiffening the front triangle. All 120-millimeter-travel Sparks are front-derailleur compatible, but our 1x build featured a clean and quiet chainguide in its place.
The spec on the $5,600 Spark 900 sits in that sweet spot between not compromising and not selling your car to buy it. The SRAM Eagle drivetrain alone earns this model its high marks, and the Shimano XT brakes and Fox Transfer dropper earn it extra credit. Just as impressive is the carbon-fiber, also Fox, also Sram 1X Spark 930 at $4,000 and its aluminum doppelganger at $3,200. And I could go on. In total, there are 10 build options for the Spark—20 if you count each tit-for-tat 27.5-inch-wheeled model, but I think the Spark’s potential is best realized with big wheels.
Though it got a little juiced up this year, the Spark is still a cross-country bike at its core. It has all the makings of an elevation-hungry, long-range adventure machine. The relatively low stack and long reach put you in a position that gets you ready to take care of business. And instead of being designed around 10 or 15 extra millimeters of front travel, the Spark stays at a neutral 120/120. In keeping with its XC roots, the rear travel feels notably progressive. Whenever I wanted to put down a little more power, I got it right back. If I wanted to put down a lot more power, there was Scott’s signature Twinloc.
The three-position lever can switch both shocks simultaneously from wide open to firm to locked. It’s one of those features you won’t know you want until you’ve actually got it. I generally run my suspension wide open all the time, especially on moderate-travel bikes like the Spark.
But I find myself using Twinloc in any section that’s so subtle or short that reaching down for a traditional lever wouldn’t be worth it. On builds without a front shifter, the Twinloc is mounted out of harm’s way, conveniently tucked under the bar. Unfortunately, this displaces the dropper-post remote, which instead sits above and behind the bar, forcing me to lift the heel of my hand off the grip to raise the saddle. Controlling my shocks from the bar is pretty rad, but it’s never the high-speed, rough terrain, momentum-grabbing maneuver that raising my saddle is. You can swap each out, but at full price, an under-bar Fox remote lever is $65 and an above-bar Twinloc is $80. And because the stock levers double as the grip clamp, you’ll also have to add a set of grips if you want to make the switch.
I had no such quarrels with the rest of the Spark’s performance. I half expected the 120-millimeter fork to rob the bike of its downhill potential. I recently finished testing the newly updated 120/130 millimeter Niner Jet 9, and I still squeeze in rides on my own Evil Following with those same numbers. I expected the 120-millimeter fork on the seemingly more conservative Spark would hold me back. While it’s not quite as forgiving as the mismatched-travel platforms, it actually has slightly more aggressive geometry, which inspires a different kind of forgiveness.
The barely over 67-degree head angle allows the Spark to descend beyond its category. I had to pick my lines a little more carefully, but it is every bit as skilled at safely getting me into those lines. The updated rear suspension isn’t bottomless, but it’s predictable and capable. And I believe it’s time we let go of our stigma about flex stays. The Spark’s lateral stiffness is remarkable, as is its small-bump compliance. While it retains some of the spirit and quickness of the old XC-only Sparks, it holds its own against any similar trail bike.
The Spark likes to be pedaled. It’s more adept than most trail bikes at quickly covering a lot of ground and will crave gnarlier ground to cover than will most XC bikes. In a word, it’s epic.
$5,600 / scott-sports.com
SCOTT’S TWO CENTS: “We think of the new Spark as having the genetics of an XC-race bike, but the breeding of a trail bike. By combining light weight, stiffness and pedaling efficiency with trail-ready spec and geometry, the Spark brings a new level of versatility. We like to say that you could ride the Monarch Crest trail on a Saturday, then go race the Breck Epic the week after.
TwinLoc suspension control makes this possible—it’s perfect for riders who pedal to their playground and who appreciate the uphills as much as the downhills. Our goal with integrating the TwinLoc lever clamp and the dropper-post lever clamp was multi-fold: to help streamline the handlebar setup, unify the cable routing for a cleaner look and also to make everything more compact on the bar. It actually makes for shorter reach to each of the levers, which suits the needs of a range of riders and riding styles.” —Zack Vestal, Scott USA Bike Marketing Manager.
First Look: 2018 Scott Genius