The Beta Tests: Scott Spark 900 Tuned
It's what's inside that counts
-120mm rear travel, 130 front
-Carbon front and rear triangle
-Twinloc remote lockout
-I mean, have you LOOKED at it?
-Incredibly light for a trail bike
-Impressively stiff chassis
-Easier than you’d think to access rear shock
-UDH derailleur hanger
-Seriously, just LOOK at it!
-Not as supportive as other 120mm bikes
-Non-guided internal cable routing is noisy
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If any bike is going to stand out in the crowded 120mm trail bike category, it’s the new Scott Spark. Never mind that this bike’s frame is the same one you’ll see under Scott’s cross-country team, one of the winningest teams in the sport. And never mind that it’s five pounds lighter than the next lightest bike we had at this year’s Beta Tests other than the 100mm-travel Ibis Exie (though the Spark was still 0.2 pounds lighter than that). That’s nothin’! This thing hides its gawl dern shock inside its gawl dern frame! Beat that, Transition, Santa Cruz, Evil, Ibis, Trek, Giant, Pivot … and everyone else in the aggressive short-travel game!
We kid, but the Spark’s design really is quite striking. These photos don’t do it justice. Looking at it in person, it’s more like some sort of giant alien bird than a bicycle. It is a design student’s concept drawing come to life. And that’s with the two extra cables attached for Scott’s Twinloc. Our bike came equipped with an AXS drivetrain, removing one cable from the mix, but even if it hadn’t, all the lines tuck immediately into the frame through the top of the head tube, with no noticeable impact on steering feel or range of motion.
That approach does make traditional tube-in-tube housing impossible, though, and Scott doesn’t foam-line its cables from the factory. That’s your job if you don’t want hollow high-pitched thwacking to accentuate every hard hit, which we definitely experienced on the Spark. But once that’s done, this thing is as sleek as can be. And Scott made it surprisingly easy to live with. Fishing the cables through the headset happens effectively just like it would on a traditional bike, except that you can open the downtube through the shock-access panel. It comes off with no tools and no thumbscrews, and it puts the valve and rebound knob within easy reach. There’s even a sag meter on one of the pivots that’s precise and easy to read.
We ended up paying a lot of attention to that sag meter. Each tester took a lot of back and forth before finding their optimal setting, and even then, it was a little sub-optimal. We expected the Spark to have a lot of get-up-and-go, especially because it’d be identical to Scott’s XC race platform if you just swapped its 130mm fork for a 120. But it tended to fall through its travel, whether we were mashing on the pedals or steadily churning them. There just wasn’t enough support to make pedaling the Spark as rewarding as so many 120mm bikes are these days.
Of course, that would change when we used the Twinloc. Scott’s signature widget, the three-position Twinloc lever gives the bike three distinct characters. The middle setting decreases travel and increases compression damping, making for a firmer, more responsive ride that still feels rather natural. The locked-out setting is just that. The shock really won’t move unless you force it to. It requires two levers, which are just beneath the dropper lever. It takes some getting used to, but it’s the cleanest approach to Twinloc we’ve ever seen. But the thing is, other 120mm bikes don’t require a lockout at all. The Pivot Trail 429 and Ibis Ripley are energetic and encouraging climbers, while still offering more traction than a Spark in Twinloc’s middle firmness. So, regular use of Twinloc is mandatory if you want the Spark to be in your corner on the climbs.
On the descents, though, the Spark is far more encouraging. Despite its incredibly low weight, it feels stout and stable. If modern XC race courses inspired Scott to build a 120mm bike to chase podiums with more confidence, the Spark succeeds. And with its 130mm fork and 65.8-degree head angle, our test bike truly was trail-worthy. One of our testers hit a high-speed blind step-up for the first time on this very bike.
But the suspension setup was also tricky on the descents. To mitigate the mid-stroke mushyness, we erred on the firm side, sacrificing some small-bump compliance. The answer to many of our issues would have been adding volume reducers, but the Spark already comes stock with the max number of reducers installed. With no option to add progressivity, we opted for a more ground-huggy setting for the descents and relied on Twinloc to get us back to the top.
But the thing is, Twinloc is the reason to buy a Scott Spark. That, and its unmatched aesthetic, but as with everything, beauty fades. You want to ride a bike that you want to ride. Twinloc’s execution has only gotten better over the years, and its function is still unmatched by any other brand. If you think it’s weird to be wrapping up a bike review by talking about the lockout, you’re probably not a fan of lockouts, and there are plenty of other bikes out there for you. But if you are, if your climbs are steep and smooth, the new Scott Spark is made for you. And it’s pretty damn good-looking.
So, there’s an aluminum version of this bike. Neat, huh? Who’d a’ thunk it. And it’s under $3,000. For $2,9oo, you can get a Scott Spark 970. And it’s even still got Twinloc, and still routes it through the head tube. Though the orange is a little polarizing, it’s not covered with names or logos. This is as sophisticated-looking as the $10,000 bike we tested. The NX / SX drivetrain tends to have a little less refined feel and shorter lifespan than GX or Shimano Deore, and the Judy fork won’t be as supportive on aggressive descents as the 34 on our test bike, but nothing on this build is a red flag. The next model up Spark 960 goes to a Deore mix and offers a wider range cassette, more powerful brakes, and a far more subdued color scheme. But the most worthwhile step up is to go to the $3,900 Spark 950, which gets you a much more supportive RockShox Pike fork, matching RockShox Deluxe rear shock and still sticks with Shimano brakes. It takes an odd step back down in quality with a mostly NX drivetrain, but the suspension is worth it if you’re in that price range.
Studio photos: Ryan Palmer
Action photos: Paris Gore