In Issue #116 of Singletrack Magazine, Wil and the crew tested three new generation full suspension XC race bikes. Read on for the full review of the 2018 Scott Spark RC 900 Team.
It was 2007 when the first Spark blew minds and broke records with its stunningly low weight and high-tech carbon construction. That original 26in Spark weighed in at just 1820g for the frame and shock – a weight that many brands still struggle to reach now.
Its TRAC-LOC handlebar remote and custom piggyback DT Swiss rear shock were particularly popular with racer types, as the Spark could be changed between 110mm, 70mm and fully locked out modes at the flick of a lever. Sure the top-end model may have had a 3×9 XTR drivetrain, skinny tyres and a 1 1/8in steerer tube, but with its 69.8° head angle and 110mm of rear travel, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the Spark was ahead of its time.
As components and frame technologies have evolved, so too has the Spark, and it’s become quite the darling of the cross-country and marathon race scenes. 2017 ushered in the third generation of the Spark platform, with a wholesale redesign of the frame that represents the biggest shake-up in its ten-year existence.
For the racy Spark RC models, travel is now balanced out at 100mm front and rear. There are two other versions of the Spark for the less race-obsessed: the Spark 9 Series (120mm, 29in wheels), and the Spark 7 series (120/130mm travel, 27.5+ wheels). All of the Spark models are built around a similar frame, though changes to the shock size, fork travel and wheels creates three distinct platforms.
The Spark RC 900 Team we’ve been testing is the Spark’s entry point into Carbonville. There is an alloy model below it that kicks things off at £2,999, though if bling is your thing, the price goes all the way up to £9,499 for the Spark RC 900 SL.
Although the high-end Spark RC frames come in at just 1779g (with shock!), our test bike uses a cheaper HMF carbon construction that increases weight to 2089g. Still impressive, and according to Scott, 166g lighter than the 2016 version. To get the weight down, Scott simplified the suspension design by removing the rear dropout pivot. With fewer moving parts, the one-piece swingarm relies on a small degree of flex through the seatstays as the suspension cycles through its travel. To facilitate this, the rear brake mount has been moved off the seatstay, and mounts to an alloy bracket that fixes directly to the chainstay and dropout.
Scott has also altered the shock orientation on the Spark, positioning it vertically in front of the seat tube. This allowed the engineers to lighten up the top tube, with suspension loads now being transferred into the already-reinforced bottom bracket junction. Like the Anthem, the Spark uses a trunnion mounted shock, though in this case it’s flipped upside down, with a huge mass of carbon fibre swallowing the head of the shock just above the PF92 bottom bracket. Aside from increasing frame stiffness, this has been done to conceal the remote cable that runs inside the downtube.
And herein lies the Spark’s party trick.
Although the shock looks like a standard large volume Fox Float DPS, there’s some internal wizardry going on that’s controlled by the three-position TwinLoc lever at the handlebar. Inside the shock’s main air spring there are two chambers. In Descend mode, a valve between the two chambers stays open, allowing the full 100mm of travel. When you flick the TwinLoc lever into Traction Control mode though, the valve closes, blocking off one air chamber. It’s kind of like adding a big volume spacer inside the air can. The reduction in volume makes the shock significantly more progressive, limiting the travel to 70mm in the process. At the same time, compression damping is increased in order to add more platform, resulting in a highly efficient climbing mode. Push the lever again, and you’ll engage full lockout mode.
The TwinLoc lever is also connected to the Fox 32 SC fork, though it only adjusts the compression damping between open, medium and locked modes. Otherwise it’s a standard Fox fork with adjustable rebound, the new EVOL air spring, and QR15 dropouts.
Other updates include a 1x specific frame design and Boost hub spacing front and rear. The 3mm drivetrain offset has also allowed Scott to build in a wider main pivot and massive symmetric chainstays for further rigidity, while the compact carbon rocker link helps to minimise twisting under load.
With Scott owning Syncros, there’s a smattering of parts on the RC 900 Team model, including a reasonably weighty alloy wheelset (1938g confirmed), and a superb saddle. A particular highlight is the stem and its submarine-inspired integrated headset spacers. There’s no dropper post on this model, but the frame is ready for it when you are.
Despite the remote trickery, setting up the suspension on the Spark is no more complicated than usual. Because of its large volume, I only needed 110 psi in the rear shock for 25% sag, with rebound set five clicks from full slow. The fork is identical to that on the Anthem, so I also ran 75 psi with the rebound positioned halfway.
In Descend mode, the suspension moves smoothly and freely, with none of the uncompromising firmness that has previously dogged short-travel race bikes. Compared to the previous Spark, Scott has built more sensitivity into the first third of the travel, with the suspension increasing in support and progression as you continue past the sag point. The result is a supple feel that’s slightly better than the Anthem, but with enough support to give you pop when you need it. It responds well to your inputs and, because the single pivot design is optimised around the 1x drivetrain, kickback and squat are imperceptible.
The upper shock mount did loosen during my first ride, and frustratingly, my multitool didn’t have the T30 Torx key required to nip it back up. There are Torx bolts everywhere on the Spark, so make sure you’ve got the necessary tools to avoid trailside swearing matches. Speaking of fiddly bolts, the saddle clamp is a poor design that requires huge torque on the two bolts to stop it from slipping on its cradle.
The TwinLoc lever has a nice tactile click to it to let you know what mode you’re in, though I didn’t use the actual lockout much, mostly because you need the thumb of an orangutan to push the paddle far enough to engage the third position. The lever also requires a bit of force to activate, and with plenty of wet weather testing, the cables were becoming sticky towards the latter part of the test period – such is the reality of having two more cables to maintain on a mountain bike.
Regardless, I did make a ton of use of the Traction mode. As well as reducing travel, Traction mode affects the Spark’s geometry by lifting the BB a touch, and steepens both the head and seat angles by 0.4°. This helps to push your weight further forward, putting you into an optimum position for driving the pedals. Once engaged into Traction mode, the Spark is without doubt the best climber of the bunch. It feels sprightly and enthusiastic, while the suspension remains active enough to accommodate jagged rocks so you’re not bucked off line as you try to scrabble up steep, rutted climbs. I also used it plenty on smoother and flatter trails, where the steepened geometry helps the Spark to weave through the trees.
This responsiveness meant that the Spark felt the most eager of the three bikes. With the lowest BB of the lot, it corners quickly and intuitively, while the slack 68.5° head angle and slightly shorter reach (429mm) means it feels playful and more willing to pop the front wheel up and over obstacles. With masses of standover height, it’s an easy bike to move around and cut shapes on, and although it’s crying out for wider bars and a dropper post, it still felt comfortable being jockeyed around on the descents.
When you’re absolutely hammering, the stout chassis feels particularly planted through the BB, so out of the saddle sprints are met with prompt momentum. One trade-off of the stiff frame and the capable geometry is that it does make the fork feel a little bendy – noticeably more so than the Anthem. In these kinds of rock-walloping scenarios, the Spark felt like it could readily accommodate a bigger fork. Which is no surprise given that the Spark 9-Series bikes are pretty much the same frame with a 120mm travel fork and a longer stroke shock.
I’m not normally one for remote lockouts, but riding the Spark has completely changed my tune. The clever TwinLoc design is no gimmick – rather it’s a super climbing aid that puts you in a better position for attacking the ups, while retaining a useful amount of travel. In Descend mode, the plush suspension and progressive geometry make the Spark a forgiving bike. And the fact that you can control the Spark’s personality at the flick of a lever makes it one of the most versatile cross-country bikes going.
2018 Scott Spark RC 900 Team Specifications
- Frame // HMF Carbon Fibre
- Fork // Fox 32 SC Float, Performance Series, 3-Position Remote Compression Adjustment, 100mm Travel
- Shock // Fox Nude, Trunnion Mount, 3-Position TwinLoc Remote (100mm/70mm/Locked)
- Hubs // Syncros XR 2.5, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Syncros XR 2.5, 25mm Internal Rim Width, 28h, Tubeless Ready
- Tyres // Hutchinson Taipan Hardskin RR 2.25in Front & Rear (Maxxis Aspen TR 2.25in as stock)
- Chainset // SRAM X1 1000 Alloy, GXP, 32t X-Sync 2 Eagle Chainring
- Chainguide // Scott Integrated Upper Guide
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
- Shifter // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM GX Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Level TL, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear
- Stem // Syncros XR 1.5, 8° Rise, Length: 60mm (Small), 70mm (Medium), 80mm (Large), 90mm (X-Large)
- Bars // Syncros FL 1.5 T-Bar, 7050 Alloy, 720mm Wide
- Grips // Syncros Lock-On, Integrated TwinLoc Remote
- Seatpost // Syncros FL 1.5, 31.6mm,
- Saddle // Syncros XR 2.0, Cromoly Rails
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 11.27kg / 24.79lb (as tested)
- RRP // £3699
Want to check out more reviews, interviews and features from Issue #116 of Singletrack Magazine? Then head on through to the Singletrack Shop to browse through our library of magazines and to see what other limited edition goodies we have on offer.
|Product:||Spark RC 900 Team|
|From:||Scott Sports, scott-sports.com|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 3 months|