- Scott Spark 10
- 110mm of travel
Inevitably, full suspension frames are always going to weigh more than hardtails. There's always going to be a shock in there, usually at least one pivot and whatever advances in materials technology let manufacturers offset the weight of those can equally be applied to hardtails.
Which brings us neatly to Scott's Spark. Scott has a long history of using carbon fibre in bikes in applications as diverse as the Scale race hardtail and Ransom all-mountain bike. Those are both very impressive bits of work, but the Spark acheives something very special indeed - a proper full suspension frame with 110mm of travel that weighs under 4lb. Including the shock. To put things into perspective, that's about the same weight as a top-notch steel hardtail and a pound less than what we usually think of as lightweight in FS terms.
You'd think that there had to be some sort of downside to all this. Let's find out...
- Effective top tube length (TT) 24in
- Seat tube, centre to top (ST) 19.3in
- Chainstay (CS) 16.6in
- Head angle 70°
- Seat angle 73.5°
- Weight 10.5kg (23.1lb)
One thing you won't find on the Spark is lots of funny shapes, though. Clearly the designers haven't got carried away with the ability to make tubes any shape they want. They're aiming for light weight, and what with the shortest distance between two points being a straight line and the smallest amount of material to enclose a given volume being a circle, the Spark's frame is mostly generally round tubes running in straight lines.
As is so often the way with carbon frames, you can't actually see the clever stuff. Scott is understandably cagey about exactly how it goes about making its frames, but the front end is made with a process that it calls IMP (Integrated Moulding Process). Unlike Scott's earlier CR1 technique, which effectively joined separate tubes together in much the same way as welding up a metal frame, IMP makes big chunks of frame in one piece. On the Spark, the top, head and down "tubes" are actually all moulded as one bit. The seat tube and BB are then attached to the back and the swingarm and seatstays bolted to the mounts that are moulded in to the front end.
At this kind of price you'd expect something pretty special in the spec department. It's all great stuff, although two things are fairly obvious. First, a lot of your money is going in to the frame. Second, there's another model, the Spark LTD, above this one.
With the full XTR treatment reserved for the LTD, the 10 gets the pick of the non-Shimano crop. Only the front derailleur (XTR) and the supplied pedals (surprisingly mundane PD-M540s) are from Shimano, with the rest mostly from various facets of the SRAM empire. So you get X.0 shifters and rear mech, Avid Juicy Ultimate Carbon brakes (180mm front, 160mm rear) and Truvativ Noir cranks, although the latter hadn't arrived when Scott was assembling its demo bikes, so the test bike arrived with a pair of 2006 XTR arms.
Tyres are Scott's own Ozon 26x2.2in offerings. They're not as big as you might expect from the stated size, but they're still quite generously girthed for a bike of this style. They're aggressively knobblied, too - no baldy race tyres here.
Suspension components include the Scott/DT Swiss Nude shock at the back, secured with ball joints at both ends and connected to a (rather plasticky-looking) TracLoc Remote lever at the bars. Up front you get a Fox 32 F100RL with 100mm of travel, reboud adjustment and a lokout.
Ritchey supplies most of the rest of the kit from its WCS line. There's a lot of carbon fibre involved, with the semi-integrated headset, riser bars and 34.9mm seatpost all featuring the magic string. The seat is a distinctly racy Selle Italia SLR XP.
Claimed weight for all this lot is a scant 10.5kg (23.1lb). The test bike had 2006 XTR cranks and some cheap pedals out of the spares box on it and came in at a fraction more than that, so we'll give Scott the benefit of the doubt. Just over 23lb for a proper FS bike? Can't be bad...
Scott has, in the past, done some faintly odd things with geometry. It's quite often ended up with a kind of steep angles/short top tube/long stem arrangement that hasn't always endeared itself to us. To be fair, though, its more overtly XC race-style bikes have generally been less odd, and the Spark certainly pushes our geometry buttons.
With a long top tube and steep seat angle, the Spark certainly feels suitably fast and aggressive. A short stem and chainstays keep it flickable but the head angle is ever-so-slightly more relaxed than you might expect so it never becomes a handful. We've often ridden Scott's full-suspension bikes in the past and thought, nice bike, shame it's a funny shape. No such thoughts here - the Spark is sorted.
There's nothing particularly clever going on with the suspension layout, with Scott really relying on the shock (and of course low weight) for performance. Thankfully it delivers, helped considerably by the switchable travel modes that are actually useful enough to use. Just riding around for the hell of it we generally stuck to the full-travel mode, but in a race situation the stiffer, 70mm mode would certainly see some action. Flipping between them is quick and easy - the Tracloc lever works just like a shifter, with one lever taking you from full travel to traction mode to lockout and a release lever clicking back the other way.
A neat feature is that switching travel doesn't just give you stiffer suspension that bottoms out earlier. The bike actually sits higher at the back in the short-travel mode, further enhancing climbability. And flicking back to fully open causes the bike to settle ever-so-slightly on its haunches ready to attack the descents. Even in fully-open 110mm mode the suspension feels taut, but it's always comfortable and composed. And putting the hammer down on a 23lb bike is almost guaranteed to be a rewarding experience.
Probably the most impressive aspect of the Spark, though, is how solid it feels. You'd have every right to expect a bike built around a sub-4lb full suspension frame to be really quite floppy, but it just isn't. No BB flapping under power and it all feels like it's going in the same direction and doesn't twang about in corners. That combination of stiffness, light weight and competent suspension is an absolute winner, and makes the Spark much more than just a race bike. Clearly you're not going to be hucking big drops on one of these, but for the majority of trails it'll make you very happy indeed. The low weight makes it super-easy to chuck around but it feels plenty solid enough to take it. Fantastic.
Ups and downs
Positives: Super-lightweight but without compromising performance, sorted handling, looks great, makes you grin like a loon
Negatives: Plasticky travel adjust lever, awkward skewers, we can't afford one
They say that you can't have something for nothing, but Scott have done an amazing job of juggling suspension performance, weight and stiffness to produce the Spark. It's an absolute joy to ride, and you don't even have to be going that fast to enjoy it. It certainly deserves an airing wider than just the race course. Something, of course, always has to give, though, and in this case it's the price. £3,799 is a lot of money. Mind you, you could spend more - the Spark LTD drops another one-and-a-bit pounds in weight but will cost you a startling £4,499. There are, of course, cheaper Sparks, but you won't be surprised to learn that they don't exactly get into the realms of "budget" - the entry-level Spark 30 goes for £2,399. We're quite taken by the Spark 20, though - for £1,000 less than the 10 you get a mostly-XT setup and it's still only 24lb.