Scott Spark 900 review

New school 29er ‘XC’ bike that’s efficient — and fun

29er Cross Country
Scott Spark 900 Review

Perched atop the overlook of Crested Butte’s Trail 403 is just where the Scott Spark 900 belongs. It took 90 minutes of high alpine climbing to get up here — and there’s a 1700-foot descent waiting on the other side.

Lowdown: Scott Spark 900

It used to be that any mention of the Scott Spark spurred images of hard charging XC racing (think reigning Olympic champs Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds). And that’s still the case, sort of. For model year 2017, Scott split its Spark line into two branches, Spark RC (as in racing concept) and standard Spark, which you could argue is more light duty trail bike than pure podium pursuer.

Scott Spark 900 Review

The Scott Spark 900 had no problem jumping into a 50-mile XC race that was mostly smooth, flowy, and fast, with the occasional chunky section thrown in just to keep rider and bike honest. Photo courtesy Steamboat Stinger/Noah Wetzel

Tested here is the “standard” 2017 Scott Spark 900 ($5600), which boasts 29er wheels, 120mm of front and rear travel, longer/lower/slacker frame geometry, and following a 24-month development process, a new single pivot rocker-link suspension design that’s aim is to be more supportive off the top, but still provide silky smooth small bump compliance. All told there are 39 Spark models (including RC, standard, plus, and women’s specific), and most come in both 29er and 27.5 versions. Scroll down for full spec on our test bike, key geo details, pluses and minuses, and the full Mtbr long term review.

Stat Box
Frame: Carbon front triangle, alloy rear Cassette: SRAM X01 Eagle
Fork: Fox 34 Float Performance Elite Chain: SRAM PCX01 Eagle
Shock: Fox Nude Trunnion Scott custom Chainguide: Scott Chainguide
Adjustability: TwinLoc control Bottom Bracket: SRAM GXP PF
Travel front/rear: From 85mm-120mm Bars: Syncros FL1.5 T-Bar 740mm
Wheelset: Syncros XR2.0 CL 29er Stem: Syncros FL1.5 80mm
Rim: Syncros XR2.0 Grips: Syncros Pro lock-on
Hubs: Syncros XR2.0 CL Headset: Syncros FL2.0 Drop in
Spokes: DT Swiss Competition Seatpost: Fox Transfer 125mm dropper
Tires: Maxxis Forekaster 29×2.35 Saddle: Syncros XR1.5/td>
Brakes: Shimano XT Headtube angle: 67.2 degrees
Rotors: Shimano XT 180mm f/r Chainstay length: 438mm
Shifter: SRAM X01 Seat tube angle: 73.8 degrees
Front Derailleur: N/A Reach: 477.3mm
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle Weight: 27.2 pounds size XL/tubeless
Cable routing: Internal Price: $5600
Crankset: SRAM X1 Rating: 4 Flamin' Chili Peppers 4 Chilis-out-of-5

Pluses
Minuses
  • Solid value for price
  • Wish it was lighter
  • Available in 27.5, 29er, and 27.5+
  • Not full carbon frame
  • TwinLoc like having extra gear
  • Busy cockpit can cause confusion
  • Superb lateral frame stiffness
  • 2x set-up would be a cluster
  • Highly efficient pedaler
  • Not overly sexy paint scheme
  • SRAM Eagle is near flawless
  • Would prefer more dropper post travel
  • Huge gear range
  • Long’ish stem
  • Cool stem/gadget integration
  • Not purebred XC racer
  • Solid braking performance
  • Front wheel drift on steep climbs
  • Can function as light duty trail bike
  • Some hub engagement delay
  • Huge capability sweet spot
  • Narrow’ish rim width
  • Space for full-size water bottle
  • Must loosen grip to activate dropper
  • Reliable/smooth dropper post
  • Long lever throw to lock out
  • High quality tire spec
  • Fast rolling tires
  • Stealth internal cable routing
  • Slack/stable for an XC bike
  • Spec’d with chainguide
  • Has front derailleur compatibility
  • Boost hub spacing

Scott Spark 900 Review

This size XL tester with SRAM Eagle XO1 and aluminum wheels weighed in at 27.2 pounds.

Review: Scott Spark 900

Unless you’re a truly dedicated cross-country racer or ride exclusively on mellow trials, there’s really no reason to buy a bike such as the Scott Spark RC. With its steep angles and short travel, it has a pretty narrow fun window. The standard Scott Spark, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. I’d argue that for a lot of riders, bikes such as this 120mm/120mm 29er trail tamer are as close to ideal as you can get — especially if you can own just one bike.

Staying true to its racing roots, the 2017 Spark is light and efficient enough to tackle big climbs. But with the extra squish, short stays, and slack geo (67.2-degree head angle), it can capably charge down most trails without getting in over its head. Obviously, this isn’t a hold-on-and-hope proposition. You need to artfully pick your lines. But in the hands of a reasonably skilled pilot, the Scott Spark has a huge sweet spot that ranges from the occasional weekend XC race to blasting rowdy backcountry singletrack.

Scott Spark 900 Review

The new single-pivot rocker link design increased the leverage ratio early in the stroke, making it easier to compress the shock, enhancing small bump sensitivity.

Frame and Suspension

The reasoning behind Scott’s move away from a top-tube mounted shock of the previous model was twofold — make the bike lighter and perform better. At the revamped Spark’s initial launch in 2016, Scott’s chief of mountain bike engineering Joe Higgins admitted that the outgoing suspension design suffered from a lack of support at the top of the shock stroke, which is not a good look for an XC bike. Initially, Scott tried to remedy the issue within the design confines of the old set-up but it simply didn’t work. So… they started over with the goal of separating the frame’s stiffness zone (lower half) from the comfort zone (upper half).

Instead of beefing up the top tube area to accommodate the shock linkage, now the extra girth is located near the bottom bracket, an area that already requires stiffness to maximize power output. At the same time the kinked top tube has a sleeker and purportedly more compliant shape. “It all adds up to a more efficient structure,” added Higgins.

Marketing speak aside, the key point here is that with the new single-pivot rocker link design, Scott was able to increase the leverage ratio early in the stroke, making it easier to compress the shock, which in turn means more small bump sensitivity. But thanks to a more consistent overall leverage ratio, the bike has more support from the sag point onwards, so you get good mid-stoke support and better bottom out resistance. Or at least that’s what Scott told us at the time. We’ll get to whether it worked for us in a moment.

Scott also moved to the now commonplace trunnion mount, which allows the shock body to extend lower, meaning for the same eye-to-eye length you get about 7mm more shock stroke.

Scott Spark 900 Review

Standover is low thanks to the kinked top tube. There’s also plenty of room for a full size water bottle.

Meanwhile, standover height was lowered, and there is plenty of room for a water bottle. Finally, like just nearly all Scott mountain bikes, the Spark 900 comes stock with the often polarizing TwinLoc suspension adjustment mechanism, which via a three-position lever allows the rider to toggle both front and rear suspension between fully open, partially closed (down to roughly 85mm of travel), or near full lock-out. In theory (and in practice in the case of this tester) it’s a highly usable and handy feature. But it’s not without its faults, which include creating a spaghetti-mess of cables coming off the bike’s front end and taking up valuable cockpit space.

I simply couldn’t handle this bike in 2x form, which would mean you’d have two shifters, a dropper lever, and the TwinLoc lever all vying for your thumbs’ (and brain’s) attention. As it is, this 1x Eagle spec’d bike has its shift lever on the right, the TwinLoc under the bars, and dropper remote over the bars on the left. This means you have to subtly unweight you left hand to drop your saddle. The TwinLoc does have significant upside, though, which we’ll address momentarily.

Scott Spark 900 Review

The TwinLoc definitely makes dropper post actuation a little trickier, but there’s also significant upside to being able to adjust suspension on the fly.

First, though, a few more key points about the frame. The rear triangle is aluminum (you have to jump up one model to get full carbon) and has no pivots, instead employing a flex design. This helped shave frame weight, since you no longer have a rear pivot or the associated hardware.

Suspension Set-Up

Dialing in shock pressure took some patience. The general recommendation is to start with 25% sag (typically in the neighborhood of body weight) and then reduce pressure as needed to get full travel, usually no more than 30% sag. It’s also worth noting that the bike comes stock with one small volume spacer in the air can, which means if you’re having trouble achieving full travel at your desired air pressure, you can remove that spacer and flatten the spring curve to lessen required force for full travel.

I never messed with the spacer, and ended up running in the 30% sag range. That was enough to reach full travel with only the rare bottom out, and still maintain a solid pedaling platform on most climbs. Indeed, I did most of my climbing in the open mode, though I’d drop it into the middle mode on smoother climbs, and go full lockout for the occasional road section. All that said, I do appreciate the TwinLoc, though it’s not something I necessarily miss when riding other bikes.

Scott Spark 900 Review

SRAM’s Eagle 12-speed drivetrain provides all the gear range you could ask for. The inclusion of a chainguide is a nice touch.

In a race setting, especially on a course with a mix of smooth and rough terrain, it’s a significant advantage and almost becomes another gear. During a 5-hour effort at the 50-mile Steamboat Stinger XC race in August, I switched modes hundreds of times, locking out for road climbs, using the middle mode for rolling buff terrain, and opening up when the trail tilted downward. But were it not for the TwinLoc lever, I might never have adjusted suspension. I just don’t like reaching between my legs at race pace. And that’s the real beauty of TwinLoc. Because of its convenience and usability, it allows you to squeeze a little more efficiency and control out of your ride that you’d otherwise almost certainly leave on the table.

Spec Check

For $5600, you expect a well-appointed bike. And for the most part the Scott Spark 900 delivers. SRAM’s Eagle XO1 12-speed drivetrain has a huge gear range and shifted all-but perfectly during a season’s worth of test riding. Same goes for Shimano’s 2-piston XT brakes, which are plenty powerful for a bike of this stature. I was also really impressed with the Fox Transfer dropper, which has been smooth and reliable without developing play. I do wish it had more travel, though. As you can see from the photos, I still have a fair bit of post to work with given my 82cm saddle height on the size XL frame. Why not throw a 150mm post on the biggie size bikes?

Scott Spark 900 Review

The 120mm Fox 34 soaks up the bumps and is plenty stiff enough when things get dicey.

Fox’s 34 Float Performance Elite Air FIT4 fork and Nude Trunnion Scott custom shock also did what they were asked. The 34mm stanchions are an especially nice touch on an “XC” bike, adding front end stiffness and steering precision.

The wheel-tire combo was mostly good. The 2.35 Maxxis Forecasters are fast rollers and fairly predictable, though I did have a couple close calls in loose-over-hard terrain. Be warned that when they break away there’s not a lot of warning. The Scott house band Syncros XR2.0 wheels were also decent, but not great. As is often the case these days, it’d be nice if they were a touch lighter and a tad wider with snappier hub engagement. As it is, the wheelset would be tops on my component upgrade list for this bike.

Scott Spark 900 Review

These Maxxis 2.35 Forekaster tires slide in no problem, but you’re not going to be able to go much wider than that.

The rest of the Syncros components all did their jobs without fuss. The stem deserves extra mention. As you can see below, you can buy a modular mount that’ll put your GPS right in the middle of the action. It’s pretty trick.

Scott Spark 900 Review

The Syncros stem can double as a computer carrier with this slick add-on mount.

Climbing and Descending

With Spark in its name, you expect this bike to climb well. And for the most part it does. Even in open mode, where I often stayed, suspension is supportive. The short stays make it easier to snap around tight turns, while the reasonably low bike weight aid in the battle with gravity.

But there is a price to pay for the bike’s slack’ish 67.2-degree head angle, and that’s when faced with slow ticky-tack technical uphill sections. Here you really need to stay focused, lest the front end go wandering. This is not Nino Schurter’s race bike, remember. He uses the Spark RC with its 68.5-degree head angle and 20mm less travel. I also felt like the seat tube angle could be a touch steeper. As it was, I end up running the saddle pretty far forward to help keep weight centered in the seated position. Bottom line, the Spark has mannerisms of a trail bike, including the need to pay attention when climbing. You can’t just turn your brain off and mash the pedals.

Scott Spark 900 Review

By employing a flex suspension design in the rear, Scott had to modify the brake mount so that it does not impede that flex.

The trade-off, of course, is that for a 120mm XC bike, the Scott Spark can tackle some pretty rough terrain. And that’s why you’d buy this bike in the first place. It can do a lot of things — and do them very well. The combination of a slacker front end, short stays, and progressive suspension design that’s sensitive off the top, but supportive thereafter, results in a bike that punches far above its proverbial weight. No, it’s not super playful. Nor will it carry you to victory in the local enduro series. But if you like riding mountain bikes uphill and downhill with equal satisfaction, the Scott Spark is a serious no-compromise option. You might even call it a quiver killer.

Scott Spark 900 Review

If you don’t like the gray frame color, that’s okay. The 2018 model’s color scheme of this same build is primarily black and red.

For more info please visit www.scott-sports.com. Also note that for 2018, the Scott Spark 900’s frame color has changed (for the better we’d say) along with a few small component selections.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)


About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympics, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • alias says:

    Interesting that the Author complains twice about the dropper post actuation, saying that one must slightly alter their grip to use the remote.

    Is the author aware that you can rotate the lever towards the rider? This alevieates the ‘problem’ of needing to adjust your grip.

    FYI

  • Kai says:

    Actually on the new sparks the dropper lever and the twinloc share a clamp, which makes it impossible to put the dropper lever in a good position without messing up the twinloc or putting it into your brakes. Also with the way Scott designed it if you push the dropper lever all the way down it hits the twinloc lever.

  • blubike77 says:

    I have a 2017 Spark 910 which I’ve ridden for the past several months now. I live and do most of my riding on the Front Range of Colorado – and for the kind of riding I like to do – long-ish rides with plenty of climbing and fast descending, usually on rockier terrain (call it technical-ish XC) – the Spark is a fantastic bike. This summer I rode the Spark 910 in the 2017 Breck Epic six-day MTB stage race in the Breckenridge, CO backcountry – and found the bike near-perfectly suited for that race / style of riding. Sure there were times a pure XC bike would have been an advantage, and times an all-mountain / enduro bike would have been better-suited – but overall the Spark handled everything, most of it really well. Personally I love the TwinLoc suspension feature and use it all time. Admittedly the cockpit is a little busy with the TwinLoc, dropper, and shifters (and I have the 2x drivetrain to boot!) — but you get used to all the levers and cables and I like having all that control and functionality at my finger tips. But that’s just me. Bonus – having a front shifter moves the dropper button over to the over side of the bar, over the rear shifter, where it eliminates the placement issue described in the review. Pros: Very fast, very capable bike. Perfect for fast, technical XC riding / trail riding. Cons: Bottom bracket sits low (more pedal strikes than I’m used to), rear suspension setup is finicky (still not convinced I have it right – may try removing the volume spacer this review describes), wish the bike was a little lighter for long, steep climbs. Other: Stock wheelset is very nice for OEM build (nice alloy hoolps laced to DT Swiss hubs essentially DT 350′s) but at 20mm internal width are a little narrow for this bike’s sweetspot … 22mm to 24mm internal width would be a better spec. Tires: The Maxxis Forkaster 2.35′s that come on the bike provide excellent braking, climbing and cornering traction in just about every condition, including the always-challenging loose-over-hard (and bonus points for the EXO sidewall protection) … though I’d dispute the notion that they’re a fast-rolling tire. I switched to Maxxis Ardent Race 2.35 (front) and Ikon 2.2 (rear) tires for the Breck Epic which rolled noticeably faster in most conditions while giving up little in terms of traction and control in the widely variable but mostly dry conditions of that race. I’ll put the Forkasters back on for winter as they’ll undoubtedly be very good in snow/sloppy/muddy conditions. All in all the 2017 Spark is a top choice for XC / technical XC / light all-mountain riding … or what most of us call mountain biking.

  • Russ says:

    I’ve just purchased a 2018 model Spark 900 here in Australia and retain my well used 2012 but upgraded Spark Pro 100mm. Obviously over the past 5 years there have been improvements in geometry thinking, suspension, 1×12 gearing etc but I have to say this bike for non-racing is much more enjoyable and confidence inspiring than I ever thought. Loving the dropper post too. I can pop the front wheel easier and, aware that some reviewers think otherwise, I also think that it climbs very well – you just need to get over the front wheel. The slacker front with 34mm forks is amazing – but I do catch myself thinking, if this is good, what a would a quality 2018 150mm trail bike be like. Then I remember, I like a bike that can help me climb, go the distance, and I’m not throwing myself off one metre ledges! Loving it. But I’m neutral on the twin loc levers, always have been, and the torx clamp and general integrated design with left grip is rubbish.

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