To put my cards on the table I’ve always been a big Scott Spark fan. I had one of the original 2008 bikes as a long-term test mule and even though the proprietary ‘Nude’ rear shock (I think it was a DT on the bike I had) was pretty constipated rather than controlled and the basic kinematics were awesome. A lot of that comes from the fact that Sparks have always been more radical in terms of geometry - and often travel - than they ever got much credit for. In fact, for most of their history, the Scott Spark and the Santa Cruz Solo/5010 have shared almost identical numbers. That included slack steering angles and 120mm of travel at least a decade before anyone even thought up the ‘Downcountry’ genre.
At the risk of creating a major fashion outrage, I’m also a fan of linked lockout systems. Sorry, let me correct that. I’m a fan of linked lockout suspension systems that work properly. That’s always been the case with the Spark, too, and while the cables feeding into the neat TwinLoc remote lever create a confusing collection of control lines I’ve always liked the ability to shorten and stiffen the suspension stroke or lock it completely. Hell, on rolling terrain with my race head on I’ll often use the lockout lever more often than the gear shifter and certainly more than a dropper post. And before anyone says anything I don’t actually care what the efficiencies are/aren’t in terms of pedaling/traction/rollover speed, kicking against a harder, tighter feeling bike is definitely a psychological (or perhaps more accurately, psychosomatic) boost.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, that’s it - I’m a long-time Spark fan and the last iteration (of which there were an insane number at one point (27 seems to ring a bell if you included RC and standard versions 29, 27.5, 27.5+ tire options, E-Sparks and ‘Contessa’ ladies Sparks) has been brilliant. In fact, despite being way older than most other bikes on the race circuit it was still winning more at every level than any other design until MVP and PFP jumped on Canyon last season. The weight, geometry and features of the bike are still competitive - if not ahead - of the majority of the full suspension race bike pack even now. In other words, the brand could have done a very mild refresh and called it done, but it's gone properly Bold with the new Spark and I think that’s awesome.
Grammar police who haven’t been watching bike brand acquisitions in recent years will be wondering why I’m typing Bold not bold, but the cheesy reason is that Scott bought a majority share in Swiss brand, Bold, two years ago. That’s significant here as that’s where the internal shock design with its outside-inside linkage driver comes from.
The advantages are obvious straight away, too. The shock and shock bearings/bushings are protected from weather and debris. The shock is also about as low and centralized as it can be to give the best handling dynamics and it also concentrates the suspension loads into a small area that already needs to be stiff for the bottom bracket. To capitalize on that Scott actually builds the frame in upper (seat tube and top tube) and lower (BB, downtube, head tube) halves which are then bonded together. There’s plenty of room for two water bottles even on smaller frame sizes too, although Scott hasn’t adopted Bold’s internal storage system.
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While the similarities are clear it's not just a straight copy either. The shock orientation has been changed and Scott has also tweaked the pivot kinematic to (hopefully) deliver a similarly sorted ride to the previous Spark, and it seems to have really finetuned the practical detailing as well. There’s an extra seal on the linkage bearings, a sag indicator gauge on the linkage/frame, access hatches top and bottom to get to shock hardware and adjusters and the shock sits on a trunnion-mount (cartridge bearings on the sides) for maximum smoothness.
That should make it much easier to set up and live with than previous internal shock designs such as Boulder’s iconic Starship which hid its shock in the top tube. It’s also more completely sealed than the Trek Supercaliber where some of the top tube-mounted ‘pump-action shotgun’ shock is still exposed. That's not where the hiding stops on the Spark either. The all-in-one cockpit on the posher models swings the control lines from brakes, gears, dropper and shock remotes out of the bar and then down the side of the head tube. It's all very tidy, very neat. The headtube contains an adjustable headset - on an XC race bike with a frame weight of well under 2kg. Damn.
Oh and as well as the full carbon frames (the RC and TR use the same frameset just with different forks and finishing kit) there’s an alloy swingarm version and a full alloy version that gets the same features and still weighs well under 3kg. How the Spark is received might also have a big impact on whether other brands start pushing towards more integration/internalization, too.
There are several brands starting to use hidden control line stem/headtube designs and, of course, e-MTB motors and batteries are now tucked away inside most higher-end designs. BMC, Syntace and some other designs have used integrated dropper posts. Wireless gear systems obviously take away a lot of clutter too, or you can get bars with ports to tidy up your Di2 wires. Magura’s super neat MCi system hides the brake master cylinder and hoses within the bar, leaving only the levers exposed.
In other words, there are some potentially really exciting developments ahead.
Watching designers trying to tidy up bikes without compromising practicality and performance is something truly to behold. But right now the most exciting thing is that Tony Fawcett from Scott is showing up in half an hour with one for me to test, so you’ll be getting a first-ride low down of this Bold (sorry) new bike pretty damn soon.