Scott Launches New 26-inch and 29-inch Sparks in Idaho Style
by Berne Broudy
(July 11, 2011) Sun Valley Idaho is abuzz. Rolling into town a neon sign flashes: “Welcome Mountain Bikers…Ride Sun Valley…Get Stoked.” It’s a few days before Mountain Bike Nationals here in the heart of Idaho, also home to Scott Bicycles. Scott has invited a dozen mountain bike journalists, a couple of hall of famers (Greg HBALL Herbold and Tom Ritchey), and the owner of and lead guides for Western Mountaineering (who are in fact in charge of making the whole thing run smoothly). We’re out for a week of riding, testing the new 26” and 29” Spark, and the races.
There is no presentation to get the week going—just an early AM breakfast and bike fit at Scott’s US HQ, where Tim and Simon are preparing eggs, hashbrowns and bacon for breakfast on the patio before the first of five epic rides. We claim our bikes—carbon or aluminum, 26” or 29” and load into the van for the first of five epic rides
Riding in Sun Valley is either up or down. The up, right off the plane and at altitude, is brutal the first day, but it gets easier with each ascent of Sun Valley’s precipitous peaks. Our daily epics consist of minimum two-hour climbs up switchbacking trail through dense forest. Eventually, we’re get out onto a ridgeline with panoramic views of the Sawtooths—the kind that make you forget how your legs have actually just become lactic acid storage vats. Then comes the descent—hours of swooping high speed snaking trail through burned out forest and brilliant wildflowers to cold beer waiting in the van.
Besides the riding, and the new Spark, the highlight of the Sun Valley trip was dinner at the Powerhouse, Billy Olsen’s custom fit bike studio and burger joint. The food menu has about a dozen items on it, combos of burgers, salads and fries served solo or Idaho nachos style, with chili and cheese. The beer menu has hundreds of options, all hand selected by Billy, a local legend in the biking scene. Because of Billy, there is a local race scene, bike camp for kids, and a he is also a mobile mechanic. The group is charging to get there—in the process, we leave a journalist at the trailhead and he has to bike the 10 miles to dinner.
After living in luxury at the Sun Valley Lodge, we rough it for a night in the backcountry, and by rough it I mean that Western Spirit takes care of our every need, cooks us fabulous breakfasts and dinners, and that there are hotsprings about a quarter miles down the road. We do see a bear on the ridge at dusk, but she’s smart and steers clear of the keg-fueled campground antics.
All week, we swap out the 26” and 29” carbon and aluminum Sparks.
The Scott Spark
Following the introduction of their hardtail 29er last year, Scott decided to revisit the full suspension XC bike category with new 26” and 29” Sparks. The name has been used before, but the frame design and features are all new. The 2012 carbon and aluminum Sparks have 100mm (29er) and 120mm (26er) of travel. The front Rock Shox SID fork is paired with Scott’s rear Nude2 shock, which is more progressive with better damping than prior Nudes, and is designed to work with Scott’s TwinLok system (see below). The rear shock’s mono u-lock mount allows Scott to build adjustable geometry into the Spark. Flip the shock mount chip in the linkage and you raise or lower the bottom bracket height by 7mm, which angles the head tube angle 0.5 degrees. In the up position, the 29er was stable and balanced on the climb. According to Scott, the Spark is the only XC/Marathon bike on the market that offers this feature. The carbon version of the Spark frame is built using Scott’s IMP5 carbon technology. This means that five parts of the main frame -- the head tube, top tube, seat tube, down tube, and bottom bracket -- are produced in one single step for strength and durability.
Scott has made an effort to clean up the bike with internal cable routing, the streamlined U-Lock rear shock mount mentioned above, and a post mount for the rear brake that saves weight, eliminates hardware, and decreases the load the brakes apply to the swingarm parts. Scott also beefed up the Spark’s pivots, built in a molded bottom bracket (uses the PF BB 92 standard ) for pedaling efficiency, and gave it interchangeable dropouts that can take 142x12mm, 135x12mm and 135x9mm QR rear axle standards.
The three-mode TwinLoc system worked superbly well on Idaho climbs. One shifter like control opens and locks both front and reach shocks. When I clicked the handlebar mounted lever into the middle position (Traction Mode, between lockout and fully open) it eliminated bounce on the climb without total lockout. Effectively, the middle position gives the rider 85mm travel on the Spark 26 and 70 mm travel on the Spark 29. Lockout and fully open mode options can be instantly accessed from the same lever.
Though it’s an XC/Marathon bike, the 29er uses all mountain wheels. Scott wasn’t focused on building the lightest bike with the new Sparks, but a plush, fully featured FS.
There are a 11 new Spark 26 models and six new Spark 29 models ranging from $1500-$10,500 for the 26ers and $1650-$6500 for the 29ers. Scott will also sell frames, though those prices haven’t been announced.
In our initial test, the 29er won the popularity contest, particularly for its handling in the high speed corners.