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Is this Peak Downcountry? A Review of the Scott Spark 910

When I first saw the Scott Spark 910 previewed I had to do a double-take. A full-suspension bike with the suspension INSIDE the frame?! I’m sure some vintage mountain bike enthusiast will point out that someone did this in 1994, but this was my first time seeing a rear suspension integrated into a bike frame. I was doubly intrigued as I had been eagerly looking to try out the latest crop of short travel 29ers (read “downcountry”) that are so en vogue right now.

If you’ve been following along with my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m not a huge internal cable/hose routing fan, and that still rings true. I feel that most internal routing is half-assed and enters and exits the frame multiple times unnecessarily. Now, what Scott has cooked up here is well done and I’m impressed by them going all-in on internal routing. I had many plans to tinker endlessly with this bike but, as I soon found out, this bike feels like it is meant to be a holistic package. Being ever-tempted by such a striking frame design, travel range, and the possibility to mount a frame bag easily on a full-suspension frame I had to take it for a spin.

For all you folks into brevity: This bike is an absolute blast to ride, a total bikepacking machine, and something I’d never want to do maintenance on. The bike’s coolest features are simultaneously amazing and also its biggest possible flaws. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, scroll down and look at all the pretty flowers from my AZT ride.

I reviewed the Spark 910 build, which fits into the higher tier of Scott’s range, and is slotted just under the jump to builds with electronic shifting. This 910 clocks in at $6300 for your wallet and at 27 lbs on the scale.  The Spark 900 series is a longer travel trail-oriented iteration of Scott’s new Spark platform. While the RC version is a world-class XC race machine, the 900 finds its place as a more versatile rig. I had hoped to review a more budget-friendly aluminum version but, due to supply chain shortages and all that jazz, none were available. Beggars can’t be choosers. I’m confident that a similar performance and experience can be expected of the less expensive builds, with the addition of some weight penalties to components and frames.

Usually, I personally fit between a size L and XL depending on the manufacturer. With the Spark 910, I was most concerned about the standover height, so I opted to try a size L. The saddle to bar drop was fitted a tad aggressive for my preference, but I found the fit to be amicable for the application. The 470mm reach felt a bit short, especially coming from the Ibis Ripley AF. Though, after simply setting my saddle back a bit on the rails, all was well.

I’m going to spend the bulk of this review on the Spark’s frame design, as I think it’s innovative chassis is what sets it apart rather than it’s fairly standard build specs or geometry.

Frame Design

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, that integrated shock. Hiding the shock provides a handful of advantages: design ever-more rigidity into the mounting position while reducing weight, keeping the shock out of the elements, and – most important to my silly point of view – the ability to mount another water bottle or frame bag easily.

The frame has a built-in access port for the suspension on the down tube allowing you to adjust the shock easily. It even has a handy diagram on the back as a guide to the internal routing. I had no issues with this port, but I can see this being a common point of impact for rowdier trail riding. While a failure would not hamper functionality, it would just toss gunk into your frame. There are various other ports to make servicing the shock a manageable task. Likewise, sag is managed by easily readable marks on the non-drive side of the seat tube, making suspension setup simple and quick.

Twinloc

The second coolest part of this bike’s design is the Twinloc system, which can lock out both shocks at the same time. The current iteration of the Twinloc now consists of three levers: one to lock out the suspension, one to release the lock, and the lowest lever to actuate the dropper post. At first glance, the cluster of levers looks absolutely crazy and I can imagine trying to design it was mind-boggling. In practice, I found the use of the various levers very intuitive.  The whole assembly mounts to the left brake lever for a very clean look. Though this all-in-one mount limits adjustability in relation to brake lever position, after some fiddling I was able to adjust the lever to a usable angle and position. While being a miracle of design getting many levers on one mount point I think it may be putting all the eggs in one basket.

In the case that the mount failed or was broken off, you wouldn’t be able to use your dropper or the lock-outs, which aren’t essential to pedaling but are a major feature of this bike. The mount did have a fair amount of play when actuating the dropper lever, making me feel like this could be a weak point for extended use. The Twinloc system effectively allows this frame to have almost all the benefits of riding a rigid and full suspension frame without any of the downsides (except maybe maintenance). I feel the Twinloc system is truly the cornerstone of this bike.

Adjustable Headset

The Spark’s adjustable headset was a feature I was initially very excited about but, in practice, I found It wasn’t as practical as I’d hoped. The headset cups are designed to be reversible so you can steepen or slacken the head tube angle by .6 degrees. When I took apart the headset to give this a try it required removal of all shifters/levers from the bars. My test bike came with cables and hoses that were cut to the exact length necessary to do their job, but not allow any flexibility for setup or adjustment. Due to this, what would have been a simple dropping of the headset cups required an entire disassembly of the cockpit.

The headset cups easily come out of the frame and then remount using two small stops built into the cup and frame. When I removed all the bits to get to the lower cup, the cup came out much easier than I expected, and thus I wasn’t able to discern its original position, and I could discern which direction made the frame slacker or steeper. The instructional information I was able to find online wasn’t super illuminating.

This process is invariably easier than using another angleset type headset and having to remove/press cups, which I appreciate. While the overall process is easy, actually getting to the headsets was quite an ordeal. If you feel the need to tinker with the angle at some point, it can be done, but like most variable geometry systems I’d just leave them setup stock.  The adjustable headset is an intriguing idea with some impressive implementation that ended up being more frivolous than I had expected.

Anything Cage Mount

The main triangle features two bottle cage mounting spots, a regular two bolts on the seat tube, and a triple set of mounts on the down tube. Having access to both of these mounts is an amazing feature of this frame design, but I feel that the triple mount doesn’t make much sense. If you were to mount a cargo cage on that triple mount it would prohibit you from mounting anything on the seat tube, but I guess the flexibility is there. I was able to mount an off-the-shelf road runner framebag as well as a bottle cage on the seat tube comfortably. Allowing for such easy main traingle storage on a full-suspension frame is probably my favorite part of this bike. Whether you live in the desert and need to carry 3.5L of water or just want to have two small bottles for day rides the new Spark design is amazing in its ease of main triangle storage options.

Suspension

The suspension is essentially a single pivot that uses flexibility in the seat stay instead of a Horst link or concentric pivot on the rear hub. I’m no number-crunching anti-squat chart examining kind of guy, and in this travel range I think it may be unnecessary, but if those things are very important to you this may not be the bike for you.

Component Spec

The model I reviewed was a mid/high-end build of the Spark 900 platform. It came with a full suite of midrange Fox squishy and droopy bits. I’ve always appreciated the feel and security of the lockouts on Fox shocks and that continues to be the trend, especially when paired with the Twinloc system. The Transfer dropper post came with more play than I would prefer out of the box, but I’m hearing that is just how they are. Nonetheless, the dropper reliably went up and down even when lightly loaded. The Deore XT drivetrain pedaled flawlessly and whatever voodoo they put into the new Hyperglide+ system allows it to shift amazingly well under load.

Keeping the cockpit amazingly clean is a full set of Syncros parts. The main show-stopper is the Syncros DC 1.5 stem and headset that allows the cables and housing to flow down through the headset spacers and then into the frame. It’s a very slick design, but at the cost of not having a removable faceplate, I found this stem to be less than desirable and possibly limiting if you wanted to swap to a different type of bar like a riser. Though, Syncros does have a whole set of various stems to fit your needs if you need something else. The hood covering the cable entry simply snaps onto the spacers and, leaving me wanting a more secure fitment, while the headset spacers are molded in two pieces so that you can take them off and adjust stack height without a wholesale rebuild of your bike.

The Fraser 1.5 bar is a simple 760mm wide 8-degree sweep very-low rise bar. It was comfortable enough and seemed on-brand for the XC roots of the bike, but too narrow for my admittedly unreasonable preferences. I would have tried to swap out the bars for something a bit wider, but the front lockout/hydro hose was cut so short I wouldn’t have been able to make the swap. This issue could have been remedied while being built up, but that was how I received it from the factory.

The rear axle includes a nifty magnetic step-down tool that has t25/t30/6mm bits for adjusting pivots and axles on the frame. Since the tool has to pass through to use the other bits you won’t be able to use the 6mm on your pedals. While this is a cool addition, it is less practical and won’t replace carrying a full multitool on rides. It did come in handy to mount the bottle cages which had t25 bolts instead of the usual 3/4mm M4 bolts. The jury is still out if I dislike T25 or 3mm headed bolts for mounting bottle cages.

The wheelset on this build is the Silverton 2.0, also from Syncros. The 25mm internal width was sufficient for the provided 2.4” tires.  The engagement left something to be desired for a bike that climbs this well. With a higher engagement hub this bike would be an absolute rock crawler. During one climb I felt the freehub slip with a loud clank and from then on the freehub had a rhythmic clicking that I can only assume was something going on in the pawls. The spec’ed Schwalbe tires, with varying Addix mixtures, rode quite well with tighter spaced nobs for the loose over hard trails I tested this bike on. I had one puncture in which I had to limp along while bikepacking a AZT section, but that is to be expected on long hard descents in Southern Arizona. Anything short of DH casings will get ripped up down here, but I appreciate that Scott didn’t just spec Minions.

The spec on this bike is solid and respectable.  You are paying mostly for the frame, shocks, and dropper with the rest being in-house branded and some of my lesser-than-favorable components. The wheels and bars feel cheap for a build of this price. Obviously, to achieve the amount of integration, most of the parts are going to have to be proprietary, which always gives me a bit of pause. As I mentioned, the coolest parts and so much integration come at the expense of being a proprietary system. If you are comfortable buying all your replacement parts directly from Scott or have a local dealer then this should be fine.

Trail Riding

As I mentioned in the beginning, this bike is an absolute blast to ride. You can really put some muscle into the pedals, locked out or not, and you can feel its WorldCup XC pedigree from your first pedal revolutions. Once I got used to the Twinloc system I was constantly switching between the various lockouts. The bike pedals quite well, even with the suspension wide open. The traction lock (mid-setting) was exceptional for techy climbs and, whenever I had long sections of pavement or smooth climbing, I would just totally lock it fully out.  This bike climbs better than any other full-suspension bike I’ve spent time on, which should be no surprise due to the control over the suspension the Twinloc system offers.

Once you get to the top of the climb, catch your breath it’s time to flick that switch and unlock the suspension. The Spark 910 was a capable descender with the modern geometry affording its rider more confidence than would be expected for the shorter travel. The few times I really let the bike go I was quickly reminded I was riding a stretched-out XC race rig. The shorter wheelbase, while being nimble for climbing switchbacks, felt less confidence-inspiring on rowdier descents. I found the bottom of the suspension a few times, so this bike lacks that bottomless class-defying feeling.

The bike encapsulates perfectly what I would consider a “downcountry” bike: a modern XC rig extended to allow the rider to occasionally hit rowdier trails with confidence. Admittedly, I am no XC racer (nor a racer at all for that matter) but I think this bike leans more toward the country side (yeehaw) of downcountry. If you have long sections of pavement or gravel where you might want to have a rigid bike and then cut loose once you hit the trails I don’t think you’ll find a better pedaling bike. This may be the bike for you if pedaling efficiency is paramount and you want to be able to get mildly rowdy once in a while.

Bikepacking

I’m always looking at bikes and thinking about how I could stuff all my camping gear on them. Most full suspension bikes make running a frame bag difficult or downright impossible. The integrated shock on the Spark makes this super easy, so much so I just used an off-the-shelf Roadrunner frame bag. I’m sure many other pre-made options would fit as well. With the storage issue solved and the addition of the Twinloc system, the features added up for amazing bikepacking potential.

I decided to take the Spark out on a section of the AZT that I have been eyeing for a while – Picketpost to Kelvin. The loop comes courtesy of Kurt Refsnider and included a 20-mile pavement ride to shuttle me to the trailhead. I figured this had it all: extended pavement and some of the most challenging single track on the AZT. As with any camping trip in the desert, water was the biggest packing concern. Between a 3-liter bladder in the frame bag and a small bottle on the seat tube, I was able to carry all but one liter of my water in the main triangle.

After almost losing my sandal while swimming in the Gila River before the trip even started, I locked that frame out for the long pavement climb to Superior.  There is nothing like locking your bike out so you can focus on finishing a six-part podcast on how terrible Henry Kissinger is instead of the pedal bob in your suspension.  On a brighter note, the burn area from last summer was been popping off with Brittlebush and Globe Mallow flowers!  Once I finally hit the trail I only made it a few miles before it got dark and I decided to settle in for the night.

The next morning staring down 35 miles and 4k feet of climbing loaded on single track, I was a bit scared. As I got in the mental groove of using the Twinloc system, shifting, and using the dropper all in quick succession I was amazed at how efficient the Spark frame can be. Being able to seamlessly transition from a gnarly descent to fully locked out in a few seconds without interrupting pedaling is incredible. I could start a climb in traction mode and then fully lockout when I really need to put some muscle into it. Until I put a hole in the rear tire, I was really letting the bike go on the main descent down the river. The bike reminded me it wasn’t a rough and tumble enduro bike and I dialed it back a bit. The whole system made riding this very technical section of trail a total blast even with a load. I added air to both shocks in anticipation of the heavier load, but the ability to lock the shocks out really meant I didn’t have to choose between climbing support or supple descending.

The Spark would make an exceptional rig for racing or riding the Arizona Trail or the Colorado Trail. I could see it being a great choice for any route that has lots of varied terrain or large portions of single track.  The Twinloc system shines any time I needed to be really efficient on the trail, especially when the bike was loaded.

Likes

-Elegant design and functionality

-Twinloc system is amazingly efficient

-Confidence-inspiring modern geometry

-Multitude of easy main triangle storage options

-Full-on internal routing

-Climbing prowess

Dislikes

-Lots of proprietary parts

-A few parts feel cheap for the build (wheels and bars)

-All the internal routing makes maintenance more complicated

Takeaway

The Spark 910 is a marvel of design and engineering, from its integrated shock to the Twinloc/dropper lever. The bike climbs better than any full suspension bike I’ve ridden and is an absolute blast to ride. I haven’t really mentioned it already, but holy wow is this thing a gorgeous bike. I love the minimal branding and while all black is blah I do appreciate how rare it is to have a genuinely good looking full-squish bike. The bike has so many proprietary parts which makes the home mechanic in me nervous. If your local shop is a Scott dealer, great. If not, you better have a good relationship with your mechanic when you drop this thing off for new cables and housing. When buying this bike you need make a certain commitment to the Syncros parts system. This is a bike that should be purchased with the expectation that a lot of components won’t be swapped out easily. Bikes like this make me wish I could lease a bike like a car; I’d love to lease this bike for a year and return it to the dealership before it needs an oil change. And, while I’m making car analogies, I’ll end this review by equating the Spark 910 to a European sports car with a lift kit, maybe like that Ferrari SUV. Or maybe it’s comparable to taking the Batmobile four-wheeling. I’m not a car guy y’all.  If you want to pedal like a rocketship on a bikepacking route or just value pedaling efficiency above all else then the Scott Spark is for you.