Hot stuff: what we’re excited about this month.
This month brings us discreet down country dampers, short droppings, knuckle dusters, yellow kecks, power pedals, wee-bikes, banana holsters, something for the weekend and more!
Scott Spark 900 Tuned AXS, £8,199
Another month, another cool and deliciously desirable cross country bike is released, this time from Scott in the shape of the brand new Spark. It’s a bike bursting with innovation and great ideas, and follows hot on the heels of the Juliana Wilder and Santa Cruz Blur to really round out the best down country mountain bike category right now.
First up, and most obvious by its absence, is the integrated shock, cleverly hidden away inside the front triangle. This technology was pioneered by Bold Cycles, another Swiss brand that Scott bought back in 2019, so none of us should be too surprised to see this kind of application two years later. What is surprising is the incredible attention to detail and the deft touches that could well make the Spark practical as well as pioneering.
We’ll get to that in a minute; first though, take a look inside the Spark’s frame and the advantages to playing sardines with your shock become more obvious. With the shock mounted lower, the bike’s weight and centre of gravity also drops, while those shorter links and space for larger bearings on the seat tube are designed to increase stiffness. And without the need for mounting points on the down tube or top tube, Scott can also shave off a few grams in weight. All pretty decent gains, and that’s without even acknowledging how the shock is completely cosseted from mud or rock.
Those clean lines are complemented with a single-pivot suspension design that uses flex stays, something we’ve found ideal for short-travel bikes like the Spark. Indeed, Scott has used a very similar design in the past for the Spark.
The new Spark RC/900 range is immense, with 21 derivatives to choose from, but it basically covers everything from full-on XC race bike builds to pumped-up XC or downcountry trail bikes. The RC race bikes have 120mm front and rear, while the 900 series bikes we’ve pictured here comes with an extra 10mm in the fork – there are 13 models of the downcountry bike on offer, from the Ultimate Evo AXS bike at £11,999 right down to the alloy models starting at an affordable £2,199 for the 970.
Those deft touches then. Move over cynic, the mechanic inside us is screaming that an internal shock will be tricky to get to, harder to remove and impossible to check the sag on. Scott had the same thought, and built in a port at the bottom of the down tube so you can set the sag, compression, rebound, and replace the lockout cables for its own TwinLoc Suspension System when needed. There’s another little window in the side of the seat tube to check the O-ring on the shock and figure out how much travel you’re using. It’s like a Swiss watch – small, intricate and perfectly accurate in its placement.
Scott has also built in some geometry adjustment to the new Spark – rotate the headset cups 180° and you can change the head angle by 0.6°. Finally, the rear wheel axle tool has been updated and now features a T25, T30 and 6mm Allen key – all you need to adjust the controls and hardwear on the bike, Scott says.
The old Spark was a great bike, one of our favourite short-travel machines and a former bike test winner. That’s a lot to live up to, here’s hoping the new version will be even better.
Fox Transfer SL, £419
At 346g in 30.9mm, the Fox Transfer SL Factory claims to be the lightest dropper post. There’s no infinite adjustment and it comes in three different diameters, with travel options from 50 up to 100mm, and uses lightweight cables not hydraulics to operate.
Nock Handguards, €69.99
French-made Nock Handguards are mtb-specific, made from polyamide nylon with an alloy bracket, and designed to be strong, stiff and lightweight at a claimed 169g. Reach is adjustable up to 12mm, with full hand coverage.
Race Face Indy Short, £79.95
With size-specific inseam lengths from 13.5-14.25in, the Race Face Indy Short should suit most riders. External waist adjustment; silicon gripper waistband; laser-vented thigh panels; zippered pockets and seven colours including this cool washed-out yellow.
Garmin Rally XC 200, £1,059.99
If you’re really serious about training or racing, knowing how many watts those legs put out on the bike is the most accurate and effective way to train. Until now, you’ve had to be modestly handy with the spanners to get going with power, though, fitting a dedicated drivetrain with its sensor wizardry buried inside. The new Rally XC 200 clipless pedals do away with much of the faff; all you have to do is wind them onto your bike like normal, sync with your Garmin computer, and await the datablast of information they’ll send you.
The strain gauges are buried inside the spindle of the pedals, the idea being you can swap that into a pedal body for your road bike without having to buy a separate pair or a regular power meter. The Rally XC 200 will record data for a claimed 120 hours before needing a new LR44 button battery. It’s waterproof, accurate to plus or minus one per cent and the pedal should function just like a regular Shimano SPD. At over £1,000, it’s an expensive option, though, especially when you work out you can get a left-crank-arm power meter for around £350 from the likes of Stages, Quarq (SRAM), or 4iiii.
Indybikes e-Balance Bike, £319
Electric balance bikes really do exist – UK brand Indybikes makes a model that’ll fit three-six year olds. Throttle activated, the motor lasts up to a claimed 5km or 75 minutes, there are two speed settings and the power cuts off the second the brake is pulled.
SQ Lab SQ-Short One10, £99.95
The SQ-Short One10 liner short from SQ Lab uses a super-thin and firm chamois to cushion you from the saddle, the idea being that it’s actually more comfortable than squishier pads. Multiple layers; features TPE Gel; 8mm thick pad; extra-long leg length.
Santa Cruz Reserve 30 SL, from £1,599
The new Santa Cruz Reserve 30 SL wheelset is a slimmed-down version of the brand’s enduro Reserve 30, meaning it’s around 200g but still has a 30mm internal width to fit 2.5in tyres. Comes in 29in only; DT Swiss or I9 hubs; 28 spokes; low-profile design.
LifeJacket Skin Protection Weekender Pack, £39
LifeJacket calls its new suncream Sun Gel. It comes in a variety of bundles like this Skin Protection Weekender Pack, and a clear carry-on luggage wallet. Plus free access to the SkinVision app on your phone that scans your body for potential cancers.
Rapha Performance Trailwear, £285
Any roadie worth his electrolytes knows the name Rapha – the brand is synonymous with the best cycling kit: high quality and a high price to match, says our sister title Cycling Weekly. Rapha’s appeal is much more than that, though, it’s blurred the line between clothing and lifestyle, functioning as a cycling club to around 17,000 members worldwide. Its shops are clubhouses to those loyal followers – the first opened in Soho and is part retail experience, part coffee shop. Few brands have achieved this kind of crossover; wear a piece of Rapha and – for good or bad – it says something about the kind of rider you are.
Mountain biking is next, at least that’s what Rapha hopes. It won’t be easy, though, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to great kit, with the likes of Gore, Endura, Troy Lee and many more putting out stylish and technical clothing. Besides, we don’t traditionally need to belong to clubs to make us feel at home on the trails.
Still, the new collection could help pull it off: the Trail 3/4 Sleeve Jersey (£75) and Trail Short (£110) look great and the fit is spot-on for mountain biking (no thigh gaps from too-short shorts, no crop tops from that crouched roadie position), while the Trail Liner Bib Short (£100) has storage pockets at the rear and is made from recycled materials and yarns. Rapha is famous on the road for its comfortable chamois and now it promises to bring that off-road too.
All the clothing comes in men’s and women’s versions, and with a neat colour- matched and iron-on repair kit, and the range extends to short-sleeve jerseys, eyewear, a custom Smith-Rapha helmet, socks, hip pack, a women’s tank, jackets and a cap.
Is this the best kit we’ve ever fingered? It’s too early to say. What we can say is it’s great news that a brand as innovative and influential as Rapha is now involved in mountain biking, bringing across its expertise… and maybe some roadies with it.