We were constantly in awe of what this bike can do
Scott has completely rewired the Scott Spark 710 Plus for 2017, incorporating a seismic shift in engineering and attitude to broaden the bandwidth from its thoroughbred XC race bike roots.
That’s not to say the new Spark has turned its back on speed though; before you could even buy one in the shops, it had been ridden to Olympic Gold at Rio in both the men’s and women’s mountain biking.
Scott Spark 710 Plus
Unlike the other bikes here, Scott’s Plus models get a unique version of its pivotless swingarm, paired up with a longer, 130mm-travel fork, to make it more capable and stop the bottom bracket constantly sumping out.
Every detail of the new Spark frame has been carefully considered, and all that engineering dedication has really paid off. It’s 200g lighter than the previous design, yet 36 per cent stiffer and, more importantly, the geometry and suspension has been revamped to bring it bang up-to-date.
By shifting the shock in-line with the seat tube, turning it upside down, and adopting the new Trunnion mount, Scott has reduced the eye-to-eye length, which saves space, and yet increased the stroke, improving control. It’s now more integrated into the frame, and it has allowed Scott to lower the top tube and increase standover clearance.
Scott has retained its signature TwinLoc system, which uses a fairly agricultural dual lever on the handlebar to close a secondary chamber in the shock and reduce the rear travel to 85mm. Simultaneously, compression damping gets firmed up at both ends, while a further click of the remote almost completely locks out the suspension for smooth fire-road climbing.
This remote is hooked up to both the Fox 34 Performance fork and the custom Fox Nude shock at the rear. As a result, only rebound damping is finely adjustable.
Full marks to Scott for fitting Maxxis’s excellent Rekon 3C tyre to the Spark Plus. The lovechild of the fast-rolling Ardent and the grippy High Roller II, it’s a superb tyre in everything from loose, dry hardpack to moist, loamy dirt. It seems to have more puncture resistance than many other Plus tyres, and the sidewalls have good support considering the sub 800g weight. We approve of the choice of 35mm wide rims too, as this seems to provide the ideal balance between tyre profile and wheel weight.
Syncros supplies most of the components, which is hardly surprising as the brand is owned by Scott. The flat handlebar is a good width, the stem is a good length, and comes with an integrated Garmin mount, but the saddle and grips are verging on austere in terms of comfort.
Don’t be fooled by the 1x Shimano drivetrain on our test bike; the Spark 710 Plus is sold with a 2×11 system around the world, and our demo model just happened to have been converted to single-ring by Scott UK. It’s definitely a mod we’d advocate though, as the Spark is crying out for fewer cables and reduced complexity.
With the least travel of all the bikes here, and the lowest price, on paper the Spark is definitely the underdog in this test. However, get it on the trail and its pedigree surpasses its meagre stature in every way. Instead of just nipping at the heels of the competition, it’s regularly slipping the leash and leaving them in its dust.
It was the most agile bike of the bunch; incredibly lively and playful and it properly danced down undulating, flowing singletrack. Yet it was also bewilderingly capable on steep, technical trails and rough enduro tracks.
Then, on the way back up, its efficiency would rise to the surface, channelling every ounce of energy into forward momentum. With this level of zeal out of the box, the need for a gizmo that reduces travel and firms up the suspension couldn’t have been further from our mind. Sure, the TwinLoc makes sense on the RC race models, but we think the Spark Plus would be a lighter, sleeker, simpler, and better bike, without it.
As you’d expect from a pumped-up XC race bike, the Spark isn’t intended for ploughing down trails and riding passively. You need to work your limbs to make up for the shortfall in travel, but the rewards for your efforts are spectacular. We were constantly in awe of what this bike can do. Yet unlike a highly-strung athlete, it’s neither nervous nor neurotic, and its confidence is infectious. Already it has been ridden to two Olympic gold medals; well now it can add our Trail Bike of the Year award to its glittering palmarès.