A bike that can win races, shrink distances, and still hang with your mates on a Sunday ride
Scott Spark RC comes with SRAM’s high tech AXS wireless shifting and an enviable palmares. It’s also one of the cheapest bikes with AXS on the market.
Scott Spark RC 900 AXS Team Issue need to know
- XC race bike with a glittering career that includes two Olympic gold medals
- TwinLoc remote lets you reduce travel and dynamic geometry at the push of a button
- 100mm travel front and rear
- Wireless SRAM AXS drivetrain is unheard of at this price point
The Scott Spark needs little introduction. Over the last four years since this iteration was launched, it has won everything there is to be won. Paired with the power and skill of Nino Schurter, it has been an unstoppable force in XC racing. It may even be the winningest – for want of a better word – race bike in modern XC history. And this success – thanks to four world championships and three world cup overalls – has not only been achieved within mountain biking circles, but in being ridden to victory in both the men’s and women’s events at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it has probably been eyeballed by more of the global population than any other mountain bike currently on sale.
At the time of launch, Scott took a clever approach. While the engineers took a laser-guided aim at the top step of the Olympic podium, they realised that most traditional XC bikes were nervous and tiring to control on today’s highly technical courses. So they relaxed the angles, added some high-speed stability, and designed suspension that actually moved when you hit a bump, safe in the knowledge that they had their TwinLoc remote system in their back pocket to keep efficiency high for smooth climbs and finish line sprints. They also understood that what worked for Olympic champions like Nino and Jenny Rissveds, probably wouldn’t work for mere mortals, who wanted something light and fast, but safe and fun outside the heat of battle. The kind of bike that has now been dubbed ‘downcountry’. So Scott released two versions – the win-at-all-costs RC, and the more versatile, user-friendly Spark with additional travel and a dropper post.
This two-pronged approach worked perfectly, with Nino seeing unprecedented success on the race track, and the bike receiving critical acclaim from the press. Here at MBR, we rated the Scott Spark RC 900 Team a perfect 10/10 and awarded it our Editor’s Choice stamp of approval back in 2018, while last year the Scott Spark 940 earned itself an excellent 9/10 rating, even if it was narrowly pipped to the win by the much newer Specialized Epic Comp Evo.
2020 was set to be an Olympic year and, potentially, Nino’s swansong event. But that is now on hold, which means the latest Spark is not getting the attention it expected to receive this year, which is a shame considering the MY20 range includes the eye-catching RC 900 AXS Team Issue version. The 100mm travel chassis is full carbon, from crest to tail feather, including the slender rocker link. It may not get the ultimate HMX SL carbon used in the £11,000 (yes, you read that right) RC 900 SL model, but it still tipped our scales at an impressive 11kg. To save weight, there is no pivot at the dropout. Instead the carbon stays are engineered to bow and flex. Cutlass-like chainstays taper towards the rear dropouts, while the stout down tube cradles the upside down trunnion-mount shock at its broadest point to give a sturdy pick-up point, along with clean access to the damping adjustments for the TwinLoc system. By contrast, the kinked top tube and seat stays are anorexic in proportion, giving generous standover clearance and acres of real estate within the front triangle for mounting a bottle cage and tools.
With its glittering purple paintwork and wireless SRAM AXS drivetrain, the Spark RC 900 looks a million dollars. At £4,499 it costs substantially less, and while we’re not for a second suggesting that’s not a lot of money, it is impressively good value for a bike you can buy from a dealer. Even when we checked the major direct-sales brands, we couldn’t find anything – hardtail or full-sus – that came close to matching the spec of the Spark at this price. If you want a brand new, AXS-equipped bike, this is about as cheap as it gets, yet it also comes hung on a frame with the most distinguished pedigree in XC racing. That’s a potent combination.
How it rides
Straddle the Spark RC 900 and you settle into a hunkered riding position that belies the relatively short 455mm reach. This is because the reclined seat tube pushes your seated position rearward and elongates the top tube measurement. Toss in the 80mm stem and the Spark puts you in an efficient, yet not too extreme, flat-back seated position for melting your surroundings into a speed blur and covering undulating ground with zeal.
That sense of space while seated is somewhat misleading though, because when you stand up to descend, the Spark’s relatively short reach and compact wheelbase become apparent – remember this frame is four years old now, and bikes like the Mondraker F-Podium, NS Bikes Synonym and YT Izzo have moved the game on since. While it’s not a twitchy, nervous descender – the slack (for an XC bike) head angle prevents that – it could be a more capable all-rounder if Scott took 30mm off the stem and added it to the reach. This would also reduce the tiller-effect on the steering, improving accuracy and front wheel flop. While they’re at it, the engineers could easily drop the BB by 5-10mm and gain further stability, as I didn’t come close to clipping my pedals, even when powering up rooty climbs.
Having said all that, you can still have a great deal of fun on this bike. It is not a one-trick pony, built purely to perform between the course tape under the power of an elite racer. Sure, it is fast, but it is also forgiving, and doesn’t get flustered when you take it down something steep or technical.
The comparatively trail-friendly geometry certainly helps in this regard, as does the supple, active suspension. Ok, so there’s not much depth to the travel, but the sensitive, fluid initial touch gives you the grip and the confidence to corner harder than you might imagine, bearing in mind the shallow-treaded Maxxis Rekon Race tyres. Scott has tuned the progression perfectly too, at least for my 73kg, so I could pump the bike through dips and crests to gain speed, as well as hit trail jumps and drops without the travel falling through a trapdoor.
Indeed, the Spark seems to posses an unnatural talent for creating and preserving momentum with minimal effort from its pilot. I could relax and recover through mellow sections of singletrack while never losing outright pace. Equally, that progression means the Spark never felt like it was squandering my energy when I got out of the saddle to sprint or attack a short rise. There’s a bit of flutter at the top of the stroke, but I wouldn’t call it bob. And if I really wanted to rein in any chassis motion, I only needed to reach for the Twinloc remote to firm it up. Personally, I couldn’t detect much advantage in the Traction mode that reduces the rear travel to 70mm and firms up the compression damping. Instead I would use the full lockout mode if I really wanted a snappy response when the trail was billiard-table smooth.
All the while, SRAM’s AXS drivetrain proved to be a superb ally, cleanly and rapidly swapping between ratios – no fuss, no drama. The rocker design of the AXS controller takes a little while to get used to, but once you have, the large paddle is easy to find and requires less accuracy and effort to shift in the heat of battle. It’s tolerant too, so you can shift under a heavy pedalling load and still get the desired result. And battery life is impressive, such that I’ve been getting over 30 hours out of one on a single charge.
The one major omission from the Scott Spark RC 900 package – and I realise some died-in-the-wool racers won’t agree with me on this – is a dropper post. For the sake of a few hundred grams (a weight penalty that Nino himself is happy to make on his Spark race bike), a dropper post would unlock a whole new level of potential from this bike. Because there is so little travel, you need to use your limbs more to absorb bumps and compensate for features, but you can’t do that on with a fixed seatpost because it limits your range of movement so much. You simply can’t get low enough to the bike, so you either have to accept being slightly out of control, or back off your speed on descents and hold a lot of tension in your body, which is tiring and uses precious energy when you could be recovering.
With trail-friendly handling and World Cup pace, the Spark is an intoxicating mix of speed and fun. It's still a race bike, so you'll need sharp skills and rippled legs to make the most of its racing pedigree, but if you're after a bike that can win races, shrink distances, and still hang with your mates on Sunday ride, the Spark is tough to beat.