Review written by Jake Crockett about his 2017 Scott Spark 700 Plus Tuned.
Although I grew up mountain biking, a move to Ohio for school forced me to try road biking, and I’ve long considered road my true cycling love. I was re-introduced to mountain biking four years ago (after an eight year hiatus) and quickly found that my 70mm travel Cannondale simply didn’t cut it for a weekend in Moab. The next spring, I made my first serious mountain bike purchase—a Santa Cruz Tallboy. I’ve loved that bike, and it has taken me on some amazing rides in the Wasatch, down the Whole Enchilada, and on more laps of Zen than I can count.
As I’ve spent more time on that bike (and going over the bars more than I’d like—totally the bike’s fault), I’ve wanted something more—perhaps something in the 150mm range, with somewhat slacker geometry, so that I could tackle some of the sections of Zen (a 4 minute pedal from our condo) that have previously tackled me. Over the last few years, I’ve ridden some great mountain bikes from Yeti, Santa Cruz, Scott, Cannondale, BMC, and others, and thought I knew the direction I wanted to go.
When I asked Ryan for suggestions, he mentioned the newer “plus” bikes—somewhere between a traditional mountain bike and a fat bike. I love my fat bike on the snow and thought a plus bike might be worth a look, but I wasn’t sure about the weight, ride quality, or utility on the trails. I rode the Scott Genius 700 Plus Tuned, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It was heavier than I wanted, more sluggish than I liked, had a Rock Shox Reverb post (which I’ve never liked), and while the plus platform was great, I wasn’t totally sold. I spent a lot of time looking at longer travel plus offerings when Ryan suggested I try the new Scott Spark Plus.
I have ridden the Scott Spark (not the Plus model), and I liked it a lot, but it was a dedicated cross country bike with aggressive geometry. I mean, the Spark is the bike that the Olympic men’s and women’s champions rode to the gold medal in Rio. It’s a cross country rocket with an impressive history—not exactly the ride anything, anywhere, anytime bike I was looking for.
I spend a lot of time researching purchases and often suffer paralysis by analysis. The same happened with my plus bike search—until I read about the 2017 updates to the Spark, slackening the geometry, redesigning the suspension, improving the handling, and giving the new Spark Plus the ability to tackle just about anything (a 66.9 degree head angle and 130mm travel aren’t the domain of your typical cross country bike). Search for reviews from xc and/or enduro-focused sites that have had a chance to review the Spark Plus, and you’ll see that it is universally highly regarded.
The Spark Plus is so new that most places don’t have them, and nobody has a bike to demo. Ryan has never recommended something that I haven’t ended up loving, so on his recommendation I told him (late on a Tuesday evening) that I wanted my 14th bike purchase at Contender to be the Scott Spark 700 Plus Tuned and that I’d pick it up when I was back in town a week later.
As we were leaving town early the next morning, Ryan texted me saying that the bike was ready for pickup if I wanted to take it with me. It was ready to go, set to my measurements and with my particular requests fulfilled. In other words, it was a very run-of-the-mill experience at Contender: amazing and unlike my customer experience at any other bike shop in the land.
The next morning, I checked the tire pressure and set off for Zen. No heart rate monitor and no power meter (something my road racing background just won’t let me do except on the rarest of occasions), but I wasn’t out to set any records—I just wanted to have a good time and put the bike through its paces.
The Zen trail has a solid initial climb with some technical sections, some rolling climbs and descents, some very technical climbs and descents, sand, dirt, gravel, singletrack, slickrock, ledges, and amazing views. It really has everything you could want, all in a 5.7 mile loop less than a mile from my condo’s front door. I can’t think of a better trail to test the do-it-all capacities of a mountain bike.
The Spark Plus ate the trail up, and I was amazed at how efficiently it climbed, even with the Twinlock lockout left in “trail” mode rather than “climb” mode. I found myself choosing more challenging lines than I have in the past, and I was still cleaning them. I didn’t clean the whole climb (man, would I love to see someone be able to do that), but I cleaned more of it than I ever have. I didn’t set a PR on the climb (and I wasn’t trying to), but I ended up with one of my fastest times on that climb I’ve ever had. The climb alone made the bike and it’s 2.8 inches of Maxxis rubber worth it.
On the descent, I found myself riding down features and/or lines I haven’t in the past. The wider tires combined with the Fox dropper post (every bit as smooth as my Thomson dropper—my all-time favorite) and the slack geometry gave me a level of confidence that I haven’t had on some of the technical features in the past. And when the trail opens up and lets you roll for a bit, the wide rubber ate it up acted as a buffer from some less-than-stellar line choices that on my other bikes would have sent me sailing.
The suspension was more than up to the task. It was smooth yet responsive and never felt overwhelmed by the terrain which is often the case on a “shorter” travel bike on a trail like Zen. The bike wanted more, and it never held me back. For sure I held myself back from time to time, but that’s a testament to my bike handling and not an indictment of the bike. Again, I wasn’t aiming to crush the ride as I was out to have a good time. Without knowing, I still had set personal bests on the descent sections.
Whether going up or down, the XX1 Eagle groupset is just amazing. I love a good groupset, and the Dura Ace 9070 (electronic) on my road bike is incredible. But the Eagle on the Spark is as good as anything I’ve ever tried. I literally stopped a couple of times because I thought the bike wasn’t shifting—it felt easier/harder when I clicked the shifters, but I didn’t feel the shift itself. Sure enough, it was working properly, and it is absolutely flawless. In fact, I like it even better than my Dura Ace—and that’s saying something!
My training, the holidays, and everything else means that my fitness hits the bottom in December and it is a slow build to be ready “to go” in April. On the Spark’s inaugural journey at the end of December, which I rode with the mindset of just testing the bike out, I rode the loop in my second fastest time ever. Without a couple of minutes of stoppage for photos, I’d have set a personal best on the loop.
In my first week first week with the Spark Plus, I spent nearly 100 miles on it—whether the trails were technical (Zen, jumps on Barrel Trail, and technical sections on Barrel Roll) or flowing (gravel on Green Valley and hero dirt on Sidewinder and the Rim trails), the bike performed flawlessly and I found myself having more fun on a mountain bike than I’ve had since, well, maybe ever.
Is this the best mountain bike ever built? I haven’t ridden them all, but I’ve ridden more than I can count. The design, engineering, suspension, plus-tire platform, and groupset combine to create an amazing machine that I’d feel confident taking on almost any trail anywhere. The engineering will leave you thinking you’re on a longer travel bike, but the efficiency and lightweight (my bike is a large with trail pedals, 2.8” tires, sealant and a dropper post, weighs in right at 27 pounds) will leave you feeling like you’ve upgraded your engine. While more speed with less effort would seem to define efficiency, the Scott Spark 700 Plus Tuned definitely defines fun.