A Most Unconventional SCOTT Spark RC Drop Bar
Of all the bikes that come through our service department for upgrades, few have caught our eye like this 2019 SCOTT Spark RC SL. We had the pleasure of doing an unconventional swap, making this 100mm front and rear travel mountain bike a drop bar ‘gravel’ bike. Now we know what you’re thinking, “Putting drop bars on an MTB would just make it less capable,” and while you might be correct in regards to most mountain bikes, this is one of the only bikes we’ve seen where it could be an exception.
This build would not have been possible without the 2019 SCOTT Spark RC Chassis it’s built around. The 2018-2021 Spark frames are in my opinion, one of the best frames ever made. I had the 2020 Spark RC Pro, and to this day I regret selling it. This frame was designed to support Nino Schurter who many consider the GOAT of mountain biking. The frame was made to be lightweight, stiff and responsive, but most of all it was intended to be capable and fun. When I rode one, I was impressed with how fast the bike rolled, while still being capable enough to handle pretty much any descent.
One of the features of this bike essential to make it into a gravel bike is SCOTT’s Twinloc system. The Twinloc allows you to lock out the front and rear suspension from the handlebar, and even set the suspension to be halfway open, where it only utilizes about 60% of the available travel. The Twinloc system is perfect for the long dirt roads or singletrack climbs common to gravel riding because it exponentially increases the bike’s stiffness and helps you rocket up the climbs. We set up two different wheelsets for this bike. Although they both are 29” with a treaded tire, they are very different sets. The first set is the Reynolds TR249 wheelset with a pair of 700 x 48mm Rene Herse Oracle Ridge tires. This wheelset is the more gravel-focused set of the two, intended to roll fast but still have enough traction for long descents. The second wheelset uses the DT Swiss XRC wheels that came stock on the bike, but mounted with 29 x 2.4 Vittoria Barzos tires.
While cross country race bikes are getting slacker and slacker in the geometry, the 2018-2021 SCOTT Spark has been left a bit in the shadows, being that it has a 68.5º head angle and has a longer reach than what is standard for contemporary mountain bikes. These geometry features give the frame used in this build the opportunity to become something that I will call ‘Super Gravel,’ meaning a setup that makes a fast gravel bike, but can still be a very capable Mountain bike. This unique build slots the bike into a very, very niche classification. It could make a great addition to a serious gravel rider’s bike quiver, but might not be the best one-bike choice to cover all the bases.
The first question that usually comes to mind with a build like this is usually something like “what type of riding is it intended for?”, or “Where is it intended to be ridden?” We’ve given that a lot of consideration as well, and we’ve narrowed it down to a few particular ideal applications.
This bike would be great for long format mountain bike races, like the Leadville Trail 100. On a day where you have to have the capabilities of a mountain bike, but with enough double track and dirt road riding to warrant a gravel bike, this bike would truly come alive! The versatile rider positioning available on this bike would allow you to keep confident handling on sections where you need a mountain bike, but then as you transition on to smoother terrain, you get the aero benefits of the drop bar setup. This bike would also be great for bikepacking and touring trips. For rides like the Great Divide, where most people are out for 30+ days and need fat tires and comfortable positioning, this bike would excel. The versatility of the front and rear lockout lets you pedal smoothly up the big climbs, and then open the suspension up and be safe and comfortable on the descents. The only downside for bikepacking would be that the rear shock makes it so you cannot use a full-sized frame bag. Other than that, this bike would be a perfect match for long bike-packing and touring explorations. This bike doesn’t “make sense”, but at the same time it makes perfect sense. It toes the line between gravel and mountain, filling a niche that not many people are looking for. While this certainly isn’t the first drop bar mountain bike, this one is my favorite. For people who are looking for mountain bike capability with the versatility of drop-bar positioning, doing a drop-bar mountain bike would definitely be an option to consider. Call us at the shop to discuss any of these options. We would be happy to walk you through what you would need to make the change and create your own unique, niche filler!