My bikes are a bit different to the other PB editors who have done these Staff Rides pieces. Unlike RC, Aston, Kaz and Levy, I'm not a test editor. As a photographer I have commercial relationships with a number of brands, which means I cannot test kit (usually; I tested the recent DT Swiss F535 fork after we agreed it did not create a conflict of interest for me or Pinkbike), but I am not tied to any brand for my bikes, so could pick and choose what I thought would be the best for me.
For my bikes that means two things: that I don't always have new kit coming in for testing so my kit is nearly always on for the long-haul, and that I spend a lot more time on my own bike than the test editors can so I have obsessed over every piece hanging off it. My bikes are built with kit that I know will stand up to me smashing into stuff over and over again and, for the most part, being mechanically neglected as I prefer riding to tinkering.
Matt's Scott Spark
• Intended use: mountain biking
• Rear wheel travel: 120mm
• Size: Large
• Wheel size: 29''
• Fork: DT Swiss F535 One, 130mm
• Wheelset: DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline
• Shimano Zee/Saint/XTR drivetrain
• Bikeyoke Revive dropper
Where I live in Sospel, in the south of France, our riding tends to be made up of long, punishing fireroad climbs and nasty, rocky descents. For example, the fireroad behind my house is about 8km of climbing at a reasonable grade, then you descend back into the valley on a selection of trails that have almost all featured in an enduro race at some point in their history. With that kind of riding, I like light, shorter-travel bikes that climb well but are fun in the ugly stuff on the way down. I'm happy to spend a couple of hours grinding out the distance, but I don't see the point in all that climbing if there isn't a great descent at the end of it... I guess this puts me squarely into "down-country" riding, or whatever Levy is calling it this week. Whatever it is I ride, the bike I will usually grab first is this one: my Scott Spark.The Frame
At the start of 2017, I visited Scott's HQ to talk about the Spark RC that had just won double Olympic golds under Nino Schurter and Jenny Risveds. Talking to their product manager, Rene Krattinger, and lead engineer, Joe Higgins, the two things that jumped out at me were the frame design and the kinematic. I really like that by placing the shock low and vertically in the frame all the weight and reinforcement is around the BB, while the top of the frame doesn't need to take the same kind of forces, so can be much lighter. Then there is the kinematic - the week before I was at Canyon talking about their Sender DH bike. The Spark had essentially the same shape curve as the Sender, with a very active rear end using the hydraulics for efficiency rather than the kinematic, which is an approach I like a lot. After spending a little time a Sender last year, I realised that if the suspension worked was as they described it, I was going to get on with the Spark.
The other thing that tipped me into going for the Spark was the sizing. Until that point I had been on the Orbea Occam TR, a bike I really enjoyed riding. I am 1.75m (5'9") and went for the large-sized frame. Looking through the numbers I saw that the Spark was 10mm longer in the reach (460mm), 3mm longer in the chainstay (438mm) and a quite a bit lower at the BB (327mm) - paired with that great kinematic on paper it looked spot on, although I would have preferred a longer chainstay as I think 438 mm is still a little bit off-balance with the 460mm reach. I will admit to being really nervous when I first rode the Spark, precisely because it looked so good on paper. If the bike felt terrible, everything I thought I had figured out about how I want my bikes to work would have been wrong. Fortunately, Scott did a great job with the bike; it is quite stiff, but it surprised me with how much comfort there was in the frame, despite the stiffness. I love the riding position, the bike is a great shape which encourages you to carve turns with it. That pairs with the pop and progression in the rear end so you can play with the trail and really drive on when the mood takes you, often far faster than you feel like you should be going on a 120mm bike.Suspension
When I built this bike I brought over my 130mm Formula 35 fork from my Orbea and would still be running it if I didn't get into testing the DT Swiss F535. I wrote far too much about that fork at the time so I won't get into it further here, but I am running the 130mm version and I am hoping to keep it on the bike for as long as possible; I will probably try to buy the fork from DT when they come to get it back. The one mod I have made is that I replaced the volume spacers with a Formula Neopos token. Aston has been testing them so I won't get into it too much here, but having tried them with little or no expectation, I have since fitted them to all my forks that they will fit in. I am very impressed with the subtle, but very useful differences they make to the air spring.
At the back of the bike is the stock Fox Nude that came with the bike. It works well, although I would like a shock I can work on a bit more to see if I can improve the fore-aft balance. I have looked around for alternatives, but there are very few other shocks I can get to fit this frame as a piggyback will not clear the downtube. What I have not used with this bike is Scott's Twinlock system. Although I like their philosophy of keeping the rear end active and taming it with a lockout, it has never felt like I am losing too much as I climb, so I am fine with it wide-open all the time. Also, I don't like having additional things on my bar, or the hassle and extra weight of fitting the system, although if I race XC on this bike, I may rethink that.
Inside the shock I have removed the stock volume spacers and replaced them with a cut-down Formula Neopos - after all if it works on a fork, why wouldn't it work on a shock? I had to cut the Neopos down the middle so it could be placed around the shaft of the shock. Originally it was slightly longer than the stroke, so I removed about 5mm to fit it inside the air can. This worked well, but made the bike too progressive - the acceleration when you pushed into the bike was too much for the kind of natural trails where I live. I have held onto this for when I ride machine-built trails, but for home I now run a more aggressively cut-down Neopos to make the bike more manageable. Drivetrain
The drivetrain on this bike has now followed me through three bikes, initially because it was what I had in my spares box, then as a preference as I figured out what I need. First up are the 10-speed Zee derailleur and Saint shifter, which were what I had to hand at the time. I think the Zee mech is maybe the pinnacle of derailleur design - compact, tough and cheap. These days I don't go through too many derailleurs, but when I was a few years ago the Zee became my go-to. Because it is so small, paired with the 29" wheels, the Zee rarely seems to make contact with anything (touch wood), but when you do they can take one hell of a hit. That size is one of the big things that put me off the latest crop of 12-speed mechs - they are twice the size and four times the price. I may have a look at the new medium cage, 11-speed XTR derailleur this winter, but maybe not.
I am super-picky about my cassettes - I believe they the best place on a bike to save weight as you can go superlight without compromising strength. When I bought this XTR 11-36t cassette it was only about €100 for a 258g cassette to go with the cassette and shifter I already had and it has been going for upwards of 3,000km. Since then prices for the 10-speed XTR cassettes have rocketed and they are now around the €200 mark, so if I stick with 10-speed on this bike I will go for a Recon titanium upper assembly mated to a standard XT cassette which gives you a sub-250g 11-36t cassette for around €100, although they compromise shifting performance a little compared to the XTR cassette.
Having spent this much time with the 11-36t gearing, I don't really feel the need for a bigger sprocket and I really struggle to imagine a situation where I could ever need a 50t cassette on my bike. A 10/11-42t 11-speed cassette would be nice, but I could not justify paying twice what I am currently buying my cassettes at for an extra gear I will rarely use. I acknowledge that the current crop of 12-speed cassettes are indeed small masterpieces of metalwork, yet I feel like that in the race for bigger dinner plates on our rear wheels, the idea of choice has been lost, which is a shame. For example, a 10-50t GX Eagle cassette is around €200 but weighs nearly 450g, neither of which are numbers that work for me compared to what I run now.
At the crank, I run 170mm Race Face Next SLs with a 30t ring and a small upper guide. This particular pair of cranks has followed me through two or three bikes (I can't remember exactly for this set), and I have run several sets of them since 2014. In that time they have proven reliable and sturdy, and the bottom brackets last really well. In honesty, I do have a set of G4s ready to replace these, but it seems wrong to take a perfectly fine set of cranks off my bike. The chain is a KMC Superlight that seems to be holding up nicely. Wheels and Tires
At the moment I am running two pairs of wheels back-to-back on this bike - DT Swiss XMC 1200s and XM1501s, both in 30mm internal width. I became curious about wheel stiffness because the Ibis 942s I was running on my Occam felt too harsh when I moved them to the Spark. The two frames are very different, with the Scott being stiffer and pointier, where the Orbea is compliant and playful - which got me wondering how important wheel stiffness is in the overall compliance and on-trail feel of a bike. Hence the two pairs of wheels that I am running to try and figure out how I feel about stiff wheels. I won't give too much away, but I have been definitely been spending more time with the aluminum rims mounted to the bike.
I will admit to being somewhat stuck in my ways with tires - I run one combination all year round as I don't like the faff of changing tubeless tires. Up front is a Schwalbe Magic Mary, out back a Rock Razor, both in 2.35 Snakeskin casing. Originally the idea was that it didn't make sense to have both my trail and enduro bike with heavy-duty tires, so I ran the lighter-weight casing. I quickly realised that if I kept the pressures sensible (23psi front, 28psi rear) that it was a secure enough combination on my trail bike and I could go ride big loops with no backpack or spares. Ok, occasionally it bites me in the ass, but it's usually my fault for not replacing my tires soon enough or letting the pressures drop too low. There is nothing fancy inside them, just Effetto Mariposa rim strips, valves and tubeless fluid. Contact Points, etc
One thing I am particular with my bikes is the contact points - I hop between my trail, enduro, DH and e-bikes a lot, so I like to keep them as consistent as possible. Oury grips have been my go-to for more than a decade now - I have tried other grips, but always end up coming back to these as the combination of thick rubber and big drainage channels to carry away the sweat is pretty unbeatable. I have been running Renthal bars pretty much religiously since 2011. At first it was because the original Fatbar was shiny and gold and had a nice shape, then because they deliberately tuned out much of the stiffness in their carbon bars, and now because they offer a range of heights and after seven years I trust them to make bars that won't snap on me.
I keep all my bars at 780mm, but adjust the height depending on the bike - I don't believe anyone who suggests that long bikes can't manual, I think they haven't spent enough time getting their bar height right. I don't like running too many steerer spacers, as they are ugly and they actually reduce the reach as you go higher, so on this bike, I run a 40mm rise bar as the stack height is quite low. This bike has a 40mm stem - with the 67-degree-ish headangle on this bike I wouldn't go longer as it would start to bring the bar too close to the front axle, where with the 40mm stem you sit nicely behind it. For pedals, I run Shimano XT as they are pretty perfect for me - tough as hell, reliable and affordable.
This bike convinced me to change my saddles. The seattube length on this frame is very close to the limit for me, so when I discovered that for Selle San Marco's new Dirty saddles they had reduced the stack height by 8mm, it was an easy call and I have since switched all my bikes to them. This particular one has carbon rails in the name of gram-shaving. I do get a lot of comments about the seat angle, but this is another area where I think people haven't tried it out. I originally dropped the nose of my saddle after Mojo Risin's Chris Porter explained to me that the lower angle helps you engage your core muscles when climbing, which makes a lot of sense. The more time I spent with this setup the more I realised there was a second benefit - that it reduces pressure on your gentleman's equipment. It has noticeably reduced discomfort and numbness in that area and I think that any man who cares for that particular part of his wellbeing should try this setup.
The seatpost is a 125mm Bikeyoke Revive. I came upon these posts when I was researching stack heights for a dropper post, again because of the length of the seattube on this bike. The Revive is a full 15mm lower than a Reverb or a Transfer, which combined with the lower stack height on the saddle made me confident I could fit this bike. In fact, I would guess that due to the small differences that occur in production the seattube is short enough for me to fit a 150mm post, but once I got used to the smaller drop it is not something I think about much. KS also offer the same stack height, but I don't rate their remote too highly and their posts tend to get a bit baggy after a while. So far the Revive has been flawless - good to set up, good remote and the bleed function gets it feeling crisp and fresh with little more than the turn of an allen key.
Finally, there are the brakes - Formula Curas with 180mm rotors. These are now on their second bike and my experience with them has been nothing but great. I think it must be down to lever geometry, but there is something about these brakes that just works for me. My test for brakes is rolling endo turns - using the front brake to lift the rear then control the balance as you turn on the front wheel. These are the most intuitive brakes I have used for that, bar none. Combine that with good power and reliability and you have a winner. This set has run since I picked them up in September 2016 and been bled every 1,000km or so, whether they needed it or not. I run them at what I can best describe as an intermediate angle, not too flat, but not too steep either, biting reasonably early so I have plenty of stroke to control the braking - if they pull too far in I feel like I can't properly modulate my brakes. I know a lot of the fast Frenchies run very flat levers, but I deliberately put mine at a steeper angle a couple of years ago as I reasoned I was riding too far back on the bike, so used the brake levers to help bring my riding position forwards. As I have got more settled in my position on the bike I have flattened them out a little, but the main thing for me is to try and have as neutral a line from elbow to fingertip as possible and I find bigger bikes tend to mean you ride on the front a lot more of the time.
I don't know what this all adds up to for weight. When I first built the bike it squeaked in under the 11kg mark, but since then the DT fork and alloy wheels have added a few grams, I'd guess it is still less than 11.5kg. Everything on here has a purpose and there is nowhere I would look to save weight as I don't think I could make much of a difference without compromising the fun and/or reliability of this bike. What I do know about this bikes is that it is a nice place to hammer out a couple of thousand metres of climbing and then let you open it up as wide as you dare on the way down.