The Olympic Bike: Developing the Scott Spark

May 2, 2017 at 1:48
by Matt Wragg  




Most mountain bikes are, in the long-run, built to be forgotten. All the innovation and excitement fades from relevance and, in the grand scheme of things, they all start to look very much alike. Hand on heart, can you tell me what was so special about most bikes 5 years ago? 10 years ago? Yet there are a handful of bikes that stand the test of time. These are special bikes. Usually, it is only looking back that their significance is clear, that when we see how they influenced and changed what follows we can understand how important they were. Far rarer are the bikes that cement their standing when they are still new. The current Scott Spark is one of these rarest of all bikes.

Maybe in ten years time, we will look at this period and see that it is a turning point for XC bikes, that 2016 marked the point when the World Cup changed and full-suspension bikes really came of age at that level. This could be one of those watershed bikes that turned the tide for an entire genre. Maybe not. What will undoubtedly stand the test of time is what this bike achieved. Two Olympic gold medals, two World Championships titles and one World Cup overall in a single season. Underneath Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds, in 2016 the Spark collected a medal haul that may never be equaled or surpassed in one season.

The Hunt for glory in the finish

Jenny Rissveds from Sweden rode smoothly and fast through the Rockgarden. Even she had a crash eariler in the week and has 4 stitches on the elbon and 6 on her knee.
Jenny Rissveds celebrates her Olympic champion title in the finish line of the race. She is the youngest MTB Olympic champion.




"It started in London when we lost the race. We got second." Rene Krattinger, Scott's product manager responsible for their mountain bike range, doesn't mince his words about the intentions for this bike. For many athletes, an Olympic silver medal is a pretty special achievement, it can be a career-crowning moment that elevates an athlete to national and international attention. For Nino Schurter and Scott, it was not enough. "From this point on we were thinking, 'we have to win it in Rio.' This is where the project started."

The Product Manager
Rene Krattinger

Since joining Scott as a mechanic for their DH team 18 years ago, Rene quickly worked his way into product management and today is responsible for all their mountain bike producrs.
Developing the Scott Spark


Joe Higgins, Chief of MTB Engineering at Scott was the man charged with this daunting task. He began the project with the people closest to the previous incarnation of the Spark, "We started with a questionnaire about the bike, we asked the racers and the mechanics what they were happy with and what they would change." There should be little surprise what topic came to the top of the list for an XC race weapon: weight. They also wanted the bike to feel similar to their hardtail race bike, the Scale, so they could change between the two as easily as possible to pick the best bike for each course.

While efficiency was up there too, Joe reveals that, "They wanted suspension that really works, that isn't just there for show on the bike. If they were going to carry the extra 600g on the frame it had to really work, they didn't want over-inflated shocks." Joe is candid when it comes to assessing the suspension on the old bike, "The feeling was that it was too harsh at the start of the stroke and then it would rush through its travel." To chase that goal they had to make the radical step of ditching the old suspension layout in favour of an all-new design, one that required them to essentially invert the kinematic of the old bike.
Developing the Scott Spark

With the falling rate at the start to offer comfort at the beginning of the stroke, it then ramped up towards the end to resist bottoming out. This kind of design should be familiar to anyone who has studied the latest crop of DH and enduro bikes, it is exactly the same shape of curve, just on a smaller scale here.

Of course, you can't just take the shock from an enduro bike and expect it to work for an XC racer. When it comes down to it, they still need ultimate efficiency when it comes time to really put the power down. Rene highlights their three-position adjust system on the shock as the key to making this work for the racers, "It means that in the open position the rider can have very supple suspension on the downhill. We don't need to make any compromises for setup. With the old two-position system, we had to make compromises with a harsh setup that is not 100% for descending performance. With three positions we can make each position perfect and have a really good setup."

One consequence of the direction dictated by the suspension design was a dramatic shift in the appearance of the bike. Joe explains that, "What made the old Spark so popular was that straight line of toptube, shock, seatstays. It was a super-strong line and everyone thought straight away, 'That's a Spark'. To move away from that was quite a nervous decision for us. But we realised that we couldn't get the curve we wanted with a top-link design, it's pretty much impossible."

bigquotesThere are so many ways to design a full-suspension bike, but only a few that will give you the curve you want. - Joe Higgins, Chief of MTB Engineering

The Engineer
Joe Higgins

Hailing from the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, Joe has been with Scott for nine years. Today he is their head of MTB engineering.
Developing the Scott Spark


After several iterations, they settled on a shock that mounts vertically, adjacent to the seattube. This had a huge structural impact on the bike. When you mount a shock on the toptube you need to reinforce the tube to deal with the force the shock transmits through it. By removing these forces, the toptube could be lightened. As Joe explains, "The shock mount is going to need to be reinforced, no matter where on the bike you put it. Before it was in the middle of the toptube and the toptube is not really important for overall frame stiffness. It's the downtube and chainstays that are the spine of the bike. Now the shock is right in the middle of that backbone, so now the reinforcement we add for the shock also helps the overall frame stiffness."



Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
  The old bottom bracket area is on the left, the new one on the right. It should be immediately apparent how much more robust the new design is compared to the old one, with a wider stance and much more substantial tubes. The scales bear this out too - the new bottom bracket is substantially heavier than the old one - evidence that the focus of this bike is performance, not just weight loss for the sake of weight loss.


With the basic layout set, it was time for the fine art of setting the geometry. Working with an athlete like Nino is unlike virtually anyone else in mountain biking. He had been working with a laboratory in Switzerland to find the optimum position on the bike, as Joe recalls, "We have a bike fit, to the millimeter, for Nino. His saddle position, his setback, height, seat angle. The seattube angle is a result of this. XC racers are much more picky about saddle to BB position, that's where they start from. We worked from Nino's measurements - where his saddle had to be, relative to the BB to make sure we gave him the perfect seat angle." Rene elaborates further, "Compared, to an all-mountain bike, it is more tricky to set the geometry for XC because the rider needs to have the perfect position on the bike for the best power transfer to the pedals, not just to have a long toptube and to make everything enduro-style. It's a bit similar to the road-side, you can't just make the bike longer."

Of course, these restrictions don't mean they didn't push the geometry where they could. Asked how different the geometry is on this bike compared to the old one, Joe's answer is just three words: "Longer, lower, slacker." While a 68.5-degree head angle may sound steep to most trail riders, in a discipline where the 70-degree head angle was de-rigeur until recently, it is quite a step. This was coupled with a 15mm increase in the reach and shorter chainstays.

What this all adds up to is an XC thoroughbred that is far more accessible to those of us outside the World Cup circuit, as Joe confirms, "It's definitely got better handling than the old bike, it's more stable, more controlled, which helps everyone. It has taken a bit of influence from the development in trail and enduro, some of the things that make sense there also make sense here. Even in XC, there is a move away from the mentality that, 'if my bike is twitchy and hard riding, it is fast' because it feels fast because you're getting beat up. The new direction is that smooth, controlled power output is what makes you faster. "

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

One small change in the geometry was more important - they reduced the stack height by 15mm. For a rider like Nino who is super-picky about his bar-height, this is a huge deal. To put into context how crucial it is, the Scott team changed to SRAM this winter. With that came a change of suspension and the axle-to-crown of the Sid is 5-7mm shorter than the DT Swiss fork he rode to gold in Rio, so they have had to go back to scratch for bike setup for him. At the time of this interview, they were still wrestling with how best to correct this for him. The drop in stack height for the new frame was game-changing for both Nino and the new bike. It is those 15mm that mean Nino could run 29" wheels for the first time while maintaining his critical bar-height.

The Athlete
Nino Schurter

Nino Schurter should need no introduction, he is the most dominant XC racer in the world right now and is well on his way to contest the title of greatest XC racer ever. His relationship with Scott in unlike almost any other athlete, having signed for them as a junior right back in 2003 and raced for them his entire career.
Developing the Scott Spark


While a 29"-wheeled XC race machine may not sound too radical for most brands, for Scott this was a big departure as Scott, and Nino in particular were at the forefront of introducing 27.5" wheels to the mountain bike world. Rene explains, "When Nino won the World Cup in South Africa on 27.5" wheels we had customers phoning us saying, 'I need to have this bike, when can I have 27.5" wheels?' I have to say that 27.5" was a bit of a door-opener for 29". For most guys who were still on 26", they felt 29" was too big, so they went to 27.5", and now they go to 29" as it's a smaller jump than from 26" direct to 29"." In a sport where every fraction helps, it is hard to deny that there might be something in the fact that Nino had his most successful season when he switched to the bigger wheels.

With the basic layout set, it was time to start sweating the smaller details, stripping every excess gram from the frame, helped by a new generation of carbon technology compared to the old bike. Every single piece of the layup was obsessed over to try and find the perfect balance between strength, stiffness and weight. While the change in shock mount made a small difference to the weight of the bike, moving mass from the toptube into the bottom bracket, it was at the rear end where they could make the most dramatic savings. Most obvious is the lack of a rear pivot, it is now replaced by flex stays, so the carbon gives, meaning they can reduce the amount of hardware needed for the suspension and the number of points where carbon needed to meet metal, saving between 40 and 50g of weight.

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
The rocker and dropout from the old bike.
Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Renningnen Germany January 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
The much lighter new bike (the rocker is only half the assembly here)

The dropouts themselves are massively significant too. The new sandwich design means the swingarm construction can remain fully tubular at the dropout so there are fewer points where the carbon needs to meet hardware, as the meeting of tubular carbon and solid carbon adds weight. This meant they could save around 30g on each side, bringing the weight of the rear end down by over 100g. Then there is the rocker link, using carbon there to replace the old aluminium design saved a whole 100g. Contrastingly, those changes in the bottom bracket added 64g to the bottom bracket area - proof that they were not afraid to add weight where it was needed to help the bike perform.

Developing the Scott Spark

The result is a 1779g frameset and a race bike that weighs in at just over 9kg - the lightest on the market today. As Joe recalls, "When Nino first got on the bike he checked the weight, then the height of the handlebars and then he rode off." The rest, as they say, is history.

Must Read This Week

89 Comments

  • + 179
 Pinkbike is killing it with XC coverage today. It's much appreciated.
  • + 14
 Looks like xc coverage has Sparked some interest on PB.
  • + 3
 @properp: It's off the Scale!
  • - 5
flag Elsm (May 21, 2017 at 15:12) (Below Threshold)
 fag
  • - 5
flag Elsm (May 21, 2017 at 15:12) (Below Threshold)
 @properp: its really gay
  • + 46
 13 lbs lighter than my bike...
  • + 2
 Only 8.2 lbs lighter than my Spark Plus.
  • + 54
 I don't even know how much my bike weighs, but it sure puts a smile on my face.
  • + 4
 Mine too, 15.4kg is fine for a trail bike right?
  • + 21
 It might be a good joke...but i have no damn clue how much 13 lbs is in non-trump-land.
  • + 2
 Its 185 lbs lighter than me.
  • + 40
 THANK YOU for covering XC. So good.
  • + 3
 This articles scott nothing for me.
  • + 15
 the guy rides like someone really lit a fire under his ass. do you think Nino ever sparks one up?
  • - 2
 I got downvoted for my spark pun to. its ok man
  • + 9
 @bikeordie2772: it takes a genius to come up with the good puns.
  • + 1
 Scotty, beam that dude up.
  • + 1
 Probably depends on how much Voltage he runs on
  • + 7
 So nice to see XC coverage on here, as mentioned above. Especially in depth articles like this!
The Spark RC 900 SL frame set is actually only 1660g complete with shock and all hardware (no remote included) when stripped from paint. And the Scale RC 900 SL stripped is a stunning 788,5g including all hardware. Both size Medium.
Feel free to have a look in my album "2017-XC-Builds" here or at www.instagram.com/dangerholm for two quite special projects.
  • + 3
 Killer Instagram feed! Looking forward to seeing the final result!
  • + 2
 Some interesting pics on there... feels like I stumbled on to the euro version of the village people's website...
  • + 6
 That's a link-driven single pivot owning the XC circuit at the moment... just shows that all these propriety suspension tricks mean nothing when the rider is a beast!
  • + 3
 Agreed, faster rider on a slower bike always beats a slower rider on a faster bike.
  • + 2
 Who ever said that link driven single pivots were slow?
  • + 1
 Fancy linkages don't add much when there's only 100mm of travel. Heck, the secondary pivots on dual-links probably don't even start to move till they're 100mm into the travel. Even Yeti went single-pivot on their 100mm bike despite having access to their Switch Infinity platform. Being a beast helps too...
  • + 1
 A link driven single pivot with the entire bike's geometry optimized for a single rider (who was already top 3 in the world) on specific courses doesn't really say how good or bad "suspension tricks" are going to be for the rest of us. That said there is plenty of leverage rate and wheel path adjustability on a single pivot to keep things interesting. Hows that for argue-greeing?
  • + 1
 @Sardine: IMO when the rest of the big European manufacturers are obsessed with Horst link and it's anti-squat abilities, Scott stuck to what they know and built a bike with a single pivot... In XC racing where every pedal stroke counts, it makes one think about how people are get duped in paying for proprietary designs and expensive frames where for tiny differences that the everyday rider won't actually feel as much as the marketers say they will... If Nino in all his years at Scott felt that Horst link and VPP et al were better, I'm pretty sure Scott would've made their XC steeds with those designs, but they didn't... Instead they focused on the things that make the biggest difference, that being weight and geo... And if the best peddler in the business approves, then we should be a bit more open minded about what framesets we buy, because these fancy suspension designs, although on paper do make a difference, in reality drive up prices more therefore benefit the manufacturer more than they benefit the average consumer on the trails... Marketing BS for the most part if you ask me... But then again what do I know... I just want watch Nino and Jenny kicking ass and come to my own conclusions.
  • + 2
 Sorry but this is not a memorable bike. A memorable year maybe, yeah. But who cares about the bike!? Seriously so they made a 100mm full suspension bike with a lockout? GROUND-BREAKING! Oh they fixed the ridiculous leverage ratio of the old bike the a 5 year old could have told you was plain wrong.. Yeah.. Revolution right there...

This is not going to sit in the hall of fame alongside classic bikes that really were the first of their kind like the Speciailized Enduro, the Intense M1, The Fat Chances and Klein's of this world.
  • + 1
 Yeah, I'm pretty fascinated, that 5 years ago, they designed an suspension layout that sux from the day one.. Telling back than, how superb this suspension design is. Marketing on shame!
  • + 4
 Watching Nino ride XC you can tell he has mad skills above being a dirt roadie. I bet he would school most of the Endur'bro keyboard warriors on PB.
  • + 4
 Great writeup! We're really excited to be working more closely with the Scott-SRAM this year in order to bring out some exciting XC tires and technologies.
  • + 5
 Thanks PB!! another great XC article!!
  • + 4
 Not to mention the damage Scott did in Cape Epic - that was a brutal display of dominance.
  • + 1
 Pinkbike appearing to respect XC with a good amount of coverage on the front page. Meanwhile in the pinkbike breakroom everyone is laughing about the giant nerds in lycra they now have to write about in order to increase advertising revenue.
  • + 5
 Sexiest tires ever = Dugast
  • + 4
 if by sexiest you mean ugliest.
  • + 7
 You're trying to find something sexy in that picture and come away with tires. Good job, man!
  • + 4
 Nino is a beast! Look at the size of that chain ring!
  • + 4
 After he was "asked" to ride Eagle he had to find a way around it.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: I'd always appreciate if full suspension frame designers would state what chainring size the suspension was designed for. If it is designed for this to work, it could very well be too heavy for the regular rider running a smaller cassette. Not everyone is as strong as Nino and not everyone will ride a cassette with 50t.
  • + 1
 @vinay: 38-50 is equivalent to a 32-42, which is what a lot of regular riders have for an easiest gear. He just probably doesn't ever shift into the 50.
  • + 1
 Who wants to check what chain ring size was Nino on when he won the title on XX1?
  • + 1
 @billreilly: that's a bummer for Eagle crowd isn't it?
  • + 1
 @TucsonDon: Thanks, but I think this is not what I meant. The upper section of the chain (the section that's being pulled when you pedal) has an effect on how the suspension works under pedaling load. And the size of the chainring largely determines the position of this chain. So even if 22-11 (cross gear, I know) basically gives you the same gearing as 44-22 on an old school 3x9 drivetrain, the suspension will behave differently.
  • + 1
 @vinay - not only that in suspension/drivetrain department. Cadence will influence the way suspension bobs as well as rear wheel traction. People who think that spinning 90-110 RPM in the saddle is the way to climb a MTB should stop reading the sht providing them with roadie confirmation bias.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Er, I didn't mean to say that because people would be running a smaller front ring that Nino would that they'd be spinning a higher cadence. I just expect the general public to not climb as swiftly, even the folks who buy a bike like this.

Not a clue what my cadence is whilst climbing. My lightest gear is 32x32 (oval) but I don't sit while climbing. My cadence is probably less than half what you mention there.
  • + 2
 This coverage is awesome, but i want to make sure the Vassago Jabberwocky cant be classified as a bike that was built to be forgotten. just sayin.
  • + 1
 My jabber's got a permanent spot in the garage bike line up. It's doesn't get a whole lot of use, but it's there for good.
  • + 2
 OK it seems the name is Jenny Rissveds... the name is mentioned hidden in the text, woulda been good to have it in the photo description, that was one hard google action!
  • + 2
 That paintjob is sick! Great to see the evolution from the previous version as well.
  • + 2
 One question remains: Will he finally be running a dropper-post this season???
  • + 3
 Great Scott!.....sorry, couldn't resist
  • + 1
 I wish the frameset was in buying range of mere mortals. My LBS quoted I believe around 5-6k.
  • + 2
 No dropped post??? Where is the progression?
  • + 6
 droppers don't solve all the problems, contrary to what some people think.
  • + 1
 Know for a fact that at least Jenny will be using a dropper this season.
  • + 3
 The frame has routing for a stealth dropper. My Spark will use the new lightweight 9point8 125mm post.
  • + 1
 @jumpman2334: no they don't solve all the problems, but they solve a few, rather important ones, especially for XC racers who are not called Nino Schurter. And that's why they are worth installing. Majority of XCers are as silly with being against droppers as roadies are against disc brakes.
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns: XCers have been able to get away with it because of steeper HTA, as slacker HTAs become more common on XC race bikes you're going to see more pros switching to droppers simply because the slacker a bike is, the more you need to lean it in a turn and the seat gets in the way meaning you either need to slow down so you don't have to lean it as far, or you lean with the bike more which sacrifices traction and increases chance of a crash. I think 68.5 degrees, give or take a half degree, is about the tipping point where not having a dropper really starts to have a negative impact.

Even on my hardtail with a 70 deg HA a dropper is quite a bit more fun and lets you corner a lot more aggressively. I think we'll see more XC pros on them soon.
  • + 1
 @jumpman2334: Maybe so but dropper posts sure solve a lot of first world problems!
  • + 3
 @TucsonDon: a god damn great point! I spoke to a rather fast XC dude, at least on national level and he said, he loves dropper purely for the fact that it allows him to relax more, especially in the first stage of descents when he has red vision from max pulse after the climb. He said that he can throw a XC hardtail with high saddle at anything World Cup tracks have to offer, but he likes to have that safety margin and he believes (he underlined he has no data for it) it allows him to recover better on descents so it easily makes up for the weight on climbs. He also underlined that he doesn't believe dropper saves him much if any time on descents, but that regeneration and relax on descents meant a lot for him
  • + 1
 Too bad they sold out of these bikes in January of this year. They could have sold a ton more.
  • + 2
 Awesome coverage and review PinkBike! Keep up the good work!
  • - 1
 "Two Olympic gold medals, two World Championships titles and one World Cup overall in a single season" 2016 overall World Cups were won by Absalom and Pendrel, no Spark riders....
  • + 1
 That's what happens when you focus on Gold in the Olympics, arguably the biggest stage in mountain biking among the general population even if it's not the biggest race among mountain bikers. Somethings got to give. You can't peak for the whole season.
  • + 2
 Thanks for the XC coverage!
  • + 2
 My OCD hates that one World Cup overall is missing AAARRRGGGHHH
  • + 0
 I must say, my interest in these bikes, peakless helmets & the stupid tight xc clothing is absolutely zero.
  • + 1
 I must say, my interest in gravity bikes, full-face helmets & the stupid baggy clothing is absolutely zero.

Any fat lazy bastard can take a lift to the top and then ride downhill... XC is for real men!
  • + 1
 Its all about the bike.... no wait, mmmm, its not.
  • + 2
 NINO=Legend
  • + 1
 thanks Pinkbike .awsm information,ah great N1no!!!
  • + 1
 A CX shock works prity much like a enduro shock just shorter travel
  • + 10
 There is a big difference between XC and CX. Google that.
  • + 1
 Gotta love those tires.
  • + 1
 Nuts!
  • + 1
 Cool !!!
  • + 1
 Great advertisement.
  • - 3
 Now put it on 26 wheels and loose another 1.5kg and gain fun.
  • + 0
 You do not race CX for fun, unless you are as good as Nino Schurter and even he is not good enough to win on 26"
  • - 2
 this sparks some ideas for me...
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