Words: #CountryCyclist Ian Macleod
As a nipper I had big photo of three aerobatics planes blockmounted on the wall above my bed. They were roaring along in perfect formation, almost certainly plotting their next loop or twist or dive. But I had completely forgotten about this boyhood daydream until last week. It rocketed back to mind the instant I laid eyes on the mountain bike I’ll be in a putative marriage with for the next few months: the Scott Spark 910.
Peering at the machine a touch longer, I was also reminded of a Hunter S. Thompson quote from his cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when describing the “fire-apple red convertible” he drives: “The dashboard was full of esoteric lights and dials and meters that I would never understand — but there was no doubt in my mind I was in a superior machine.”
Unlike the ‘professor’, I have to understand this machine. My getting to Scottburgh on May 3rd depends on it. So I’ve spent some time researching the beast while I learn to get the most out of it in training.
Mountain bikes have long used 26-inch wheels (by diameter) as standard. In the early 1980s bike designer Gary Fisher, among others, began experimenting with larger options. Initial versions were hampered by the lack of bikes that could handle the expanded wheels. Slowly the trend grew, and 27.5-inch wheels found some popularity. Just recently, the vaunted ‘29er’ has become the most discussed bit of kit on a mountain bike. The difference may be just a few centimetres, but this has a profound impact.
Why? The key benefit is improved rolling momentum and a higher ‘attack angle’. Would you rather hit a rock or root with a Dinky car or a monster truck? They also provide added traction, with more rubber on the dirt.
Drawbacks are also minimal. There’s a tiny addition of weight and 29ers might cost you a fraction of acceleration off the line.
It’s an easy decision for me: I’ll take stability and go-forward every day of the week. [Here’s a brilliant online tool from Scott to help you decide: http://wheelsizematters.scott-sports.com/]
It comes across as a wonder material. Everything from aeronautics to biotechnology seems to praise the benefits of carbon fibre: strong, stiff, hardy, lightweight. Those all sound pretty good for a bike frame. The rigidity and weight savings are what riders covert – more of each means less effort dissipated into nothingness.
In their own words, for the gurus out there, Scott’s proprietary IMP process used to mould the Spark 910 “allows for lighter construction by removing 11% of the material from the headtube intersection while increasing strength by utilizing high modulus stressed fibres for more precise fibre placement in critical areas.”
Twin Loc Shocks
Dual suspension is expected in top-of-the-line mountain bikes these days. But not like this. Scott’s patented gizmo allows the rider to adjust front and rear shock absorption settings on the fly and with the press of a lever. That means the capacity to flick between full travel, an intermediate ‘Traction’ mode and lock-out to suit the terrain.
That matters. Consider day six of the joBerg2C. Climbing a hill calls for maximum efficiency, but jarring bumps aren’t an issue, so you want your shock absorbers locked. Crest the summit and you want all the cushioning you can muster for the rocks, roots and dips as you descend at speed. That is two clicks away on the Spark 910. Back onto some roughly horizontal single track? One click into the medium setting means the optimum balance between turning your effort into kinetic energy and the play you need to ride the roughness.
That’s about as far as my study has got so far. Honestly, the last time I rode a bike we hadn’t even moved to disc brakes – now a fundamental. Having recently graduated from a borrowed Scott that was mid-range when new about six years ago, to the Spark 910, the difference is potent.
My next task is to decipher the magic behind these brakes that slow you at precisely the rate you want with a single finger, work out the tubeless adaption which means punctures only rarely get in the way, and, perhaps, make head and tail of the “IDS-SL dropout system”.