I was excited and honoured when my ever faithful and supportive sponsor, Valencia signed me for the 3rd year running. They generously asked me what bike I wanted for the season. After much deliberation, research I finally chose to take the step and go 29er dual sus, and here’s why.
Those of you who follow me will know that last year I dubbed 650B or 27.5 wheels the “baby bear wheel size” for small people in particular. I always held a firm belief that a back shock is not necessary if you have a good riding style and felt that small wheels are simply easier to manipulate technically.
Last year I rode a 650B hardtail, the Scott Scale 700 RC and absolutely loved it. It was nippy, light, and responsive. I won races ranging from the York Enduro Downhill to the 3 Towers, Transbaviaans and even the Munga on it. I was just as able as anyone on climbs and with the light riding style I have adopted I felt one with the bike and creamed the descents. There was however one major drawback, I was never as strong on district roads and flat bumpy stretches like corrugations, grassy track etc. I felt like I was fighting the bike and had to work extra hard to turn the smaller wheels over with the back wheel bouncing around. People with big wheels and a back shock kind of floated over these sections and I really struggled to keep up.
When faced with the choice of a new bike for the 2016 season, I took careful deliberation in weighing up my options. My goals for 2016 are marathons and stage races. I did research on the specs and geometry and gathered advice from knowledgeable riders and people of the industry. One of those people was Patrick Morewood, the “wizard of mountain biking”, founder of PYGA bikes, and sponsor of my Pascoe oneforty650 650B enduro bike. The conclusion: 29er dual-sus is the fastest all round bike for marathon and stage racing, and these days the small-frame-big-wheel geometry has advanced a lot in the past few years.
Last Thursday I was hanging around at Valencia in Nelspruit when a Scott branded box arrived at Valencia, and inside *insert angels singing* a brand new, size small shiny Scott Spark 900 RC. This is the top of the Scott range, weighing in at just over 10kg with superior geometry tailored to account for the needs of a small person.
I was extremely anxious and excited to see what this little pocket rocket could do so I built it up then and there. As per usual I threw myself in the deep end and tested the new bike in a race 2 days later. Sappi Mankele is a technical race on some of my favorite trails which I know like the back of my hand. The following Monday I rode Heia Safari, another technical route, one of the best in Joberg. Because I know these two trails so well I could make an accurate comparison between the two bikes, and here is what I found:
Sappi Mankele starts abruptly with the infamous “tar on dirt” climb, anyone who has ridden Mankele would know…. I was ahead and felt comfortable up the climb. Because of the lightness of the Scott Scale 900 RC, the extra bit of weight compared to a hard tail doesn’t make much of a difference on the climbs. I experimented with climbing unlocked on the bumpy climbs at Heia and Mankele and felt I actually gained speed due to extra traction on the back wheel with the shock activated. I have always found with the big wheels that when accelerating on a climb, the bike is not as responsive, the bigger picture the difference is negligible.
On the first technical descent of the race: “Bees Single Track”. The geometry has made it possible to still be nippy and agile in tight single track. When I got to the rocky part, I felt well in my comfort zone. In fact I felt I was tapping back more than I have previously. I was floating over the bumps and big rocks. When I uploaded my ride to Strava, I had gotten a PR much to my surprise.
The second major difference I felt (and was looking forward to feeling) was about 30km in, you go into a mowed grassy section which I always struggle through.. this time I peddled through comfortably. Instead of “fighting the bike” with the back wheel bouncing around, The wheel stuck and rolled over easily. It felt like cheating!
In conclusion, at 10kg the Scott Spark 900 RC is one of the lightest carbon dual sus bikes on the market. That combined with superior geometry makes it light and agile through the single track. It is quick… very quick, and comfortable on pretty much everything; climbs, descents, bumpy district roads, jeep track and grass sections, saving you a lot of energy. It has a dual lockout and being so light, it climbs like a demon despite being slightly more sluggish in acceleration.
I still do believe there is a space in this world for 26ers, 650B’s, and hard tails but that is another lengthy article for another day.
A massive thanks to my sponsor Valencia; I am super motivated for the upcoming season and excited to discovering what this machine and I can accomplish.