Interview: Designing the new Scott Spark

Rene Krattinger is the mountain bike product manager for Scott Sports, responsible for guiding the development of the new Scott Spark RC. Piloted by the legendary Nino Schurter and Jenny Rissveds, the new Spark has already been decorated with Olympic gold medals, World Cup gold medals, and even Absa Cape Epic gold since its announcement in time for the Rio Olympics in June 2016. We chatted to him about the design process, and what it takes to develop a bike of this calibre.

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Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Scott?

I’m the guy who pulls all the strings together during development. I take inputs from the racing team, designers, and engineers to produce the best option and determine the product direction.


We have a Design team and an Engineering team, and we all work closely together for the best results.


Before we start any project, we have very clear goals: for example with the new Spark we said that we want to win the Olympic games so we need 1) the lightest bike and 2) the fastest bike. Those were our two main goals.


To go light you are limited in terms of shapes, you can’t go too crazy with your tube shapes: it gets too heavy. A simple round carbon tube is still the lightest. As soon as you start with more designing: with square tubes, with ribs etc. the frame gets heavier.


Of course, it is also important that the bike looks good. Maybe the engineers want to go with a different suspension setup: but then the bike does not look fast, not sexy. Then you have to make a call not to go that way. I’m the guy leading this all and making the call on which direction to go.


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The Scott Spark RC that Nino Schurter rode to victory at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. You can view the full bike check here. Photo credit: Anthony Churchyard


What was behind the decision to change the shock position and mounting on the new Spark suspension?

The old suspension was very efficient. But we wanted to have good suspension performance, not only efficiency. If you are carrying the extra weight of the suspension by riding a dual suspension rather than a hardtail, then you should have the benefit of the suspension working perfectly.


Then we started investigating different options and decided on the new design, which is maybe not as efficient as the old one, but overall is much better.


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The new Spark was launched last year. How long have you been working on that bike?

The first discussion started after the Olympic Games in London 2012. There we had the first brainstorm: discussing the way to go. Then the project really launched two years ago.


In that time, we tested a lot of competitors bikes to get a feel for what is on the market and what we can do better.


Is there ever anything that you ride where you think: This is really clever, why didn’t we think of this?

Of course, there are competitors bikes that are very good. They are very smart and have very good solutions, and we have to start thinking how we could do it better. Scott is not a company where we take the best bike in the market and copy it, we want to make it our own way with our own design.


In the build up to the 2016 Rio Olympic games, was it a conscious decision to go 29er?

Nino was always pushing for 27.5 but I was convinced 29er was better, and I tried to convince him. That was the reason I developed both wheel sizes: so that we were 100% on the safe side for Olympic Games. It was a huge project for us to have both frames, both wheel sizes ready in the same time.


When you start a project like that you have to think about what will be the best in three years time. When you start development you can’t think what is good now, you have to think about what will be good in the future. What is good on the market now is already history. You have to start thinking about what is going to be better. That is why I pushed to have both wheel sizes.


Having proven the value of the 29er wheel size on the 100mm XC bike, will you keep both wheel sizes going forward?

You will see next year already that we will drop the 27.5 on the 100mm bike. Even Nino is happy now on the 29er, and we have too many models: we have a huge range, it is too much for the dealers, it is almost impossible for them to have everything in the shops. It was just confusing, so we have decided only to move forward with 29ers for this segment.


Jenny Rissveds Scott Spark RC Cape Epic 2017.jpgThe Scott Spark RC that Jenny Rissveds rode to victory in the mixed category at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. You can view the full bike check here. Photo credit: Anthony Churchyard


The advent of one-by drive trains: has this affected frame design?

Of course. This frame has been designed only for 1x systems. It allows us to make this axle wider, and therefore stiffer. The Spark frame has almost the same stiffness value as the Scale hardtail frame. This was always a goal, a request from Nino: he wants a full suspension but it needs to be as stiff as a Scale, and there 1x helps a lot. For the engineers, it is easier.


Working with SRAM on components, at what stage in the design process do you sit down with RockShox to discuss the suspension for the bike?

You have to start ongoing communication right from the beginning, it’s a full partnership, a fully open discussion.


On the suspension design, is it collaborative?

We want to design it the way we want because we firmly believe our suspension design is the most advanced in the world. With our 3 position Nude shock you have reduced air volume in the middle position so you have less sag for pedaling, and with less sag you also have a steeper head angle which is better for steering and flat sections.


So this bike started at the London Olympics, are you already looking at Tokyo 2020? What’s next? Will we see more 1x specific bikes?

Of course, you have to. With the introduction of Eagle, a 2x system makes no sense for most people, especially with dropper posts becoming more common on cross-country bikes. If you have two 2 shift levers and a remote lockout and dropper post lever the cockpit becomes too cluttered.


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Where are you looking to improve the current bike?

There are some points where we know we can improve. The next step I can see is maybe electronic. Shifting? Something else. Electronic suspension? We’ll see. Of course, there is still a lot of potential.


Frame material and carbon technology: do you still see scope for much improvement there?

Of course, the room gets smaller and smaller there, but there is room for improvement. We work with some carbon manufacturers of pre-pack carbon fibres discussing how we can make them lighter and stiffer. At the moment, carbon is here to stay and I don’t see any other material at the moment that can challenge it. Graphene is not so easy to handle on a bike frame, but we are always working and checking these options.


Also with the suspension partners, there is always communication backwards and forwards to try and make improvements.


If the designer had to design the perfect bike, how different would it look?

Very different. Much more integrated, all the tubes would not be so smooth, they would be more “designed”.


When they come up with a design you have to discuss with them, listen to their ideas, you can’t just say “this will never work” or it will be too heavy.


We us 3D simulation software to simulate the carbon layups on the tubes. There you can calculate the weight quite accurately. The first prototype is a 3D printed frame which can be done fast and cheaply, then we can get an idea of the product in real life, you can’t always see details on the screen. But at the same time the engineer starts the 3D model. We usually go through six or seven prototypes before we get to the final design.


How long do you field test prototypes for?

The first prototype frame we rode in the winter of 2015, about 6 months before we launched the bike.


If the engineering team had to design the frame how would it look?

Completely different. Every tube would be straight and round. The suspension would be more or less the same. But that’s the best part of the job, the challenge designing the best possible product: balancing design and engineering.