Spark R&D Surge Pro Review
Cons: Expensive, might be too stiff for lighter riders, high back catches on heel cup between walk and ride modes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Spark R&D has one of the best binding line ups in the industry, with their focus being simplicity, weight, and user-friendliness. The Spark R and D line of Pro Bindings takes their existing models and upgrades them. Without changing the basic design, they improved seemingly every part of the binding they could, increasing strength and saving weight by using a variety of premium materials. The only real downside is the higher price.
The Surge Pro can tour with the best. Its lightweight, stiff design provides an incredible on-track performance. Uphill performance encapsulates our overall experience when ascending. Here we look at the quality of stride, range of motion, sidehilling ability, and comfort.
In its simplest form, touring is made up of a series of strides. The Surge Pro allows you to capitalize on every stride industry-leading negative lean. Negative lean allows the high back to be off your calf, thus increasing your stride length. Longer strides mean more distance per step and, ultimately, more efficient travel. The touring pivot has very low friction, and both features together make for very high quality, efficient strides. The low friction touring bracket gives almost 140 degrees of rotation relative to the board plane, and we enjoyed the added range on challenging kick turns. The Surge Pro is very capable when sidehilling, and the full metal baseplate is as comfortable as you expect, providing adequate comfort for a full day of touring. We have never had any foot pain, but if you're susceptible to foot trouble, it could be worth investing in the foam pad.
The weight loss in the Surge Pro is measurable; these bindings weigh just over 10% less than the standard Surge. That reduction in weight that you lug up the mountain translates to extra energy for enjoying the down and additional laps. The reduced weight of this binding is the most compelling reason to purchase them.
The Surge Pro boasts an incredible stiffness to weight ratio. One Surge Pro comes is at 610 grams or 1 pound 5.6 ounces. Because we need the whole setup to tour, we measured the entire kit. The field weight of the model is an impressive 1654 grams or 3 pounds 10.34 ounces. This was lightweight and impressive compared to a stiff binding; it's also a major factor for its Top Pick Award.
The transition is a huge competitive frontier in splitboard bindings. Transitions are a major strength of Spark R&D; the Surge Pro is no different.
The Snap Ramp is our favorite design because of its simplicity and ease of use. In both directions, we feel this is the fastest system. The binding easily attaches to the touring interface. When it's time to descend, the process is almost as easy. The design requires minimal snow clearing and can easily be accomplished in inclement weather while wearing gloves. The forward lean adjuster switches easily from climbing to descending mode. We noticed that the bottom of the highback gets hung up on the heel cup when shifting its back from walk mode, and requires a sizable pat to overcome. This happened every time we used them and is our biggest gripe with this binding. While we hope this gets fixed, it's a small bump in an otherwise great binding.
The Surge Pro is no stranger to the way down, and is fit for any objective in all conditions.
These bindings are definitely stiff. The highback is rigid toe to heel as well as torsionally, which gives the model a reactive power transfer and additional support for larger riders. They are on the stiffer end of the spectrum and might be overkill for lighter or less aggressive riders. If you are bigger, or a hard-charging rider who knows that you like a supportive and responsive binding, then Surge Pro is a great option.
Straps, Lean, and Risers
The straps, lean adjusters, and heel risers are a critical component to the efficiency of a binding. Spark has thought this through so you can enjoy the benefits while on the skin track.
In the Pro line, Spark upgrades the strap material to Pebax plastic, which is commonly found in fancy ski boots; it also reduces strap weight by 20%, which is stunning given that the Pillow Line straps are already 46% lighter than the old fabric straps. The one-piece molded straps are comfortable, snug, and responsive, and we continue to be fans of the toe and ankle buckles Spark uses. These straps and buckles were easy to use and utterly reliable during our testing.
Dialing in your desired amount of forward lean is a matter of simply rotating the adjuster to increase or decrease the angle. Transitioning from climbing to shredding requires a quick flick of the adjuster; this can easily be accomplished during the transition process and doesn't require a separate effort. The adjuster also offers an impressive amount of range. The rearward range for touring is more than our boots could take advantage of. Although, when we were shifting the highback itself from ride to walk or vice versa, we found the lower highback to catch on heel cup. The highback requires an extra pat to be able to move past where it gets caught.
The riser mechanism is identical on the Surge Pro as in the other modern Spark R&D T1 line. It is a riser bar mounted to the bottom of the binding that is deployed and retracted by using the whammy bar on the side of the binding. This design works well, but it can be tricky to learn for beginners or when fatigued. To place the bar in the climbing position (for ascending steeper skin tracks), a fairly accurate push is required with your pole. It is not a particularly difficult task to accomplish, but it is also easy to miss the sweet spot and be unsuccessful, which can quickly become frustrating for some users.
The value question for the Surge Pro is fascinating. It depends on who you are and what your goals are. It is absolutely a great binding; it's objectively lighter than the standard Surge, and weight is an important feature for climbing mountains. It also costs about 30% more than the standard Surge, which is itself an excellent binding. If the extra cost is a minor issue for you, go for the Surge Pro. If you like Sparks, but the cost of building your splitboard kit is causing anxiety, pick the standard Surge and don't sweat the difference. Compared to other options on the market that have custom aluminum hardware like the Karakoram Prime-X hardware, the price is very reasonable. The value of this binding allowed it to win a Top Pick for Best Ratio of Response to Gram to Dollar.
The Spark R&D Surge Pro is a great binding that comes at a price premium relative to other excellent Spark R&D bindings. If your splitboard prominently features carbon fiber and was handmade by devout splitboard craftspeople, and you are choosing between the best components you can find with little concern for cost, then the Surge Pro is a strong choice.
— Isaac Laredo & David Reichel