- The stability of the Spark makes it virtually impossible to turn over.
- The whole ethos behind the Spark is to get people on the water at an affordable level.
Reigniting the Spark
Since its launch last year, the Seadoo Spark has been the best-selling personal watercraft in North America, Australia, France and Brazil. Simon Everett sets out to find out why …
The success of the Seadoo Spark is hardly surprising when you consider its ultracompetitive purchase price and the host of innovative features that make it easy to ride, even for total beginners like me. The Spark has reignited what was becoming a stagnant market in the UK due to the restrictions placed on the use of personal watercraft by several coastal councils. Wet bikes, as I shall call them, have been seen as the spawn of the devil by many people, but with a more responsible attitude being trumpeted by the industry, these vehicles are now starting to gain acceptance, and many a luxury sports cruiser has a wet bike lurking in the garage.
The Spark is made out of a thermo-moulded plastic, which combines polypropylene with glass fibres for added strength. The lightweight material is also used to form the easily interchangeable parts of the minimalist external structural components that make up the angular styling, which looks very much like a streetfighter motorbike. The coloured panels are bolted on, so you can change the colour at will by removing a handful of machine screws. The fact that the bodywork is bolted makes repairs easy and affordable, although the material is as tough as old boots and breaking it would take some effort.
This would be a good time to admit that I am a jet ski virgin, despite riding a motorcycle. The general behaviour of so many owners of these types of machines in past years created an aura around them that didn’t appeal to me. So it was a very green Everett that donned his drysuit, PFD and a borrowed pair of sealskin gloves on the advice of the lake manager. The initiation ceremony was short and sweet, thanks to the simplicity of the controls.
A finger lever on the right-hand bar provides the fly-by-wire throttle control, and on the left is the brake, which is also the astern selection. This is all done by bucket position. When you pull the left lever the bucket drops, acting first as a drag brake, which is very effective and will stand the bike on its nose despite the slight delay in activation. To go astern, pull the lever at low revs and then thrust is directed forwards, to send the bike backwards. Other than the starter button, that is all there is to it – it really is as easy as riding a bike, except for going backwards when you have to remember to move the bars the opposite way to where you want to go.
On the dash, the instrument panel is very clear; it provides an accurate, GPS-analysed speed read-out with large numbers.
One notable feature the Spark has is ‘sport’ mode, which is activated by pressing and holding the button on the dash. The LCD read-out displays ‘entering sport mode’. There is then a prompt to press the button again to confirm the input. The top speed is unaffected, but the acceleration is something like four times as fast from standstill to 30mph, and the ability to reach the maximum that I achieved of 49mph was also hastened. It didn’t matter which mode I was in, I got exactly the same top-speed reading in either, from both the on-board speedo and my hand-held Garmin. The 3-cylinder, naturally aspirated, 900cc 4-stroke engine delivers 90hp and gives the Spark its whippet-like vitality. It is also very frugal, returning an average of 8 litres per hour, which is a lot better than I had imagined.
Naturally, I was a bit tentative at first, but soon learned that if you lean the Seadoo like a bike and squeeze the power on, the machine powers round and makes turning much easier. Trying to go round at a constant speed one is fighting against the planing support of the water under the wide chine rails, which really grip when leaned and support when upright with water flowing under them at high speed. Interestingly, I found it easier to make turns to port than to starboard, yet on the road it is the exact reverse. I wonder if this is anything to do with crank rotation and gyroscopic effect – I forgot to ask at the time. It didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the experience, though, and therein lies another surprise – having looked down my nose at the things for many years, like many people, I found myself converted within just a few minutes. It was that easy to get the hang of it and I didn’t fall off once. I think the prospect of a very chilly dunking had some influence on that!
Everything about the Spark is made from materials that are designed to get wet. The seat has a plastic base and rubberised cover, with a nicely contoured saddle, shaped to hold the driver in place if running solo. The side decks have deep chequered patterns and drain immediately the throttle is opened. There are various accessories available, including a stowage bin that fits into the opening below the steering console. The engine is easily accessed for home maintenance and to keep the cost of dealer services at a sensible level. The whole ethos behind the Spark is to get people on the water at an affordable level.
You will very quickly switch to sport mode once you have familiarised yourself with the controls and handling. At first, the standard mode is fine, but once you have experienced the exhilaration of the rapid acceleration, going back to standard settings is a bit pedestrian! The bike is altogether livelier and handles so much better in tight turns in sport mode.
The stability of the Spark makes it virtually impossible to turn over. Of course, as with anything, serious provocation or doing something silly can override the design factors, but on the whole the stability is excellent without being limiting. I was only solo – having two passengers will add to the critical mass, and three people leaning the wrong way is bound to end in a dunking, just like taking pillions on a bike, really.
The Spark is very easy to learn on, though, and once you have mastered it there is a dedicated race series that is proving very popular, especially with newcomers. No wonder either, with the ability to be on the water for £5,000 with £1 change!
- Standard mode acceleration to 30mph: 7.8 seconds
- Sport mode acceleration to 30mph: 4.2 seconds
- Maximum speed in both modes: 49mph
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