Is Trek’s New Slash 9.8 Too Good To Be True?
When it comes to trail bikes, tech is everything. They represent the pinnacle of suspension development, and often the tech first seen in trail bikes filters down to faster XC and marathon mountain bikes.
On an XC bike, you can show up on your R15K hardtail and be competitive; but in trail and enduro, geometry, set-up and the ability to fine-tune your suspension are key to turning a good ride into a ‘rad’ one.
So: enter the Trek Slash 9.8… a bike that will turn every ride rad!
Light enough to be playful, specced to smooth out the most severe of technical trails, and priced at a point that most of its competitors can only dream of, the Trek 9.8 is set to be the standard-bearer in a rapidly expanding group of competitors.
This bike is laced with technology – much of which is not found on competitor bikes at all.
The proprietary rear shock by RockShox with Trek’s ‘Thru Shaft’ and RE:aktiv proprietary damping technology, coupled with the ABP rear pivot, gives this bike top-class traction, speed and behaviour on the trail.
The Knock Block steering system stops the bars from doing a complete rotation and allowed the frame designers to incorporate a straight downtube, which stiffens up the bike. And the flip chip enables astute riders to fine-tune their BB height (by 10mm) and head angle (by 0.5 degrees) to suit their riding style or trails.
Trek have always produced really light bikes; and although this Slash is built to withstand almost anything a trail can throw at you, it’s a lightweight in trail-bike terms.
Geometry, Sizing and Fit
For a 1.74m-tall rider, we opted for a 19.5-inch frame and used the ‘high’ BB setting for the duration of the test. With a reach of 459mm, BB height of 352mm and head angle of 65.6 degrees, we had ample room to relax into a comfortable climbing position, and an aggressive attack position for descending.
That 150mm dropper post certainly gets the saddle out of the way for most technical conditions, but we did feel the need for an extra 10mm drop in order to get the most out of the bike. The Bontrager bar width, sweep and rise are spot-on for a bike of this nature, as is the stem length.
It all fits really well. But we have three questions for Trek:
1. The seat tube is far too slack; which means that with the seat up and in the climbing position, it’s just too far behind the BB. Quick fix? Slam the seat forward on the rails – other than looking a little weird, this worked perfectly well on the trail;
2. We think long-travel trail bikes should be specced with slightly shorter 165mm cranks, for increased clearance on the technical trails; and
3. The Bontrager SE4 tyres are a little on the lean side, for a bike begging to be boomed.
We’ve tested a lot of long-travel trail bikes in our time; some have been good, some excellent – and one or two weren’t worthy of a review at all. But we’d place the Slash in the ‘ridiculously good’ camp.
The rear suspension on this bike is simply the best we’ve ridden, hands down. It tracks terrain incredibly well, is super-smooth on small bumps, and laughs at big hits – we only felt the end of the travel once, on a six-metre huck onto flat tarmac. What’s most impressive on the rear end is the level of composure and stability it brings when the trails become challenging: roots, rocks, steps and jumps are all handled with smoothness and confidence.
Despite all the tech inside that proprietary rear shock, it’s incredibly easy to set up – so, less tinkering and more riding. Add the Fox 36 fork, and the overall ride on this bike is extremely well balanced and controlled; you’d be hard pressed to find fault.
With full lockout at the flick of a switch on the front and rear, it’s easy to jam up to speed when you’re faced with the sort of traverses or climbs that connect the singletrack. And the 1×12 Eagle drivetrain certainly comes in handy on long days in the saddle, and when you’re looking for an easier roll up a climb.
The Bontrager SE4 tyres roll really well, and help you carry speed nicely on smoother trails. However, we did cut both the front and rear tyres; they’re perhaps a little lean for a bike this capable.
But the Bontrager wheelset is super-strong; and coupled with the stiff chassis and excellent suspension performance, it makes the Slash a lot of fun to ride. And the low overall weight means the bike is playful on the trail.
The price point is good for a machine of this calibre, and represents a solid value package.
Easily tuneable, with super-smooth, confidence-boosting suspension, the Trek Slash 9.8 offers a top-class package at a competitive price.
Why would you buy a 150/160mm trail bike?
If you want to explore more variety in your riding and are interested in the thrill of technical trails, you should consider a long-travel trail bike. When riding more technical trails, you’re likely to have more fun on a bike with the appropriate geometry, travel and componentry. It will certainly be safer, too.