First Ride Review | The New 2020 Trek Rail 9.8 Is Trek’s Best E-MTB Yet

The not-so-minor details


2020 Trek Rail 9.8


Trek Bicycles Australia






- Immense improvements over Powerfly LT
- Great frame geometry
- Less resistance over 25km/hr
- New Bosch motor feels powerful and natural.


- Loud noises from the motor
- Large Purion display

Fresh to the rapidly growing and exciting e-MTB segment is the new Trek Rail, we spend a few days riding the new 2020 Trek Rail 9.8, here is what we thought of it.

We made no secret that we didn’t particularly gel with the frame geometry that defined Trek’s previous long travel e-MTB, the Powerfly LT. Replacing it, however, is an excellent machine indeed, the all-new Trek Rail presents solutions for all of our criticisms and takes it even further. What have they achieved? Read on and watch the video below.

Watch the Trek Rail 9.8 in action here:

Draws quite a nice silhouette, not too e-bikey at all!

The 2020 Rail 9.8 and its Golden Ticket – New Bosch Performance Line CX motor

In the belly of the beast is a new motor system, responsible for a large portion of the improvements that the Rail can benefit from. The new Bosch Performance CX motor is a dramatically reformed system, nearly half the size of its predecessor, 25% lighter and benefits from a serious reduction in drag when pedalling past the 25km/hr point.

The smaller motor allowed the main suspension pivot to place much closer to the centre of the bike, a massive improvement, subsequently boosting the bike’s agility tenfold. Hooray!

When you reached the maximum speed of 25km/hr with the previous Bosch motor and pushed past that point under your own steam, the drag on the cranks was very evident, but we’ve begun to accept this, to a degree. It would result in us attempting to ride under that threshold more often.

With a redesign, the new system doesn’t feel like you are pedalling into a strong headwind, with a less abrupt transition, and even with the motor switched off, the bike pedals along very well, more like a regular bike. This promoted us to pedal hard, with the reward of more speed, not just more resistance.

The big news is the Bosch motor; low resistance and small in size.
We happily pedalled past the 25km/hr barrier more than with the previous model, or a Shimano Steps 8000 and Brose (Specialized) equipped bike, too.

More grunt, but also more clunk.

There’s more power on tap, too, with increased sensitivity and is noticeable on the trail. But unfortunately, the way the new system operates comes with a lot more noise. It’s not the whirring sound as you pedal, the metallic clunking you hear when the bike is bouncing over rough terrain as the freewheel that connects the chainring to the motor knocks back and forth, especially when the suspension compresses and rebounds, tugging on the chain.

It sounded like our Saint brake pads were rattling in the callipers, well, they were (Shimano, Shimano…), but the noise coming from inside the motor was hard to ignore.

Over chattery rocks where the suspension was working hard, the metallic sounds from inside the motor were noticeable.

This was our first proper experience on the new Bosch motor, and noise aside, we are seriously impressed with how it rides, its efficiency and most importantly the freedom for frame design developments due to its weight and size.

29″ wheels, a sign of the future, or are we still deciding?

In the short-yet-ever-changing life of the e-MTB, there has been a lot of change to date, and we’re clearly not done yet. At first, it was voluminous 3″ or 2.8″ plus tyres on 27.5″ wheels dominating the space, then the new Specialized Levo came out with 29″ wheels. Focus did their Drifter model, with 29″ front and 27.5″ and now we see Merida adopting the ‘mullet’ mixed wheel size as standard. Seems like we’re still figuring out what works best, and what people will buy.

29″ wheels on the Rail.
Climbing the steeps with loads of traction and smooth power beneath you.

The new Trek Rail uses 29″ wheels with sturdy 2.6″ tyres, while it does take a fair bit of body language to throw it around, or flick through a slow and tight turn, the stability and confidence is fantastic.

While Trek harped on a lot (too much) about the Powerfly’s mammoth 475mm chainstays a deliberate feature to give it climbing skills, the new Rail with its 447mm stays doesn’t lose any ground in that space at all, the traction and climbing position makes this bike a capable climber despite its long travel and raked-out front end.

All the classic Trek tracks, greater range 625h/hr battery, neat e-bits and decent value, too!

The Rail receives all of the classic features that we are accustomed to on their Slash, Remedy, Fuel EX etc. We’ll let the Trek website run through all of those features with you. ABP, Mino-Link, Knock Block, Control Freak, R.I.B etc.

Bosch now offers a 625 w/hr battery, a significant jump up from the 500 w/hr battery in the Powerfly LT. And keeping things tidy, Trek has shifted the speed sensor magnet onto the disc rotor, no longer on the spokes, a lot harder to lose which renders the bike useless. A nice touch.

There is space for a water bottle, the nifty new UDH – universal derailleur hanger – from SRAM makes an appearance, and the rear axle key pulls out and can be used as a 5 and 6mm Allen key for other purposes.

Did it Rail?

It certainly did, and we think this bike will be very popular in Australia due to its robust chassis and easy handling. We keep referring to the updates that the Rail has had over the Powerfly, but we can’t help draw comparisons to it, a considerable improvement.

The smaller motor allowed the Rail to use a chainstay that is 27mm shorter than the Powefly LT, that’s a huge difference. And throwing it around at slow speed, lunging up and over trail obstacles and lifting the front end was a testament to the tighter frame geometry.

Dropping in with plenty of confidence and grip on your side.
Custom crowns from RockShox match the whopping headtube for a cleaner aesthetic.

Bontrager’s tough and tacky SE5 tyres are well up to the task, and the 2.6″ size felt quite precise when placing the wheels where you want to, picking lines between sharp rocks and not too squishy when pushing into a berm of the lip of a jump – something the plus tyres don’t do so well.

On the topic of suspension, with a 160mm travel fork and 29″ wheels, you’re pretty much able to mow down much of what’s in your path, and the rear suspension felt remarkably active and supportive coping with the inherent weight of the motor and battery.

We didn’t get too long on the trails with this bike, but the ride that we did undertake was a real mixed bag, flowing singletrack was a breeze and even climbing an old DH track, and bombing back down was taken in its stride. And spinning along the road towards the trails, turning the motor on and off we all relished in the low resistance the system has.

We have a Rail locked in for a more extended Flow review, and we’ll also have comparable options from Merida, Specialized, Giant and Focus to compare it to, so stay tuned!

Bontrager SE5 tyres, with robust casings and plenty of aggressive treads. Thumbs up!
Frame geometry chart shows quite sensible but up-to-date numbers.

What models are coming to Australia?

We’ll see three models from the Rail range coming to our shores, from $8000 to $10500.

Trek Rail 9.8, carbon frame, SRAM GX drivetrain – $10,500.

2020 Rail 9.8 $10500

Trek Rail 9, sharing the same spec as the 9.8 but using an aluminium frame – $9500.

2020 Rail 9 $9500

The entry-level Trek Rail 7 with a RockShox Yari fork, Shimano drivetrain, and same motor and battery as the Rail 9 and 9.8 – $8000.

2020 Rail 7 $8000

Want more e-bike reviews?

Check out our thoughts on the TrekPowerfly LT which this bike replaces for the 2020 season – Trek Powerfly LT review.

The Norco Sight VLT is a worthy comparison too – Norco Sight VLT review.

The Specialized Levo, which we still think is hard to beat in the best e-bike available competition – Specialized Levo review.

The Cube Stereo is the least expensive e-bike we’ve ridden, and the Focus JAM2 is the lightest. Check them out, for sure. Cube Stereo & Focus JAM2 review.

How’s the new Trek Rail look to you? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, and stay tuned for more when we get the Rail on home soil.

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