The not-so-minor details
Trek Slash 9.8
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Grips like a scared cat.
Wheels are quite weighty.
Changing the recipe can be a disaster for an established brand – remember what happened to VB when they dropped the alcohol volume, and seriously, why did Vegemite ever make Cheeseymite anyway? Trek knows this well. After countless design variants in the early 2000s, half a dozen years ago they hit a winning formula with their full suspension bike design. And they’ve stuck with it, because the flavour is just right.
The Slash doesn’t buck the Trek system, it’s not a wild new look or layout for the trendy enduro mob, but it is a slick application of their proven design to the all-mountain category.
The demands of this discipline are pretty much a bike designer’s worst nightmare; create a bike that allows for reckless, downhill bike speeds on the descents, but make it light and efficient enough to clamber to the summit again. The Slash takes its best shot at this task with 160mm of travel, a lightweight, predominantly carbon frame (all but the chain stays and Evo link), and a suspension package that gives you a great degree of on-the-fly control over the compression settings and geometry too.
Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock
Like the Fuel and Remedy series of bikes, the Slash is built around the formidable ABP/Full Floater suspension system. With its floating shock mounting arrangement and concentric pivot around the rear axle, the system gives Trek a lot of control over the suspension rate and reduces the effect of braking on suspension performance.
Where the Slash is a little different to the Fuel or Remedy, is the use of conventional shock – the excellent Rockshox Monarch Plus – opposed to Trek’s usual proprietary FOX DRCV shock. The oil volume of the Monarch Plus is definitely more suitable for this style of riding than a DRCV shock; while we like the DRCV system, it has quite a linear rate, which doesn’t necessarily suit the hard riding a bike like this is built for.
Treks don’t always have the cleanest lines, but the Slash, without a front derailleur, semi-internal cabling and angsty-looking graphics job, is the prettiest Trek we’ve seen in a while. The only blight is the rear axle, which sticks out like a broken finger, and with the beefy SRAM X1 derailleur too, the rear end of the bike is very wide and snags like a fisherman on a weed bank.
Trek have taken the shopping trolley straight to the Enduro aisle at Woolies and picked out all the favourites, then topped it all off with a few tasty bits and pieces from the Bontrager pantry.
SRAM’s 11-speed X1 drivetrain might theoretically be a lower-end offering than their X01 or XX1, but it works so well there’s almost no difference on the trail. We didn’t drop the chain during testing, but if we were racing, we’d probably still add a top guide, just for security.
These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres
The venerable Pike RC up front, in a Dual Position format, can be toggled between 160-130mm travel, for better climbing performance. Like James Bond, this fork’s reputation precedes it, and it’ll churn through the rocks like 007 dispatches with bad guys.
SRAM’s stranglehold on the spec is broken by Shimano XT brakes, with a big ol’ 203mm rotor up front too. We’re firm fans on the new SRAM Guide brakes, but Shimano still have the edge we think.
Wide rims are the next frontier of wheel development, and Bontrager are on the program with their new 35mm-wide Maverick Pro TLR wheelset. These obese hoops offer superb support to the aggressive Bontrager XR4 tyres, which also happen to be our favourite tyres at the moment. This combo offers more grip than Sylvester Stalone in Cliff Hanger in any conditions.
According to ‘Back to the Future’ we were meant to all be riding hoverboards by 2015. That hasn’t happened, but the Slash does give you the experience of riding a hoverbike – this beast is smooth in the extreme.
A combination of big, low-pressure tyres, suspension that’s supple off the top, and great damping properties of the carbon frame and bar, make this bike just float along. There’s incredible fluidity to the way the latest generation of Treks ride, and with the Pike and Monarch suspension combo, the Slash takes this smoothness to a new level.
As we’ve found with other Treks, getting the most out of the bike can involve judicious use of the rear shock’s compression adjustment. There’s precious little anti-squat built into the suspension design, so using the shock lever and a smooth pedalling action are key to extracting the most efficient ride.
Riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point
The fork’s travel adjustment got a workout too, and we quickly got into the routine of dropping the front end and hitting the lockout lever at the base of every climb.
In fact, on smoother trails, we often left the Trek in that setting – with the fork dropped and the rear suspension firmed up. In this mode, the Slash actually adopted the guise of trail bike pretty well. The downside is that with the fork in its 130mm setting, the bike’s bottom bracket height is super low, so you need to be very conscious of clipping pedals.
But riding the Slash with its fork dropped and the suspension firmed up is like eating diet ice cream, kinda missing the point. This bike is happiest in situations where the suspension is fully open, when you’re letting all that grip and damping do the work, you’re not pedalling, off the brakes, and looking ahead for the next potential down ramp to launch onto.
Trek have obviously been eager to position this machine as a very different bike to the slightly shorter travel Remedy series, and so the Slash’s geometry is more relaxed than a sloth on Valium. It’s built for rolling into the steepest lines and keeping its composure at speeds that would normally require a motor.
Using the neat Mino Link system, you can set the Slash to have a head angle of 65-65.5 degrees. For us, the 65.5-degree setting was already a bit of a handful on flatter or slower trails, pushing the front wheel a bit in spite of the huge amounts of grip, and we think it’d take some pretty serious terrain and high speeds to get us to use the 65-degree option. Still, it’s good to have that option of going slacker, and we’re sure plenty of riders will use this setting once the Slash replaces their downhill bike.
Magic stuff. All up, we think the Slash is pretty damn good value too. A ticket price of $5999 is still a lot of dough, but the Slash is as fully featured for this style of riding as you could ever hope, especially given it comes with new-school wide rims out of the box.
A rider considering the Slash needs to be aware that this isn’t a heavy-duty trail bike – it’s a proper gravity enduro machine. If all-day trails are your thing, take a look at the Remedy, it’ll give you a zippier singletrack experience. But if you’ve got descent KOMs (or podiums) in your sights or you’re looking to roll your downhill bike and trail bikes into one butt-whipping machine, this is where you want to be.