Trek's 650b enduro bike has loads to recommend it — but the fork is a big letdown
Trek has made a raft of revisions to the 160mm-travel Slash for 2014, the most obvious being the addition of 27.5in wheels. But, even with the increase in wheel size, the new Slash 9 is more than 1kg lighter than its predecessor. Weighing in at 13.73kg with our Maxxis control tyres fitted, it’s also the second lightest bike on test — which just goes to show what can be achieved with aluminium when every tube profile, forging and pivot bolt is analysed in order to save weight. Even the one-piece magnesium Evo rocker link has been scaled down to shed precious grams from this year’s offering. All in, Trek has managed to shave 400g off the Slash frame, without any apparent trade-off in terms of reduced frame stiffness or strength.
Trek didn’t just put the Slash 9 on a diet though; it has also made some big changes to the geometry of the frame. The head angle is now a full degree slacker, the bottom bracket is 12mm lower and the reach has been extended by 20mm on all frame sizes. Stem lengths have also been shortened to compensate for the additional reach in the frames.
As if that weren’t enough tweaking for one year, the rear suspension has also been updated — the main pivot has moved up and forward slightly. This change has allowed Trek to fit the 650b wheels without having to increase the chainstay length and, combined with the revised Evo linkage, the Slash now shares the same pitter-patter feel as the Trek Session downhill bike.
The same, however, can’t be said of the Fox 34 Talas fork. On damp, slow and more mellow trails in the UK its shortcomings weren’t so apparent, but out in Italy we couldn’t get away with simply pumping more air into the fork to stop it diving because the loss of traction and increase in harshness was borderline unbearable.
If you’re stepping up to the Slash from a trail bike, the 750mm carbon Bontrager bar will feel spot-on. That said, we’d still prefer to see a 780mm fitted as you can always chop it down later if you find that you are regularly punching trees. Avid’s XO Trail brakes feel amazing, and while we had no problems with the levers pulling back to the bar, we were constantly stopping on longer descents to fiddle with the reach adjusters as the bite point would change when the brakes got hot. Bontrager’s new Rhythm Comp wheels are stiff and strong and the wide rim profile provides an ideal base for fatter DH tyres. Trek just needs to sort out its 142x12mm quick release — it protrudes too much and the quick-release cam doesn’t work properly.
It would be funny if it didn’t point up such a serious technical limitation, but the most common complaint we hear from riders running Fox 34 forks on fast, rough terrain is that they’d like softer grips. Hand pain and holding on was a genuine issue on the Slash out in Italy, but we can assure you that the Bontrager grips weren’t the reason for the problem. Front-end grip was also lacking, even though we had the same tyres on all the bikes and were running the same tyre pressures. Basically, the Fox 34 Talas fork lacks the mid-stroke damping support required for balanced handing and the only option is to overinflate it to stop it diving, which reduces the level of grip and comfort. Running the fork harder also has a knock-on effect on the bike’s geometry — it feels like a much slacker ride, and as a consequence the cockpit feels shorter than it really is. In fact, the Fox 34 on the Slash 9 gives out so many mixed messages that it’s virtually impossible to access the true potential of the frame that it’s yoked to. It doesn’t help that it also makes it feel like you’re riding on a knife edge at anything other than cruising speed.
With all the changes that have been made to the geometry, the massive reduction in weight and the addition of 650b wheels, the Slash 9 is a radically different bike to last year. Even the pricing is competitive. In fact, every single revision that Trek has made to the Slash frame is exactly what was needed, so it’s doubly frustrating that the Fox 34 Talas fork on the flagship Slash 9 is such a major letdown. With a RockShox Pike the Trek could easily have been a contender in this test instead of getting knocked out in the first round. Fox needs to up its game, and it needs to do it quickly.