The WSD frame offers excellent standover — a good 80mm lower than the next lowest on test here, the Specialized Myka Elite Disc — which is a real plus for the smaller rider on bigger wheels. The design and quality of the tubing also made for a compliant ride, which is particularly important on a hardtail, while the internal cable-routing is a neat, stylish detail.
The plushest forks on test, these RockShox XC32s set the Trek Cali S apart from the other bikes here. Tuned for the lighter rider, absorbing big and small bumps well, the 100mm of travel paired with the 29in wheels saw me cruising over rocks and roots with quickly increasing confidence.
The Trek Cali S rolls on Bontrager’s own disc wheels and tyres, with all the added benefits in terms of pace and stability that come with riding 29in hoops rather than 26in ones.
The nine-speed Shimano Alivio/Deore set-up shifted well and you’d hope the internal cabling would ensure it continued to do so. As with all these hardtails, a chain tensioning device of some kind would be invaluable — the chain slap meant descending at pace would never be a secret, and the chain came off all the bikes at one point or another.
My one criticism of the Trek Cali S is the narrow 630mm handlebar. It is a real frustration that there is still a misguided assumption that women need narrow bars on their bikes. This makes no sense to me, as it reduces the leverage available to the rider, and thus reduces control, stability and confidence. However, the 70mm stem felt a good length and brakes were solid and reliable.
The riding position is initially a little short and upright-feeling, meaning that in conjunction with the fact I am relatively new to the big-wheel feel, my first impression was more hybrid town bike than MTB hardtail. However, everything changed once I took off down the trail. Cornering, even on tight turns, was swift and secure, and the 29in wheels combined with the responsive RockShox fork took the sting out of rocky descents to an extent I had not anticipated. Out of the saddle in particular, the ride was balanced and responsive. The only thing holding me back from pacing things up even further was the insecurity caused by the narrow handlebar.
When run back-to-back, the ability of the 29ers to carry speed over rough terrain, and the smooth and stable cornering was marked compared to the 26in Boardman Fi MTB Comp. But of the 29ers, the Trek Cali S stood out as being the classiest — spending the budget on a decent fork specifically tuned to the needs of the lighter rider was undoubtedly what swung the test in its favour. This, combined with a high-quality, compliant frame and a good set of stoppers, made the ride an enjoyable and confidence-inspiring one. With a wider bar, for greater control and a better riding position, the Trek would easily have scored top marks.
MBR rating: 9
Frame WSD Alpha Gold aluminium
Fork RockShox XC32 100mm travel
Wheels Formula DC20/DC22 hubs, Bontrager AT-850 rims, Bontrager 29-2 tyres
Drivetrain Shimano Alivio chainset and shifters, Acera f-mech, Deore r-mech
Brakes Shimano M395 160/160mm
Weight 13.8kg (30.42lb)
Sizes 14in, 15.5in, 17in, 18.5in
Size tested 15.5in
On test in our Hardtail of the Year competition: