Trek Slash 9.7

Enduro has done more for trail bike development than anything else in recent times, yet we’re still trying to figure out exactly what an enduro bike is.

With EWS riders bouncing between 160+mm, heavy-hitting 27.5 “mini-DH” bikes and short-travel 29ers that manufacturers never expected to see on the circuit, Trek instead wanted a single solution. The result was the Slash, which pairs the efficiency of 29 inch wheels and a responsive 150mm suspension platform with slack geometry to make a bike that is fast on any trail. I reviewed a large sized $5,999 Slash 9.7, the cheaper model in the Slash range.

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The Frame

The first thing you’ll notice about the Slash is the clean lines that are emphasized by the huge carbon tubes of the front triangle. Even though the matte black and desert tan paint is subdued it’s a very striking look. The aluminium rear end is Boost and provides 150mm of travel, thanks to Trek’s ABP suspension design and proprietary RockShox Deluxe RT3 RE:aktiv shock with new-for-2018 Thru Shaft. Trek also have their own headset design that they call Knock Block, thankfully using a standard tapered 160mm boost fork but requiring Trek’s own Bontrager branded headset, stem spacers and stem. The Knock Block limits the fork movement to stop the fork crown hitting the straight downtube which, according to Trek, adds a great deal of stiffness. The cable routing is internal for all cables through the downtube and chainstays. The drink bottle mount is inside the front triangle, protected from mud by the massive downtube. 

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The Build

Trek’s own brand Bontrager are responsible for most of the components on the build. Starting at the cockpit is a 780mm width, 35mm alloy Bontrager Line handlebar mounted to a 50mm stem. The Drop Line dropper post (100mm drop in small, 125mm in medium, and 150mm in large and XL) sports an Evoke 2 saddle with chromoly rails. The Wheelset is the Line Comp 30 with 29mm internal width tubeless ready rims, with SE4 Team Issue tires and a 54 point engagement freehub. Everything else is courtesy of SRAM, with the RockShox Yari RC fork and Deluxe RT3 RE:aktiv Thru Shaft shock providing the squish, an NX drivetrain with 11-42 cassette and Descendant cranks, and Guide R brakes with a 200mm rotor up front and a 180 in the rear. The bike weighs in at around 14.5kg.

Geometry & Fit

The bike has two settings, low and high, courtesy of the “Mino Link” flip-chip. In the high setting the 19.5” frame provides a roomy 459mm reach, a 65.6° head angle giving a wheelbase of 1219mm, and a 433mm chainstay length with a moderate bottom bracket height of 352mm. The actual seat tube angle is very slack at 64.8° but is offset very far forward to give an effective angle of 74.1° and an effective top tube length of 635mm. Setting the Mino Link to the low setting slackens the head and seat angles to 65.1° and 73.1°, and drops the BB to 345mm. The seat tube on this frame is something to watch for. Oddly enough the “19.5 inch” frame measures out at 468mm, or 18.4 inches, but the dropper post’s insertion depth is limited by the interrupted seat tube and doesn’t drop completely. At 181cm tall I’m right in the middle of the recommended height range but I had the post as low as it could go in the frame, so short legged riders may struggle with fit with the stock 150mm dropper.

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The Ride

Climbing

14.5kg. Slack angles. Long travel. It’s no cross country bike! And as such it didn’t set any records on the climbs. However the Slash does make the most of what it has, and it’s a much better climber than expected. It wasn’t fast up the hill but it was certainly stable, composed, easy to handle, and relaxing to ride. The suspension system tracks terrain well while turning the cranks, and I was happy to learn I could leave the shock in the descend setting and still climb with little to no pedal-induced suspension movement. Even on the most technical and steep climbs the bike happily took care of everything, letting me sit comfortably and enjoy myself. I pootled easily up a couple of climbs I don’t often clean, and clawed up a difficult pinch that I haven’t ridden cleanly in years. Nice! Not at all what I expected from an enduro bike. The one area where the bike did show its true colours was tight switchbacks, where the long wheelbase and 65 degree head angle were obvious. For those concerned about the knock block limiting their turning, I never found it to be an issue. I touched the steering limit only once on the trails, but it didn’t mess up my line or cause me to plant a foot.

The seat position felt great for me, but long legged riders who have their seats very high may find the very slack actual seat angle means they need to slam the seat all the way forward in the post, or potentially even makes for a rearward riding position that negatively impacts seated climbing.
 

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Descending
First things first: the Bontrager SE4 front tire was removed almost immediately and replaced with an SE5, which has the bite needed for the local Christchurch conditions. The SE5 front/SE4 rear combo has good predictable grip and I was happy with their performance. With the tires sorted, the very first thing I noticed about the Slash is its feel. It is one of the stiffest trail bikes I’ve ever ridden, regardless of wheel size. Even with the bike loaded up in all the wrong ways through corners or over dodgy terrain it would feel rock solid and composed. Thankfully the ride isn’t harsh or chattery, and this can be attributed to the wheelset, which has a little bit of give. If you’re looking to pair the frame with a carbon wheelset, choose wisely – It would be easy to go too stiff and ruin the ride. 

The Slash makes things easy, and that’s either a blessing or a curse depending on the trail. If it can be described as “flat”, “smooth” or “pedally” then it’s not going to be very engaging. Give the Slash what it wants though, and the big wheels and long travel make short work of any terrain you throw it at. The stability and bump-eating capabilities are quite something, and the geometry gives confidence on the steepest of DH tracks. The Yari fork is supple and inspiringly supportive, albeit a little harsh on the hands when really hauling compared to higher-end offerings. The rear shock definitely supplied the grip I wanted but not the support – some volume spacers in the air spring would balance the bike out. The RE:aktiv damper’s pedal setting is quite good, the shock still reacting to bumps well despite being stiff against the rider’s inputs. The rear is very active under braking.

The main argument against bikes like the Slash is that they don’t corner. That they’re too long and the wheels are too big. Well, kind-of. The Slash can corner very quickly. It’s very easy to carry speed around any turn once you’re used to the handling and how to time your entry. Where the argument does have merit is closely stacked berms. On the odd occasion there just wasn’t enough time between berms to initiate the second corner and the bike would run wide. You just need a little more room to prepare.

The Slash doesn’t really encourage an active or playful riding style. Dropped, the seat sits about 15-20mm further forward than other bikes and this was a noticeable encroachment on my manoeuvring space. Combined with the high top tube and big rear wheel, I found I became more rigid on the bike and happier to let the suspension do the work for me. Add in the weight and the gyroscopic effect of the wheels, and you have something that’s more serious than silly.

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Just a few more things…

I have something to admit. The first test frame I had suffered a cracked carbon front triangle. Trek replaced the bike immediately and despite me pushing the second one harder I didn’t have any other issues. Single anecdotes suck, and you should always do your research, but I will say that the second one took enough of a beating to prove itself worthy, and I know of at least one heavy and hard-charging rider who has been thrashing his Slash frames for ages with no such problem. The bike comes with a three year warranty. Another thing worth mentioning is the wheels. If you live in an area with sharp rocks then either use high pressures or prepare for some dents. The rims are very soft, and I needed to panel-beat the rear a couple of times to keep the tubeless tire bead happy. The spokes also lost tension quickly, so keep an eye on that. To the rims’ credit they stayed true despite the dents and low spoke tension. 

Finally, I’m not convinced that the knock block is a good idea. During a slow OTB crash the bars twisted on the stem, allowing the fork to touch the rubber downtube bumpers anyway. All of the impact is absorbed by the carbon top tube via the little stop chip just behind the stem, and after this crash a little bit of paint flaked off the carbon next to the chip. After straightening the bars there were no further issues.

Final Words

The Slash is a surprisingly adept all-rounder. It’s capable and happy to be ridden on anything from the techiest climbs to the toughest and roughest DH lines, and that earns it forgiveness for not having XC-like speed up a hill and turning flat trails into a bit of a snooze. I have a few gripes and it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed my time on the Slash. Trek are one of the few who host regular demo days all over NZ, so go fang one around your local haunt.

Key Specs

  • Frame: carbon fibre Rear
  • Travel: 150mm Front Travel: 160mm
  • Shock/Fork: RockShox Deluxe RT3 RE:aktiv, Thru Shaft/Yari RC
  • Wheels/Tyres: Bontrager Line Comp 30/Bontrager SE4
  • Drivetrain/Brakes: SRAM NX/SRAM Guide R
  • Weight: 14.5kg (w/o pedals)
  • Price: $5,999

Images & Words: Endeavour Media and Photographics & Jhan Vernon

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