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The Beta Tests

The Beta Tests: Trek Slash 9.8

A Baja truck among enduro bikes, the Slash wants to devour everything you can throw at it

Basics

-160-millimeters rear travel, 170 front
-29-inch wheels only
-All carbon frame
-Also available in aluminum


Pros

-Superb high-speed stability
-Great traction in variable terrain
-Supple and generous-feeling suspension

Cons

-Less maneuverable at slow speeds
-A lot of bike to get back up the hill


Price

$8,000

Brand

Trek


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The Trek Slash has been 29-inch-only since 2016, and was one of the first bikes to go big-wheel-exclusive in its relatively long-travel category (then 150/160). It introduced a floaty, invincible ride quality to the mountain lexicon, which quickly became the target of most modern trail bikes. 

For 2021 the Slash gets even more travel and a generally beefier platform, making it the most gravity-oriented version of the bike yet. Our build was outfitted with a 170-millimeter Rockshox Zeb (affectionately referred to as the Downhiller’s single-crown fork) and a 160mm Deluxe Thru-shaft shock, which was developed specifically for this bike. It also gets a slacker head tube, steeper seat tube, and a handy storage compartment behind the bottle cage—just like its closest competitor, the Specialized Enduro.

We couldn’t wait to unleash this beast on the loose, steep trails outside Ely, Nevada, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s the sort of bike that seems to turn the volume down on practically every kind of feature, which of course makes you search for ways to turn the volume back up again. We found ourselves taking downright silly lines, just to see if we could survive (we could, and it was fun). 

It’s likely that some of that confidence comes from the Thru-shaft shock. The idea is that by allowing the damper shaft to pass through the body of the shock, there’s no need to use an internal floating piston to deal with the oil displaced as the shock compresses. The brand claims this gives you a more instantaneous response to the trail. It’s tough to really feel the difference in milliseconds of response between this shock and a standard one, but we did notice that we had cloud-like landings and noticeably good traction, hit after hit.

While it shines on descents, the Slash may have sacrificed too much on the climbs. Billed as the ideal rig to tackle enduros and self-powered bike park runs, we found the lockout a bit harsh and the open mode too mealy. This might be a fair tradeoff for making you basically invincible on the way back down, but it should be noted that other comparable bikes (like the Enduro) offer a more supportive all-around platform for climbing.

The other area where the Slash lost points was in really tight, slow-speed maneuvering. Because it’s so long and slack, it really lends itself to stability at high-speed; the flip side being that it’s a lot of bike to handle when you need to be more precise. Of course, you can always deploy the flip chip to tweak the geometry a bit. The headtube goes .4 degrees steeper or slacker (64.1-64.6), which makes the seat tube a full degree and a half steeper or slacker (75.6-76.1). 

Like other Trek bikes, the Slash comes with the brand’s Knock Block headset, which prevents your brakes/shifters from gouging your top tube in the event of a crash—but can limit your bar spins (you do those, right?) Otherwise the cockpit is clean, simple, and solid-feeling. Really, every part of this bike is buttoned up. But it damn well should be for $8,000. The sweet spot in the lineup is probably the 9.8 GX or 9.8 XT. At $6k, that’s still not cheap, but considering that also gets you Bontrager’s new lifetime-warranty Line 30 carbon rims, it’s a lot more affordable than other bikes in its category. 

While we think the Slash would be happiest in close proximity to a bike park, it would surely pair well with the rider willing to (really) earn their turns on their rowdiest local trails. If you’re looking to get into bigger terrain or take your enduro racing up a notch, the Slash could be a very worthy companion.

Entry Point:

The $3,700 Trek Slash 7 is a price point that some brands may not have tried to reach on such a full-featured bike. This gets Trek’s Internal Frame Storage system, unheard of on aluminum bikes. It gets the Knock Block headset, frame protection panels on the downtube, and a 34.9-millimeter seat tube with an actual 34.9-millimeter Bontrager dropper to match, not just a thicker no-name post. Add 30-millimeter-internal-width rims and Bontrager’s XR5 and XR4 tires, and there’s not a whole lot to complain about, though it’s not a mind-blowing deal. You can find packages of similar quality in a bike shop for less from Marin or mail-order from YT.  But Trek’s value increases drastically when you look at the next model up, the Slash 8. For another $500, the Slash 8 gets you a far more advanced damper in its Lyric fork, the groundbreaking Trek-exclusive Thru Shaft RockShox Super Deluxe rear shock, the recently updated GX drivetrain, and a set of Code R brakes. If you’re anywhere near being able to afford the Slash 7, you should just make the leap to the Slash 8.

Find it at trekbikes.com/slash

Photos: Anthony Smith