Big changes are afoot at Trek.
I'm sitting in the Munich airport, typing this report on a battered PowerBook. My legs are thoroughly roached from two long days of hammering next year's Treks and I am, in a word, impressed.
For 2012, Trek's key trail and all-mountain models, the Fuel EX and Remedy, will be lighter, yet significantly more capable, on rough terrain than their 2011 predecessors (which, bear in mind, are no slouches to begin with).
The gravity side of Trek's mountain line-up receives even bigger updates, including the addition of the Slash (the "Downhillers XC bike") and the debut of the Session 9.9 (the carbon-fiber downhill race rig Aaron Gwin has been winning World Cups on).
Finally, Trek is making a significant push to improve the front-end handling on many of these bikes, by taking their proprietary DRCV suspension technology and incorporating it in many of the Fox forks spearheading their bikes.
Smarter Suspension: front and rear
In 2006, Trek hired Jose Gonzalez, the former director of research and development at Answer Products, and tasked him with improving their bikes' bump-eating performance. One of the fruits of Trek's suspension brain trust is its Dual Rate Control Valve (or "DRCV") technology, which debuted on the 2009 Gary Fisher Roscoe and took up residence on the back end of the 2010 and 2011 Fuel EX and Remedy models.
Whereas most air-sprung shocks sport a single air chamber, DRCV shocks contain two. When you're cruising about, a DRCV shock floats on the main chamber and acts like a small-canister air shock; the bike rides high in its travel and is supple on small trail chatter. When you hit a big bump, a plunger inside the shock brings the second chamber into play and—presto—you're now sitting atop a large-volume air shock that feels bottomless on big hits.
DRCV is, in short, a "best of both worlds" approach to squeezing performance out of an air shock…and now that technology moves to many of the Fox-built forks spec'd on Trek's 2012 models.
It's the same basic arrangement: on mellow terrain, the DRCV-equipped fork bounces along on its main air chamber. When the fork is compressed through 60 percent of its stroke, a plunger opens a second air chamber (cleverly housed within the damper rod); which increases the fork's air chamber-volume and improves its big-hit performance. In short, you get smooth and lively performance on small hits, with little of the harsh ramp-up on big hits that's common to many air-sprung forks.
You'll find Fox DRCV forks on many of the bikes in the Fuel EX, Remedy and Rumblefish lines.
Fuel EX and Remedy "Harness the Gnar-ness" for 2012
Lighter and yet more downhill capable—that's the theme behind the majority of tweaks that Trek has made to their Fuel EX and Remedy models. First off, several models in each line receive the DRCV fork upgrade. More importantly, all the bikes have had their head tubes slackened a degree. The Fuel EX now sports a 68-degree headtube; the Remedy a 67-degree tip of its hat.
The new Fuel EX.
The new Remedy.
While a one-degree geometry change probably sounds insignificant, that seemingly minor alteration lends both bikes a far more capable feel when the trail suddenly points downward and grows fangs.
Most press trips to Europe entail miles of yawn-inducing fire roads and very little in the way of adrenaline-junkie singletrack. This trip was different. The folks at Trek stitched together some excellent chunks of trail, including several miles of steep, root-strewn and rocky singletrack.
I spent the first day aboard a Remedy and was struck by the bike's change in manners. It's a versatile, all-day riding machine that grows a serious set of balls when things get steep, fast and rocky: it's a significant improvement over the 2011 version.
Our second day's Fuel EX ride included a whole lot more climbing, but also a dose of downhill gnar, on which the Fuel EX proved itself considerably more capable than its 120-millimeters of travel would suggest.
So, could I tell the difference between the new DRCV fork and a "plain" Fox model? Well, the forks on our test bikes felt great, but to be honest, I'd have to run a DRCV and then a non-DRCV fork, back-to-back, on each bike before I could say anything meaningful. Apples to apples and all that…
Trek has, of course, made several other changes to the Fuel EX and Remedy lines. Since I'm getting sick of listening to myself talk, so to speak, here are some bullet-point highlights from the two new bike lines.
Additional Fuel EX Highlights
*Three carbon-frame models, five aluminum models
*Custom-tuned FOX DRCV rear shocks on bikes all the way down to EX 8 level
*15QR forks spec'd all the way down to the EX 6 level
*All models down to EX 7 level equipped with 142X12 ABP Convert rear thru axles (convertible to a standard quick release, should you feel like regressing)
*All frames sport internal front-derailleur cable routing (within the top tube)
*All frames sport full-length rear derailleur cable housing
*Rotatable "Mino Link" chip enables you to increase the headtube angle (should you swing that way) a half-degree and raise the bottom bracket 10 millimeters (.4 inches)
Additional Remedy Highlights
*Three carbon models, three aluminum models
*Reduced frame weight
*ISCG tabs on all carbon and aluminum frames
*FOX DRCV rear shocks on all Remedy models
*15QR forks spec'd on all Remedy models
*All models equipped with 142X12 ABP Convert rear thru axles
* Rotatable "Mino Link" chip enables you to increase the headtube angle a half degree and raise the bottom bracket 10 millimeters (.4 inches).
*All frames feature internal front-derailleur cable routing (within the top tube)
*All frames sport full-length rear derailleur cable housing
*Remedy 9.9 and 9.8 models feature new RockShox Reverb Stealth post with internally-routed (within the seat tube) hydraulic line; all Remedy frames capable of running this post.
*For the first time ever, the top-tier Remedy 9.9 sports an entirely carbon frameset (including seat and chainstays)
Goodbye Scratch Air, Hello Slash
Yup, Trek is killing the Scratch Air in 2012 and replacing it with a lighter, more pedaling-friendly Enduro-style bike called the Slash. The Slash is a tad slacker (66 degree head angle) than the Remedy and sports 160-millimeters of travel, front and rear.
Each of the three aluminum Slash models sports ISCG tabs, a 142X12 ABP Convert rear through axle, 2×10 drivetrain with a chainguide, the proprietary frame ports required to run the new RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and the Mino Link frame-geometry adjuster.
Front suspension duties on the Slash are handled by either a Fox 36 or RockShox Lyrik, and rear squish comes courtesy of a Fox RP3 or RP2 DRCV shock. We didn't ride test the Slash, but the pimp-level Slash 9 was on display for us to stare longingly at.
There's been a glaring gap in Trek's line up—that sweet spot where burly, sub-30 pound all-mountain machines (the Enduro and Carbon Nomad come to mind) play. With the Slash entering the fray, that gap in Trek's offerings appears nicely filled. Do we want to test one? Does a monkey throw poo? Better believe it.
Downhill in Carbon
Trek's carbon Session 9.9 is hardly top-secret fare. It's hard to keep a prototype under wraps when Aaron Gwin is winning a World Cup (Mont Sainte Anne) on the 35-pound race bike.
Yeah, that's right, thirty-five freakin' pounds. Crazy light for a DH rig.
Trek cleaved two whole pounds off the Session frame by going to carbon. The new frame incorporates a bevy of innovations, including the use of a new gram-shaving, strength-boosting material that Trek calls InTension. Employed directly into the layup of high-stress/hard-to-mold areas of the frame (such as pivots, seat tubes and bottom brackets), InTension acts like the center section of an I-Beam; transferring loads between the two faces of carbon.
In short, InTension is stronger and lighter than a traditional, composite-only lay-up. Trek claims that Intension has four times the flexural strength of a similar carbon-only structure, and is eight times stiffer. Those are some impressive numbers….
At the moment, InTension is only found on the Session 9.9, but I'd wager that the material will work its way into Trek's other off-road offerings in the future.
Trek's Advanced Concepts Group spent two years working on the carbon Session 9.9 frame. That extensive R&D investment birthed both InTension and an ultra-clean, cable tie-down system called MicroTruss, which eliminates the need for riveted cable guides.
There's a whole lot of additional "new and improved" going on here, however, that extends beyond the frame material (and which applies to both of the aluminum Sessions as well).
All three Session models (the carbon 9.9 and aluminum 88 and 8 models) share the new World Cup geometry that Aaron Gwin and Tracey Mosely are racing on. Trek maintains, however, that the new set up, which hinges on a revised leverage ratio, is actually more versatile than before. The new leverage ratio is said to give dramatic improvement over square edge bumps at high speed, doesn't wallow in corners and allows for more pop off the jumps.
A bike that's better at both DH racing and bike park duties? That's what Trek is claiming here.
Finally, the new leverage ratio allowed for a slight boost in travel—the bikes now pack 210 millimeters of rear travel.
Oh, and there's more…
Is that all that Trek showed at the press launch? Not even close. However, since this post is now roughly the length of War and Peace, it's time to sign off. Check in soon for more.