Previewed: Trek Finds Freedom

It is a cold, intolerant day on Vancouver’s North Shore. Rain pours in buckets. Fog sweeps down from the peaks of the Coast Range and, oddly, maybe stupidly, I’m about to go riding on a bike that’s as new as the trails of the Shore are gnarly. Trek, one of the biggest cycling manufacturers in the known universe, is here to pre-launch their new freeride-oriented seven-inch dual-suspension bicycle–their first sortie into the freeride universe.

And it is an entrance of significance. Known for its technological savvy (think Tour de France dynasty; think Fuel; think carbon righteousness), Trek’s new freeride platform comes with all the resources and engineering prowess of one of the world’s most successful bike companies. Throw in the unique expertise of Trek rider Andrew Shandro, whose decade-plus of racing experience and well-documented skill in the freeride genre (most notably a second-place finish at the 2003 Red Bull Rampage), and you’ve got all the signs of a bike (and bike company) that means business. Make no mistake, this is not a half-assed stab at offering a freeride bike. Trek wants this bike to impact freeriding much like the Fuel did on cross country, a bike which became one of the most sought after XC dual-suspension bikes on the planet. This is the real deal, and those who love riding dual suspension should be very pleased.

I have the good fortune to be the first magazine journalist to ride the bike, which has yet to be named. So, on the heels of Shore local Shandro, with a team of Trek’s engineers and product managers providing technical support, we shuttle the Shore’s more burly offerings on an atypical Shore day (i.e. slick and slimy). “If we can impress riders here, on the Shore,” says John Riley, product manager for Trek, “we feel we can be successful anywhere.”

The new Trek uses a design that’s intended to incorporate downhill plushness with uphill efficiency, with a goal to have bike weight at a fairly scant (for freeriding) 38 to 39 pounds. A coil Manitou Six-Way rear shock and a single-crown, seven-inch travel Breakout fork were specifically considered during the design of the bike. Spec’d with Bontrager’s new Big Earl components and wheelset, and using a combination of ZR/9000 and 6061 aluminum for the frame, the new Trek cuts a mean yet trim figure, looking both solid and quick in the same vein-something not too many freeride bikes on the market are able to achieve.

The bike’s four-bar linkage looks, at first glance, to be fairly similar to other seven-and-seven bikes on the market. It isn’t. To make the bike efficient, its suspension platform uses pivot technology Trek originally developed for the Liquid, which uses an oversized sealed cartridge style bearing located just above and behind the bottom bracket. The new Trek uses these one-inch diameter bearings on all three of its three main pivots. An oversized CNC’d rockerlink clamps around the cartridge bearings, which is then bolted to the frame. The rockers incorporate a stabilization bridge intended to increase their lateral stiffness, which adds to the plushness and effectiveness of the suspension.

On the front end, the new freeride bike uses a 1.5-inch headset designed specifically for use with single-crown Manitou Sherman Breakout seven-inch forks. A lot of the motivation to go single clamp came from Shandro, who wanted a bike that was lighter and had a lockout shock for climbing. The front triangle looks fairly similar to the Liquid’s with an oval to square down-tube and oversized aluminum throughout. Gussets on the steer-tube and seat-tube give the new frame increased strength. Adjustable rear dropouts enable the bike’s head-tube to be steepened from its fairly standard 66.5-degree angle (which may change for production), as well accommodating a 24-inch wheel without altering the bike’s geometry.

Trek is showing how serious their entry into the freeride game is by also introducing a new family of freeride components by Bontrager. The group, called Big Earl and designed in concert with the new bike, is made largely of 7050 alloy, and includes a seatpost, saddle, 31.8 stem and handlebars and Truvativ-manufactured cranks as well a new wheelset and 2.5 and 2.7 sticky compound tires. The Big Earl is designed specifically for higher impact riding, and includes a rear hub that can accommodate both Saint and traditional derailleurs.

So, how did the bike deal with super slick stunts, gnarly roots and rock drops that had my sphincter so tight I think I got a hemorrhoid? Unbelievably. The bike is as nimble and light as any seven-inch bike as I’ve ever ridden. The front end is tight and reliable, while the back end felt like it could deal with a ton more action than what I was giving it. Not to mention it was plush…oh so plush.

But the real bonus is the bike’s climbing ability. The bike is designed to ride up like a Liquid, and does so with little bob, thanks not only to the efficient suspension design, but also Manitou’s so-good-it-gives-me-shivers SPV technology. “We wanted to build a pedal-able freeride bike,” says Riley. “Something durable based on the needs of freeriders.” And this is, in fact, the most noteworthy news of the bike’s launch. Not only is one of the biggest and most reputable bike companies getting into the freeride game in a very serious, well-thought-out, no-rush way, they’re coming at it from cross-country roots, something that doesn’t happen too often in the big-ride game.

Look for the new seven-and-seven freeride beauty to be out in December. Approximate price points, depending on component packages, are $2,000 and $3,000.