Remember when 29ers were just for XC and would never, ever be used for longer travel bikes? So much for that prediction. Even though the majority of longer travel bikes are using (or moving towards) the smaller 27.5″ wheels, advances in geometry and frame technology have made the big wheels a viable option for truly aggressive terrain.
In the grand scheme of things, long travel 29ers aren’t exactly new. Smaller companies like Lenz Sport have been pushing the limits of 29ers for years. Even Trek has been toying with “long travel” and big wheels, first through the Gary Fisher line up, then the Gary Fisher Collection, and now through bikes like the new Slash 29. While the concept might not be completely new, the ride certainly is. Bikes like the Slash are changing the perception of what 29″ wheels are capable of, which may or may not be what you’re looking for…
After launching the new Fuel EX which gave up standard 27.5″ wheels completely, but kept them for the new Remedy, speculation ran wild with what would happen to the Slash which wasn’t released until a later date. The answer? 29er only. That may seem like a surprising move for such an Enduro focused machine, but Trek was after the perfect Enduro weapon which they think includes 29″ wheels.
Offered only in OCLV Mountain carbon and in the 9.8 and 9.9 Race Shop Limited, the frame provides 150mm of rear travel which is mated to a 160mm travel fork. Along with plenty of manipulation to fit the large Fox Float X2 shock in the frame while keeping the chainstays to 433mm, the Slash continues to use their EVO link suspension with ABP (Active Braking Pivot) and the Mino link which offers 1/2° heat tube angle adjustment and 10mm of BB height change. More suitable for laps at Whistler, I was given the bike with the Mino Link in the low position.
To obtain wheels strong enough for the punishment this frame can dish out, the Slash is full Boost 148/110 spacing, and includes ISCG 05 tabs around a PF92 bottom bracket.
Built with internal cable routing, the Control Freak system seemed to keep the cables quiet which isn’t always the case. Carbon Armor protects the downtube at the top from the fork crown, and again at the bottom from rock strikes. Production bikes will also include chainstay protection as well as a small protective piece on the inside of the seat stay. This particular Slash was a pre-production sample and lacked the chainstay Carbon Armor piece.
The Slash also makes use of Trek’s Knock Block steerer stop which is supposed to prevent the fork crown from damaging the downtube. This had to be done to accommodate the new Straight Shot downtube design which is said to dramatically boost frame stiffness. The trade off? The fork crown will impact the downtube if left unchecked. Trek’s answer in addition to the Carbon Armor pieces was the Knock Block which uses a replaceable tab that is bolted into the frame that interfaces with a slot in the headset cap. The headset cap is keyed to the spacers which are keyed to the Bontrager stem, though other stems can be used with an adapter that clamps to the steerer tube.
I’ll preface this with making it clear that this was a pre-production bike that was also a demo, but our first experience with Knock Block wasn’t a positive one. Somehow, the interlocking tabs of the system became mangled and made it almost impossible to remove from the bike to adjust the stem position before I was able to leave the parking lot. After some hammering, the damaged pieces were replaced and I was able to get a lap in. The headset was adjusted by Trek before I hit the lifts, but during the lap I had to retighten it 3 times as it became alarmingly loose each occasion. After taking it back and having Trek replace a few more pieces, I finally had an uninterrupted lap with a tight headset the whole way down.
Due to the pre-production/demo nature of the bike, I’ll have to reserve any judgments until I get experience on a new, production Knock Block system. Also, it’s only fair to point out that the Remedy Steve was riding also had the Knock Block system and didn’t suffer from the same issues as the Slash.
This was also my first chance to really put SRAM Eagle to the test, and as expected it performed nearly flawlessly. The added range was welcome when having to climb back up to the condo, and shifts were fast and precise, even while blasting down Whistler’s bomb hole ridden trails. The only concerning thing I experienced was a broken tooth for the aluminum 50t cog.
Again, the whole ‘demo’ nature of the bike means it has been rallied on like it was a rental, but it may be something to watch out for. My hunch is that like many of the new wide range cassettes, the derailleur’s B-tension wasn’t adjusted properly which caused the upper jockey wheel to hit the cassette and someone just shifted through it breaking off the tooth in the process.
On the scale, this medium 9.9 Race Shop Limited with a bottle cage and XT Trail pedals came in at 30.90 lbs (14.02kg).
Out on the trails, it was immediately clear the Slash is built for one thing – speed. Not just speed, but ludicrous speed over the roughest terrain imaginable. I’m absolutely sure I didn’t get the Slash anywhere near its limits, mostly out of self preservation. My first time riding a 29″ wheeled bike at Whistler, there were noticeable benefits to the bigger wheels as they rolled in and out of holes with less effort.
The trade off seems to be a slightly less playful ride which makes sense given the intended purpose of the bike. During this test ride, Steve was out on the 27.5″ Remedy, which is a very similar bike just with smaller wheels. The Remedy just seemed to be easier to jump and manual while the Slash just monster trucked over anything in its path. The juxtaposition of the two bikes made it pretty clear. Riders who still prefer the more playful ride of the smaller wheels should look to the Remedy, but those with Enduro podiums in their eyes may indeed find the Slash to be the perfect instrument of speed.
Available now, the Slash 9.9 Race Shop Limited sells for $7,999.99 as tested, or $5,499.99 for the 9.8, and $3,699.99 for the frameset.