Trek Rail 9 (2021)
Trek’s Rail was introduced for the 2020 season along with the Bosch Performance CX Gen 4 motor. This enabled a more aggressive and modern geometry (compared to Powerfly LT) and got rid of that annoying tiny front chainring that messed with full suspension. The motor is lighter and more responsive and — to my ear at least — quieter. The Rail has been a great success and has won a number of reviewer plaudits, quite deservedly, when they previously all went the way of the Specialized Levo.
For 2021 the entry level Rail 5 (with 500Wh or 625Wh battery) and Rail 7 ($8999 with 625Wh) are largely unchanged. The Rail 9 ($10999) is the big mover with the Kiox display and brand new Rock Shox Zeb fork. They’ve also ditched the proprietary Re:Aktiv rear shock (which was great but a pain to service) for a Super Deluxe Ultimate. We haven’t seen a 9.8 in NZ yet but it’ll be the similar to the 9 with carbon frame, Shimano XT running gear and some other carbon bits, and an extra $1000. If you despise SRAM and love Shimano, this might be the one for you.
If you’ve read my advice posts you’ll know how to buy an ebike, especially an eMTB. You need to try before you buy. So what did I do? Moved to Central Otago and on day 1 plonked down cash on a bike I had never ridden. Granted, I watched all the videos and read all the reviews. And since I have a Trek Fuel EX I knew what to expect fit-wise.
Long story short I picked it up from Evo Cycles Frankton and fell in love… My first ride was a soft one around Gibbston. A bike like this deserves to be ridden hard and I only got a brief feel for stability at speed on a bumpy surface. My second ride was a longer ride on the first stage of the Roxburgh Gorge trail. Again, a bit soft but I was thrilled that it didn’t feel overgunned on this sort of ride, which is the sort of thing ElectricMeg enjoys and I want to be able to enjoy rides with her too. This ride nearly didn’t happen as the battery died after charging it, but the good people at Evo swapped it for another. I read a few forum posts where this had happened to other Bosch Powertubes. I was hugely impressed by the responsiveness of the Bosch CX motor, and used only 20% over 21km, mostly on Eco mode, which surprised me with it’s power. Afterwards, the Bosch smartphone app told me that the bike and I had done equal work. I tried the various modes and was impressed with what EMTB mode has become. It is very sensitive to your input and feels very natural.
My third ride took me up the technical 4wd uphill of Coalpit Rd. The power and modulation of eMTB mode was brilliant, as is the zero rpm start power which meant it was easy to start on a steep slope. The front end got a bit light at times, but that makes it easy to position the front wheel just where you want it. Downhill was a hoot. My max speed was 65kph and I felt safe at all times, with those great 220mm discs upfront ready to put down anchor at any time. My suspension setup still isn’t quite optimal for me but it was confidence-inspiring and I didn’t suffer from arm-pump at all.
The Kiox display has been tucked behind the stem on the toptube, which is clever. Kiox is magnetically attached so it is easy to remove as a security precaution. I’d like to see a tether included like Garmin do, so that if it does fall off in a crash it won’t go far. The bike is useless without it. Annoyingly if you want full immobilisation, you have to pay more money to Bosch ($16.99). For goodness sake, I’ve paid a Kings Ransom why do I need to pay more? The way the Bosch ride recording works is very simple; you don’t need to remember to stop or start a ride. However, if you want to sync to Strava or other services, you need to then go to the ebike-connect.com website and do it from there, unlike Garmin’s Connect system which uploads automatically. They both share an ability to plan routes to upload to the device, although Bosch’s is a bit rudimentary (OK, it’s useless…). I have also had problems with my Android phone when the battery starts to run down a bit. It records the ride just fine down to around 60% of the phone’s battery, then it seems to struggle to use GPS and the ride plot goes a lot wonky. This seems to have improved with app updates.
Out of the box the bike was setup with the Mino-Link to Low. After I set it to High, I felt that the ride was sharper and the bike more agile especially in tight switchbacks and the like. I think I’ll leave it like that unless I’m shuttling downhills. I’ve also dropped the pressure on the Zeb forks a lot given that I’m not an aggressive Enduro rider. To give you an idea the recommended pressure for my weight was 89psi and I’m running 71.
Some review notes about the Rail 9:
- The paintwork is gorgeous. It shines and glows orange like a Mitre 10 sign
- The suspension is amazing. Bombing down Coalpit Rd over rocks and through ruts it felt super confident. I still have some more setup to do as I only used 2/3 of the travel.
- On technical uphills the front gets a bit light, but not in a very bad way. It’s the price you pay for shorter chainstays and the ability to pop the front wheel. I found ways to use this to my advantage.
- Battery life is good. The Bosch range estimate had me at over 100km riding on Eco (which isn’t a joke setting like on some systems). On a section of the Otago Central Rail Trail it was sitting at 150km after 10km of riding…
- The motor noise is OK. Not quite Levo quiet but quiet enough.
- The brakes (Code R with 220/200mm discs) are stupendous
- The way the battery comes out of the frame is the best I’ve seen. I prefer to be able to remove the battery easily to make it lighter to carry. It needs a key to both remove and replace it, so it will potentially foil thieves who bring their own battery.
- The Kiox display is nice, easy to read, customisable and easily removable — a worthy upgrade over the Purion display. But it’s annoying that you have to pay $16.99 for the locking feature.
- It doesn’t come setup tubeless but the Evo team did that for me within minutes. Ask for that.
- The seat tube angle is fairly steep so you can get your weight forward for climbing. It is very comfortable.
- The manual(s) are terrible. Take a leaf from Specialized’s book. This was particularly noticeable when troubleshooting a dead battery. There was even a generic Trek manual on CD (dated 2017)!
And here are some pictures of the beautiful Roxburgh Gorge Trail. Both sections are stunning and nice to ride. I am so glad I’ve moved south…