Review: Trek Supercaliber 9.8

The Trek Supercaliber was shrouded in secrecy during the 2019 XCO season. Now, the tape (literally) has been cut and the out-and-out race bike is clear for all to see. Is it a bike for hardtail die-hards or does it have dual purpose use? We aimed it at the Western Cape’s trails to find out.

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Switch back to 2019 and the UCI World Cup races specifically and you may remember the likes of Jolanda Neff, Emily Batty and Anton Cooper riding their Trek bikes with, let’s call it black tape, covering the rear shock. These were prototypes for what we now know is this bike, the Trek Supercaliber, which despite sounding like the start of a Mary Poppins song, is the brand’s top-tier race bike. We have the 9.8 derivative here, which is second from the top in the range and as of June 2020 retails for R99 999.

 

What you get


As a full-fat (or maybe that should be skinny) race bike, you get a carbon frame with a Fox Performance 32 Step-Cast fork with 100 mm of travel. You can go up to 120 mm on the fork travel according to Trek, and 120 mm seems to be more and more common on SA bikes but whether you’d want that on your race-day bike is debatable. Both front and rear axles are boosted to 110 mm and 148 mm respectively and the rear end suspension features Trek’s IsoStrut shock. It offers just 60 mm of travel and is integrated into the frame, apparently offering less lateral flex and twist than a normal rear shock. If it looks complicated, it isn’t. Once you strip away the mounting bolts it’s just as easy to service as any other Fox shock would be.

 

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Bontrager comes to the party with an assortment of carbon parts comprising 30 mm Kovee Elite wheels, trick XR2 2.20 rubber (front and rear), Pro seatpost, 720 mm wide bars and for this large frame, an 80 mm stem. The stems vary in length depending on the frame size.

 

The drivetrain uses a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed to do the shifting and a Truvativ carbon crank. The bike comes standard with a 32 tooth chainring, which works on race day, but you may want a 34 tooth for everyday use. Stopping power comes courtesy of Shimano XT brakes and make of them what you will but I struggle with the snatchy nature of XT and the unsettling reaction from it.

 

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At R100k, the spec seems a little on the low side. I know I was expecting a little more than SRAM GX at this price, especially with the 9.9 being such a large step up at R180k, featuring XX1 componentary as well as a few other parts upgrades. However, I suspect we are in for a bit of shock as bike prices move further into the stratosphere in the future and there is always time to upgrade parts throughout the ownership period of the bike.

 

For those into their geometry, the Supercaliber hits all the modern marks. It has an adequate slack (for a cross-country race bike) 69.0-degree head angle, 430 mm chainstays and a wheelbase of 113.6 cm for the large frame. Claimed weight is 10.46 kg with sealant. Once I threw on some Shimano pedals and 2 bottle cages, I was surprised to see the scale read as high as 11.4 kg. Having done a bit of reading on this, it appears to be a common occurrence, obviously Trek’s in-house scale is rather friendly.

 

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To the trails


Rather than listing all the tech specs in every detail, let’s get into how it all translates into the riding experience. Right out of the blocks the Supecaliber feels fast, from the front end responsiveness to the way you can rapidly flop the bike over from one side to the other. There is no delay in the bike’s reactions, it wants to move.

 

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The dual lockout (front and rear together) is best reserved for flatter, softer surfaces where you can really make use of it. Having both shocks locked out on the trails is abrasive on the body and feels mechanically unsympathetic. In any case, with just 60 mm of travel at the back, you’re not losing much to the dreaded dual sus ‘bob’. It has the hardtail punchiness out of switchbacks and when trying to boost over things, unlike a hardtail, the bike does not get caught up on them and slow you down as the rear tries to settle. It is a climber’s dream, the swift front end gets you into and out of corners quickly while you get excellent value for every pedal stroke you churn out at the rear.

 

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Send it at a negative gradient and it’s surprisingly more capable than you’d think. The fast front end is predictable and stable in the corners and if you need to quickly correct, it’s very easy to manipulate. Much of that is no doubt down to the slacker head angle and low bottom bracket height.

 

Down a succession of high-speed S-bend berms on Tygerberg’s Hoogekraal trail, I was impressed with just how quickly the bike shifts from side to side. You can force the issue and really attack corners with the confidence on the Supercaliber. The rear end feels light thanks to those short rear chainstays and tidy shock. A small flick of your heals in the cleats and you can lift the rear end up and have it wherever you want with very little effort.

 

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The Trek Supercaliber in flight at Contermanskloof.

 

I found myself going faster and faster on every trail, more confident in the bike’s abilities to deal with increased corner speed, jumps and ruts. The Bontrager XR2 rubber is soft and progressive the more angle you put on it. These tyres probably aren’t a long term option but for race day, they feel like a set of qualifying lap specials.

 

Any downside?


The short travel rear can get caught up on rockier terrain like a hardtail. Bigger drops and ruts run through the travel and you can find yourself slowed up momentarily where a conventional dual suspension would soak up the hit with less loss of forward momentum. I found that running a little harder pressure at the rear (10 psi above recommended pressure for a 65 kg rider) worked better for me. I wasn’t running out of travel so often and in knowing that, I would try harder to blast my way through bumpier terrain.

 

As a stage race bike, riders might find it a little too taxing on the body. I’m talking anything more than 2 or 3 days where you’re looking to preserve energy as much as possible. If you are a hardtail rider, then the Supercaliber is only going to be an improvement for you.

 

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Anything else?


Trek seems to be somewhat of an underrated brand in South Africa and I can’t see why. It has quite a nice selling point in that the Bontrager parts are designed in-house and made specifically for Trek bikes. Keith Bontrager has pioneered many innovations in mountain biking and having someone like that underneath the Trek banner, ushering along part development has got to be a good thing.

 

Verdict


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The Supercaliber brings a new style of bike to the market, something race-bred and built for those eyeing podiums and KOMs. It combines the climbing speed of a hardtail with the ability to attack a descent like a dual sus can. Is it the best of both worlds? That depends on the type of riding you see yourself doing - XCO? Then yes. Cape Epic? No, consider the Top Fuel. 3-day stage race? Errr possibly, but you need to be fit.

 

You need to work to get the most out of the Supercaliber, it’s like a hardtail in that respect. You have to use your upper body and strength and in doing so it rewards you with a second here and there, which adds up over the course of a race.

 

While the pricing seems expensive now, there is nothing really this race-focused on the market. The latest Scalpel Si Carbon 2 is similarly priced and the new Specialized Epic isn’t far off that number either. Considering where the Trek is positioned, both of those rivals would be considered marathon bikes compared to the Trek Supercaliber’s race offering.




24 Comments

madmarc, Jun 29 2020 09:38

Very sleek looking design - but just a tad away from my paygrade - mmm maybe 3 tads 

BaGearA, Jun 29 2020 09:49

I love that after so many years manufacturers have to say 'fast or slow on the rebound dial "

We mountainbikers really have all the gear and zero knowledge

DR ◣◢, Jun 29 2020 09:54

For R100k... Definitely a bit poverty spec on the parts. 

dave303e, Jun 29 2020 10:25

I love that after so many years manufacturers have to say 'fast or slow on the rebound dial "

We mountainbikers really have all the gear and zero knowledge

 

too true. We won't even go into re valving the suspension to suit the conditions and rider preferences

DieselnDust, Jun 29 2020 10:41

+'s

  • Trek has designed a dedicated race bike and a dedicated Marathon/light trail/downcountry bike in the Super calibre and TopFuel
  • A truly unique design
  • carbon wheels and finishing kit

-'s

  • Heavy for such short travel and focus. It really needs to sub 10Kg across the reange before sealant, cages and pedals to be a serious race bike
  • GX on a R100K bike...... really??!!, No thanks
  • Fox 32 Performance at this price? 

 

If this bike with this spec was priced in the R70k-R80K range I would consider it. But its price puts  it out there  way above more capable and potentially lighter bikes. No way I'm paying R100k for 11.5kg! I picked up david George's Supercalibre and even with the top sec I was pretty underwhelmed by the weight. Its just not light enough for the concept to make sense.

babse, Jun 29 2020 11:59

+'s

  • Trek has designed a dedicated race bike and a dedicated Marathon/light trail/downcountry bike in the Super calibre and TopFuel
  • A truly unique design
  • carbon wheels and finishing kit

-'s

  • Heavy for such short travel and focus. It really needs to sub 10Kg across the reange before sealant, cages and pedals to be a serious race bike
  • GX on a R100K bike...... really??!!, No thanks
  • Fox 32 Performance at this price? 

 

If this bike with this spec was priced in the R70k-R80K range I would consider it. But its price puts  it out there  way above more capable and potentially lighter bikes. No way I'm paying R100k for 11.5kg! I picked up david George's Supercalibre and even with the top sec I was pretty underwhelmed by the weight. Its just not light enough for the concept to make sense.

Fair overview

 

those negatives are spot on and puts a massive X on it for me as i would want to upgrade fork and drivetrain the minute i get it and thats about 30-40k for something a bit lighter.

 

Cool bike tho...

Eddie Stafford, Jun 29 2020 12:58

I was wondering if dirt or mud will have an effect on the "sliding mechanism"?  

DieselnDust, Jun 29 2020 03:39

I was wondering if dirt or mud will have an effect on the "sliding mechanism"?  

 no more so than your forks or a conventional rear shock. The only alternative is an elastomer sprung titanium Softail

Eddie Stafford, Jun 29 2020 05:34

 no more so than your forks or a conventional rear shock. The only alternative is an elastomer sprung titanium Softail

 

Yip and those Moots bikes don't come cheap.

MudLark, Jun 29 2020 05:43

11.5kg!

 

Interesting. The specification weight is 10.46 kg for the 9.8. Which is almost 600 g exactly lighter than my Top fuel 9.8 SL 2018.

 

Leaving aside pricing considerations (major), I think that this bike is a little too niche for me. I'll stick with what I have – it's a good marathon bike that can do a fair bit of trail as well, et cetera. Fairly firm ride with the Reaktiv shock but I really like it – it works well and it climbs well. Still a good race bike while being a better all-rounder as well. Anyway, horses for courses, et cetera.

vanniri, Jun 29 2020 06:03

I love that after so many years manufacturers have to say 'fast or slow on the rebound dial "

We mountainbikers really have all the gear and zero knowledge

 

I recall Fox Front shox having not only "slow" , "fast" in writing but these were also complimented with a tortoise and hare  graphic. I guess we did evolve, only slightly so. 

DieselnDust, Jun 29 2020 06:07

Interesting. The specification weight is 10.46 kg for the 9.8. Which is almost 600 g exactly lighter than my Top fuel 9.8 SL 2018.
 
Leaving aside pricing considerations (major), I think that this bike is a little too niche for me. I'll stick with what I have – it's a good marathon bike that can do a fair bit of trail as well, et cetera. Fairly firm ride with the Reaktiv shock but I really like it – it works well and it climbs well. Still a good race bike while being a better all-rounder as well. Anyway, horses for courses, et cetera.


Ya this weight thing is always a bitter pill. Manufacturers claim weights that never seem to be achievable with the spec you buy the bike with.
change the tyres and bang on goes 500 gr! Add sealant and pedals and we're a kilo heavier. It's like those tyres your bike comes fitted with are helium infused and only available as OEM supply.

Underachiever, Jun 29 2020 07:55

Mind you - would love to ride Sani2C with this.  Might be an upgrade from my current 10.6kg 26er HT.

Titleist, Jun 30 2020 09:31

Suddenly my XL Fuel Ex doesn't seem so heavy at 13.1kg, ready to ride (which includes dropper, 130mm travel front and back, 2.4inch tyres)

MudLark, Jun 30 2020 12:06

Ya this weight thing is always a bitter pill. Manufacturers claim weights that never seem to be achievable with the spec you buy the bike with.
change the tyres and bang on goes 500 gr! Add sealant and pedals and we're a kilo heavier. It's like those tyres your bike comes fitted with are helium infused and only available as OEM supply.

 

True. And then in the case of this particular manufacturer, the weight is usually based on the medium size frame.

Stevief, Jul 02 2020 06:04

I have a medium Trek Fuel Ex 9.8 2018 model.  And on the scale with XT trail pedals and full sealant incl bottle cage.  Hell just my tires are probably 500grams more than this bike and it in Came in at 13.1kg

this bike should be no more than 10.5kg with the above included.  Me thinks your scale is out of whack

MarcHD, Jul 03 2020 06:41

All of these photos were taken on Contermanskloof farm NOT Hoogekraal. 

Hairy, Jul 03 2020 07:02

Those are some nice pics, compliments to the photographer!

Ashold, Jul 06 2020 11:13

All of these photos were taken on Contermanskloof farm NOT Hoogekraal. 

 

Correct. Although it's quite likely the bike was also ridden at Hoogekraal during the test period, considering how close the trails are. Just because you don't see it in the pictures doesn't mean it didn't happen?

Pipsqueak, Jul 07 2020 09:34

Suck it up and ride a hardtail. Save R100k.

CAAD4, Jul 07 2020 10:26

Oh we have a badass here

madmarc, Jul 07 2020 10:54

I have a XL TREK Top Fuel 9.9 - GX Eagle - Old Bondrager wheels with a dropper post = 12.6kg

Christie, Jul 07 2020 11:33

The price can be compared to the Epic
R80k for the GX one. This looks 20k more expensive, and comes without Brains (rider has to do all the thinking 😉😈)

DieselnDust, Jul 07 2020 12:43

Oh we have a badass here

 

 

after years of riding a hardtail I guess it would need attention hey  :o