Review: Trek Supercaliber 9.9 AXS | Unapologetically Racy

Lightweight short travel with razor-sharp geometry, the Supercaliber is built for shameless speed.

Four years in the making, Trek has pushed the boundaries of design and innovation to produce what is their sharpest looking XC performance bike. At 9.4kg’s it is lighter than most full-suspension bikes and has a completely unique suspension system.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bicycle Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
All style, but with substance too, the Supercaliber features a sophisticated proprietary suspension system that may just unleash a new breed of race bikes.


THE BIKE

The Supercaliber, a 100mm front / 60mm rear full suspension race bike, transcends the traditional categories of hardtail and full-suspension race bikes. There are four models available, that are all equipped with full carbon frames and wheels. This 9.9 AXS model is the top of the line – and boy is it bling.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
This money-is-no-object 9.9 AXS model features the wireless electronic shifting from SRAM.
CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
Bontrager 2.2″ XR1 tyres
CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
Dropper-friendly 31.6 seat tube. The Supercaliber runs full internal cable routing.


BUILD DETAILS

FRAME| Supercaliber 9.9 OCLV (Optimum Compaction Low Void) Carbon Frame, IsoStrut suspension, 60mm travel, 1 900gram incl. shock & hardware
FORK| RockShox SID SL Ultimate, DebonAir spring, Charger Race Day damper, 44mm offset, 100mm travel, Carbon steerer, Remote Lockout
SHOCK| FOX Factory shock for IsoStrut, DPS 2-position remote damper
BARS| Bontrager Kovee XXX, OCLV Carbon, 35mm clamp, 720mm wide, 0 rise
STEM| Bontrager Kovee Pro, 35mm clamp, 80mm length, 0-degree
LOCKOUT| RockShox Dual Remote
SEAT| Bontrager Montrose, Carbon Rails
SEATPOST| Bontrager XXX, Carbon, zero offset
WHEELS| Bontrager Kovee XXX 30 Carbon, 54T, 24h, wide internal, direct pull aeroblade spokes, CenterLock, DT Swiss Hub internals, 1 290g, Inner 29mm
TYRES| Bontrager XR1 Team Issue, 120Tpi, 29 x 2.2″
CASSETTE| SRAM Eagle, 10-50, 12 speed
MECH| SRAM XX! Eagle AXS
SHIFTER| SRAM Eagle AXS wireless
CRANKS| SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS, DUB, 34T, 175mm
CHAIN| SRAM XX1 Eagle  
BRAKES| SRAM Level Ultimate, carbon levers, 160mm Centerline X rotors
WEIGHT| 9.4kg (with sealant, no pedals)
RRP| R179 999


THE TECH



GEOMETRY

Meeting the demands of the adept XC racer, there is nothing dull about the geometry on the 2020 Supercaliber. Every number screams razor-sharp handling. If you prefer to ride a little more whiskey-throttle than the 69° head angle allows for then consider converting to a 120mm fork. It will slacken the head angle a tiny bit without compromising BB height or seat tube angle, and Trek is cool with it too, – ie: no warranty issues there. All be it briefly, I did try the Supercaliber with a 120mm fork with the stem slammed, and it felt more balanced than not.

 SMMEDM/LLARX-LXX-L
REACH395425440455485505
STACK594594594594608622
STANDOVER750760760787787787
HEAD TUBE ANGLE69°69°69°69°69°69°
SEAT TUBE ANGLE 74.0°74.0°74.0°74.0°74.0°74.0°
HEAD TUBE LENGTH90909090105120
SEAT TUBE LENGTH394419445470508546
WHEELBASE107911061121113611721197
CHAINSTAY430430430430430430
BB HEIGHT320320320320320320


ABOUT THE ISOSTRUT SUSPENSION LAYOUT

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bicycle Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
Simply put, IsoStrut is a rear suspension system that has the shock structurally integrated into the bike’s frame.

The design reduces the complexity of traditional full suspension systems and saves weight. This is not a soft-tail gimmick of sorts – it is a fully tuneable and damped shock just like on any other bike. If you strip away the layers of IsoStrut you will see a small shock that is encased in a stanchion. The shock is bolted to the rear of the frame and features a custom anti-rotational pin and key system with fork-style linear bushings to keep everything aligned and clean. The system reduces lateral flex and twisting which is part and parcel of traditional rear suspension systems.

TRek Isostrut suspension as seen on the supercaliber mountain bike.
It is an impressive bit of engineering designed by Fox on behalf of Trek.
TRek Isostrut suspension as seen on the supercaliber mountain bike.
Exploded view of the IsoStrut shock.

The entire rear end of the bike is a one-piece carbon-fiber structure with slimmed seat stays that bow – flex vertically – which eliminates the need for a rear pivot. The IsoStrut system produces 60mm of travel and that includes about 5mm within the bowing of the stays. It is a low leverage ratio system which means the shock runs on lower pressures which will improve sensitivity on small hits. The shock’s ramp or ‘end-stroke support’ is internally adjustable via a purple, orange and green volume spacer system which are all supplied with the bike. Swopping the tokens will alter the size of the air chamber inside the shock and reduce or increase the force required to use full travel as is shown below.

The purple token produces the most support (often referred to as ‘ramp’ or progressivity) at the end of travel.


RIDE IMPRESSIONS

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
From a standing start, the acceleration of this bike is remarkable.

| THE BUILD KIT | I am fortunate enough to have ridden a few bikes with the SRAM AXS system and on each of these occasions, the system is equally, if not more impressive than the previous. Whilst the ergonomics are different from the traditional paddle system and take a couple of rides to adjust to, the shifting action itself is on another level. The whole drivetrain system is slick in appearance and operates with flawless efficiency. SRAM’s Level Ultimate brakes with 160mm rotors pack plenty of punch for a lightweight XC package like the Supercaliber. I ran the fork in the recommended sag settings, with an additional two clicks of rebound and although it is only 100mm of travel, that travel is controlled well with a smooth stroke. Whilst some journo’s might slam Trek for running a narrow-ish 720mm bar, I want to slap them – not Trek, the journos! This is a race bike and carving through a bunch of riders is a lot easier when the bars are narrower, as is nailing tiger lines around trees. The size large frame is specced with an 80mm stem and I might have preferred a 70mm, but that’s just me and I could just as easy have opted for a M/L frame size.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
The bike is composed on the descents and rewards attentive and precise riders.

| THE WHEELSET & TYRE COMBO | The 1290g Bontrager Kovee XXX 30’s are one of the lightest XC wheelsets on the market and you can feel it – the bike accelerates like a stolen Mustang! Bloody strong too – I tried them on a Top Fuel and they hold up just fine. These wheels carry a lifetime warranty and what is perhaps more impressive, there is no rider weight limit for them. The 6.6° engagement of the rear hub is almost fixie like and is a big enabler on technical ascents. The XR1 2.2″ tyres are a minimalist race option with good grip and high rolling speed. They held up well in all the test conditions including some of the more janky sections of the Cape Epic prologue route where it is impossible to not hit rocks.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
The man-made rock gardens of the SA Championship track at Bloemendal are well janky. If you choose the right lines and enter with speed, the Supercaliber skips across the top of the holes with impressive composure. Short travel bikes have no place being this composed.

| THE SUSPENSION | Suspension setup is really very simple on the Supercaliber and something that took less than five minutes to do. I went with (and loved) all the settings from the suspension calculator provided by Trek. On the trails, it honestly feels like there is more than 60mm of travel, but it certainly is less forgiving than a 100+mm bike, which is understandable. I used the green token during testing but if it were my bike I would probably run the orange or purple token.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
I used the lockout on some of the smoother trails but the upside of a short travel bike is it’s efficiency under power and so I feel the Supercaliber is the kind of bike you can spend more time racing with the suspension open

| UP’s VS. DOWN’s | It didn’t take long to adjust to the pace and sharp handling characteristics of the bike. From the get-go, it is obvious that the Supercaliber has incredible acceleration and is built for climbing. I did a lot of climbing with the suspension open because the grip is just so good and the compliance improves comfort, especially on technical trails. I used the lockout on some of the smoother trails but the upside of a short travel bike is it’s efficiency under power and so I feel the Supercaliber is the kind of bike you can spend more time racing with the suspension open. This might just be one of the hidden advantages of the 60mm rear end – you can just leave the suspension open for a lot of the time and focus on the race. Yes, in full lockout and out of the saddle it is a rocket too, but you can’t stay in that position for the entire race and when you do settle into the rhythm of the race, seated climbing with the shock open is very efficient. I found it easy to get comfortable on and just jam out long rides.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin

On the descents, it is clearly a short travel bike that needs a more cautious approach, with good line choice and smooth-riding but it really does feel like it has more than 60mm. On trails I knew well, I could descend pretty quickly, not much slower than I would on a 100mm bike. Adding a dropper post will make a significant impact to the descending game of the Supercaliber but you will still need to pay attention to the terrain.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
I was surprised just how many of the A-lines are possible on the 60mm bike. There is no way I could hit these lines on a hardtail and live to tell.

| IS IT AN XC, MARATHON OR STAGE RACING BIKE? | It is too capable a climber to be pigeon-holed as a lap racer. I have no doubt there are many marathons and stage races that will be ridden and won on this bike.



IF YOU BUY IT

It is no secret that cross-country racing is won on the climbs but can potentially be lost on the descents. For clarity, when I say ‘cross-country’, I am referring to the XCO lap formats AND marathon racing. If you are strong and skilled then you will be ‘fast-as’ on this Supercaliber. If you are more strong than skilled, then I would recommend adding a dropper post to the bike to give you more stability through any technical sections.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin
With a dropper post, this bike will be an absolute ripper on the race tracks.


THE TAKEOUT

Whilst the concept of a 60mm race bike certainly challenges the old silos, on the trails the speed of the Supercaliber is undeniable. I spent over 20 hours on the bike for this test and Strava says I was faster everywhere but on the downhills. The Supercaliber accelerates and rolls along at a pace that I have not previously experienced. I have no doubt it is going to be a popular choice amongst racing snakes.

CAPE TOWN - riding the Trek Supercaliber with Myles Kelsey for Bike Network in Bloemendal. Photo by Gary Perkin

| IMAGES Gary Perkin / flipper.co.za |

| LOCATION Bloemendal XCO Track, Cape Town |


2 Comments

  1. How does the supercaliber compare to a Scott Spark or a Canyon Lux? Does only 60mm of rear travel seams enough?

    • It is enough for some riders and some race tracks for sure. If you are a front of the field rider, celebrate the climbs and are looking for every weight advantage possible then on a lot of the race tracks the Supercaliber is a great option. The Spark and Lux are great bikes too. Try demo them all, on the trails you ride, then decide for yourself.


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