Trek Session 9.9 29

Trek Session 9.9 29

Words by Drew Rohde | Action Photos by Trevor Lyden

You’d never guess it by looking at the Trek Session 29’s meticulously clean lines or attention to detail, but Trek created this bike knowing full well that sales numbers would pale in comparison. Downhill bikes cater to an increasingly small percentage of riders, and 29-inch wheeled DH bikes are going to segment that group into an even smaller section. If you compare Session sales to Fuel, Remedy and Slash models, the world-renowned Session looks more like an experiment in marketing than good business. Despite the unlikely return on R&D, design time and production mold dollars, Trek forged ahead creating one of the most beautiful, downhill bikes I’ve ever seen. After ogling over a pre-production Session 9.9 29 at Crankworx Whistler, I was anxious to get a long-term tester to see if the love affair would last once things got down and dirty.

Trek Session 9.9 29

The Lab

In an effort to remain open minded, I try to not study the numbers on our test bikes before I write reviews. I’ll be totally honest, I either didn’t know or totally forgot that the Session 9.9 29er had 190mm of travel. Regardless of my newfound knowledge, the bike handled everything I threw at it thanks to the Fox Factory Fit 40 RC2 fork and Fox Factory Float X2 shock. Oh yeah, and the 29” wheels.

Trek equips the Session 29 with all of their standard features you’ve come to know over the years. The Session 9.9 is their top of the line model, and the frame is built using Trek’s OCLV (Optimum Compaction Low Void) carbon process that has been evolving since 1991. A magnesium Evo Link houses the adjustable Mino Link chip – an easily adjustable piece of hardware that changes the head tube angle and BB height.

Frame features also include an integrated frame protector, Control Freak cable routing, Carbon Armor, ABP (Active Braking Pivot) 4-link suspension design and adjustable fixed-angle headset cups.

Trek Session 9.9 29

The Session 9.9 29er is race-ready and boasts a 7-speed Shimano Saint drivetrain and Shimano Saint brakes. A particular highlight I enjoy is the very sexy MRP G4 carbon chainguide. Rolling stock on the Trek Session 9.9 29 comes in the form of Bontrager Line DH 30 wheels, with Boost 110×20/157x12mm spacing. Bontrager G5 Team Issue 2.5” tires offer excellent grip, however I did flat the rear tube twice. I haven’t flatted a DH bike in years so I’m not sure if the tubes are especially thin or if it’s the tire. Either way, I went tubeless and haven’t had any issues since.

More Bontrager goodies fill the cockpit: Line Pro 820mm bars, a Line Pro Direct Mount 50mm stem and XR Trail Elite grips, which we removed pretty quickly. After a near death experience clipping a tree just before a drop, I cut down the bars to about 777mm, and while they have a strange look and feel at first, they weren’t something I focused on once I started riding.

Trek Session 9.9 29

The Dirt

I was both surprised and reaffirmed when I learned the Session 9.9 29er has 190mm of travel. As mentioned above, I don’t look at the details of a bike before riding it. Clearly I can’t be totally unaware of what some bikes offer, but I try to avoid the spec sheet until after my testing, or sometimes mid-test if something doesn’t feel right. I want to be open minded and let the bike speak to me during the test period without my brain telling me what I should be feeling based on a chart.

The shortened travel wasn’t something I completely noticed during my test rides, but in hindsight it made sense. What I mean by that is, the bike rode differently than the 27.5 and 26-inch Sessions when it came to landing drops or larger jumps. It did not feel harsh by any means, it just had a firmer feel that I attributed to more progression in the tune. I reached full travel every run during my testing, but never felt harsh hits or that I was out of travel. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like more though. If possible, I’d love to see this bike with 195mm or even 200mm of travel.

So how does it ride with those big wheels and shorter travel? Like a daggum rocket ship! I rode a demo bike briefly in Whistler Bike Park. It was slack, low and certainly better than some of the other bikes I rode that week, but I wanted more. It was a well-worn demo bike and I knew the understeer and suspension issues I experienced were tunable. Before hopping on the chairlift for my first ride, I got sacrilegious. I put the Mino Link in the High mode! Since I wasn’t dropping into Val Di Sole, I figured I had the ability to navigate the terrain I was about to ride with a head angle more nimble than 62.1 degrees.

Trek Session 9.9 29

What I felt on that first ride was pure magic. I had no understeer, the bike stood up a bit taller, was a little bit shorter and put me right where I wanted to be – in a position to command the bike. That first ride was the beginning of what I hope is a long relationship (Wink wink, Trek can I keep it?) I only spent about two runs tweaking suspensin and quickly settled in on my tune. As my speed increased with familiarization to the bike, I added about five more PSI and 2-3 clicks of compression depending on the track.

I’m not always a fan of the Fox 40, as it can ride a bit stiff and beat up my hands, but this fork feels buttery smooth and the rear shock is the same. I actually found that running a little bit more sag was preferred for my riding style and terrain. I don’t live for the jump lines, instead preferring the natural steeps and chunky stuff with natural gaps. The softer spring rate kept me on the ground when I wanted, but added compression prevented me from blowing through travel when I didn’t. I’m sure this softer set up is also why I was reaching bottom out on all my race-paced test runs, but this isn’t a bad thing according to some schools of thought. The trade off for regularly using all the travel is insane traction and confidence, well above what many other bikes have offered me.

While the suspension performance is a highlight of the Session 9.9 29, the thing that blew me away is the out and out speed of the bike. Specifically, how fast it gets up to speed. I took two practice runs down a newer trail at Mt. Bachelor that is a steep fall line and navigates everything from lava rock to flat, loose turns, massive ruts and very aggressive roots. During my sighting laps I’d inspect lines, erosion changes, etc. Every time I hopped back on the Session 29 and let off the brakes I was instantly back up to speed, like I’d never stopped. No pedal strokes needed, the bike just picked up steam and charged down the trail like I was trying to scare myself!

Trek Session 9.9 29

The larger wheels are definitely noticeable and something I was very aware of every time I got on the bike. This is both good and not so good. The bike feels a bit larger and gives me a feeling of being right in the middle of two massive steamrollers. Benefits of the big wheels are plentiful, as the bike is beyond stable and allows for errors in line selection or lazy riding while still maintaining top speed because the added roll-over ability offers a larger margin of error. However, if you screw up the entry to a tight turn like a switchback, the length and big wheels will not treat you well. Swinging wide is the way to go, but if you live to jackknife corners like you’re always being filmed for an Instagram edit, you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Another noteworthy point is the seat height. I’m not quite six foot and rode a size large and had to cut quite a bit off the seat post. If you think of DH bike seat post heights by comparing a World Cup racer to a FEST Series rider, you’ll know that there is a big difference in riding style. This bike is most definitely a racer as the larger wheels don’t allow for a totally slammed post, and this may be an issue for riders with short legs, especially if you’re a big jumper. Which is another place that the Session 9.9 29er didn’t completely blow me away.

Downhill bikes are very purpose specific tools, and this is very clearly a race rig, so I didn’t expect it to be a whip machine. I’m not Brendan Fairclough or some amazing rider, but the added rotational mass was definitely noted when I wanted to make quick changes in the air. Still, the 34.91-pound weight and poppy suspension feel kept me more than happy when I was playing around on the jumpy stuff.

Trek Session 9.9 29

The Wolf’s Last Word

Alright, so let’s pretend we’ve all got A.D.D and you just asked me if you should buy this bike because you don’t have time to read. If I had to reply in one word I’d say, “Hellyes!” BUT, I’m also very chatty when it comes to bikes so instead I’d like to ask what your budget is, what type of riding you prefer most and what you want out of your DH bike.

If you’ve got the budget, are looking for a flat out race machine to make you as competitive as possible, love plowing over shit as fast as you can, or want something to give you that extra little edge when it comes to racing the clock, then I think the Session 9.9 29er is probably one of my top recommendations. If you think spending over eight grand on a bicycle is ridiculous, love to jump, whip and slash, then I’d suggest looking at other options, perhaps a Session 8 27.5 ($4,279).

Ultimately, the Session 9.9 29 has become one of my favorite DH bikes in recent memory. Then again I’m the type of guy who goes to Whistler Bike Park and proudly skips A-Line in favor of the least popular woodsy DH tracks I can find. For me, the trade off in playfulness on the jump lines is well worth the added speed, traction and comfort on proper downhill trails. Just make sure you keep the spokes real tight, or else they’ll be making some weird noises!

Price: $8,399
Weight: 34.91 lbs

Trek Session 9.9 29

Frame: OCLV Carbon; 190mm
Fork: Fox Factory 40 Fit RC2; 190mm
Shock: Fox Factory Float X2; 225x70mm

Brakes: Shimano Saint
Handlebar: Bontrager Line Pro; 820mm
Headset: FSA Orbit
Saddle: Bontrager Arvada
Seatpost: Bontrager Rhythm Elite
Shifter: Shimano Saint; 10s
Stem: Bontrager Line Pro DM; 50mm

Hubs: Bontrager
Rims: Bontrager Line DH 30
Tires: Bontrager G5 Team Issue; 29×2.5

Bottom Bracket: Shimano BB80
Cassette: Shimano CS-5700; 11-25t
Cranks: Shimano Saint M825; 34t
Derailleur: Shimano Saint Shadow Plus; 10s

We Dig

Those Beautiful Lines
Composed and Stable
Smooth Over Terrain
Makes Us Faster

We Don’t

Can’t Afford One
Rear Axle Sticks Way Out
Slow Tight Turns
Spoke Noise

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