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.
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!
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.