How Different Do They Ride?


Well folks, ask (or complain) and ye shall receive. After dozens and dozens of comments proclaiming, “What a shock, the $10,000 bike rides better than the cheaper ones,” while other astounding commenters wrote, “It’s a placebo, no way the more expensive bike rides any better,” (yes people really said that), we decided to pit two Trek Rail eMTBs against each other to see if we could quantify the difference in performance, and if it was $4,000 different. In one corner, we have the 2021 eMTB Shootout award-winning  Trek Rail 9.9 pricing in at $10,499. The challenger is the $6,499 Trek Rail 7, featuring many of the same qualities of the 9.9, but with a more affordable (read downgraded) spec selection. Would these mid-tier parts hold their own against top of the line components, or would our testers realize that they’d been drinking sugar pills like our YouTube commenters say, and  realize a Zeb is no better than a Yari RC?

While our years of testing tell us we’ll certainly notice a difference between some of the key components, what we don’t know is, will those differences warrant the jump in price, or would we personally pick the more affordable Trek Rail 7 and upgrade individual components as needed?

Since this test came about and was inspired by your comments, we’d love to hear what you’d like to know most? What elements of this head to head eMTB challenge are most important to you? What do you need to know when making a purchasing decision and what would make you spend the extra cash on a higher end model? Since much of the bikes is the same, like the Bosch Performance Line CX drive unit, battery and frame technologies, it pretty much boils down to alloy vs carbon frame materials and differences in suspension and drivetrain components. Do you want to know how much faster one bike is than the other? How much longer the components last without needing service? Let us know with a comment down below or on our YouTube channel and we’ll add those elements to our clipboard for the final weeks of testing.


During the months we spent testing these two Trek Rails, our riders worked to hone-in on their feelings about each bike. We focused on YouTube comments from viewers and what they wanted to know along with our own checklist. Testers evaluated the nuances between the components, discussed how much we still like the Rail platform and what we’d likely spend our own money on if we were in the market for a 160/150mm eMTB. As you’ve probably gathered from our last two eMTB Shootouts, our testers are quite fond of Trek’s Rail and while their higher end models, like the 9.9 here are the bikes that have won their respective categories, we remain confident that the Rail 7 would still keep the Rail near the top of the list. While we still really like the Rail 7, with this spec, we couldn’t completely say if it would still be a category winner, after all we’re comparing the best of the best in in our eBike shootouts and small things like brake levers and dropper post travel can make or break a pick come voting time.

Before you think we’re too snobby, hear us out. Trek’s Rail 7 is absolutely capable of being ridden at the highest levels. Our head-to-head race times prove it. However, it takes more work to put down the same race times and a bit more nerves to really hang it out on gnarly downhills. While we’ve read the comments that the differences in component and suspension spec are nothing more than “Placebo effect,” the reality is, there is a perceivable difference on-trail. When it comes to riding the Rail 7, creature comforts like shifters, brake levers, and the Bosch display feel cheaper than what’s found on the 9.9. If you look beyond the refinement and polished appearance of the 9.9, does the Rail 7 perform without issue? Absolutely, but it’s like getting in a luxury car versus an economy car. They’ve both got power steering, power windows and a radio, but how they feel once inside can be a very big deal to some. To those with a refined pallet, the differences will justify the increase in price, maybe not to the 9.9, but certainly to a spec above the 7…let’s get back to the performance.

Once we adjusted to the cockpit, short dropper post and brake levers, we quickly forgot about our nitpicking and let the bike work. Trek has done a great job making their Rail eMTB a very versatile machine that will do a broad spectrum of riders well. It is a strong climber, comfortable in the saddle, and can be pushed and ridden hard. Riders who are over 180lbs or ride aggressively, regardless of model, will likely find the need to add volume reducers to the shock to give a bit more platform as Trek has fairly conservative shock tunes. Like the Rail 9.9, the Rail 7 floats over obstacles, is snappy, fun and does a great job popping off little trail features.

Is carbon a must have? Absolutely not and this would not be a factor in our decision-making process. We’d much rather have an aluminum bike with better suspension and brakes than a carbon frame with budget dampers. The weight difference, specifically on eBikes is very similar, unlike their analog siblings. The bigger difference will likely be in vibration damping properties and acoustics. Carbon frames will dampen a bit more noise where an alloy frame could be a bit louder.

When it came to evaluating the ride performance, our riders were confident that the biggest differences came from tire and suspension spec over frame material. We asked Trek is they had any empirical data or testing results so we could see if there was a quantifiable difference, and they did not. Their reply was similar to our hunch. While carbon looks sexier, absorbs sound and vibration nicely, the weight and ride quality in the eike application is not huge.

Some of the most common questions our YouTube launch video fielded were based around component spec differences, carbon wheels vs alloy, and what we’d upgrade. While some parts like the bar and stem, derailleur, shifter and hubs don’t matter a ton to us, things like suspension, brakes, dropper posts and wheel longevity do. So let’s take a look at what works and what we’d replace on the Trek Rail 7. Since we can’t assume why people would purchase a Rail 7 over other bikes or what sort of upgrade budget they may have, we’ll base our list of upgrades in terms of urgency or importance in our opinion.

First up we’d put a fresh set of tires on the list. Likely the brand new SE6 and redesigned SE5. After that we’d save up and get a new fork with a 44mm offset as the 42mm offset and Yari were a bit of an issue for our testers. If the offset isn’t a bother, then a simple and more affordable Rock Shox upgrade can be had and will do wonders to the fork’s damping. A longer travel dropper post would also be high on the list followed by a rear shock. The OE shock works fine and didn’t hold us back like the fork, but the refinement and damping isn’t on par with higher end dampers, as one would expect. From there we’d look at a bar and stem to give the bike a bit of customization and style. If you’re really looking to keep the upgrade train going, the next option would likely be brakes and wheels, however, they really weren’t a complaint for us beyond the lack of a tool-less lever reach adjustment and the ergonomics of the long levers.

Considering we’re not rolling in the dough and value is a big deal to us, we’d likely buy the Trek Rail 7 and work on getting a fork upgrade, dropper post, tires and a shock ASAP. The Rail 9.9 rides better without a doubt, but if you’re on a budget, we’d say you shouldn’t put yourself into debt to make the buy. If dropping 10k is doable for you, and you like the best, you will absolutely want to go ahead and pull the trigger on the 9.9 as it rides much better out of the box. With the 9.9 you will enjoy the very real benefits of nicer components and not have to worry about upgrading anything until you wear it out.

After we introduced this head-to-head, we saw a lot of questions asking how we feel about the 9.7, which is only about $500 more and comes with a carbon frame but many similar level components to the Rail 7. If it were our money, we’d keep the 7 and spend the $500 on upgrades which will be way more noticeable on the trail. The Rail 9.8 however is a solid upgrade and if you can make that price point happen, that would be the bike we’d pick for sure, as it’s got a carbon frame but also comes with a Rock Shox Zeb and better components. But before we get too derailed (no pun intended) we’ll focus on the two bikes tested here.

To put it simply a slower rider on a Rail 9.9 is still going to be slower than a faster rider on a Rail 7. That doesn’t mean a slower or newer rider doesn’t deserve or can’t enjoy the refinement the 9.9 offers but is rather a compliment to how capable the 7 is. Often times consumers focus too much on components or materials that don’t matter as much as they think. Focus your upgrades on areas of the bike that are guaranteed to make your traction, safety and confidence better first, the rest is for show. As our timed race runs and rider feedback showed, when all we did was focus on riding, both bikes are pretty dang close. We tried to quantify the test for the number crunchers out there and the best way we could put it down was to come up with a percentage of how much fun we had on the Rail 7 compared to the 9.9 and then compare the prices. If the 9.9 gave us a fun factor of 100%, then the Rail 7 gave us a fun factor of around 90-95% for 62% of the price. We’re not rocket surgeons, but that seems like a pretty definitive answer for those who are on a budget and looking to make a smart buy. Almost all the fun for 62% of the price? That’s a win. If you’re not just interested in fun, but really want to enjoy top-tier components, adjustability, creature comforts and refinement, then get the 9.9! Or maybe check out the Trek Rail 9.8, either way, you’re going to be stoked on a pretty sweet eMTB.

Visit Trekbikes.com to get your own Rail eMTB. 

Trek Rail 9.9

TREK RAIL 9.9 (Carbon)

MSRP: $10,499


Fork:  RockShox ZEB Ultimate,
DebonAir spring, Charger 2.1 RC2 damper,
e-MTB optimzed crown
44mm offset

Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate RT3

Display: Bosch Kiox

Brakes: SRAM Code RSC | 200/180mm
Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle
Shifter: SRAM X01 Eagle
SRAM Eagle XG-1275, 10-52, 12 speed
Chain: SRAM XX1 Eagle
Cranks: E*thirteen E*spec Race, 34T, 165mm

Wheels: Bontrager Line Elite 30 OCLV Carbon
Tires: Bontrager SE5 Team Issue | 29×2.6”

Stem: Bontrager Line Pro 35mm
Handlebar: Bontrager Line Pro | OCLV Carbon
Saddle: Bontrager Arvada, Austenite Rails
Seatpost: Bontrager Line Elite | 170mm

Trek Rail 7

TREK RAIL 7 (Aluminum)

MSRP: $6,499


Fork:  RockShox Yari RC, DebonAir spring
Motion Control RC damper,
e-MTB optimized, tapered steerer,
42mm offset

Shock: RockShox Deluxe Select+

Display: Bosch Purion

Brakes: Shimano M6120 – 4 piston | 203mm
Derailleur: Shimano XT M100
Shifter: Shimano SLX M7100
Shimano SLX M7100, 10-51, 12 speed
Chain: Shimano SLX M7100
Cranks: E*thirteen E*spec Plus, 34T, 165mm

Wheels: Bontrager Line Comp 30
Tires: Bontrager XR5 Team Issue 29×2.6”

Stem: Bontrager Rhythm Comp 31.8mm
Handlebar: Bontrager Rhythm Comp | Alloy
Saddle: Bontrager Arvada, steel rails
Seatpost: TranzX JD-YSP18 | 130mm