The tech-heavy Trek Rail 9.9 gives the user some unique features that can offer peace of mind out on the trail. Unfortunately, the TyreWiz pressure monitoring tech was a bit hard to get right after we removed the Bontrager plastic rim strips as they do not work with Schwalbe tires. It was a bummer losing the more useful (in our opinion) of the two “Wiz” systems found on the Rail.
The need for the AirWiz tech on the suspension was lost on our crew, and honestly we didn’t bother setting it up, because the suspension air pressure changed frequently as the bike was passed between our test riders on the hill. If the AirWiz incorporated tech along the lines of the ShockWiz suspension tuning tech, we’d be thrilled. But as it stands – a simple yes/no indicator to ensure the suspension units haven’t dropped pressure between rides – we’d rather save the money and weight from the bike.
Moving onto the undeniably useful features. The Smart System-equipped Bosch motor has more mid-range “grunt” than the EP8 systems as standard, giving the feeling of a slightly more powerful motor overall. The smart eMTB mode is impressive for delivering usable grip on loose or slick surfaces, though sometimes the rail 9.9 dropped the power more than we would have liked. Even in eMTB mode the delivery of power feels more artificial than the EP8 system, which can give you the “superhuman” feeling but was a touch less predictable than Shimano units at times. This led to the occasional “push” wide on an uphill switchback or beginnings of a loop out when cranking up a shelf edge but was manageable after extended trail time to become familiar with the system. Battery management was a strength of the Bosch system, with the 750Wh battery regularly ending up with a bar or two to spare at the end of a good day out on the trails.
In terms of integration, the Bosch remote on the bar is excessive in our opinion, protruding far off of the bar in a zone that’s at constant threat of a wayward knee, and proving to be less ergonomic than the simpler and sleeker alternatives. We also found that all the bikes equipped with this remote had a tendency to change power modes mysteriously. Either we were bumping their sensitive buttons without knowing, or the bumpy terrain causes them to shift on their own. Regardless, it happened on all Smart System bikes enough times for it to be a talking point.
That said, once the different remote colors have been committed to memory, it serves well for a quick visual check of the mode selected. The top tube display location is good, but the way it protrudes means it’s also in the danger zone, so it falls short of the Specialized and Rocky Mountain systems who have their displays neatly integrated into the top tube.
Trek’s Rail 9.9 suspension platform is relatively firm and efficient, however it has enough compliance when on the gas to generate great grip. It felt like the all-round best compromise for climbing steep tech, making it the hill climb bike of choice and conquering an impossible looking rocky climb under the capable hands (and feet) of our hill climb champ, Drew. Combining this motor and suspension performance with the stretched out seated position produced by the long effective top tube (longest in test) made the Trek the bike we’d likely pick for an all-day epic in the backcountry, too.
On the descents, the stability and surefootedness of the Rail 9.9 had riders regularly forgetting this was a Trail category bike. Similar to the Yeti in the Enduro class though, there was more trail feedback compared with some softer off-the-top rigs, and so the Rail 9.9 was a handful to ride in a relaxed manner or on slower and chunkier trails. Let ‘er go though, and the Rail provided an absolute demon to attack the descents, only becoming overwhelmed by the heaviest repeated hits that we’d usually reserve for enduro bikes anyway.
This same notion carried through with the geometry, with stable handling that thrives as speeds increase, wide lines are needed through tighter turns and more effort is needed to swap directions. The feel of the stability and suspension mean the Rail is one of the less playful bikes in the category, and focuses on speed and attack rather than slowing down to seek a side hit or thrashing quick corners. Give it a faster jump or drop and it was happy to get airborne however, giving a controlled take off thanks to the supportive suspension platform and comfortable landings with the reasonable end stroke progression.
After a week of being pushed to the limits, an excess of oil on the Thrushaft rear shock indicated that it wasn’t particularly happy about the abuse sustained, which could also have played a role in our impressions of a slightly stiffer than usual (for Trek) rear suspension feel.
In terms of durability otherwise, the Trek Rail 9.9 suffered from a little bit of cable rattle, but was a rather quiet and tight feeling bike. After having some hardware issues on previous generation Rails and other Trek bikes, we’re happy to say every nut and bolt stayed put on this bike. We know it doesn’t sound like something to brag about but we had so many that either rattled apart, lost bolts or were constantly coming loose that we found it worth commending. The spec was faultless beyond our shock issue, as you would hope from the $13,799 price tag that placed it near the top of the price list for the shootout. Would we spend nearly $14k on this bike to receive the tech? Honestly, we’re struggling to see a situation where we wouldn’t prefer to save over $3k by opting for the Trek Rail 9.8, but for riders who demand the most tech on their bike then it may be worth it. Further to this, the majority of our testers would likely opt to save even more by purchasing the Rail 9.7 with the same geometry as last year’s eMTB shootout Trail category winner, which would retain the playful nature that we once loved in Trek’s Rail eBikes.