During the whole time we were riding the Trek Slash, we kept dreaming about how awesome it was going to be to ride this gorgeous carbon steed. (Can you blame us?)
Trek said the Session had "all new geometry" for 2012, which made us wonder exactly what had changed. In general, the bike is slightly taller and longer, and it's adjustable. Note that the 2012 numbers don't take the included Cane Creek AngleSet into consideration.
Jose Gonzales from the Trek Suspension R&D Lab filled us in on what's new for 2012 in the squishy department. He, Eli Krahenbuhl, and Fox Racing Shox are a big part of the reason why the Session 9.9 rides the way it does. First up, Hybrid Air...
As Eli explains, the Kashima coated Fox 40 Fit RC2 Hybrid Air fork combines a titanium spring and an air spring, allowing riders to more accurately tune their spring rates. For 2012, this Trek patented technology will only be available on the Session 9.9.
The air cartridge replaces the traditional compression rod. One key feature is the auto-fill negative spring that charges to suit various rider weights.
Our experience? The fork feels like the Fox 40 we've come to know and love, and the added feature is a nice to have. After a few pressure adjustments throughout the day, we found that a psi lower than recommended suited us best. Note that a low pressure pump or a very accurate gauge is needed when making adjustments.
Simply adding or removing a little bit of air eliminates the hassle of swapping out heavier or lighter coil springs. Plus, the air spring allows you to hit numbers in between those offered by coil springs.
The custom Kashima coasted Fox DHX RC4 uses a special 2-stage main piston, a stepped piston in the hi-speed valve and a lower ratio Boost Valve control. The shock tune gives the bike a more consistent and controlled mid-stroke, which was something the TWR team desired.
For 2012, Trek revised the suspension leverage rate for improved square edge performance by moving around pivot locations and shock mounts slightly. They also bumped the travel up from 200 to 210mm. The one-piece EVO Link is made of carbon, which adds even more stiffness to an already proven system when made from aluminum. This frame utilizes Trek's ABP and full floater technologies, just like the Slash.
Under the guidance of Frank Stacy, Bontrager's tire line has been reborn. Introducing the G4 downhill tire - a tire we recommend you ride if you get the chance. Comparable to the Maxxis Minion (but lighter and easier on your wallet), the G4 is offered in a 41a durometer sticky rubber, gave us good confidence in turns, and flat protection was solid. We heard the dreaded rim "ping!" sound on more than one occasion and never got a flat.
Whippable? You bet (although we're pretty sure Gwinny could whip a picnic table if he tried). At 35 pounds out of the box, the Session 9.9 comes in at a low, race-ready weight. The frame alone is ~800 grams lighter than the TWR team's aluminum version.
If you're so inclined, the bike can go even lighter. "Project Flyweight" weighed in at just 28 pounds 13 ounces. Is there a point where a DH bike is too light? Yeah, we think so. A comfortable weight in the 30s offers stability and holds lines better, but this featherweight rig was used for several days at Whistler with no issues. View specs here.
At just 228 grams, the new Bontrager Rythym Pro Carbon Bar keeps things in check up front. It's available in two widths: a modest 750mm and an incredibly wide 820mm. The sweep was comfortable and the carbon helped deaden some vibrations.
Both the rear brake and derailleur can be routed through the frame. This system is super clean and helps avoid cable rub. Sealed pockets keep moisture and gunk out.
Alternatively, the "Micro Truss" cable holders offer a sleek external routing option.
Components include Sram X0 DH carbon cranks, derailleur, and brakes, a 10-speed SRAM 11-26 tooth cassette, MRP G2 SL carbon chainguide, Wellgo MG-1 pedals, and DT Swiss FR 600 rims laced to DT Swiss 240 hubs. All solid. All race-worthy.
The slotted rear end makes wheel alignment a breeze, and should you want to run something other than the included 12x157mm rear wheel, the ABP convert system makes it easy to use a 12x150mm wheel.
Just like the Slash, the Session features a Mino Link. Flip the black chip and you'll slacken the head angle 0.6 degrees, drop the BB 8mm, and alter the leverage ratio. The configuration shown here gives the bike a "poppy" feel. Flipping the link turns the bike into a big hit, square edge absorbing race machine.
The Mino Link, AngleSet, and ability to slide the fork crowns up and down add up to a whopping 28 geometry configuration options (and that's only at the two extremes of the axle-to-crown height options!). Take a minute to soak it all in...
When we asked Gwin about the biggest difference he noticed from the aluminum Session, he chuckled and said, "About two pounds!" Joking aside, that's a HUGE plus when you're a top level racer. (Yes, Gwin got this sideways over every jump on every trail, both ways. So sick!)
On a more serious note, Gwin noted that the carbon bike is noticeably "snappier" and more responsive, especially in corners. We agree.
See that blue material? It's known as InTension - a low-density, ultra-stiff material injected inside the frame to support critical areas.
Brad Pawlitzke, Trek's composite design engineer, discusses the advantages of InTension. Bottom line - it's just as stiff and less than half the weight of a carbon coupon of comparable thickness.
OCLV stands for "Optimum Compaction, Low Void." It's Trek's proprietary method of producing carbon frames and components. Their engineers came up with it when searching for a more carbon durability solution. OCLV is category-specific because different categories require different levels of strength and durability. Know that the Session 9.9 is at least 100% stronger than a carbon Trek XC bike.
In addition to OCLV, Carbon Armor Shields help protect the frame in a few areas.
Wheel/tire flex? Yes. Frame flex? Hardly any. (As you can hear, Browne really put his back into this one. Haha!)
Many will ask, "Is the $8,929.99 price tag is justified?" The parts are dialed (we'd only change the grips), the technology is there, and most of all - it's proven. You can't argue that Gwin's phenomenal season isn't a testament to this bike. When every millisecond counts, every little gain helps, and the Session 9.9 is backed by great engineers that get it - they ride, they race, and they understand that, for many of us, the clock is always ticking.
This is just some of the crew behind the Session 9.9 - Scott Daubert (Race Team), Jose Gonzalez (Suspension R&D), Gwin (World Cup Series Champ!), John Riley (Product Manager), Dylan Howes (Engineer) and Andrew Shandro (Long Time Pro). Guess what? They are all pinners. Thanks for riding with us.
One day on the Session was just enough to whet our appetites. We'll be back with a long term report and our final verdict later. More shred time needed ;)
We can't let you go without seeing Gwin, Schnell, Shandro, and Wildhaber tear up Whistler. Enjoy the video. We did.