What is it?
There is an e-mtb out there that snuck up on us. There was no product launch event during its 2019 introduction, not many reviews, and no test bikes available. And since we were not impressed with its predecessor, the Trek Powerfly, we didn't seek out this Rail. But there has been a groundswell of interest on it and every one of our media peers and shredder friends who've tried it have come away very impressed. So we contacted Trek and got our hands on the Trek 9.8 Rail, available for $8499, well equipped with 160/150mm of bump-eating 29er travel.

It benefits from Trek's technology arsenal and carbon fiber wizardry with features like the ABP, Mino Link, Knock Block, Straight Shot, and Thru Shaft. But we won't catalog each acronym but rather detail for you five reasons why we think this is a compelling bike if you're in the market.

1918214


Vital Stats:
  • Travel: 150mm rear, 160mm
  • Wheel Size: 29er front and rear
  • Motor: CX Gen4 with 85 nm of torque, 625wh battery
  • Suspension Design: Similar to Trek Slash with thru-shaft shock and ABP (Active Braking Pivot)
  • Frame Material: Carbon
  • Measured Weight: 48.9 lbs, no pedals
  • Model Tested: 9.8
  • MSRP: $8499 with models ranging from $5499 to $12999
02-IMG_5921.JPG


5 Reasons Why it's one of the best
1. Geometry is modern and the suspension is dialed like an e-Slash

Trek has been making e-bikes for a long time but they've never had one that rallies quite like the Rail. With an e-mtb, why not get a very capable descender with few compromises, given that climbing will be assisted anyway. That's where the Rail excels with 150/160mm of travel and big 29er wheels and tires. Geometry seems spot on with a long 450mm reach for a Medium bike and good angles of 75-degree seat and 64.5-degree head. The numbers are modern enough for an advanced rider but even a first-time mountain biker won't be lost too much bike real estate as well. There's adjustable geometry too provided by Trek's Mino Link technology

This bike is very easy to ride fast even in rough, rutted terrain. It tracks a line like no other and it is not easily distracted by rocks, roots, and big ruts. It is a bomber of a bike that is controlled and supple. It will launch in the air high and is forgiving even on less than ideal landings.

15-IMG_6245.JPG


2) The Bosch Gen 4 motor is a beast
Trek has been in bed with Bosch for the past decade and they've had to make do with small batteries and small chainrings and huge as the pioneer of e-mtb motors sorted out their offering from their commuter bike roots.

The Bosch Gen 4 found in the new Rail is a quantum leap over its predecessors and many competitors because it has the most useful torque curve in the business. It produces an impressive 85 nm of torque (compared to 90 for the Specialized Brose and 85 for the new Shimano EP8) but what sets it apart is its wide peak powerband. Most of the 85 nm of torque are available early on in the cadence range and keeps pulling all the way through fast pedaling cadences. Where the Shimano and Brose motors tail off, the Bosch Gen 4 just keeps pulling. So it feels like it has deep reserves through many pedaling scenarios.

And the early stepping stones of a huge display, big battery, and tiny chainring are all solved now. The chainring is standard sized now at 32 or 34 teeth and the battery is a capable 630wh. And this display is a compact and highly programmable Kiosk (in higher models) and it is uniquely mounted on the top tube, behind the stem.

06-IMG_5928.JPG


And finally, Bosch has the fabulous EMTB power mode that scrolls through the eco/trail/turbo assist levels and delivers the assist that the rider needs. Thus it delivers one motor mode that the rider can stay in the whole ride, without shifting gears too much. It will allow the rider to help and participate during lower loads and it will go to full power when duty calls. And this is accomplished very well with a torque sensor that has a very fine resolution, answering the call very quickly when the rider puts in a big effort on the pedals. And if one feels EMTB is too powerful, Bosch has tuned their 'Tour' mode to act the same way but with less assistance. They call this 'EMTB LIGHT'.



07-IMG_5929.JPG

3) It's oh so pretty and that color scheme is one for the ages
Man, they nailed the look of this bike. The lines are clean and very well proportioned. They even have room for a water bottle and a long dropper post. The battery mounts on the side with a frame-colored mounting plate and the charging port door is the best in class with a stealthy door that simply lifts up with a spring-loaded seal.

The stem and bars are huge and well-proportioned with the big frame and fork. And finally, that paint is insanely good! In a world where every paint color and scheme has been done, Trek came up with a chameleon color. It's deep blue or purple depending on the angle you're viewing from And they managed to integrate the carbon fibers with the huge logo and the paint through a paint scheme that becomes absent where the 'TREK' logo starts.

05-IMG_5926.JPG

4) Tires, wheels and available spec are some of the best
The Bontrager SE5 tires are amazing. They're not the gnarliest or the fastest rolling but they do everything well. They're open with good climbing and braking traction and they're very predictable and dependable in corners. Sidewall protection, size, and weight are all balanced to provide one of the best all-mountain tires available today. Made this with the well-designed and tubeless loving Bontrager wheels and we have hoops that complement the bike very well. The wheels have an amazing tubeless system that holds air better than any other system out there.

And Rails are available in SRAM like all bikes out there but at the same price points, there is Shimano spec available. We'll go out on a limb and just state that Shimano 12-speed works better than Sram for an e-mtb. It's more deliberate with shifting under load, waiting until the cassette is ready before firing. It's smoother and less stressful with assist power. And Shimano 4-piston brakes is really showcased as the e-mtb descends thousands of steep day after day.

19-IMG_6273.JPG

5) Suspension is active and supportive and it's controlled under heavy braking
It's a Slash suspension with a vertically mounted shock so it's active and supple. And in our opinion, that's really what an e-mtb needs, a very active and lively suspension system, not too worried about climbing micro efficiency but optimized for climbing traction and descending prowess. The Rail suspension answers this call very well.

And the Trek ABP system is showcased on this platform because there is a lot of gnarly descending to be done. We tackled about 6000 feet of descending on each battery charge and we finally understood the wizardry of the ABP system. Under heavy braking, the suspension is active. Thus traction was better and stopping power was noticeably better than its peers. We only wish that we had better brakes than the Guides on the Rail.



09-IMG_5997.JPG

3 Reasons not to buy the Rail
Nothing is perfect, right? And if you're like us, we get suspicious if a review is overly glowing, stating no downsides. So here are some downsides to ponder and digest so you feel comfortable that you're not making a mistake if you choose the Rail.

1) Bosch motor knocks
If you want a dead-silent bike with no rattles at all, this may not be the option for you. The Bosch motor has never been completely free of rattles and this still has a little bit left. The battery is silent and secure now but the motor still has a little bit of gear knocking noise inside, noticeable during rough descents. The noise is comparable to the new Shimano EP8 knocking noise. It's not bad but with how silent and dialed bikes now are these days, it is noticeable, to some more than others.

07-IMG_5929.JPG


2) Uggh, that knock block
Trek in recent years chose to employ a straight down tube that doesn't clear the fork crown. It simplified engineering and lowered weight but that means the bars cannot be turned 90 degrees as the fork will hit the frame. Trek countered this two ways, with down tube protection and a special headset that limits steering angle. While not unique in the bike world, Trek has the most restrictive steering angle and it can be annoying. It's not very noticeable on the trail, at speed but in the garage and loading the bike on the truck, it's often in the way.

3) It's not the easiest to change direction
The bike is a bomber for sure but it's not the easiest to change direction with on fast, tight, twisty trails. Mullet wheelsets with a smaller 27.5 in the rear are all the rage now for e-mtbs as they deliver agility on the tight stuff. This trail has classic big 29er hoops with big 2.6 tires so it takes a bit of convincing and body English to get it to turn very quickly.

21-IMG_6307.JPG


Bottom Line
This is an incredible e-mtb option available today. And with so many models starting at an impressive $5499, and with best-in-class Shimano 12-speed builds available, it may be time to get yours. But decide fast since these are in short supply and will likely be sold out for the year, even before the summer starts.