Review: Trek Slash 8 | BIKE Magazine
When it was released in the summer of 2016, the Slash 29 didn't just turn heads, it blew minds. Trek's decision to make its premium enduro racing bike a 29er, with no small-wheel version, showed confidence and gumption. Despite bikes like the legendary Specialized Enduro 29 leading the way, gravity-focused riders were still resistant to big wheels when the Slash 29 came around. Even Specialized, a company that caught the 29 bug hard, has a 650b Enduro in its lineup. The Slash wasn't developed to be a crowd pleaser. It was meant to be the fastest possible enduro race weapon. Twenty-niners are faster, so that's what the Slash would be. Want playful? Get a Remedy.
If you wanted to reach such top speeds in 2017, though, you'd have to be a top earner. The Slash was exclusive not just in wheel size, but income bracket as well. During its first model year, the Slash 29 was available in just two high-end specs, retailing for $5,500 and $8,000. The completely carbon frame alone could be had for $3,700. Today, that same 3,700 bucks will get you a whole bike—the Slash 8—plus a bottle cage. Thanks trickle-down.
It so closely resembles the form of its high-modulus cousin, that the fact that the Slash 8's frame is aluminum could be missed at first glance. But it is, and that's what accounts for the bike's relative affordability. Trek was able to spec a nicer SRAM GX cassette, chain and shifter than what comes on the otherwise identically spec'd carbon-framed Slash 9.7—which uses NX—and still price it for a grand less.
The parts kit is respectable for the price, for a bike shop bike. There are considerable highs, like the proprietary-made RockShox Deluxe RT3 featuring Trek's RE:aktiv and Thru Shaft technologies—the exact same shock that comes on the rich-man's Slash 9.9. Plus, you get the durable, quick-ratcheting Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels with appropriately wide 29-millimeter alloy rims, wrapped in grippy Bontrager XR4 2.4-inch tires. There are considerable lows, like the powerless SRAM Guide R brakes and unimpressive, too-short, too-slow Bontrager Line 150-millimeter dropper post. And then there's the not-fancy-but-perfectly-fine parts, like the RockShox Yari RC fork with Motion Control damper, SRAM Descendant cranks with SRAM's newest "it's-not-a-new-standard" standard DUB spindle, and a stamped steel 32-tooth chainring, plus Bontrager's no-fuss Line 35-millimeter-clamp bar and stem.
Many of the same features found on the Slash AL frame (which can be had by itself for $2,200) are on the Slash C. Most notably, the straight downtube, which adds torsional stiffness and requires the use of Trek's Knock Block headset. I actually like how the limited steering lets you run shorter cable housing, but I'm not a big fan of how the critical part, the bearing cap, deforms over time, getting stuck on the steerer tube. And the bearings that come in it are disposable, though it's cheap and easy to replace them with nicer ones. Other shared features include smartly done internal cable routing, Mino Link geometry flip chips, and a press-fit 92 bottom-bracket shell. Threaded shells are still easier, but press-fit is rapidly becoming less shitty, so this isn't a deal breaker for me anymore. SRAM's DUB bottom bracket is actually made out of metal, and the fitment on this particular frame is at least as snug as flush, press-in headset cups. I haven't had any issues with it. Another thing I noticed is the Slash uses five differently sized bearings for its six pivot locations, some of which aren't particularly common sizes and could become tough to find years down the road. The custom hardware is well done, but raises an eyebrow from a mechanic's standpoint.
All in all, the Slash 8 is a pretty fuss-free build that delivers a ride quality that's far closer to the flagship model than the difference in price would suggest. The Slash 8 rides a good 85 percent as well as the 9.9 RSL we tested during our 2017 Bible of Bike Tests, at less than half the price. Actually, it climbs better than that bike did, has just as much off-the-top sensitivity but a more supportive mid-stroke, thanks to Trek switching shock spec from a Fox Float X2 to the more trail-appropriate RE:aktiv-equipped shock that comes on all Slash models now. You could spend less on a YT, Canyon or Fezzari, get nicer parts, a carbon frame, and you'd probably be happy as a clam—just as long as you never threw a leg over this bike. There's a sort of magic about it that has me wanting to ride it over my other, much fancier bikes.
Maybe it's how naturally easy it is to ride. The geometry could almost be considered conservative by 2019 enduro bike standards—yes, we are on camera in 2017 talking about how big and long the bike is, but that's beside the point. A lot of bikes in this travel range—150-millimeter rear and 160-millimeter front—are getting even longer and slacker, with giant wheelbases that are being reined in with sluggish-steering short-offset forks. These bikes feel huge and sometimes even cumbersome, making the once big-feeling Slash quick, nimble and agile in comparison. And my posture on it feels just how it should. My weight over the bike feels balanced in such a way that I can naturally and independently control grip of front and rear tires while charging through corners, with just the slightest movement. The bike doesn't require me to be aggressively perched over the bars in order to get the front wheel to hook up, so it doesn't punish me by understeering whenever I'm not fully pinned. Does it feel short in comparison to other, more-recently redesigned bikes in its class? Yes, but I'd argue that's a good thing.
The bike I rode during our Bible of Bike Tests in the fall of 2016 felt like an enduro race machine—almost a one-trick pony. The Slash 8 I've been riding, on the other hand, has proven itself to be even-keeled and well-versed on all types of rides. For me, there are two factors contributing to this rather large leap in categorization. The first would be perspective. Bigger, longer, slacker bikes have since come out, putting the Slash closer to the middle of the bell curve. Also, as I mentioned before, the shock spec change really does give the Slash a different attitude, making it more agreeable to ride anywhere and everywhere. The shock allows the bike to ride higher in its travel, squat noticeably less on steep climbs, and generally pedal more efficiently. I'm enjoying this bike so much, I think if I had to make room in my shop, I'd rather let go of my Evil Following MB. They're different bikes altogether, but I just find myself having more zero-compromise rides on the Slash 8—after replacing the brakes and dropper, that is.