This article is a transcript of the EMTB Videos review. The video can be found further down in the article.
Last year we rode the Trek Rail 9.8 and we were really impressed. It was such a capable bike on the rough descents, and so nimble and fun on the flowy trails. But a carbon bike with great equipment comes at a cost. Yeah, I’m talking about the price. So, we were excited to ride the cheaper Trek Rail 7 this time. Is it as good as the more expensive bike?
The Rail 7 is an alloy bike that costs €5.499. It is the only model in the line-up running the 12-speed Shimano drivetrain, shifter is SLX and derailleur is XT. It shifts very well, even under load. But it needs to be finely tuned to be smooth, and I adjust the wire tension surprisingly often. Brakes are the dual calliper Shimano MT520, which I really like. Even though they’re not top of the line, they have a nice feel to them, and they’re pretty powerful.
The tyres aren’t my favourite though, not for what I ride. The Bontrager XR5 Team Issue 29×2.6” is a proper mountain bike tyre, but it is on the lighter side. I prefer a heavier tyre with taller knobs and softer rubber compound when my trails aren’t dry. We swapped the front tyre for a Maxxis Minion EXO+ and left the rear tyre on, that worked perfectly fine for us. I was going to complain that the dropper post is only 130mm on sizes medium and up. But I have to say there was never a situation where we felt the seat didn’t go low enough. 120mm can be too little, but that extra 10mm offered precious space so I decided not to complain.
I can accept most kinds of battery integration as I usually keep the bikes indoors. But the Rail has been parked outside on several occasions, and I’ve come to appreciate the ease of installing and removing the 625 watthours Bosch battery. Getting the battery out is just as easy as on bikes with external batteries. This is a nice detail that will matter to some of us.
Oh, and did you notice this little hole in the battery lid? It’s a port for accessing the physical power button of the battery. If the display won’t power up the bike, sticking an allen key or such into this hole may power up the bike. Depending on what’s wrong of course.
The geometry of the Rail 7 is the same as for the 9.8. We rode with the Mino link chip set to low pretty much all the time. This means a slack 64.5* head angle, 448mm chainstays and a pretty low 339mm bottom bracket. This is a bit different from most of the other 150 to 160mm travel 29er emtbs on the market. The rear end is noticeably shorter, the bottom bracket is lower, and the head angle is slacker. And this is what we like about the Rail. If we flip the chip to high, the head angle steepens and the bottom bracket height increases. This makes the Rail more similar to the other Bosch powered 29ers on the market. It is a pleasant bike in the High setting, ground clearance is decent and it climbs effortlessly.
Even though climbing suffers a tad in the Low setting, we still find it’s a great climber. The 448mm chainstay length is long enough to help us keep the front wheel planted in the really steep ups. The Bosch Performance CX motor is powerful and easy to control in most situations. Check out our review of the motor for more info.
There is a bit of chatter coming from the motor though. The bike is mostly nice and silent, but when coasting down hill, the motor makes some noise. Check out this video to get an impression of the noise from the Bosch motor.
When going slow and navigating the bike over tight obstacles, we felt the weight of the alloy bike. As most other Rail models, this bike has got the big 625 watthours battery and it is about 24 kilos out of the box. We set it up tubelessly and did a few other minor changes and got it down to 23,7 kilos with pedals. And that isn’t bad really, bikes in this category can easily weigh 25 kilos.
The Rail 7 never quite had that same level of nimbleness as the more expensive and lightweight Rail 9.8. Still, it was a seriously fun bike on the flowy trails. With a bit of technique, most bikes can flow down a flow trail. But the Rail did it with such ease. We were sending it of ledges and bouncing off obstacles, and the bike felt so well balanced. We were going with the flow, never having to make corrections.
The slightly downhill oriented geometry along with the suspension makes the Rail 7 a great performer. The 160mm travel Rockshox Yari always was a sensible fork. But now, for 2020, performance seems improved. We rode rough, rocky sections – high speed chatter – drops and jumps, and it felt surprisingly smooth. We were never really missing a line choice due to poor suspension performance, we always felt in control. Sure, the Rockshox Deluxe Select+ shock without the piggyback chamber might not be up for the rough prolonged descents. But we were happy with it during the test. It has good pop when playing around and it tracks well.
Recently I’ve ridden lots of bikes with the cheaper Rockshox 35 Gold RL fork. This is a popular fork for entry level bikes. Around here, the Rail 7 isn’t much more expensive than some of those bikes, and the suspension performance on the Rail 7 is way better. Even though both Fox and Rockshox have several models in the suspension line-up that performs better than the Yari and Deluxe Select+, we found this really is surprisingly good.
The Trek Rail 7 is a really good bike. Sure, it doesn’t offer the exact same riding experience as the more expensive Rail 9.8, but it isn’t lacking much. Being slightly heavier means it can feel a tad slower to maneuver in some situations. Still, I want to end this review the same way I did when we tested the 9.8, by saying, the Rail 7 offers an impressive blend of playfulness and stability at speed.