My sponsor shop hosted a Trek demo day last Saturday and I was able to try out a few new things. Mostly, I was curious to try out the 650b offerings. Since I happen to own a 2013 Slash 9 I also figured this would be a unique chance to compare it to the 2014. Here are my somewhat random thoughts on the experience.
I have to say that I was pretty blown away with my 2013 Slash 9 right out of the box. It's dialed. Every component is well specced and I haven't changed a thing since getting it. Fortunately, the 2014 is just as dialed with pretty much the exact same component spec (XO1 vs. XO, Rhythm Comp wheels vs. Rhythm Elites). Weight wise they are within about a half pound of each other, though I could easily get down to the 2014 weight by going XO1. What really impressed me with the 2013 was how capable it was not just as a big mountain bike, but a trail bike. I was pretty curious, though, to see if I would be missing much with the whole 650b thing.
The trail we were testing on features some small steep climbs, 4-6 ft drops, several small gap jumps, some slow and fast technical root sections, some berms, and some woodwork and skinnies. Pretty much it's a hodgepodge of what makes the Pacific Northwest so fun.
The 2014 climbed better. Surprisingly better. Even in the slack setting, it kept the front wheel planted very well. I didn't really use the TALAS settings much (I don't use mine that often, either), but I was shocked at how well the 2014 handled the climbs. Of course, climbing isn't really why one purchases a 160mm bike, so we'll move on.
The 2014 felt a little bit more stable at speed, and I could tell that it was rolling over things easier. Roots were where the bikes began to really tell different stories. The 2014 felt the same on technical stuff whether it was slow or fast, just rolling over it and not really phasing it much. The 2013 felt slower and more bogged down in the slower roots, but felt like it was just skipping over stuff when the speeds were higher. Where the 2013 felt like it was on the edge of control as you just tossed it around, the 2014 felt like it was just plowing ahead totally in control of every situation. The larger contact patch of the bigger tire is definitely something that can be felt. Even on the off camber and loose turns, the 650b held the line really well. Better than the 26" for sure... if you like control. Sometimes I like the predictable moments when the tires let go and slide ever so slightly to the outside of the turn... moments that I didn't get to find on the 650b. I'm sure those moments are still there, but I just didn't get there on this trip.
I cased a few jumps on the 2014 that I haven't cased in a long time (don't tell the Trek rep). Thinking it was just me I tried them again on my 2013 and they were effortless. I'm not sure what that was all about, but it clued me in to another ride quality of the bigger wheels. While I felt like the bigger wheels carried a bit more speed into the jumps, the smaller wheels were definitely a lot easier to maneuver around and place exactly where I wanted. I think with some time I could get used to the bigger wheels, but it was what it was.
On the skinnies and tighter spots the nod easily goes to the 26" bike. I just felt too high up and twitchy on the 650b, which I didn't expect at all with the lower BB height. The same goes for acceleration. The 26" bike just zooms through the gears and the slower acceleration is definitely noticeable. However, it was way easier to manual and pedal wheelie out of turns on the 650b bike. It was pretty effortless, really.
Will I be selling my 2013 anytime soon to get the 2014? Not really. Will I be a 26" hold out because it's clearly better? Not really. In fact, I don't think either is better; they seem to both present certain compromises to each other. Both are clearly awesome bikes. If Enduro was my focus I would probably offer mine up and go right on to the 2014. But it's not, so I'll keep going for a few years on mine. With one exception. This was the first time I got to spend a few hours on XX1/XO1. I'm sold. I'm upgrading. Period.
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