By Justin Steiner
Trek’s 2011 Session 8 traces its lineage back to 2008, when this bike’s frame was introduced as Trek’s top-of-the-line race machine. The frame has now been trickled down to the “entry-level” model in Trek’s downhill race lineup. Now, I know some of you are ready to cancel your subscription over the fact I just called a $4,400 bike entry level, but entry level in the DH racing realm is a whole different ballgame. I’d argue this is the legitimate starting point for competitive DH racing rigs—the keyword being competitive. Suspension technology is advancing at a feverish pace and these advancements don’t come cheap.
The Session 8’s aluminum front triangle offers oversized and swoopy hydroformed top and down tubes. All the oversized suspension pivots use cartridge bearings and are designed for ease of maintenance. Throughout my four-month thrash test, all of the pivots stayed tight.
This bike’s rear suspension features a host of Trek technologies. The EVO rocker link is said to maximize stiffness due to its one-piece construction, while the floating rear shock allows for greater spring rate tuning and improved suspension performance. Trek’s Active Braking Pivot (ABP) minimizes the rear brake’s ability to stiffen the suspension under braking, often called brake jack.
Suspension-wise, a RockShox Boxxer RC offers 200mm of travel up front and a Fox Racing Shox Van RC provides 203mm travel in back. Proper suspension setup is key to any suspension rig. Trek recently launched a suspension setup calculator on their website to help custom-springs included with the fork and rear shock turned out to be perfect for my body weight. The Session 8 offers just two damping adjustments on both ends: low-speed compression and low-speed rebound damping. High-speed compression and rebound damping are set from the factory.
The Bontrager Big Earl wheels have held up admirably to the abuse I’ve thrown their way, though I have knocked a couple of flat spots in the rims. I feel they’d easily last a season of racing under all but the most abusive riders.
The SRAM drivetrain and Avid brakes all performed well, but I did have to bleed the Elixr R brakes during the test period.
From our maiden voyage, this bike struck a chord with me due to its predictability and aptitude in a wide variety of terrain, from natural trails to flowy jump lines at our local bike park.
That feeling isn’t surprising, considering the Session’s geometry leans toward standard DH racing numbers, with a 64° headtube angle, 353mm bottom bracket height, and 441mm chainstays, though the wheelbase is on the longer end of the spectrum at 1178mm. Also not surprisingly, these numbers yield a bike that is versatile enough to excel at DH racing and fast park riding.
On the race course the Session 8 is stable and predictable, yet deliv- ers a lively ride quality that’s extremely intuitive. It’s so good I found myself not thinking about the bike at all, but really getting down to the business of learning the track and finding the fastest lines. This bike felt equally at home chattering through a succession of low-amplitude rocks at speed during the Massanutten Yee-Ha! and providing a confidence-inspiring pop off the lips of Seven Springs’ significant “Show Time” table tops during the Gravity East Series race #4—even when I was gassed and sloppy at the end of my race run.
Cornering was equally predictable and intuitive, again thanks to the middle-of-the-road geometry, which requires nothing beyond a com- mitted lean and proper body english to get the job done.
At speed—or I should say at my mid-pack speeds—the Session 8 serves up equal doses of stability and agility. Get on the gas and it pedals quite nicely for an 8-inch bike.
The Session isn’t too shabby in the bike park either. The dialed front and rear suspension is perfectly capable of handling botched landings. Only once did I noticeably bottom-out both ends of the Session, and that required completely overshooting the transition of a 15’ tabletop and landing to flat. Even then, the suspension felt fantastic, with only the slightest sensation of contacting the bottom-out bum- pers, and a very controlled rebound.
Rarely did I yearn for shorter chainstays while park riding, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice stability at speed for race day. That’s why you need a race bike and a park bike, eh?
For a base-model DH rig, this bike’s suspension impressed me immensely, both for its ability to carry speed over chattery sections of trail littered with baby-heads, and ability to take big hits with aplomb. The Session 8 does all this with minimal fuss and minimal knob twiddling.
All in all, the Session 8 is a fantastic starting point for the burgeoning gravity rider. It offers a stellar ride quality and versatility that belies its base-model position in Trek’s lineup. Overall it’s a smartly spec’d package for the price point, and a very capable race bike for beginners through expert riders.
As sometimes happens with bikes reviewed later in the year, Trek has recently announced changes for the upcoming 2012 model year. The 2012 Session models will reverse the course of the existing bike’s simplicity to offer a plethora of adjustable geometry options as well as a slightly altered suspension leverage ratio and spring rate. All of the 2012 changes are the result of feedback from Trek’s World Cup race team. Also for 2012, the Session 8 frame will be upgraded to what is now the Session 88 frame, and a carbon bike will also be available, dubbed the Session 9.9.
If you enjoy simplicity and want to ride now, consider the 2011. If you crave the ability to tinker and aren’t in a hurry to buy/upgrade, the 2012 sounds intriguing.
- Price: $4,400
- Weight: 39.7lbs.
- Sizes available: S, M (tested), L
- Country of origin: Taiwan
- Online: trekbikes.com
- Age: 28
- Height: 5’7”
- Weight: 165lbs.
- Inseam: 31”