Trek Procaliber 9.6

Trek Procaliber 9.6 Review

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Sure, you can ride the Trek Procaliber 9.6 whenever and wherever you like but the raison d’être of the Trek Procaliber is to perform between the race tape.

The other two hardtails in our ‘Double Yer Money Hardtails‘ test are all-rounder Traily McTrailface mountain bikes. This Trek Procaliber is decidedly not an all-rounder.

Rather than include a £2,400+ all-rounder trail hardtail, of which there are legion, we think it’s more illuminating and useful to go niche. To highlight the option of buying a very specific tool-for-the-job type of mountain bike.

The job for this Procaliber tool is cross-country racing. This is the sort of machine where the rides that aren’t actual races are called ‘training rides’.

Fast and bulbous

The Bike

The USP of the Trek Procaliber 9.6 is Trek’s IsoSpeed feature. First seen on Trek’s road racing bikes designed for the cobbled ways of Flanders, IsoSpeed basically detaches the seat tube from the top tube, allowing it to flex fore-aft. It’s a very modern take on ye olde soft-tail designs that did the rounds in the nineties and noughties.

Whereas those older designs typically had some sort of spring placed inside a wishbone seat stay arrangement, the Trek Procaliber has a fixing placed just in front of the seat tube and below the top tube and a wedge of elastomery material in the join. I’ll get into how it feels on the trail shortly.

The frame is made from Trek’s OCLV Mountain grade of carbon and, quite frankly, it looks really rad. The waspish black and yellow colourway is particularly pleasing. The aesthetic helps offset the relatively unexciting build kit. The own-brand finishing kit, mid-tier Shimano stuff and fairly nondescript RockShox Recon fork are all fine but hardly set the pulse racing.

In some ways all these rather uninspiring black bits actually help the bike (frame) look as great as it does. The bars are suitably cross-country narrow. The stem is similarly cross-country-tastically lengthy (80mm). The Bontrager XR2 Team Issue tyres are thrillingly bald. The MT410 brakes and the Recon fork are the two main disappointing spec choices. It just looks a bit too cost-cutting on a bike that otherwise looks so fine.

Looking at the rest of the Procaliber range you’d have to spend £3,775 to get a spec that looks suitably snazzy (Procaliber 9.8 with Fox fork, carbon wheelset, Shimano XT and so on).

The geometry of the Procaliber is on the less progressive side of things, even for a cross-country bike: steep 68.8° head angle, short 450mm reach (Large), dinky 90mm head tube length (Large). Oh and no, there is no dropper seatpost.

IsoFlex soft-tailing

The Ride

It can be hard to explain what makes a bike good at cross-country. It’s not just about being light and stiff. For trail riders, the geometry of cross-country race bikes is often entirely baffling. Steep head angles? Long stems? Narrow bars? Haven’t we left all that sort of stuff behind us?

The thing is, such geometry is not meant to be all-round effective. Cross-country geometry is principally meant to feel fast on climbs (the key word there being ‘feel’; racing is almost as much a mental exercise as physical). The narrow bars are arguably mainly there for aerodynamic reasons as much as anything. And if you have narrow bars (with a steep head angle) you need a lengthy stem to keep the front end from flailing madly when you’re redline drooling.

Why not put a slacker head angle on to cure everything? It’s hard to explain. The best explanation I can say is that it’s about pumping the terrain for even more speed. Cross-country races are won on anything that isn’t a descent. Descending speed is very much not important. Being fast downhill doesn’t win you races really. You can certainly lose races by being poor downhill, but you can’t win ’em. As such, the steep head angle is there to keep the front tyre contact patch nearer to you (usually a Really Bad Idea for Normal MTBing) so you can work the terrain underneath it for increased momentum.

Cross-country races are won primarily on the climbs, but the flatter and contouring stuff also matters a lot. Cross-country race geometry is a very specific system and the Trek Procaliber is more specific than most. And the Trek Procaliber is fast AF where and when it has to be. Sure, the downhills are more an exercise of holding-on rather than grinning-through, but the Procaliber’s grins can be found on race day podiums or (whisper it) Strava leaderboards.

All the boring black bits bolted to the Trek Procaliber 9.6 work fine. The fork is surprisingly active and combined with the IsoSpeed ‘rear suspension’ (when seated) actually makes for a remarkably un-punishing ride feel. There’s a reason the Procaliber is used by a lot of marathon endurance racers instead of a full-suspension bike. Also, by judicious use of the fork lockout, the Procaliber does the whole stood-up stamp-attack mode thing very well too.

I did think overall it would be even better with a dropper seatpost. Just a little one. The IsoSpeed system seems serendipitously perfect for dropper posts; droppers have zero fore-aft flex to them (unlike static seatposts) so IsoSpeed means you can run a dropper and still have a flexy perch experience.

Boss choice


This Trek Procaliber 9.6 is a great example of how an increase in budget can gain you access to a world of specificity. I wouldn’t recommend the Procaliber for everyone. It’s not a bike I personally would have. But if anyone is looking for an effective weapon for cross-country racing (whether real world racing or imaginary online Strava racing) then this is very probably one of the best bikes for going as hard as possible for as long as possible on the tracks and terrain that the stopwatch unsparingly demands.

It is a bike that can attack tracks with the best of them, yet it is perfectly capable of having a recovery breather on when you need one. The active fork, supple tyres and undoubtedly the IsoSpeed ‘soft-tail’ feature afford you a pleasing respite from the sheer brutality of the bike’s out-of-the-saddle efficiency of propulsion. It’s something of a Lycra-clad Jekyll and Hyde creation. Sat down, it’s comfy and polite. Stood up, it’s a freaking monster.

Very nice grips
  • Frame // OCLV Mountain Carbon
  • Fork // RockShox Recon Gold RL LockOut, 100mm
  • Wheels // Bontrager Kovee Comp 23
  • Front tyre // Bontrager XR2 Team Issue 29×2.2
  • Rear tyre // Bontrager XR2 Team Issue 29×2.2
  • Chainset // Shimano MT611, 30T, 175mm
  • Drivetrain // Shimano SLX/XT, 12-speed, 10–51T
  • Brakes // Shimano MT410, 180/160mm
  • Stem // Bontrager Rhythm Comp, 80mm, 31.8mm
  • Bars // Bontrager Rhythm Comp, 750 x 15mm, 31.8mm
  • Grips // Bontrager XR Trail Comp Lock-on
  • Seatpost // Bontrager Comp, 31.6mm
  • Saddle // Bontrager Arvada
  • BB // Shimano MT500 PF92
  • Size tested // L
  • Sizes available // S, M, ML, L, XL, XXL
  • Head angle // 68.8°
  • Effective seat angle // 73.8°
  • Seat tube length // 470mm
  • Head tube length // 90mm
  • Effective top tube // 625mm
  • BB height // 60mm BB drop
  • Reach // 450mm
  • Chainstay // 432mm
  • Wheelbase // 1,133mm
  • Weight // 11.7kg

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Review Info

Brand: Trek
Product: Procaliber 9.6
From: Trek Bikes
Price: £2,550
Tested: by Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 149

Orange Switch 6er. Stif Squatcher. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. Ebikes are not evil. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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