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Reviewed: Trek Superfly 9.7 mountain bike

  • By Spencer Powlison
  • Published Jul. 31, 2014

It’s easy to look at this bike and imagine an old Gary Fisher logo in place of Trek’s mark. I mean that as the highest compliment.

Quibble all you like about who invented the mountain bike. One thing’s certain: Gary Fisher played a huge role in popularizing 29” wheels, now the must-have size in nearly any off-road discipline.

His experience with his own brand, which is now rolled into Trek’s lineup, is apparent, giving this simple, middle-of-the-road hardtail an excellent personality.

Most mountain bikers need at least a couple hands to count the number of parts they break or replace any given season, but the frame is usually a constant. That is the Superfly 9.7’s biggest selling point, and though the parts are modest, it has real potential.

A fine frame

Trek doesn’t specify the particulars of their carbon construction, aside from claims that it’s thoroughly designed and tested to be used in an off-road frame.

Talk all you like about carbon, but the geometry is really what makes the Superfly sing. As soon as I hopped aboard the bike, its West coast heritage slapped me in the face like a wave off the Marin headlands.

In a few words, the 9.7 is long, low, slack, and fun. Having ridden some 29ers with 70-degree-plus head tube angles, our medium tester’s 69.3 degrees was comfortable and confident. For comparison, the Specialized Stumpjumper HT line has a 71.5-degree head angle. Trek also insists on a custom-offset fork to complete its G2 geometry.

The Superfly’s top tube length and reach are slightly longer than the Stumpjumper’s, and both lines have the same chainstay length — 435mm. It seems that the Trek gets most of its 1,160mm wheel base from the slacker head tube, making it 88mm longer than the Stumpjumper.

Interestingly, the Superfly’s bottom bracket drop is 5.5mm less than the Stumpjumper, meaning that the pedals sit slightly higher in the frame.

Aside from that detail, Trek’s bike is a longer, slacker machine than most ordinary cross-country race bikes.

Passable parts

To be charitable, the 9.7’s components are adequate. I’ve often found SRAM’s lower-end mountain bike shifting to be a bit clunky and slow to respond, and this pairing of X7 shifters and an X9 rear derailleur is no different. Trek does deserve credit for speccing a Type 2 rear derailleur with a clutch to eliminate nearly all chain noise.

The wheels are also humble — Bontrager rims and blue anodized hubs, which may not stand the test of time from a fashion standpoint. The cartridge bearing internals, however, are reassuring. The wheels are tubeless-ready, which is an essential upgrade, so it’s nice that the Trek is ready for it.

I’ll come right out and say that all 29er hardtails should have 100mm travel forks. Yes, the Fox Float 32 on the 9.7 was equipped with the Evolution damper, which is noticeably inferior to the higher-end FIT damping. But the extra cushion goes a long way to taming rough trail. The CTD lever was helpful to provide a firm ride on paved climbs, but I’d trade that for a damper that supports the middle of the travel any day. I’d lower the pressure to get top-end suppleness, only to be punished by excess brake dive and overly linear stroke.

Shimano SLX disc brakes are one of the finest aspects of this bike’s build. It’s remarkable how Shimano can deliver basic, affordable brakes like these, which are within striking distance of its XTR models.

Unfortunately, our Shimano HG62 cassette did not do as well. I destroyed it by somehow shifting the chain between the third and fourth largest cogs. It may have been a freak occurrence. It was certainly the first time for this unlucky tester.

Am I being too critical of the components? At $3,150, the Superfly 9.7 is certainly not targeted as an entry-level model. This is the type of bike a junior or collegiate racer would buy to enjoy for many years of pinning on plates. Surely they deserve a more reliable drivetrain and a capable fork.

The wheels are an easy upgrade that almost any racer expects to make. I did so myself with this test bike, improving the ride with some ENVE M50s. The faster acceleration and surefooted steering was an improvement. Those wheels also shaved a pound off the Superfly’s 25-pound stock weight. However, the most noticeable way to improve the bike’s feel is to convert the tires to tubeless, a much less expensive alternative to carbon wheels.

Another upgrade I made was a Stages power meter, which is becoming an essential training tool, even for mountain bike racers.

Taking it to the trail

Performance on paper doesn’t always equate to performance on dirt, and in some ways, the 9.7 makes that point.

I forgot about its hefty (for a hardtail) weight once it started snapping through corners and pumping fast rollers. As I’ve alluded to, the geometry gives this bike a great personality on the trail, letting you open things up on fast descents, keeping your body weight back just far enough on the steeps, and somehow avoiding any 29er sluggishness.

It’s rare to find a cross-country bike as playful as this, but the Superfly was happy to pop off jumps and whip around berms. Once terrain got rougher, things became a little less cheerful, especially with the fork’s shortcomings, but the bike loyally stayed on line. Perhaps that’s a testament to the carbon construction, as well as the 142x12mm rear thru-axle.

Once the fun ended and the work began, the Superfly was capable. It responded well as I hammered out of corners on steep climbs, rarely betraying its weight. I also enjoyed the fairly rangy top tube in the races I did. It encouraged me to stretch out a bit more, also helping to keep weight over the front wheel on steep pitches.

Is it super enough for you?

When it comes to high-speed riding and racing, the Superfly 9.7 is pretty hard to beat. You can overcome its components’ shortcomings with a few key upgrades, but you might be better off spending an extra $730 to get the 9.8 model.

However, if your riding and racing happens primarily in a place like New England where the corners, rock gardens, trees, and competition are all very tight, make sure to get a test ride on the Superfly. Its laid-back west coast personality is great in many settings, but it might not be sharp enough for every course.

Price: $3,150
Weight: 25 pounds
Pros: Fun, comfortable geometry and personality. Great frame construction, reliable brakes.
Cons: Underwhelming shifting and fork. Might not handle quickly enough for certain tastes.
trekbikes.com

FILED UNDER: Bikes and Tech / MTB TAGS:

Spencer Powlison

Spencer Powlison

When it comes to bike racing, Spencer is a jack-of-all-trades. He loves pinning on a number, whether it’s in a local criterium, a mountain bike enduro, a cyclocross national championship, or a gran fondo. Name any cycling discipline, and more likely than not, Spencer has ridden or raced it. He has been lucky enough to work in the bike industry for the majority of his adult life, from his time turning wrenches in a Vermont bike shop to his five-year tenure at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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