Trek Bikes Session 88  2013 Mountain Bike Review

Trek Bikes Session 88 2013

Reviews / DH Bikes

Trek Bikes 1,642,047

At A Glance

The Trek Session is the bike that won the Downhill World Cup last year with Aaron Gwin aboard. This year it has boosted Brook MacDonald into the top five and is doing the trick for Greg Williamson too. Needless to say when it arrived in the office we were keen to put it through its paces. We opted for the aluminium version; it’s a little bit more in the real world in terms of pricing, but the 88 is still a top spec bike make no mistake.

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Tech Heads

The frame is made using Trek’s Alpha Platinum Aluminium featuring the Active Breaking Pivot Convert DH Full Floater suspension platform. There is an E2 tapered head tube, integrated frame protection and internal cable routing. The EVO link is made from aluminium for added strength and stiffness and it features a Mino Link to allow you to tune the bike. There is 210mm of travel in the rear end with a 157/12mm axle. The frame is available in S, M L and XL.

Up front there is a Fox Factory Series 40 FIT RC2 steel sprung fork with high and low speed compression, rebound adjust and a 20mm through axle offering 203mm of travel.

The rear end is looked after by a Fox DHX RC-2 with externally adjustable velocity sensitive damping, bottom out force adjust, bottom out progressiveness and external rebound tuned by Trek in California. Each size comes with the relevant spring according to the expected rider weight. The medium bike we tested had the 450lb spring fitted.

The drivetrain on the 88 is a SRAM affair with an x9 10-speed shifter, Sram X0 Type 2 rear derailleur and SRAM PG-1050 11-26 10 speed cassette. The crankset is a SRAM Descendant DH with a 36t aluminium ring.

Wheels are the beefy 28-hole Sun Ringle ADD Expert with a 20mm hub on the front and a 157x12mm hub on the rear. They are tubeless ready should you decide to run them without tubes. Both wheels are shod with Bontrager G4 Team 26x2.35 tyres.

A Bontrager Evoke 2 saddle on chromoly rails is held up by a Bontrager Rhythm Elite 31.6mm seatpost. On the front end is a Bontrager Rhythm 31.8mm handlebar with 15mm rise and 9 degree sweep and a width of 780mm. There is a Truvativ Holzfeller Direct Mount stem holding it all together.

Stopping power is taken care of by Avid Custom CODE 9 hydraulic disc brakes with a 203mm rotor on the front and 180mm rotor on the rear. There is also an excellent MRP G2 SL chain guide with taco style bash guard to keep things in order on the rough stuff.

Trek Session 88 17.5in 17.5in
Mino Link Setting Low High
Seat tube 440mm 440mm
Effective top tube 588mm 582mm
Head tube 103mm 103mm
Chain stay 441mm 439mm
Wheel base 1184mm 1181mm
BB Height 356mm 360mm
Head angle 63.6° 64.2°
Seat angle 57° 57.6°
Reach 394mm 398mm

Weight w/o pedals 37.5lbs 37.5lbs

On The Trail

We had the Session for most of the summer, and spent a lot of time on the bike ensuring we put it through its paces in every conceivable situation. From local DH trails to the Italian Alps we put plenty of vertical descent on the bike. During our two-week road trip it was subjected to over 120,000 feet of harsh rocky tracks. When it came to cleaning the bike up and handing it back I couldn’t believe how “new” it looked. The finish that Trek has put on the frame in terms of paintwork is really impressive, and the entire bike stood up to the abuse very well.

The Mino link plays an important role in the adjustability of this rig, which is something Trek are very keen on. Not all racetracks are the same; the difference between Pietermaritzburg and Val Di Sole for instance is stark! Indeed on our trip we took in the crazy steeps of Pila to the more pedally trails of Livigno. Having the ability to tune the suspension for more pop and sit the head angle up a little to enable a snappier feel is important. As is the need to let it all hang out when the going gets rough and the harsh hits are more common.

The Session 88 is a very solid sled, make no mistake, it’s so versatile and comfortable in such a wide range of conditions it is hard to think of a better all round downhill bike. For sure, there are bikes out there that outperform it in certain conditions, but if you want a DH rig that can handle anything you throw at it with aplomb then the Session 88 comes pretty close.

It’s forgiving too, once we had tuned the suspension and increased the pressure in the Boost Valve in the Fox Rear Shock slightly it felt so planted it was hard to get out of your comfort zone. In the steeps of Pila it got up to speed so quickly and stayed there that you almost felt like you were riding way above your natural level for longer than you would dream possible. Don’t get us wrong, you won’t buy this bike and be transformed into Brook MacDonald, but you might ride it and find yourself improve and get noticeably quicker on sections that may have previously held you back.

It’s worth mentioning the bad stuff, the cover slipped on the Fox 40’s spring, as it always seems too. The 40 is a nice fork, and it’s a relatively easy fix, but these small niggles really shouldn’t be happening on a fork like this. The 180mm rotor on the back end is woefully under equipped for very steep tracks, the Avid rotor is also rather thin and flimsy, a beefier set of floating rotors would be a solid upgrade.

The Bontrager components often get a bad rap; we’re not sure why as Bontrager have been developing them for years and they are as solid as they come. The saddle and seat post do a good job and the 780mm wide handlebars are excellent as are the grips.

The big surprise were the G4 Team Issue tyres, similar in shape to the very popular Maxxis Minion Fronts they offer excellent grip in a wide range of conditions. They also had a solid wear pattern, there was no drastic degradation and there is still plenty of life left in them, even after such a long test. It’s worth noting we ran the standard tubes inside and didn’t get a single puncture in 4 months, running pressues of 26 in the front and 28psi in the rear…

In terms of feel the cockpit the Session 88 can be a little short to some, we had the medium on test and being a fan of smaller bikes felt right at home. It was great through the tight twisty stuff too. However, if you prefer a longer bike you might want to be very careful when it comes to sizing, the best bet is to get a test ride on one, although that will probaly result in you buying it…

There are plenty of tests out there on this bikes big brother, the Session 9, the full carbon version has had its praises sung many times, but if you don’t have a pile of cash under the bed it is a little rich. Having ridden both bikes, we can confirm the carbon version is sexier, lighter, stiffer and every other accolade that it has been given. However, if it were my money, the 88 would be where I would spend it every time. This is an exceptional bike for the price, and with the cash you save you could pick up a nice trail bike to stick in the van too.


To sum up the Session 88 is one of the most balanced downhill rigs on the planet. In a wide variety of conditions it consistently performs way above expectations, and it is fast and direct down the trail. It was a sad, sad day when we got the call to send it back. It will be sorely missed!

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This review was in Issue 25 of IMB.

For more information visit Trek Bikes


By Rou Chater
Rou Chater is the Publishing Editor of IMB Magazine; he’s a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, but his passion for bikes knows no bounds. His first mountain bike was a Trek 820, which he bought in 1990. It didn’t take him long to earn himself a trip to the hospital on it, and he’s never looked back since. These days he’s keeping it rubber side down, riding locally and overseas as much as possible.

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