From the eye-searing paintjob to its slender wishbone rear triangle, Trek's 6500 looks every inch a pared-down cross-country racer for the budget conscious rider. But can it cut it as a trail all-rounder for the rest of us?
The 6500 has slimmer tube profiles than many of its contemporaries, but the super-stiff, cross-ovalised down tube boasts an impressive girth. Clever tube shaping removes the need for a strengthening gusset up front, while a minimalist chainstay bridge and elegant wishbone give generous mud clearance. And, hinting that it may be more versatile than its racing heritage suggests, there's a set of rack mounts at the rear too.
There's nothing subtle about the 6500's looks - and at first ride there's no subtlety in its manners, either. Despite an averagely roomy cockpit, the inline seatpost forces the rider forward towards the bars into a powerful pedalling position over the bottom bracket. A stack of headset washers move the bars up, transferring some of the rider's weight back towards the centre of the bike. But it's still a slightly nervy-feeling beast.
The payback for all this over-eagerness is a bike that'll do exactly what you tell it to, precisely when you tell it. Generous tyre profiles, lowish weight and that weight-forward ride position translate into instant squirt-and-go in any trail situation you care to throw the 6500's way. The Manitou fork's firm feel suits the bike's overall demeanour, pattering over the bumps in a way that takes the sting out of the worst hits without ever letting the rider feel isolated. Everything we did with this bike - from long, draggy climbs to fast, technical singletrack - put a big grin on our faces. It's light, lively and demands constant rider input, but it's a whole heap of fun.
What, no disc brakes? No, but we're not bothered as, first, the rim brakes work well enough in all but the filthiest of conditions. Second, they save weight over budget disc alternatives. Third, they've left room in the budget for an upgrade to a Deore XT rear mech - giving minor bragging rights. Trek has also specced disc-compatible hubs for a quick and cheap upgrade. Our biggest spec niggle is that inline seatpost, which leaves little scope for fore-and-aft saddle adjustment.