For 2011 the Gary Fisher brand has been subsumed into the Trek line-up as the Gary Fisher Collection. So the X-Caliber is now a Trek, but under the very Trek-esque graphics and paint all the Fisher tricks and tweaks are still there. Trek has imbued the X-Caliber with an undeniably racy feel, and it works. Snappy handling, reasonable weight and an impressive turn of speed make it a great bike for covering the ground, whether competing or not. Only the most hardened 29er sceptics would fail to be converted by this one.
Ride & handling: Light and fast, with unique front-end geometry making for rider-friendly handling
On paper the X-Caliber looks pretty laid back for a 29er. But the secret sauce is the bigger fork offset, delivering lively steering without resorting to an ultra-steep head angle and forcing the rider’s weight over the front. A lot of contemporary 29ers have a fairly attacking ride position, but the X-Caliber puts you rather more centred in the bike. While the top tube measures up long, there’s also a fairly relaxed seat angle.
We shifted the saddle well forward, which still left plenty of cockpit room. It’s quite a long bike, but manages not to feel particularly unwieldy. Indeed, the Trek really shone in tight, wooded singletrack, with low-speed sharp turns despatched with aplomb. The narrow 620mm bars helped too, although we suspect that many riders would swap to something a little wider.
The super-light steering takes a little bit of getting used to as speeds build, but the stability and easy rolling of the big wheels come into play here. We would still be tempted to pop a slightly wider bar on for general trail use though. The X-Caliber goes a long way to disproving most of the ideas that people have about big-wheeled bikes. It’s a long way from being heavy or ponderous.
Indeed, it’s got sharper handling than most 26in wheeled bikes, while the ability of the big hoops to roll smoothly over bigger bumps and holes makes it possible to just charge through sections that you might expect to either unweight over or go around. Mix in plenty of comfort and you’ve got a bike that’s a great choice for long days in the saddle.
Frame & equipment: Well-equipped, ﬁne-looking bike
Trek has really been on top of aesthetics for a while now, and the X-Caliber is a particularly ﬁne-looking bike. We are getting used to looking at 29ers, of course, but even so there’s something about the proportions of the Trek that just look right. The classically straight lines help, too. It’s not totally bereft of contemporary features, though, with a forged head tube that uses a semi-integrated headset to get the front end as low as possible.
The top tube also has an interesting cruciform cross-section, with all the cables and hoses running underneath. The X-Caliber is a little more expensive than a couple of its peers, but it’s got the spec to back it up, with SRAM-based transmission and RockShox Reba SL fork. There’s a subtle but important difference to the fork, though, in the shape of a custom crown that gives 51mm of offset rather than the usual 44mm (which is already bigger than the 38mm of the 26in versions). The effect is to give a similar amount of trail to a typical 26in XC bike without increasing the head angle, which is the usual 29er approach.
The ﬁnishing kit is, unsurprisingly, from the Bontrager stable. We’re quite taken by the hefty 15-degree sweep on the ﬂat bars, giving a comfy wrist angle. A 27.2mm diameter seat post is unusually skinny for a contemporary aluminium frame, and delivers a handy bit of twang to the back end.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.