Review – Trek Procaliber 8

Procaliber performance, entry-level price

Just over a year ago our test riders tossed a leg over the highly anticipated Trek Procaliber 9.9 SL, a bike built with all the best carbon parts Bontrager had to offer and a complete weight (with pedals) of just 20 pounds. The bike was a rocket ship, and if it had wings, it would likely blast right through the stratosphere. It was, and still is, a cross-country rider’s dream bike—and that was sort of its only downfall. To most, the high-performance machine was an out-of-reach price tag, unless you were a sponsored racer. Luckily, Trek is quite aware of this and offers its flagship cross-country hardtail with multiple build packages, bringing the cost down to a much more approachable price. The Procaliber 8 has an aluminum frame, drastically reducing its MSRP while still providing racers with top-notch performance. So, the final question remains: can this aluminum cross-country hardtail hold its own against a sea of eager race bikes? Let’s find out.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

The Procaliber 8 is ideal for riders interested in cross-country riding who don’t want to go all in with a top-dollar carbon fiber machine. This bike is also well suited for kids looking to join their local high school mountain bike team due to its reasonable price. The Procaliber is a hardtail, so it’s not likely to be the choice of a rider who prefers gravity-fed technical terrain, but it could suit riders of all levels and ages who ride on dirt roads, racecourses and any local singletrack.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The Procaliber 8 has an aluminum frame with a hidden trick up its sleeve. What sets the Procaliber apart from any other hardtail is its IsoSpeed decoupler. Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler was first designed for its road racing team, allowing the bikes to travel over rough cobblestone streets with relative ease and comfort. The technology was then transferred into the mountain bike line and trickled down to even the most entry-level Procaliber. Trek also designed the Procaliber with Boost hub spacing, internal dropper-post routing and an extended range of frame sizes, from 15.5 inches to 21.5 inches. Trek also uses its Smart Wheel Size system, which places 27.5-inch wheels on the 15.5-inch Procaliber frames, while 17.5-inch-and-up frames receive 29-inch wheels.

 WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Trek, wanting to keep the Procaliber 8 at an affordable price, was limited as to the parts it could use, but the engineers managed to put together a build kit that spent money where it counts. Our test bike featured an XT rear derailleur, along with an SLX front derailleur and shifters. Trek then spec’d a Race Face Next R crankset with double rings, resulting in a super-low range. We’re talking about a small, 26-tooth front ring with a 42-tooth cassette out back. The bike has a RockShox Reba fork with a remote lockout and a cross-country-inspired cockpit with a 90-millimeter stem and 720-millimeter handlebars.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Setting up: It takes little effort to get the Procaliber ready to hit the trails. We pumped up the air chamber in our RockShox Reba to the recommended pressure printed on the lower left fork leg, which put us right around 25-percent sag. We then adjusted our rebound accordingly. The IsoSpeed decoupler requires zero attention, making setup on this bike a breeze.

Moving out: The Procaliber screams cross-country with its long stem and narrow bars. Out on the trail, the bike handles well thanks to Trek’s G2 geometry. The idea behind G2 was to use a custom offset fork to provide precise handling at low speed without compromising high-speed stability. Where the Procaliber really shines is over chattery small bumps that would normally beat up a hardtail rider. The IsoSpeed decoupler is no gimmick and does an excellent job of damping trail vibrations.

Climbing: The Procaliber 8 is not a particularly lightweight hardtail; however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bike much lighter within this price range. The Procaliber is no slouch when the trails point up and rewards riders with a smooth and fast feel. The super-low-range gearing was favored by our test riders, and while we believe 1x drivetrains are the way to go for almost every rider, many racers looking to purchase this bike will appreciate having double rings for steep climbs and sprint finishes.

Cornering: The Procaliber’s G2 geometry lends confidence to riders while cornering, allowing them to quickly dice their way around a racecourse or local trail. This is an agile cross-country bike that likes to dive into sharp turns and carry lots of speed out of them. We were quite shocked at just how well the fast-rolling 2.2-inch tires grabbed our loose Southern California soil.

Descending: It quickly became apparent that the Procaliber was made for speeding its way up climbs and traveling fast through flat sections. That doesn’t mean the Procaliber is not a capable descender, but riders will need to approach downhill trails with more caution. The IsoSpeed decoupler damps trail chatter well but should not be confused with a shock. This is a hardtail cross-country bike designed to be simplistic and fast over less technical terrain.

Braking: The Procaliber 8 comes spec’d with entry-level brakes that will bring a rider to a stop but require pre-planning and strong fingers. Most riders aboard this budget-minded hardtail will have no issue managing their speed on mellow trails, but more aggressive riders looking to challenge themselves on steep chutes may find the brakes a little under-gunned.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

Right out the box the Procaliber 8 has a respectable build kit that will work great for amateur cross-country racers or riders. The bike is a little bit on the heavy side, and riders could save some weight by ditching the front derailleur and going to a 1x system. The 1x setup will also simplify the build and improve shifting performance. True racers looking for a competitive edge should save their pennies for the carbon version; however, the Procaliber 8 could be an excellent choice for a racer on a tight budget.

The Procaliber 8 could be made into a fun hardtail trailbike with the help of a few upgrades. First, a rider could install an internally routed dropper post, which would liven up the Procaliber’s descending capabilities. Depending on your terrain, a wider trail tire might allow you to dive harder into the corners; however, the OEM tires hooked up really well. Last, we would go to a tubeless setup to allow for lower tire pressures and better puncture resistance.

BUYING ADVICE

In a world filled with high-tech full-suspension bikes, it’s nice to go for a ride on a simplistic hardtail. Riders looking to get into mountain biking and who desire to tackle rough terrain will be more than pleased with a hardtail, especially the Procaliber, as it provides a smooth ride unlike any other aluminum hardtail we’ve ridden. At the Procaliber’s price point, we would be hard-pressed to recommend a better bike for a cross-country rider who doesn’t need a flashy top-dollar machine to have fun.

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