The Trek 8.6 DS ia an interesting blend of ideals both on the road and off - It's competent and comfortable in most scenarios but with some compromises.
In a sometimes confusingly categorised bike market where the hybrid tag can encompass all manner of on and off road sub groupings, this jack of all trades comes close to being the master of compromise. You can read both positives and negatives into that. Surprisingly fast on both blacktop and trail, it's difficult to find fault with if you're looking for a comfortably casual all-rounder. But we uncovered a few niggles.
Trek DS (Dual Sport) bikes are described as 'the ultimate hybrid: part refined city bike, part adventurous trail ride.' The £400 8.1 entry model of six bikes in the range has a rigid frame and fork, which in most respects is what we'd see as a plain and practical hybrid. Other models in the range, climbing in price by around £100 at a time, are equipped with suspension forks, rising all the way up to our test bike, which comes with a small amount of rear suspension built subtly into the seat stays. A 'Gary Fisher Collection' logo on the seat tube is a reminder that this one of the small collection of Trek bikes that owe influence to one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. Fisher spends much of his time these days promoting the bicycle as a simply logical means of transport, but he was also very influential in the popularity of 700c wheels on MTBs.
The 8.6 DS is essentially a 700c suburban hybrid with 30 gears, a fairly basic SR Suntour 63mm travel suspension fork, 20mm of almost invisible elastomer damped suspension out back and hydraulic disc brakes. Tipping our scales at 27.8lb (without pedals) the 8.6 is a reasonable weight if you're comparing it to other off road bikes with suspension - but heavy if you're comparing it to £1000 road-biased hybrids without suspension. And that's where compromises enter the equation. What's good for the goose isn't necessarily good for the gander.
While there'll obviously be riders whose priority will be less weight rather than the enhanced comfort or shock absorption of the fork and IsoZone seat stays, we were impressed by the way the suspension could be completely ignored until it was needed. The fork has a bar mounted lockout lever for smooth road riding and the back end simply takes the sting out of rough roads and bumpy trails without any obvious downside in pedal power transfer or wheel tracking.
It's a design that reminds us of the softtail mountain bikes (and Paris Roubaix specials) Trek offered many years ago, but it's also a reflection of what they're doing with the vibration damping Domane road models. The upper seat stays are designed to float on elastomer bumpers that sit between the stays and a capped wishbone top. The design only features on this bike and the £850 8.5. In use it does a fine job of softening the back end, even on rough trails, but a rattle that developed during the first ride turned out to be loose screws on the top crown. We tightened it but a few rides later the crown loosened again and fell off. The crown is a finishing touch rather than an structural part of the rear suspension set up but it obviously needs to be more securely attached.
Front end comfort is certainly enhanced by the suspension fork, but it's not a fork that's up to the rigours of intense off road riding. To be fair, it's not really supposed to be, but we couldn't resist looking for its limits. Its main limitation is a clunky rebound on bigger bumps. It's fine for rough roads and easy trails.
Still on the topic of comfort, we were really impressed with the Bontrager LT3 tyres. Their high profile 38mm width obviously adds comfort when the going gets rough, a centre strip maintains speed on the road and the cyclo cross style side treads offer decent traction in tough trail conditions.
The Alpha Aluminium frame and the fork have eyelets for mudguards, but not all 'guard stays will suit the threaded bosses part way up the fork legs. There are two sets of bottle bosses (over and under the down tube) and a luggage rack is relatively easy to fit, with the disc brake calliper tucked out of the way between the seat and chain stay. The rack eyelets are a long way down the seat stays though, so not all racks will fit. There's also loads of clearance for much bigger 29er MTB tyres if you feel attracted to more challenging terrain. The Bontrager AT-650 rimmed wheels are fitted to a few Trek MTBs too... and yes, those rims are called 650, but they're not 650b, they're 700c. The hubs are from Shimano, with centre-lock-rings for the discs: these are the same as Shimano cassette lock-rings. Braking was superb throughout the test period.
The build kit on the 8.6 is well suited to riders who like to take in a fair amount of riding on rough back-roads and trails. In fact the state of our local blacktop routes is starting to make suspension look increasingly attractive as an urban option too. Shimano hydraulic disc brakes have a reputation for reliability, as does the Shimano SLX based 3 x 10 drivetrain, which probably has a wider range of gears than most of this bike's buyers will need. The 11-36 cassette ensures that the 26 granny ring up front rarely gets used. In fact, neither does the 48. The 36 middle ring deals with almost everything. The rest of the finish kit is decent quality Bontrager branded stuff (saddle, seat post, 62cm low rise handlebar, comfy ergonomic grips and stem) and there's plenty of bar height adjustment potential built into the steerer. Urban riders might appreciate the trouser guard on the crankset: if you don't you can remove it.
The 8.6 has a confident but fairly lively handling feel on the road, unsurprising really as the frame geometry (on the 19.5in bike) is 73.5 degrees at the seat and 72 degrees at the head. Off road handling gets nervous when the going gets rough and the fork starts diving over bumps, but it's manageable as long as you don't turn the steering too sharply at the same time. A sloping top tube offers plenty of standover clearance and a long (605mm on our 19.5in test bike) horizontal reach, but a fairly high and very adjustable bar and stem position makes for a relaxed sitting posture with enough reach to stretch out and really put your back into it on the climbs. Many hybrid type bikes feel too cramped for hard and fast riding. The 8.6 nicely combines comfort with a lot of potential for speed. As well as its obvious commuting and on/off road flair, it would also moonlight as a very competent pannier equipped touring bike.
Obviously there'll be plenty of riders who think a £1000 hybrid with suspension and disc brakes is overkill. If you're one of them, you may be better served by the £400 version, with no suspension and rim brakes: it may be lighter too, as well as £600 cheaper. But there'll also be riders who like the idea of getting as much bike as they can for £1000 while not really wanting or needing a purist mountain bike or a dropped bar road bike. The 8.6 might be for them.
Competent and comfortable both on the road and off but with some compromises.
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Make and model: Trek 8.6 DS
Size tested: 19
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Alpha Aluminium butted frame with 20mm of elastomer rear suspension, SR Suntour 63mm travel suspension fork.
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Trek's DS (Dual Sport) tag is pretty accurate, although if we were to be pedantic we'd argue that is more 'dual casual' than dual sport. Pushing it hard, on or off road, reveals its compromises.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Generally decent build quality, but the suspension performance certainly isn't up to harsh off road use.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Aluminium frame, suspension fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
72 degrees at the head, 73.5 at the seat.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Fairly long reach compared to many 19in hybrids. Adjustability potential for a high or low bar position.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable both on and off road, but the forks are not up to the quality of a £1000 MTB.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
A little bit of twist through the back end on bumpy corners but generally good.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes. No power lag via rear suspension.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No. Plenty of room.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively, a little nervous when fork was compressing off road.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Rear suspension surprisingly effective considering it's only 20mm. Tyres add to general comfort on the road and on gentle trails.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Rear suspension gets a bit chattery when sprinting on rough terrain.
Suspension fork dives easily when descending on very bumpy ground.
Fork lockout useful on climbs.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
With such a wide ratio cassette at the back most riders will spend most of the time in the middle ring.
Tyres and suspension are both a boost to comfort.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Superb mix of speed, traction and comfort in the tyres.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Disappointed that the aluminium cap on the wishbone topped rear suspension kept loosening. It's aesthetic rather than structural, but it needs better fixing bolts.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Not at present.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Possibly.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
As discussed in the review it's a jack of all trades and a master of none in particular.
Age: 58 Height: 181 Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Merlin Ti My best bike is: Ibis Silk SL
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,