Well, the Procaliber 9.6 is precisely that, "a race-ready cross-country hardtail," as Trek likes to put it. However, that's not what really matters here; the 9.6 shows up to the game with some pretty neat tricks up its sleeve.
For example, Trek is currently selling the 9.6 for no less than $3,100 (€2,800 at current exchange rates), and while that may sound like quite a pretty penny, we need to first consider that the frame is built out of nothing more than this manufacturer's OCLV Mountain Carbon - it's just a fancy name for some of Trek's proprietary fibers and layup techniques.
But, the real treat here is the sort of wiggle-wiggle, as I like to call it, that the 9.6 performs as you're hauling butt down some backroad or trail. I'm talking about IsoSpeed, and if you've had a chance to view the images in the gallery, you may have noticed that section of the bike where the top tube meets the seat tube.
What Trek does here is basically separate the top tube and seat stay from the seat tube so that a bit of forward and backward movement can occur as you encounter debris along your path. This little bit of wiggle room helps reduce rider fatigue without affecting your ability to direct power into your cranks and back wheel. In short, the 9.6 is somewhere between a classic hardtail and a full-squish MTB, sort of.
Now, with the most important bit out of the way, what else does the 9.6 have in store? Another important feature of this bike is its Knock Block protection, which is a system that prevents your fork from twisting and smashing into the precious carbon frame and your brake and shifter lines from being ripped out.
Speaking of forks, the front of the 9.6 is showcasing a RockShox Recon Gold RL fork with 110 mm (4.3 in) of travel and lockout, just in case you want to ride around town on your jewel or encounter some long flats along your off-road adventures. The head tube is set just below 69 degrees, so toward the more slack end of XC geometry, giving riders a solid stance on climbs and descents.
Aside from the brakes, which are also provided by Shimano, the rest of the 9.6 is covered in nothing more than good old Bontrager components, one of the Trek Corporation's brands. This includes wheels, stems, handlebars, saddles, and seat posts. Regarding seat posts, Trek doesn't mention if a dropper post can be added, but internal cable routing would point to a yes as long as everything fits.
Now, put all this together, place yourself in the middle of the action, and let's see what a day of your life with a 9.6 may be like. First of all, this MTB can be considered a "budget" racing hardtail, especially when we consider some of the top-shelf monsters out there start off with price tags of at least $6,000.
What the 9.6 isn't is your average run-of-the-mill bike-packing machine. At best, you could add a triangle bag just to take some longer rides while training for the next race and some suspension fork cargo mounts, but that's not what this bike is made for. Do consider that it only weighs 11.2 kg (24.7 lbs) for a medium-sized frame and tops out at 136 kg (300 lbs), rider and all.
I understand that it may be difficult to figure out if the new 9.6 is the right machine for you from where you're sitting, so what you can do is head down to a local shop and test one of these babies out. Heck, order one, ride it, and if you haven't messed it up in any way, check in with Trek's 30-day guarantee and go from there. You basically have nothing to lose and everything to gain.