The not-so-minor details
Trek Fuel EX 9.8
Nails the trail bike category.
Smooth and supple suspension.
Double chainring not for us.
Like a python that swallowed a small marsupial whole, the latest generations of carbon suspension bikes from Trek are absolutely bulging, the chunky tubes and square-edged lines are quite a sight.
Trek’s Fuel EX series went under a serious refresh for the 2017 season, growing in every aspect. Longer travel, longer reach, slacker geometry, more everything. It’s about as modern as they come, and a step in the right direction to keep up with the progression of mountain biking.
Who’s it for?
The Fuel EX is aimed squarely at the all-round trail rider, one step up from the cross country Top Fuel, and one step down the spectrum from the Remedy. There’s 130mm of travel, 29” wheels a dropper post, wide rims, and space for a full-sized water bottle.
We weighed our 19.5” size Fuel EX at 12.74kg with no pedals and set up tubeless. That’s very competitive considering its chunky appearance!
Trek’s unique features.
Trek are known for breaking the mould and doing things their way, hence their own suspension technology inside the rear shock, custom fork offset G2 geometry and a special headset that prevents the bars and fork crowns from spinning all the way around and damaging the frame.
If you’re curious to experiment, you can flip a little chip in the linkage to tweak the frame geometry slightly, we had our set in the ‘slack and low’ setting but would certainly consider trying the other setting if planning a longer ride with loads of climbing, or entering a multi-day race.
Got any blacker?
2017 is the year of the black bike, and this one is about as black as it comes. If it weren’t for the blue lockout lever on the fork and the red sticker on the shock, there would be no colour at all! The matte/gloss finish is elegant, super high quality, and flawless up close. Though during some wet rides our baggy shorts left super-fine scratching on the glossy section of the top tube, maybe not the best part of the frame to be glossy?
How did it ride?
For a just 130mm travel 29er, it feels pretty burly, it packs a punch but hides it really well. The frame is long, bars are wide, and the chunky frame tubes add to the whole feeling that it wants to be ridden hard. Cruising through the singletrack it steers really well through the turns, never requiring you to persuade it into any situations with a heavy hand. It’s one of the lightest handling 29ers we’ve ridden too, the geometry feels spot on, not nervous or sluggish at all.
Get it up to speed and the Fuel’s long front end and relaxed angles had us feeling very confident to let the brakes off and ride it hard. Pushing it into the rough descents, there were plenty of moments where the Fuel surprised us of its straight-line ploughing abilities!
The double chainring took the shine off our confidence to crank hard on the pedals through rough trails, there’s always the thought that the chain may not be 100% engaged, but we’ll come back to the double debate later.
We hate seeing bikes still coming specced with narrow rims, another reason to appreciate the Fuel, the Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels with wide rims give the Bontrager XR3 tyres a whole lot of volume and in turn, the bike feels very sure-footed and composed.
We found the rear suspension outshone the fork in a way, the FOX 34 with the Grip Damper felt smooth and supple across clattery surfaces, especially while seated in the saddle pedaling along. But when you’re out of the saddle and leaning on the front end it required a few extra clicks of the big blue dial which would detract from the forks sensitivity.
Trek’s own component line Bontrager handles the majority of the parts, and very well too. The tyres are great, fast and tacky, with the wide rims we ran quite low pressures and found loads of grip and cushion as a result. We always like the Evoke saddle, and the carbon bar is a nice touch.
Shimano XT brakes are phenomenal as always, certainly big fans here at Flow. The Bontrager Line Dropper post works well but lacks the sophisticated feel at the lever, and in our experience requires regular maintenance during the wet season.
Double chainring, yay, or nay?
A double chainring is not for us, we can appreciate why a trail bike comes with 22 gears, but once you go single ring, it’s too hard to go back. It’s a lot noisier, adds clutter and weight for only a small increase in gear range. Shimano does have some work to do to match the fantastic SRAM Eagle drivetrain which offers a huge range with only one chainring, and even the Shimano 11-46 cassette would be a preferable option for us in this instance.
Thankfully the upcoming 2018 models of the Fuel looks to have specced more single ring drivetrains.
A trail bike from Trek was always going to be a sure bet, they’ve been refining the Fuel range over many years now, and were one of the first brands to make bikes ride well with the larger 29″ wheels. The latest Fuel is a competent bike in the rough and still nice and efficient to pedal all day.
Ditch the double-ring in favour of the Shimano XT 11-46 cassette if you’re like us and appreciate a quieter and smoother drivetrain, but other than that, this thing is good to go.