Our love affair over the years with Trek’s Fuel series has been a passionate, torrid and deep. We know the Fuel series like the back of our hand, having spent the past 12 months on board both the 29″ and 27.5″ versions of this bike as the steeds of choice for all our Flow Nation road trips.
For the new season, we’re incredibly happy to welcome the 2016 version of the Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 into the Flow stable. While the 29er version of the Fuel has been reworked in a big way, the 27.5 is not a radically different machine to last year’s bike. The frame remains the same as 2015, but there have been some excellent spec changes to add some junk to its trunk. Notably too, the rear shock no longer has the bulbous ‘knob’ of the DRCV chamber – more on that later.
Stiffer: Finally the Fuel comes with a fork which can match the bike’s abilities. The new FOX 34 series is a much sturdier number than the 32mm fork which came on the 2015 model. Combined with a wider bar (still only 720mm unfortunately, but that’s better than last year’s skinny 690mm bar) this should give the bike a much more direct feel up front.
DT wheels: Given how good Trek’s own in-house Bontrager wheels are, we’re surprised to see DT hoops on the Fuel 9.8 for 2016. They’re shod with the versatile Bontrager XR3 rubber, which sealed up tubeless perfectly. They should be a good set of wheels, though we may opt to run a more aggressive XR4 up front (our favourite rubber from Bonty).
Goodbye DRCV: The Trek/FOX DRCV shock, which used a twin chamber design, has been a consistent feature of the Fuel and Remedy series for the past few years, but for 2016 Trek have decided to move away from this proprietary shock design. Instead, they’re running the new large-volume FOX EVOL shock. Apparently Trek were able to obtain the same ride characteristics with the EVOL shock as they’d been seeking with the DRCV design, namely a more linear spring rate. To be honest, we’re happy to see DRCV phased out. We’ve always liked the ultra smooth performance of DRCV, but it did have a tendency to bottom out pretty hard when really pushed to the limit, and the easy serviceability of a ‘standard’ shock is a real plus.
The rear shock also has the RE:aktiv damping that was debuted last year. This ‘regressive’ damping system is designed to offer a firmer platform when the shock’s ProPedal is engaged, but with a faster, smoother transition into the shock stroke. While the system wasn’t without its bugs last year (a batch of shocks had a nasty ‘clunk’) it is a very effective damper, allowing you to run bike in a firmer compression setting without sacrificing sensitivity too much.
No Mino Link: While the new Fuel EX 29er is graced with Trek’s Mino Link geometry adjustment system, unfortunately this neat feature hasn’t been carried over to the 27.5″ bikes… yet. Hopefully it does get introduced down the track, as we’d love to have the option of slackening the Fuel’s head angle by half a degree.
XT all over: Shimano’s exceptional new XT 11-speed drivetrain and brakes get the nod. Read more about our experiences with XT’s newest incarnation here. It’s superb kit. We’ll likely be converting this bike to run a single ring, which is as simple as swapping out the chain ring.
This bike will be with us for the long haul now. Tomorrow we’ll take it for its maiden voyage on our home trails – we cannot wait!