Squamish is one of those places you can easily just drive on through without giving it much thought. It lies on the Sea to Sky Highway, about an hour north of Vancouver, and the irresistible pull of Whistler another half an hour up the road means most riders just pass on by. Living in the shadow of Whistler's stardom, it's managed to remain comparatively 'underground', the bastion of local riders, untainted by the mad crowds just up the highway.
There’s no chairlift or gondola in Squamish, which rules it out for most of the Whistler crowd instantly. You climb to the best bits, and you’re rewarded with loamy, fast, rooty, flowy, singletrack descending, some of the very best we’ve ever ridden.
In short, it’s perfect trail/all-mountain bike territory, which made it the ideal testing ground for two of Trek’s newest offerings, the Fuel EX 9.9 and Remedy 9.9. We only had two days on the trails, but we made the most of them, giving us plenty of fodder to formulate solid initial impressions about the performance of these two rigs. We’ll be locking in some proper review time on board both the Fuel and Remedy on our home trails too.
Fuel EX 9.9
Our first day of riding Squamish was aboard the Fuel EX 9.9. This 11.3kg weapon is the top model in the new Fuel line-up; there’s more bling here than a Kanye West film clip, with SRAM Eagle, DT XMC1200 wheels, SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes and premium FOX suspension all round.
The loop we had planned took in a couple of decent climbs, so we opted to leave the Fuel is its steeper 67.7 degree head angle setting. We long admired the grippy manner in which the Fuel ascends, and the new version takes this to another level. With the wide DT rims and the supple Bontrager tyres, there’s a huge amount of rear wheel traction. The SRAM Eagle drivetrain delivers on all its promises too – if you’ve got lower gears available you’ll always use them, and we found ourselves clicking down to the massive 50-tooth low gear more than we expected to use it.
Looking around the group of riders, we did notice that a few people had their seat post right on the minimum insertion line. Because of the new kinked seat tube on the Fuel, the amount of seat post adjustment is a little limited. Careful consideration of frame size will be important – measure up your inseam and make sure you can get sufficient seat post height when choosing your frame size.
We discovered before long that a cross country ride in Squamish is decidedly more gnarly than what you’ll find in most Australian trail centres! Launching blindly off ladder drops and granite rollers on a trail called Rupert, we quickly came to appreciate the 10mm of additional travel and stiff 34mm fork found on the new Fuel. On our second run down the same trail, we felt incredibly comfortable on the bike – that confidence building mix of buttery suspension, a roomy reach measurement and the wide 760mm bars had us pushing things much harder than is advisable when jet lagged! After a few seriously hard landings, we checked the o-ring on the fork and shock; we’d used full travel on both ends, but without ever being aware of hitting bottom out, full marks here.
The final portion of the ride included some of those amazing, long rock slabs that are so iconic to this area of BC. If you ever need to get a feel for how a bike handles under heavy braking, this is the spot! Once again, the sensitivity of the Fuel’s suspension and the grip levels it attains blew us away.
For the afternoon session we dropped the bike into its slacker setting. On the climb back up into the dense wooded hills, we could certainly feel that the slacker angles required a little more attentiveness to keep the front end on line. The tradeoff is the stability and confidence that comes with the slacker angles, which was really highlighted to us on a couple of super-steep rock rollers and chutes, where it’s nice to have plenty of wheelbase out front.
Squamish isn’t all hand-built technical singletrack, there’s also a good chunk of flat-out flow trail, with monster berms. It was here that we gained the most insight into how much stiffer the Fuel’s frame is than its predecessor. We’ve spent a lot of time on the 2016 Fuel, and ridden plenty of these kinds of flow trails on it, so it was easy to detect just how rock solid the new Fuel is. Diving hard into deep bowls of berms, the was never an inkling of the front end twisting or sketching out under heavy load.
We awoke for our second day of riding to the sound of rain, which is pretty standard for this part of the world, where the Howe Sound funnels moisture up from the Pacific and dumps it onto the mountains. We were heading out on the Remedy 9.9, and on the advice of locals, we dropped a few PSI from our tyres to help find some grip on the wet roots.
The Remedy’s legs have been lengthened a little, with 150mm travel out back and 160mm up front on the 9.9 RSL (Race Shop Limited) we were riding, and in order to get as much descending time in as possible, we shuttled part way up into the trail network before embarking on a long, steady ascent up the Legacy Climb. The sentiment we heard again and again from our fellow riders, and which we felt too, was that the Remedy climbed like a demon, way beyond expectations. Even with the ground made heavy by the rain, it made light work of the long climbs – the RockShox Monarch with the RE:aktiv damper is impressively stable under pedalling. On the Remedy 9.9, the Lyrik fork is travel adjustable too, though the climbs we were on weren’t steep enough to require its use.
Before we had begun our ride that morning, we’d spent some time with the crew from SRAM, getting our suspension setup. Our initial worry was that the bike felt a little too soft, and we worried we’d be wallowing in the travel. But once we hit the descents, we realised that the setup was ideal, especially in the slippery conditions. On rooty trails like Angry Midget, the Remedy felt outrageously planted.
Again, the grip was sensational; with the wide Bontrager Line Elite rims and SE4 tyres just hanging on like crazy! That old ‘ride it like it’s dry’ line of Sam Hill’s popped into our heads, there was so much traction that we could forget about the mud that glazed the roots and rocks.
The wet and gritty conditions eventually began to have an impact on the Bontrager Drop Line seat post, however, so during our break for lunch, we pulled the post down to give it a quick clean out. Thankfully the job only takes a few minutes and requires just two Allen keys, but we think Bonty might need to do some more development work on the sealing.
With the sun rapidly drying out the trails, we headed out again for a second rip. The standout trail for the afternoon had to be Hoods in the Woods, a super fast, traversing singletrack descent that had amazing natural rhythm. Even with the Remedy in its steeper setting, the stability is sensational, happily carrying us through some seriously mis-timed jumps over root sections.