2023 Trek Fuel EXe Review | This brand new lightweight e-MTB is the stealthiest we’ve ever tested

The not-so-minor details


Trek Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS


Trek Bikes



$13,999 USD




- The near-silent motor performance
- Solid chassis with excellent weight distribution
- Great geometry and all-round handling
- Supportive suspension offers exceptional control at speed
- Sleek frame is low on e-bulk
- The 9.8 model is surprisingly well priced


- Highly damped RockShox suspension isn't the plushest
- TQ motor can lag
- Not as light as some of its competitors
- Rear axle lever makes noise while riding
- Crankset Q-Factor is very wide

Mick & Wil review the Trek Fuel EXe

Following two years of development, the Trek Fuel EXe launches as a brand new electric mountain bike for 2023. Aiming to straddle the gap between the Rail (Trek’s full-powered, big travel e-MTB) and the regular Fuel EX, the Fuel EXe is built around a unique, never-before-seen motor that is claimed to be one of the quietest and lightest on the market. Along with its slim battery and carbon frame, the Fuel EXe is purported to weigh around 18kg in its lightest configuration, which is a good 5kg lighter than the Rail. That puts it into direct competition with the Specialized Levo SL and Orbea Rise; two bikes that have had a significant head start in the lightweight e-MTB category. So what exactly does the new Trek Fuel EXe bring to the party? And how does its new motor perform on the trail? We’ve been testing it for the past few weeks to find out!

Watch our Trek Fuel EXe review here:

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The Trek Fuel EXe aims to bridge the gap between the regular Fuel EX and the Rail e-MTB.

Overall it’s a very clean system, and combined with the compact motor and slim downtube, the Fuel EXe does a remarkable job of not looking like an e-MTB.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
With its slim downtube and tiny motor, the Fuel EXe is much lower on e-bulk compared to the big travel Rail.

An overview of the Trek Fuel EXe

Whereas the Rail is based upon the Slash enduro bike, the Trek Fuel EXe is essentially an electrified version of the Fuel EX trail bike. It features 29in wheels, though it gets a touch more travel with a 150mm fork and 140mm of rear wheel travel courtesy of the ABP four-bar suspension platform.

OCLV Mountain carbon fibre has been employed to construct the Fuel EXe frame, while a two-piece alloy rocker link drives the rear shock via a trunnion bearing mount. Unlike the regular Fuel EX, Rail and Slash that feature Trek’s proprietary Thru Shaft damper, the Fuel EXe relies on a conventional rear shock.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
There’s 140mm of rear wheel travel via the ABP suspension design.

The compact TQ motor

Powering the Trek Fuel EXe is a brand new and extremely compact motor that has been developed in collaboration with Bavarian company TQ.

TQ has previously been known for producing the 120Nm monster motor found within the Haibike Flyon. Taking the same patented Harmonic Pin-Ring (HPR) mechanism, those clever Germans have shrunken it right down to create what it believes is the lightest and smallest e-MTB motor on the market.

Comprised of just two moving parts, the HPR drive unit doesn’t require a belt or additional cogs, and it spins at an RPM that is three times lower than a conventional motor. Thanks to its simplified construction, the HPR design is claimed to result in fewer operating frequencies, reducing not only the overall decibels produced by the motor, but also lowering the ‘tonality’ (read: annoyance) of the sound.

Despite its compact form, the German-manufactured HPR50 motor delivers a healthy 50Nm of torque and a peak power output of 300W. TQ claims this motor has the highest torque density on the market, while offering seamless power delivery with virtually no lag.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The German-made TQ motor is claimed to be one of the lightest and quietest e-MTB motors on the market.

It’s bloody light too

According to TQ, the HPR50 motor weighs just 1.85kg. That’s lighter than Specialized’s SL 1.1 motor (1.95kg), Fazua’s Ride 60 motor (2.3kg), Shimano’s EP8 (2.6kg) and Bosch’s Performance CX (2.79kg).

To make the most of its weight advantage, the HPR50 motor is paired to a modest 360Wh battery. This is claimed to weigh 1.83kg, which is notably lighter than the 360Wh battery used in the Orbea Rise (2.2kg), and about the same weight as the Specialized Levo SL’s smaller 320Wh battery (1.8kg). The compact battery allows the downtube to be made much slimmer, which results in further weight savings.

Putting the motor and battery together, here’s how the total system weight compares between the new Fuel EXe and its two main competitors;

Unlike the Levo SL and the Rise, the Fuel EXe’s battery can be easily removed from the frame without having to drop out the motor. This means you can charge it in the bike, or separately if you don’t have a power point in your shed. Trek claims you can fully charge the battery in just two hours with a fast charger.

Trek will also be offering a 160Wh Range Extender battery that customers can purchase separately for $1,199 AUD. Boosting range by a claimed 40%, the piggyback battery is designed to fit into a standard water bottle cage with the addition of a built-in retention strap for security. Unfortunately the Range Extender battery won’t be available in Australia until late 2022 however.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The 360Wh battery can be removed from the downtube to be charged separately.

Tidy, integrated display

Just like the Specialized Levo and Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay, the Trek Fuel EXe features a display that’s integrated directly into the top tube. This 2in O-LED screen forms the control hub for the bike, with a single button that turns the system on and off. This same button is then used to cycle through four pages that display key metrics including battery status, riding speed, average speed, rider power, motor power, and estimated range. Because of its integrated display, the Fuel EXe doesn’t have room for the Knock Block steering limiter, and so omits it entirely.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
A 2in display is integrated seamlessly into the top tube.

A discreet two button controller sits next to the left-hand grip, allowing you to toggle between the Eco, Mid and High assist settings. Holding the top button also engages the Walk mode, which delivers power to the rear wheel when you’re off the bike and pushing uphill.

Bluetooth and ANT+ capability allows the TQ system to pair with your GPS head unit and mobile phone. Further functions can be unlocked via the Trek Central app, which offers navigation and integration with third party apps. You can use the app to tune the motor’s assistance levels, and it’ll also provide you with tyre and suspension pressure recommendations if you’re using a TireWiz and AirWiz.

Overall it’s a very clean system, and combined with the compact motor and slim downtube, the Fuel EXe does a remarkable job of not looking like an e-MTB.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The three assist modes can be accessed by a slim two-button controller next to the left hand grip.

Geometry & mullet capability

Without a bulky motor getting in the way, there are few compromises forced upon the suspension layout and geometry of the Trek Fuel EXe. For example, the chainstay length sits at an impressive 440mm, which is quite short given the 29in rear wheel and 2.5in tyre clearance. Trek has also chosen to stick with conventional Boost hub spacing and a 55mm chainline, so there’s nothing funky in terms of standards.

With the Mino Link flip chip set in the Low position, the Fuel EXe features a 64.7° head angle, a 76.7° seat angle and a 38.5mm BB drop. In the High position those angles steepen by 0.5° and the BB lifts by almost 7mm.

In that same High setting, Trek also states that the Fuel EXe can be run as a mullet with a 27.5in rear wheel. This will affect the motor’s output and 25km/h cutoff point however, as there’s currently no way for users to adjust the rear wheel circumference in the TQ system.

Trek Fuel EXe Size Chart
2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
All Fuel EXe models feature the same OCLV carbon frame, TQ motor and 360Wh battery.

Trek Fuel EXe price & specs

Globally, there will be six Trek Fuel EXe models offered for 2023. Only three of those models will be available in Australia, with prices starting at $9,499 AUD for the Fuel EXe 9.5, and maxing out at $12,999 AUD for the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT.

All Fuel EXe models make use of the same TQ-HPR50 motor, 360Wh battery and OCLV carbon frame. There will be no alloy models for the foreseeable future.

The bike we’ve been testing is the top-end Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS, which in the States will come with a staggering retail price of $13,999 USD (that’s approximately $20,000 AUD!). It features RockShox Ultimate-level suspension, Bontrager Line Pro carbon wheels, a one-piece RSL carbon bar and stem, a SRAM XX1 AXS drivetrain, Code RSC brakes and a Reverb AXS dropper post. While this model won’t be available in Australia, aside from the wireless bits the spec isn’t drastically different from the 9.8 XT. As usual though, our review won’t be focussing a whole lot on the individual components, but rather the important stuff that’s shared throughout the range; the frame, handling, suspension and drive system.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.8 xt
The Trek Fuel EXe 9.8 XT is the highest spec’d model coming into Australia. It gets a RockShox Lyrik fork with a Charger 3 damper, a Super Deluxe shock, carbon cranks, rims and a one-piece RSL cockpit.

2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.8 XT

2023 trek fuel exe 9.7 slx/xt
The only model to feature Fox suspension, the Trek Fuel EXe 9.7 features a Shimano SLX groupset and alloy components to help bring the price down.

2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.7

2023 trek fuel exe 9.5
The Trek Fuel EXe 9.5 is the entry-point into the range, coming under $10K while featuring the same OCLV carbon frame and TQ drive system as the top-tier models.

2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.5

Noise isn’t everything, but geez it’s nice when you’re on a quiet bike. And in this regard, the Fuel EXe sets a whole new benchmark that we expect other brands will attempt to follow over the coming few years.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
We’ve been testing the Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS model, though aside from the wireless bits, the spec is actually quite similar to the 9.8 XT model.

Trek Fuel EXe sizing & fit

Deviating from the regular Fuel EX, which comes in six sizes, the Trek Fuel EXe will only be available in four. To suit our 175-178cm testers we chose the Medium, which features a 452mm reach.

We had few complaints with sizing, though the stock handlebars are comically wide at 820mm. Those were promptly chopped down to a more conventional 780mm width, which proved to be a better fit with the 45mm ‘virtual’ stem length.

While the big diameter seat tube is nice and short, the 150mm dropper post limited our freedom of movement when riding down steep descents and along jump trails. We’d prefer to see a 170-180mm dropper on a bike that’s as capable as this.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The stock bars are enormously wide at 820mm, so we chopped those down to a more palatable 780mm width.

Otherwise the Fuel EXe cockpit is a comfortable place to be thanks to the agreeable Bontrager saddle and lock-on grips. The seat tube angle isn’t too steep, with neutral weight distribution that doesn’t put a load of pressure on your hands. There’s plenty of adjustability thanks to the long saddle rails for those who do want to shunt it forward for a more aggressive climbing position.

Where the Fuel EXe definitely feels like an e-MTB is in its Q-Factor. Although the TQ-HPR50 motor is very compact, the fat e*13 carbon crank arms see the pedalling width blow out considerably. We measured the Q-Factor at 195mm, which is wider than any other e-MTB we’ve tested, and around 20mm wider than a regular mountain bike. Many riders will be unfazed by the difference, and indeed the wider stance can improve your overall stability on the bike. However, flat pedal riders will need to be wary when riding through deep ruts, and those with sensitive knees may simply find the Q-Factor to be too wide for comfort.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
Instead of the proprietary Thru Shaft shock we’re used to seeing on the regular Fuel EX, Slash and Rail, the Fuel EXe features a standard trunnion-mounted shock.

Suspension setup

The rear shock on the Trek Fuel EXe is designed to be run with 30% sag, a process that’s made easy thanks to the anodised gradients on the RockShox Super Deluxe.

Jose Gonzalez of Trek’s Suspension Lab explained to us that the Fuel EXe does have a slightly lower leverage rate compared to the regular Fuel EX, and the rear shock has been valved with a medium compression tune. The aim here is to provide more support to handle the additional weight of the battery and motor. Because of the greater damping forces generated by the shock, we trended towards having the compression adjusters backed off from the neutral setting. High-speed was set at minus two clicks (fully open) and the low-speed dial was set at minus one click. Rebound was set a couple of clicks faster than halfway to suit our 68-75kg testers.

Up front is the new 2023 RockShox Lyrik that features the new DebonAir+ spring and Charger 3 damper. RockShox recommends an extra 10psi for this fork when it’s fitted to an e-MTB, but we found this pressure to be too high when paired with the highly supportive Charger 3 damper. We ended up running 10psi less than recommended on the chart, set the rebound on the faster side, ran the high-speed compression at minus one click, and set the low-speed adjuster a few clicks lighter than neutral.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
Up front is a 150mm travel RockShox Lyrik, though the Fuel EXe frame will handle 160mm if you fancy going longer.

Trek Fuel EXe weight

Confirmed weight for our Trek Fuel EXe XX1 AXS test bike is 18.6kg, weighed without pedals and with the tyres set up tubeless.

That’s an impressive weight for a full suspension e-MTB, especially when you factor in the aggressive Bontrager tyres, powerful brakes and piggyback shock. Still, it’s not quite as light as some of its competitors;

When you consider that the Fuel EXe is the only bike in that list with carbon wheels and crank arms, as well as a one-piece cockpit, its weight becomes a little less impressive. Given that the Fuel EXe supposedly has the lightest drive system out of the lot, we suspect some of the additional weight is found in the frame itself. That’s no bad thing, especially if it equates to having a stiffer and more robust chassis.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
We’ve been testing the Fuel EXe over the past few weeks to see how its unique motor and lightweight build fares out on the trail.

What does the Trek Fuel EXe do well?

When riding the Trek Fuel EXe the first thing you notice, or more accurately don’t notice, is just how quiet the TQ-HPR50 motor is. No doubt about it, this is easily the quietest e-MTB we’ve ever ridden.

The overall decibel output is low, and the motor’s pitch is significantly less prominent than other motors we’ve ridden. Rather than droning or whining, the TQ-HPR50 motor emits a more discreet sound that’s a bit like a gentle breeze whistling through the trees. Furthermore, there’s no annoying clacking noise on the descents like you’ll find with the latest Shimano and Bosch drive units. The TQ motor does feature an integrated freewheel that allows the drive wheel to disengage from the cranks to minimise drag, but despite this we couldn’t detect any obvious noise when descending on rocky trails.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The climbing position is comfortable, and there’s minimal squatting under load from the rear suspension.

Indeed the motor and chassis are well damped, with very little vibration or rattling present. While riding back-to-back with our Canyon Spectral:ON test bike, which features a cavernous downtube and a Shimano EP8 motor, the difference in trail noise was stark. Noise isn’t everything, but geez it’s nice when you’re on a quiet bike. And in this regard, the Fuel EXe sets a whole new benchmark that we expect other brands will attempt to follow over the coming few years.

Initially the muted motor gave the illusion of providing us with less assistance. This is because the power delivery is less obvious than a louder, whinier motor. However, a glance at our average riding speeds had us soon correcting that illusion.

Of course there’s not as much punch compared to the bigger 85-90Nm motors on the market, which is to be expected. During our standardised range test (more on that below), climbing speeds aboard the Fuel EXe hovered around 14km/h, compared to 18km/h on an EP8-equipped bike. This means you’ll be working harder on the Fuel EXe if all your pals are riding on full-powered e-MTBs.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The TQ motor is remarkably quiet, resulting in less distractions when you’re out in the bush.

Still, if you only ever ride singletrack aboard your e-MTB in the Eco or Trail assist settings, the TQ motor is likely to meet your needs. This will especially be the case for lighter and fitter riders, who will find the 50Nm output to be just about perfect for trail riding.

Well-damped suspension & no-fuss handling

It isn’t just the motor that’s quiet either, with the Trek Fuel EXe delivering a nicely damped ride quality that’s complemented by the distinct lack of any slurping noises from the fork’s new Charger 3 damper.

The carbon chassis feels stout and reliable, with no hint of twisting or excessive flex under load. It somehow manages to achieve this sensation without feeling harsh or pingy, and instead offers an accommodating platform that allows you to push it quite hard without fear of being punished for less calculated line choices.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The excellent handling and well-damped suspension delivers a confidence-inspiring ride on the Trek Fuel EXe, even if it doesn’t have a tonne of travel.

The top-notch suspension plays into this beautifully when you’re smashing down rowdy descents. The Lyrik’s mid-stroke is particularly good, offering a heap of support with plenty of big hit damping control that encourages you to let off the brakes when gravity takes over.

While the suspension is good, it’s worth acknowledging that the Fuel EXe is not as plush as the Rail. Along with its lower overall weight, it can’t monster-truck down wide-open terrain like the Rail can.

The Fuel EXe takes the upper hand as the trail gets squigglier though, with less exaggeration required from your handling inputs. The smaller and shorter battery puts less weight up towards the head tube, helping to centralise and lower the bike’s centre of mass. Combined with the stout frame, there’s very little understeer present with the Fuel EXe. Compared to bigger and heavier e-MTBs, it never feels like it’s trying to push wide or ride away from you.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The low BB, short rear end and excellent weight distribution allows the Fuel EXe to weave its way through turns with minimal understeer.

The excellent handling and weight distribution makes the Fuel EXe an easier bike to ride for less experienced riders. For more advanced pilots, the Fuel EXe delivers a thoroughly involving ride quality. Yes it’s still an 18kg bike, but it’s far more playful than the heavier Rail, with the shorter chainstays helping to encourage front wheel popping shenanigans.

It dips into corners without requiring constant persuasion, and it takes to the air well too, maintaining a steady trajectory without making you feel like you’re an unwilling passenger. There’s a heap of support from the suspension for soaking up ill-timed landings when things do go awry, with the shock’s Hydraulic Bottom Out ramping up the travel in the final 20% of the stroke. While the O-ring indicated we’d used full travel on many occasions, not once were we able to detect it while riding.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The suspension offers plenty of support and progression, giving the Fuel EXe a playful ride quality on rolling singletrack.

What does it struggle with?

Though the progressive RockShox suspension on the Trek Fuel EXe offers bucketloads of high-speed control, it does feel quite aggressively damped on smaller chatter. This is more so the case with the new Lyrik, which hasn’t amazed us with its small-bump compliance, transmitting more feedback through to our hands.

The fork on our test bike has improved noticeably over the first dozen rides as the seals and bushings have bedded in, and there’s no denying the incredible support and control that the Charger 3 damper brings. However, the Fuel EXe hasn’t exactly delivered a cloud-like ride quality, certainly not compared to the floaty Spectral:ON we’ve been testing alongside it. For this reason, we’d be curious to try out the Fuel EXe 9.7 to see whether its Fox suspension package brings about a more supple ride.

We’ll point out that heavier and more aggressive riders may not encounter the same experience as us. And it has to be said that the damping support does make the Fuel EXe a highly responsive and rewarding bike to ride. Still, those eager for the cushiest ride on the chunkiest of terrain will likely be better served by the Rail.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The Lyrik isn’t the most supple fork at slower speeds, resulting in more feedback being transmitted through the grips.

Overall we’ve been impressed by the usable and natural-feeling support from the TQ-HPR50 motor. It doesn’t spike or surge, offering a nicely progressive power band that makes it predictable and easy to modulate on tricky climbs. The 25km/h cutoff point is about as seamless it gets, and because the motor is so quiet, it’s difficult to tell when the motor has disengaged from the cranks.

It took us a few rides to get used to though, as it can occasionally lag before the power starts to come on. Spinning a lower gear at a slightly higher cadence seems to be its preferred input, though we’ve not found it to be as adept at responding to rapid changes in RPM compared to some other e-MTB motors.

There are options to tune the TQ motor via the Trek Central app, which allows you to tweak the pedal response, assist factor and the maximum power of each of the three settings. Unfortunately the app hasn’t been available prior to the Fuel EXe’s public launch, so we’re yet to play around with those tuning options. We’ll be exploring more of that functionality over the coming weeks of riding.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
For many riders, the 50Nm output of the TQ motor will be just about perfect.

What range can you get with the Trek Fuel EXe?

Depending on the terrain, most of our rides on the Trek Fuel EXe have typically racked up 1,000-1,300m of elevation gain over a distance of 30-38km. We’ve mostly utilised the Mid power setting, which strikes a nice balance for general trail riding.

It’s been mighty helpful having the battery status displayed as a percentage, and the remaining ride time and range estimations have proven to be surprisingly accurate. When you do get down to the final 10% on the battery, the motor’s power output automatically lowers a few notches to help conserve what’s left. It doesn’t totally limp home though, retaining a usable level of support all the way down to 0%. When you have finally cooked the goose, the lack of drag through the TQ motor means it’s not an awful experience to ride the Fuel EXe on human power alone.

To see how the Fuel EXe’s efficiency compares directly to some of the other e-MTBs we’ve reviewed, we subjected it to our standardised range test. This involves the same rider pedalling up a road climb with a 10% average grade, with the motor set to its most powerful setting, before bombing back down a singletrack descent. The idea is to see how much elevation, and how many laps each bike can rack up on a single charge, while keeping the variables as constant as possible.

Here’s how the Fuel EXe faired in our range test;

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
You’ll get a decent amount of range out of that slim 360Wh battery, though expect to work a bit harder if all your pals are riding full-powered e-MTBs in the Turbo/Boost modes.

As you can tell by those figures, the Fuel EXe managed to achieve considerably more range than the Kenevo SL, and not just because it has a larger capacity battery. The Fuel EXe is also lighter, comes fitted with faster-rolling tyres and features a more efficient suspension platform.

It didn’t get quite as much as the Levo SL however, and there are reasons for that. The 35Nm output of the Levo SL’s motor is naturally less demanding in terms of its fuel requirements, since it delivers a slower average riding speed. This makes the Fuel EXe a noticeably quicker bike on the climbs, which isn’t accounted for in our range test data.

Given the Orbea Rise has the same capacity battery as the Fuel EXe and a more powerful motor on paper, how did it achieve more range? The simple explanation is the tyres. The Rise M10 we tested was fitted with a lighter and much faster rolling Maxxis Dissector and Rekon tyre combo, which likely accounts for the difference.

Of course it’d be possible to get more range out of the Fuel EXe by fitting lower profile tyres, and you can also utilise the lower assist settings to reduce power consumption. Once the Range Extender batteries are available, Fuel EXe owners will have the opportunity to boost range by up to 40%, which will see it get closer to some of those bigger capacity e-MTBs.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs range extender battery
Trek will be selling a 160Wh Range Extender battery separately, but these won’t be available in Australia until late 2022.

Component highs & lows

As mentioned earlier, we won’t be dwelling on the components of our Trek Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS test bike. And truth be told, there’s not a lot to be said about the ultra high-end build kit that we haven’t discussed before.

We’ve largely ignored the TireWiz and AirWiz gizmos to begin with, partly because we’ve been experimenting with tyre and suspension setup. However, we’ll be delving more into their functionality now that we have access to the Trek Central app that pairs with the sensors to provide live readings and recommendations.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs bontrager se5
The Minion DHR II-inspired Bontrager SE5 tyres are solid performers, though we’d prefer something a little tackier up front.

It is worth touching on the new Bontrager SE5 tyres, which are spec’d on each Fuel EXe model. These 2.5in wide tyres feature a Minion DHR II-inspired tread pattern and a dual compound mix that combines a firmer 61a rubber in the centre tread, and softer 50a rubber for the cornering blocks. They’re built upon the Core Strength casing, which combines sidewall protection with a sub-tread reinforcement for puncture protection. The result is a solid, durable and well-damped tyre that isn’t overly stiff on the trail, while also feeling predictable across a broad range of surfaces. They’re decent all-rounders, though they aren’t as tacky as a Maxxis 3C compound or a Specialized T9 tyre. If this were our bike, we’d likely be fitting something softer up front for a little more bite.

There have been some mild annoyances on our test bike, like the rattling thru-axle lever at the rear dropout. Thankfully this lever can be removed, though you do lose its handy 6mm hex key. That didn’t matter too much as the fork’s steerer tube comes loaded with a Bontrager BITS multi-tool inside. The tool can be a bit tricky to remove, and we also found the bits have a habit of coming loose, allowing them to rattle around inside the steerer. Once tightened up, the Fuel EXe returned to its blissfully silent state.

We love how the TQ display sits flush with the top tube, though it’d be nice to see a clock offered on one of the data screens. The option to display cadence would also be useful, especially while getting accustomed to the TQ motor’s output. The controller offers a nice tactile platform with an audible, yet discreet ‘beep’ whenever you switch assist levels. However, accessing the Walk mode requires you to constantly press down the top button with your thumb, which is awkward when you’re holding onto the bars and pushing the bike up a steep and slippery incline.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
To engage the Walk mode, you have to hold down the top button with your thumb. That’s easier said than done when you’re pushing up a steep and slippery incline.

Otherwise all the electrics on the Fuel EXe have proven to be totally functional. Being able to easily remove the battery will be a welcome feature for anyone who needs to charge it separately to where the bike is stored, and we like that the main charge port is located high up on the downtube where it’s protected by a thick rubber plug. Internally there’s also an automatic lock built into the main battery’s connector, basically eliminating any chance of the cable coming loose while bouncing down the trail. Sure they’re only small details, but they’re also clear signs of a well-considered design.

Trek Fuel EXe vs Specialized Levo SL vs Orbea Rise

Over the past year we’ve spent a load of time aboard two of the Trek Fuel EXe’s main rivals; the Specialized Levo SL and Orbea Rise. So how do these bikes compare?

Specialized Levo SL

2022 specialized levo sl expert
The Specialized Levo SL is one of the most popular options in the lightweight e-MTB category, though it is starting to look a little dated next to the more contemporary Fuel EXe.

Specialized launched the Levo SL at the start of 2020, which shows just how far behind Trek and most other brands have been. No, the Levo SL wasn’t the first lightweight e-MTB to hit the market, but it is the bike that has legitimised the category.

The Levo SL is built around the SL 1.1 motor, which you’ll also find in the Kenevo SL and the Creo e-Road bike. This motor dishes out 35Nm of peak torque, making it considerably less powerful compared to the TQ motor in the Fuel EXe. It’s also much noisier, emitting an annoyingly whiny pitch that takes a while for the rider to tune out. However, the SL 1.1 motor does offer more intuitive power delivery, and it’s also better at handling high-cadence pedalling spurts.

In terms of ride quality, the Levo SL delivers noticeably plusher and more active suspension performance, which makes it a comfortable bike to pedal over choppy terrain. It does have 10mm more travel at the rear, though the suspension kinematic and shock tune also feels lighter compared to the Fuel EXe. We have found it easier to bottom out the Levo SL, and the sensation is harsh with the Float DPX2 shock.

2022 specialized levo sl expert
We love the Levo SL’s sprightly handling, supple suspension, and the intuitive performance from its SL 1.1 motor. It’s a noisy bugger though.

The Levo SL’s handling is nice and lively, though the front-end steering is a little light with the 51mm fork offset, resulting in some twitchiness at speed. In comparison the Fuel EXe feels better balanced across a range of riding speeds thanks to its solid chassis and well-damped suspension. It’s no doubt the more modern bike of the two, making the two year-old Levo SL feel a little outdated.

It also has to be said that the Fuel EXe kills it on value compared to the Levo SL. The Levo SL Expert we tested features a Fox 36 GRIP2 fork and Float DPX2 shock, alloy Roval wheels, a SRAM GX/X01 drivetrain and Code RS brakes. In comparison, the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT gets a similar level of suspension albeit with a Shimano XT groupset, carbon wheels, carbon cranks and a one-piece carbon cockpit. Despite featuring a higher-end spec, the Fuel EXe sells for $2,100 AUD less, making for a far more appealing package.

Orbea Rise

orbea rise
The Orbea Rise features a Shimano EP8 motor that has been de-tuned to provide 60Nm of peak torque and a more subtle power curve.

The Orbea Rise arrived not long after the Levo SL at the tail-end of 2020, though it took a slightly different tact by taking an off-the-shelf Shimano EP8 motor and de-tuning it to reduce the peak torque output to 60Nm. Orbea also developed its own ‘RS’ firmware for the Japanese motor, which aimed to provide a more natural feel to the power delivery while improving efficiency. This was then paired to a smaller 360Wh battery and a gorgeously svelte carbon frame to deliver complete bike weights from as low as 16.2kg.

The more sensibly-spec’d Rise M10 we tested came in at 18.38kg, though it was fitted with lightweight Maxxis tyres that felt somewhat out of place. With more appropriate rubber, the Rise would likely come in at a similar weight to the Fuel EXe.

While value for money from Orbea is better than Specialized, it’s still not as impressive as the Fuel EXe. The Rise M10 comes with blingy Factory Series Fox suspension, a Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain and alloy Race Face wheels, but sells for two grand more than the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT.

orbea rise
There are quite a few similarities between the Orbea Rise and Trek Fuel EXe, though there are also some notable differences that set the two bikes apart.

On the trail the Rise is a closer match to the Fuel EXe. The geometry is pretty similar, though the Rise chassis doesn’t feel quite as stout when being pushed hard. This also comes down to the steeper head angle (65.5° vs 64.7°), and it’s also due to the suspension, which is marginally more sensitive off-the-top. It delivers terrific traction and a comfortable ride quality, though it’s not as supportive as the Fuel EXe.

Speaking of suspension, we wouldn’t be opposed to seeing both the Rise and Fuel EXe equipped with 150mm of rear travel like the Levo SL. Sure these are lightweight e-MTBs, but travel is travel, and we’re still talking about 18+kg bikes that are capable of going very fast on rough terrain. That said, any increase might see them encroaching too far into the territory of their bigger travel, full-powered siblings (the Wild FS and Rail).

We found there to be terrific power on tap from the Rise’ EP8-RS motor, and the E-Tube app allows you to tweak the acceleration response and assistance character of each setting, depending on how you want the power to come on. The stock tune works mighty well though, with the Rise being an efficient performer that feels natural and intuitive on the trail, with just a fraction more punch available for scaling crux features on a technical climb.

As mentioned earlier, the Shimano EP8 drive unit is much noisier than the Fuel EXe’s TQ motor, which is basically silent in comparison – both on the climbs and on the descents. We also prefer the clean integration of the TQ system, with its bright and easy-to-read top tube display. The standard display on the Rise is a rather austere junction box that features a couple of tiny LEDs. You can upgrade this to the Shimano EM800 display for an additional fee, though it comes with additional wires that add clutter to the cockpit. It’s plenty functional, just not as tidy as the Fuel EXe.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
The Trek Fuel EXe is one stealthy performer on the trail, and it looks fabulous too.

Flow’s Verdict

The Trek Fuel EXe is a terrific example of just how far e-MTB technology has come. Not only is it a fantastic looking bike that’s low on bulk, it also manages to deliver a load of performance out of an impressively lightweight package.

The unique TQ motor is stunningly quiet, and for many riders its 50Nm output will be ideal. Heavier folks and those chasing maximum power with maximum range will still be better served by the Rail and is full-powered Bosch motor. The Rail also features a plusher ride quality that suits brainless bombing down the roughest descents.

In comparison the Fuel EXe is a more involving bike to ride, and it rewards an active pilot that seeks to work and play with the terrain. It’s responsive and fun to ride on twisty singletrack, with the sort of on-point handling and geometry that we expect we’ll be seeing in the next generation Fuel EX.

While the suspension isn’t buttery smooth over smaller chatter, it does produce a heap of support and incredible control at higher speeds. Along with the stout chassis, the Fuel EXe exhibits a well-damped ride quality that shrugs off the big hits and awkward landings despite not having a tonne of travel.

Indeed for those riders who are looking for that hallowed middle-ground between a regular mountain bike and an e-MTB, the Fuel EXe presents one of the most compelling options to date.

2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 electric emtb
If you’re put off by the high weight and brutish handling of a full-powered e-MTB, the Fuel EXe is a very compelling option.
2023 trek fuel exe 9.9 xx1 axs
Charging down before heading home to charge up.

It appears you're using an old version of Internet Explorer which is no longer supported, for safer and optimum browsing experience please upgrade your browser.