Trek Fuel EX 9.8 review

The current Trek Fuel EX was announced in mid-2016 as part of Trek's 2017 line-up. With the raft of 120mm / 130mm trail 29ers launched recently, we rode the 9.8 model to see how the Trek stacks up against its rivals.

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When the updated Fuel EX was launched the "standard" 27.5 wheel size was dropped, in its place were the 29" and 27.5" Plus bikes. For our conditions, the 29er is the pick of the bunch. The bike comes with 130mm front and rear suspension travel with a 67° head angle (lower setting), 433mm chainstays and several other clever design solutions.

 

To increase frame stiffness Trek decided to build the Fuel EX with a straight downtube toward the headtube. This resulted in less clearance for the fork crown and would lead to frames strikes when the bars rotate too far. To avoid frame damage, Trek created the Knock Block system which relies on a stop chip located on the top tube, which works with a keyed headset top cap that prevents the fork from turning too far. There is also a special keyed stem from Bontrager that helps ensure all of the parts remain lined up. The stem is only an aid and it's important to note that any other stem will work on the bike by installing a clamping headset spacer for you to install your favourite stem. The overall integration of the system is sleek.

 

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On the underside of the downtube, Trek has placed Carbon Armor that protects the frame from debris and rock strikes. Cables are routed internally through their Control Freak internal routing. Although not as commonplace as it used to be, it was nice to see ISCG 05 tabs on the frame for those who would like to run a chain guide. I suspect it is a legacy from circa 2017 when some bikes still came with two-by drivetrains and needed a guide to avoid chain drop when things got rough.

 

The Mino Link system is Trek's version of a flip chip. This allows the rider to choose between a low and slack or lower and slacker geometry. In the lower setting, the head angle slackens from 67.7 to 67 degrees and drops the bottom bracket height by 10mm without negatively affecting suspension performance.

 

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Trek's big ace is the RE:aktiv suspension technology that they developed in partnership with custom suspension tuner Penske Racing Shocks. In short, RE:aktiv was designed to improve a bike's pedalling performance without affecting its ability to absorb impacts. A spring-loaded valve inside the shock body allows for increased low-speed compression for pedalling support on smoother terrain, but when the shock shaft speed increases the valve opens up, enabling the shock to quickly and smoothly absorb the impact before the valve closes again.

 

Another neat piece of design is Trek's Active Braking Pivot (ABP). ABP uses a concentric pivot around the rear axle to separate the braking force from the suspension system allowing the back end to maintain better contact with the trail when braking.

 

Specifications


  • FrameOCLV Mountain Carbon main frame & seatstay, alloy chainstay, ABP, Boost148, Knock Block steerer stop, Full Floater, EVO link, tapered head tube, Mino Link, Control Freak internal routing, Carbon Armor, PF92, ISCG 05, G2 Geometry, 130 mm travel
  • ForkFox Performance 34 Float, GRIP 3-position damper, tapered steerer, G2 Geometry w/51 mm offset, Boost110, 130 mm travel
  • ShockFox Performance Float EVOL, RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft 3-position damper, tuned by Trek Suspension Lab, 210x52.5 mm
  • WheelsBontrager Line Carbon 30, Tubeless Ready, 54T Rapid Drive, Boost110 front, Boost148 rear, tubeless strips included, valves sold separately
  • TyresBontrager XR4 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Inner Strength sidewalls, 120tpi, aramid bead, 29x2.40˝
  • ShiftersSRAM GX Eagle, 12 speed
  • Rear derailleurSRAM GX Eagle, Roller Bearing Clutch
  • CrankTruvativ Descendant 7k Eagle DUB, 32T Direct Mount
  • Bottom bracketSRAM DUB Press Fit, 92 mm
  • CassetteSRAM XG-1275 Eagle, 10-50, 12-speed
  • ChainSRAM GX Eagle
  • SaddleBontrager Arvada, austenite rails
  • SeatpostBontrager Line, internal routing, 31.6 mm, 15.5: 100 mm, 17.5 & 18.5: 125 mm, 19.5 & 21.5: 150 mm
  • HandlebarBontrager Line Pro, OCLV Carbon, 35 mm, 15 mm rise, 750 mm width
  • GripsBontrager XR Trail Elite, alloy lock-on
  • StemBontrager Line Pro, Knock Block, 35 mm clamp, 0-degree
  • HeadsetKnock Block Integrated, sealed cartridge bearing, 1-1/8˝ top, 1.5˝ bottom
  • BrakesetShimano SLX M7000 hydraulic disc
  • PriceR87,999

 

On the Trail


I'd best describe riding the Trek Fuel EX as feeling like "an old pair of jeans". By that I mean that riding the Fuel EX is familiar and neutral with no oddities to get used to. The Fox 34 Performance fork took a little longer than usual to dial in but once I got it balanced with the rear suspension, it handled duties up front quite well. Trek's suspension set up calculator was helpful during set up. It provides recommended pressure, sag, and rebound settings after you enter your weight and the bike model. I used the recommended settings as a base and then worked my way from there to get the bike to ride to my liking.

 

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It's becoming a bit of a cliché to say that a bike both climbs and descends well but it does apply to the Fuel EX. The rear, with the RE:aktiv shock technology, can be ridden wide open under most circumstances. In fact, I never found the need to lock it out, only riding it firm for a short while for testing purposes. Depending on the base set up, you could opt for the Trail (middle setting) on faster, smooth trails to add some "pop" to your ride. The Fuel EX scampers up anything in its path with the rear offering bucket loads of traction. The Trek does require the rider to move forward on the saddle to negate the slacker seat tube angle. Thankfully, the front wheel stays planted making it easy to stick to your line.

 

During our limited time on the bike, it didn't feel like the lower Mino Link setting impacted efficiency on steep, technical climbs that much. It, however, adds a dose of fun to the bike on the downs. Half a degree in head angle doesn't sound like a lot, and with the lower bottom bracket thrown in, the bike does feel like it rails berms with more zest.

 

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Having recently spent some time on an older generation 29" trail bike, I was grateful for the modern design and technology advances on the Fuel EX. There are no signs of it being lazy to turn or negotiate tight sections. The advent of 1 x drivetrains has allowed manufacturers to tuck the rear wheel in close to the bottom bracket and even though the Fuel EX can take a front derailleur, its short chainstays make for an agile and confident bike.

 

Trek's ABP rear suspension deserves a mention. It keeps the rear active no matter what. Yes. we shouldn't really be braking going through rough terrain, but it happens from time to time, and then an active rear suspension that keeps tracking and absorbing the terrain is a thing of beauty (and a crash saver).

 

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The 35mm Bontrager bar and stem combination is the most comfortable that I have ridden. I tried the 35mm standard as an early adopter and I wasn't all that impressed as the handlebar felt too stiff in my hands. Although the Bontrager components did not suffer from the same issue, just keep in mind that 35mm mounts for accessories (lights, GoPro, HR monitors, etc) are still a bit scarce. I like the 750mm width of the handlebars although I feel that manufacturers should fit 780mm as standard and allow riders to trim the bars down to their desired width.

 

Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres were a pleasant surprise. They offered good traction and acceptable rolling resistance for a trail tyre. These tyres are certainly an option to look at if you are in the market for a good all-round trail / all mountain tyre for own bike.

 

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Verdict


Trek's Fuel EX is an incredibly versatile bike, even more so considering local trails and conditions. Light and fast enough to tackle the weekend's racing while capable enough to throw down the side of a mountain. It further solidifies the new bread of 120mm / 130mm 29ers trail and all mountain bikes as the go-to option for the perfect one bike.

 






19 Comments

ThePubSA, Nov 26 2018 10:22

fuel ex always been good.

GrahamS2, Nov 26 2018 10:46

Weight? 

Robbow, Nov 26 2018 10:54

Flippen good looking bike, just seems to carry its proportions well.

 

Really like the basic color scheme too

 

Bump up the fork to 140mm and take off the carbon wheels and you would be golden :devil:

Steven Knoetze (sk27), Nov 26 2018 10:59

Flippen good looking bike, just seems to carry its proportions well.

 

Really like the basic color scheme too

 

Bump up the fork to 140mm and take off the carbon wheels and you would be golden :devil:

 

Couldn't agree more, that has some really sexy lines........

Odinson, Nov 26 2018 11:16

Nice looking bike, but that STA though. 

Stevief, Nov 26 2018 11:47

I have the 2018 model.  I noticed the 19 model is specced with SLX vs the Sram Guide RS that the 18 has.  I wonder why? Also the 18 has the alloy rims vs the 19 which has carbon.   That has knocked the price up a tad high for my liking.  I would get last years model for 20k less that stump up for this model but thats me.

 

Its without doubt the best bike i have ridden.  It handles rough gnarly trails with ease, climbs well, its very comfortable and the re aktiv shock is without doubt the best in the biz.  Highly recommend this bike for those wanting a proper all rounder.

Jacquers, Nov 26 2018 11:51

Please send me one to verify your results ;)

Titleist, Nov 26 2018 01:30

I have the 2018 model.  I noticed the 19 model is specced with SLX vs the Sram Guide RS that the 18 has.  I wonder why? Also the 18 has the alloy rims vs the 19 which has carbon.   That has knocked the price up a tad high for my liking.  I would get last years model for 20k less that stump up for this model but thats me.

 

Its without doubt the best bike i have ridden.  It handles rough gnarly trails with ease, climbs well, its very comfortable and the re aktiv shock is without doubt the best in the biz.  Highly recommend this bike for those wanting a proper all rounder.

 

Yip, I agree that the price is ridiculous, especially considering the carbon wheels that shaved less than 100 grams off the official weight. I had a difficult conversation with my insurance trying to explain a R18000 increase in the price, 4 months after I got mine.

 

 

Weight? 

 

2018 XL model is 14kg ready to ride so this one is probably 13.9kg.

Lighthouse, Nov 26 2018 03:08

Highly specc'd bike with SLX brakes, or are SLX good enough? Is SLX not entry level?

Titleist, Nov 26 2018 04:00

Well anything is better compared the Guide RS which is on the 2018 model. 

Spock, Nov 26 2018 04:54

Not much difference between SLX and XL brakes (except price and bit of weight). But both are great. My Fuel EX8 came with Deore brakes and I have no desire to upgrade as they are perfect. Only upgrade was a 203mm front rotor.

Bizkit031, Nov 26 2018 07:03

Overpriced

SlowManiac, Nov 26 2018 11:36

I've got the 2018 one. They are awesome bikes but I had had major durability issues with the carbon hoops. Local trails are seriously rocky and they are just not up for the job. Pity because I really like them.

GrahamS2, Nov 27 2018 10:07

2018 XL model is 14kg ready to ride so this one is probably 13.9kg.

That's quite beefy for a carbon trail bike, particularly at that price point.

Stevief, Nov 27 2018 11:34

My 9.8 was stolen yesterday in Sea Point.  Please keep an eye out for her.  Im gutted

IMG_9053.jpg
 

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Titleist, Nov 27 2018 12:42

That's quite beefy for a carbon trail bike, particularly at that price point.

 

You must compare apples with apples. Add the equipment (Dropper post, 2.4 inch tyres) on the Ex to other carbon bikes and see where they end up. The tyres and dropper is at least 1kg compared to a bike without a dropper and 2.1 inch tyres.

GrahamS2, Nov 27 2018 02:09

You must compare apples with apples. Add the equipment (Dropper post, 2.4 inch tyres) on the Ex to other carbon bikes and see where they end up. The tyres and dropper is at least 1kg compared to a bike without a dropper and 2.1 inch tyres.

Almost every trail bike comes with a dropper and wide® tyres these days, so it's very much apples with apples. At almost R90k there's many options, some of them a quite a bit lighter. Weight is not the be-all and end-all on bikes like these, but having ridden a heavier trail bike for many years and now lighter version, it sure does help ;)

Christofison, Nov 29 2018 08:56

More accurately that bike would be around 13.5kg 'ready to ride', which isn't too bad for a nice stiff XL(21.5") trail bike. The actual weight of the medium in the shop is 12.7kg, without pedals of course. Those XR4 team issue tires weight just under 800g each, along with carbon hoops must feel so nice and snappy to ride.

Munchk1n, Dec 14 2018 02:03

I rode this beast at a "Test a Trek" day at my local trails. Since then I've been dreaming about owning one. Maybe I can ask Wesbank to finance me.