Trek has taken the ’06 Fuel EX, ditched the carbon chainstays in favour of a lighter and stiffer welded aluminium swingarm. So, unlike the higher-end EX bikes, the EX6 only gets 100mm of rear wheel travel. The geometry is also different to the new EX trail bikes, as the EX6 is still very much an XC bike with steep angles and quick steering. The main pivot gets cartridge bearings, so the stiction and reliability issues of the old bushing system have been eliminated. Cable routing on the EX6 is neat and guides are in place to route a remote lockout to the rear shock. Unfortunately the RockShox MC3.3 shock fitted isn’t compatible with RockShox’s Poploc.
The Reba SL fork isn’t the easiest to set up properly, so if you are part of the ‘plug-and-play’ generation it will leave you scratching your head. Thankfully guide pressures are printed on the fork leg to get you up and running, but you really need to read the manual to get the best out of the Reba. A handlebar-mounted Poploc adjuster lets you lock the fork or simply increase the compression damping — this depends on how you pre-adjust the floodgate (see what we mean about complicated). Fettling aside, the damping is easily the best on test, even if the Reba isn’t the stiffest fork here. Also it’s well matched in terms of adjustment and performance to the RockShox rear shock.
Tyres can make or break the handling of a bike, and the Bonty Jones ACXs with their reasonably soft rubber compound and good profile bring confidence to what is effectively XC racing geometry. Combined with good suspension damping, we had no problems really pushing the EX6.
This is the only bike to get a two-piece hollow arm crank, and with a full Shimano drivetrain everything works smoother than a Swiss timepiece. Our only concern were the Dual Control shifters — teaching an old dog new tricks was never going to be easy, but if you’re new to the sport they should be reasonably easy to get along with.
Trek supplies the Fuel EX6 with a boatload of headset spacers, so you can find a comfortable riding position then chop the steerer to match. But the EX6 has one of the lowest bottom bracket heights on test, so you’re actually going to want to run the stem lower than most. At 100mm the Trek has the longest stem on test, so when you get your local dealer to cut the steerer tube down we suggest trying a 80mm stem in
With the handlebar lowered and 35 per cent sag on the shock — to help combat the steepest head angle on the test — the Trek could be ridden as fast as any of the other bikes here. But there is a catch. Running less air in the shock to slacken out the steering means that the bottom bracket is lower and as a result we were constantly clipping pedals on the ground. Additionally, when pushed hard, the flex in the lightweight race fork and svelte rear end became noticeable, and while its debatable if it actually slows you down any, it does nothing to boost your confidence. At the end of our first long singletrack descent we suffered incredible cramp in our right hand. We attribute this to flicking up in the Dual Control lever to shift down, as it stopped happening when we switched to using the thumb shifter mounted under the lever body. If you’ve never had a mountain bike before with regular Rapid Fire shifters you won’t find it hard to get used to the Dual Control shifters on the Trek. But we still prefer regular independent shifting.
Production may have moved to Asia but the Trek Fuel EX6’s head is still firmly in XC racing mode. In fact, with the steep head angle, Dual Control shifters, 100mm travel and more dials than the cockpit of a Boeing 747, it’s more in keeping with the Top Fuel range than the 120mm EX trail bikes. So if you’re not planning on going racing don’t just be tempted by all the goodies on offer, there are other bikes that better suit a trail rider’s needs.
MBR RATING: 8/10