Trek uses in-house Alpha Red aluminium for the main frame on the EX5.5. This is a 7000 series aluminium that features a bit of mechanical forming, namely some flaring of the top tube. The down tube has a swan neck for increased crown clearance and, where it splices into the top tube, added strength. The swingarm is like last year — all aluminium — and now features Hi/Lo chainstays for greater stiffness and reduced weight. A slightly reconfigured link contains sealed bearings and there are oversized versions in the main
pivot, but still a bushing where
the shock anchors into the linkage.
Frame quality is good but the Trek isn’t the stiffest here. We could feel some flex in the front triangle and some noticeable fishtailing in the rear. On the trail this bike doesn’t feel as solid or as planted as the Giant or Cannondale.
For the money, we’re surprised to see a Fox Float RP2 shock on this bike, especially since Trek was on the RockShox programme last year. By flicking the blue lever on the body of the RP2 you can select ProPedal or fully open. Up front there’s a RockShox Tora 302 fork with 130mm of travel, Turnkey compression lockout (basically an on/off system), rebound adjustment and a dual air spring. Unlike RockShox’s older system, where you balance two springs, the Solo Air can be adjusted via a single Schrader valve on top of the leg. That’s if you can get the cap off — all of those tested were a tight fit.
Despite the EX5.5 having a 180mm front rotor, the Shimano M485s are poor stoppers. Some say Shimano brakes take a long time to bed in, but the pistons on this set ran too close to the rotors and rubbed constantly. They also squealed incessantly, which we’re convinced would put off most beginners.
Trek traditionally includes a fistful of headset spacers, enabling you to fine-tune the bar height.
The problem here is that the 100mm Bontrager Select stem is too long for this size bike. Trek says most dealers should be able to supply shorter versions, but whether you’ll have to pay for the pleasure is unclear. The Bontrager Select handlebar has an odd shape but then it’s in good company here, with the bars on the Specialized and Giant also a little on the weird side.
Despite having more travel than the bike we tested a year ago, the EX5.5 feels a little dull and uninspiring. Some of this is the fault of the stem, which is too long for this medium frame, but the bike also lacks the crisp feeling of the FSR or the Prophet. Start hammering this bike and there’s a fair bit of flex in the rear end, which translates into a sluggish and heavy-feeling bike when climbing, especially when attempting to dig in on those short, sharp ascents. We also felt there was a bit more flex in the front end than on the other bikes here, and this, combined with the long stem, does very little to promote accurate steering response.
The 5.5 didn’t have the big-hit capacity of the Giant, but it offered good traction and grip on most surfaces. It has a similar head angle to most of the bikes tested, and apart from a high bottom bracket (the exact opposite to last year’s frame), doesn’t offer any surprises for the first timer.
In theory, trickling frames down through the range means you’re getting a top-end frame for a knockdown price. The problem here is that the Trek is using a three-year-old frame, and one that wasn’t that stiff or that lightweight in the first place. This wouldn’t be that bad, but the EX5.5 is also compromised when it comes to certain component choices — namely the brakes, cranks and pedals. When you factor in the lacklustre ride, there are less reasons to buy Trek’s entry-level bike than 12 months ago.
MBR RATING: 7/10