Trek’s updated Fuel EX now features storage in the downtube, 29er wheels, more travel and a gorgeous frame… oh and it’s rollicking fast too
The updated Trek Fuel EX now features storage in the downtube, 29er wheels, more travel and a gorgeous frame… oh and it’s rollicking fast too.
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 review
Winner of our Bike of the Year award in 2017, the Fuel EX easily impressed us with its turn of speed, capable suspension and its ability to excel on any trail.
Three years on, and the Fuel EX is still a 130mm travel 29er trail bike, but Trek has moved things forward once again.
Fork travel has been upped to 140mm to make the bike even more capable and the mix and match carbon/alloy frame options on the high-end bikes are gone. Instead, all 9 series Fuel EXs now get a full carbon frame, with a one-piece magnesium rocker link, and the frame is now covered by a lifetime warranty.
Sizing on the Fuel EX has moved forward too. Our size L test bike growing by 12mm to sport an ample 470mm reach measurement. We’ve complained about overly slack seat angles on Trek bikes in the past, so we welcomed the steeper seat tube on the latest version. Granted, at 67.2 degrees it’s not as steep as some, but it still allowed us to run the saddle centered on the seat post, without having to sit on the nose of the saddle for climbing.
Trek first eliminated the Full Floater linage on the Trek Slash, then the Trek Remedy and now the Fuel EX. To be fair, it was something of a hangover from the days when Trek had an inferiority complex about its suspension. More importantly, ditching it has freed up space for the new thru-shaft shock. There’s no oil displacement with this design, but the shock still has a thermal compensation chamber that looks like a tiny piggyback. The RE:aktiv damped shock is easy to set-up and with three distinct compression settings at the flick of a lever, it’s easy to match the damping to the terrain. Just don’t expect a super-firm pedal platform as the RE:aktiv damper is super sensitive off the top.
With shallow knobs, the 2.6in Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres are sporty, but they lack a pronounced edge on which to push in loose corners. The lack of knob height also makes the tyres more pressure sensitive. With no real knobs to squish, you need to drop the tyre pressure by a couple of psi to stop the ride from feeling too harsh. Thankfully, the tyres have reinforced Inner Strength sidewalls that make this possible without having to tiptoe through rocks for fear of puncturing.
Getting the front-end height dialled in was a little tricky too. Trek provides three 10mm interlocking headset spacers to match the Knock Block stem, but we’d like to see a couple of 5mm spacers and a 2.5mm for really fine-tuning the handlebar height.
We liked the lever shape of the SLX four piston disc brakes, and thankfully we had none of the shifting bite-point issues associated with the more expensive XT and XTR brakes. Raw power wasn’t quite as impressive as the SRAM Code brakes on the Specialized Stumpjumper though.
We spent the first couple of rides on the Fuel EX 9.8 chasing a knocking sound around the frame. We removed the BITS storage door and burrito, checked the Knock Block headset was secure, battened down all of the cables and tightened the new universal derailleur hanger, all to no avail. It wasn’t until we cinched up all of the pivot bolts that silence was restored and we could shift our focus back to the performance of the bike.
If we had to describe the new Fuel EX in a single word it would be “direct”. Not only does it feel like the fastest way from A to B, it’s tight and responsive when you want it to be, but remains sensitive enough to iron out the chatter. We really liked how light it feels to pedal and how the Fuel EX fires you out of corners faster than you entered them.
Yes, the shock feels more active than the Stumpy we you stand up to pedal, but stay seated on the steepest climbs and the Fuel EX makes everything feel easier.
Trek has done and amazing job with the new Fuel EX, retaining the blistering pace of the old design while bringing the sizing, suspension and handling up-to-date. It's not quite perfect though. The bar and stem don't offer enough rise, and we’d like more headset spacer options to fine-tune bar height. There’s no faulting the ride quality of the Fuel EX 9.8 though. The suspension offers stacks of traction and plenty of support for raining turns. Yes, the custom shock doesn't offer the firmest level of support when stomping on the pedals, but this doesn't appear the slow the Fuel EX down any.