When Trek set out to design the new Fuel EX, they up when the wheel moves deep into its travel. We’ve had
wanted to set the bar for mountain bike versatility.
The bike they came up with pulls from their extensive ride time and research with some of the best riders on
the planet. The aluminum-framed version is not their top of
the line (the carbon frame gets that title), but the EX9 sports
all the high-end technologies.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
This bike can work for a huge range of riders, and that’s
what being a true trailbike is all about. The Fuel EX9 sports
just enough travel to feel aggressive, but not so much that it
will hold you back on a long ride or a climb. This bike is all
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Alpha Platinum aluminum frame features just over 5.1
inches of rock-gobbling suspension that uses Trek’s proprietary ABP (Active Braking Pivot) design. This design uses a
pivot at the dropout inline with the rear axle and a “floating”
shock that attaches to the swingarm to keep the suspension
active and neutral during braking and pedaling efforts. The
frame also sports a tapered head tube, one-piece magnesium
rocker, and integrated chainstay and downtube protection.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The shock’s DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) technology
works by using an additional air chamber that’s only opened
up when the wheel moves deep into its travel. We’ve had great luck with this shock technology, but always said we’d
like to see it in the fork to offer a more balanced feel. This is
the first year Trek has done that. That little bit of extra air
keeps the suspension from feeling like you’re getting cheated
out of the last 20 percent of your travel from the air pressure
“ramping up.” Bravo, Trek.
The Bontrager XR3 Team tires are a perfect fit for the EX.
They roll fast and hook up very well in a wide variety of
conditions. There was a day when Trek bikes were held back
by mediocre, house-brand tire choices, but those days are
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Setup: Setting up the DRCV should be a hassle, but it’s
not. The fork and shock have only one air chamber each to
set, and Trek simplifies the process by including clip-on sag
meters on both. We set both the fork and shock to 30-percent
sag and hit the trails.
The beauty of this system is that it can feel both efficient
and bottomless with a single setup. The DRCV allows the
suspension to move deep into its travel while still delivering
a firm pedaling platform. With the Fuel EX, let the fork and
shock work their magic.
The rebound damping circuit on the Fuel’s shock is very
strong, and we found ourselves running the adjustment
near full open. Smaller riders who need lower pressures
may have difficulty finding a setting that doesn’t “pack
up” on successive hits.
Pedaling: Trek’s DRCV shock and fork (made by
Fox) also have Fox’s rider-selected CTD system (Climb, Trail, Descend modes). While the suspension action
responds well to all three settings, we found ourselves
leaving the suspension in the trail mode most of the time.
This bike can do it all when the shock is set right in the
Climbing: The aggressively steep seat tube angle puts the
rider right over the pedals, which feels very efficient on long
climbs. The plush suspension assists on rough, technical
climbs (don’t use the too-firm climb mode in this situation)
by allowing the rear wheel to follow the terrain and maintain
traction. The 26-inch wheels allow for quick acceleration
over obstacles in the climb, and changing lines is almost a
Cornering: Rumors of the 26-inch-wheeled trailbike
being killed off by the 29er and 27-incher are greatly exaggerated. The Fuel EX has something that the big-wheeled
bikes can’t exactly match, and that’s maneuverability. The
Fuel EX has a snappy and responsive feel in the corners,
and the bike loves to be manhandled through switchbacks.
Descending: At the end of a descent, we like to see that
we’ve used all the available travel. The DRCV delivers in
spades. The front and rear suspension feel exceptionally
balanced, allowing you to work the stroke of the shock
and fork much more effectively. While the first half of the
travel is designed to be efficient, the second half is
designed to feel bottomless, and it just plain works. The 5
inches of travel are used so effectively; it feels like the Fuel
has even more.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The Fuel EX has routing for a RockShox Reverb
Stealth seatpost with a remote actuation hose that
routes through the frame and connects at the bottom of
the seatpost rather than at the head. The EX9 doesn’t
use that routing and instead comes with the standard
Reverb seatpost (with its hose that connects to the
seatpost head and routs externally). This spec doesn’t
make sense to us. Instead, Trek should spec a less-expensive aluminum post, lower the bike price and let
the rider upgrade to the Stealth seatpost if he desires.
Using the standard Reverb feels like a compromise
where nobody wins.
The rear brake hose clipped our heels when we were
pedaling. To remedy this, we rerouted the hose on the
inside of the seat stay, but this caused an unsightly rub
mark in the paint. With a simple stick-on protector,
both problems would have been solved. Add one before
your first ride.
The versatility of the Fuel EX9 can’t be understated.
It’s not a cross-country racer, and it’s not a descending
specialist; instead, it’s designed to ride everything well.
The geometry feels like it has E.S.P. and knows your
next move before you make it. The maneuverability
and flickability built in mean you can make the move
The DRCV suspension is much more than just
marketing jargon. This technology really works and
makes the 5 inches of travel feel like more. Bikes like
the Fuel EX9 are the reason that 26-inch wheels aren’t
dead. They’re just plain fun to ride. If you’re looking
for a lively partner that can do everything short of a
downhill race, this bike is worth a look.