Sometimes reviews can be quite short. Especially with products that are really good, that can hardly be faulted and that are actually fairly simple to describe. This review of the Trek Fuel EX 9.9 is such a review, because this bike is simply a really good bike.
I rode the bike for several weeks, both with super rainy and wet weather, with warmer and drier trails, but I also on cold days on harder semi-frozen underground. Only on Dutch trails, (unfortunately I had no opportunity to ride in the mountains), but I did play around a lot on the street, riding steps and so on.
The Trek Fuel EX
The bike is available in different models, with the difference in price mainly depending on the use of materials in the frame (carbon vs aluminum) and the final assembly. Starting with the model 5 with a retail price of € 2099, the line continues to the 9.9 X01 AXS of € 9099. (for more info and specifications check out the Trek site.)
As said, the price developement is mainly in the use of increasingly high-quality components. That is why I rarely mention parts such as derailleurs, cranks, brake sets and suspension in bike reviews. Also because those sets, often from SRAM and Shimano, are not unique to the bicycle but can be found on many different bikes.
I like to talk about how the ride feels, how a bike climbs, descends, steers, how it behaves when you brake, how the bike sends in a jump and how balanced it lands. Nevertheless, I am going to talk here about one of those components, namely the rear damper, because it works so closely with the swing arm of the bike and has such a big influence on riding behavior.
The actual purpose of a damper is to allow as much contact as possible between the tire and the surface of the trail. Instead of almost bouncing off the trail, the damper “eats up” and smooths out irregularities from the trail. The more contact with the trail, the more speed you can make while keeping control. On the other hand, a rear damper can have a negative influence on pedaling efficiency, because part of the downward force of your legs can disappear into the damper. Not so with the Trek!
I have rarely experienced a damper on a bike that felt so distinctly different when descending versus climbing. This is mainly due to the Fox RE:Activ damper with Thru Shaft technology used exclusively by Trek. The damper mainly responds to the speed of compression in the damper shaft. If the compression is very fast, for example, when you ride over rocks, you hit some roots or land after a jump, the damping is very fast, active and, if necessary, deep. If the compression is much slower, for example as a result of the uphill climb, for example, then there is much less damping. The result is a much more rigid swing arm and more pedaling efficiency. Your power does not disappear in the damper.
Which brings us to one of the two exceptional qualities of this bike, namely that it climbs incredibly well for a bike with quite a large suspension travel (140 mm front and 130 mm rear). Put the damper in the climbing position (it has three positions) and you immediately feel that the entire bike is more rigid and that your power from your legs goes directly to the tires. Your climb becomes lighter and faster.
What also helps with climbing, but certainly also with descending, is the perfect balance in the bike. Of course it also depends on your own balance, and I sometimes find it difficult to describe exactly, but some bikes are just more balanced than others. And with this one it was great. No wobbles on the most steep climbs, very stable at higher speeds and also with the bike skills exercise on the street, the bike is so wonderfully playful; it helps you dial in those endo’s, fakies and wheelies, really great. The bike reacts incredibly quickly to everything you want to do with it.
You also notice that balance in steering the bike. My experience is that 29-ers need a more active riding style, especially if you want to speed through winding trails. It often takes some force and effort. But with the Fuel EX, that was not the case at all. The bike steered very lightly, was really responsive both in steering from your body as from your arms. Flat turns or berms, you can easily shoot through them. The Bontrager X4 Tubeless Ready tires that are fitted as standard have a very good grip and the lighter X3 that I used (I will also publish a comparison between the two soon) was very pleasant as well.
This is a bike that is just right, it works. A bike that will bring you an incredible amount of fun. A bike that also seems to solve a number of existing contradictions in mountainbiking: a bicycle that is really agile, but with its large wheels it still rolls on easily; a bike that both descends and climbs like a champ, a bike with a damper that really adapts to the demands of the trail.
A bike that can handle the XC trails in the Netherlands and that will also do well over the border where the rocks and mountains can be found. There is a limit to what the suspension in the mountains will really be able to handle at speed, but for the majority of us this bike will always be better than we are.
In short, a trail / all-mountain bike that is not all-mountain because it can do everything pretty well, but because it can handle all trails really well.