Trek Fuel EX 8 £2,300
Looking at the Trek Fuel EX range, the 8 is surely the pick of the range. It doesn’t have the fancy carbon fibre frame of the more expensive models higher up the range, but the Alpha Platinum aluminium frame is a beautifully welded and masculine-looking mountain bike.
Its chunky curved downtube squares up to a tapered head tube and a press-fit bottom bracket, the wider shell allowing for a larger downtube junction. That leads to the high level of stiffness the Fuel EX provides.
The top tube gives generous standover clearance with a subtle kink at the seat post, and carries both gear cables and brake hose, the rear mech cable routing neatly inside, entering on the right side and exiting on the left where it reaches the seat tube.
We’ve raved elsewhere about how much we like Trek’s suspension platform (read our Trek Remedy review), and in the 120mm guise the Fuel EX is a seriously capable all-day trail bike. It’s light enough to scale the toughest climbs yet rockets down the descents with the confidence of a longer travel bike. It pretty much takes everything in its stride.
The Fox shock gets Trek’s proprietary DRCV technology. It’s one of the smartest and simplest approaches to dealing with the enemies of suspension, wallow and bob, by having two air chambers. Pedalling along at lower speeds and climbing only uses the smaller main air chamber, ensuring the suspension remains taut and bob-free. Only when you hit bigger bumps and increase the speed does the second air chamber come into play, activated by an internal plunger.
It’s a clever solution and works amazingly well on the trail. For 2012 the technology finds its way into the Fox 32 Float RL fork. This manifests itself by preventing the forks diving too quickly through their travel when slammed hard into corners loaded with braking bumps, giving better control when the going gets rough.
Adding DRCV to the forks works, the performance is convincing. However, we felt the fork losing out on smaller bumps and trail chatter, and feels quite firm all of the time. There’s no denying that it is effective when slamming hard into hard corners and down steppy drops though.
Trek makes the job of setting the suspension up pretty easy, an online calculator produces recommended settings based on your weight. Inputting the quoted air pressure settings and rebound dial clicks into the forks and shock gave a very satisfactory starting point. In fact, we merely added a little more rebound out back. For getting started it’s a nice solution, and should ensure people get the most out of their bikes with less faff.
We had no concerns with most of the Bontrager branded components, though we did suffer a high number of rear wheel pinch flats. The culprit in this situation the very thin inner tubes fitted. The Bontrager XR4 Expert 2.2in tyres impressed with their good grip over a variety of terrains, but we felt the sidewalls were a little on the flimsy side. We chucked them in the back of the car and fitted some sturdier rubber to suit the Fuel’s hard-riding capability.
The Shimano SLX brakes were highlights of the build package; serious amounts of stopping power with virtually no bedding in time required allowed us to get straight up to speed on the very first ride. The lever shape, as we found when we tested the XTR groupset a while back, is comfortable and easy to get on with.
There’s only a couple of things we would change, and that’s down to personal preference more than anything. A dropper post would represent a great investment and let you really tap into the Fuel’s descending capability – we found ourselves lowering the saddle at the beginning of every descent just to unleash its full potential.
A wider handlebar and shorter stem would also go on, letting us push the bike into the corners with the extra leverage provided by a 740/750mm bar, and the shorter stem livening up the steering response. But that’s all personal stuff so we won’t dwell too much on this subject.
How does it ride?
We took the Fuel EX to South Wales for a hard weekend of riding recently. Riding all of the trails around Afan and then following up with some classic Cwmcarn action, with a few repeated loops of the cross-country loop, gave a good test of the bike. We logged big miles, loads of climbing and some fast descending. And it coped with it all just fine. What we didn’t expect is how capable the Fuel would be.
Even hitting the trails as hard as we did, and after two days of of repeated punishment, the Fuel EX 8 was nothing short of impressive. Its performance, whether it’s fast technical climbing or descending rock-strewn tracks and blasting hard into corners, is mind-blowing. It sucks up the sketchiest landings, ploughs through rock gardens, launches off lips and jumps, is stable at high speed, corners with authority, does everything so amazingly well.
It’s light and easy to chuck around too. The reduced head angle – it’s now 68 degrees – is bang on for the sort of riding – fast, hard and fun – that it encourages. The Full Floater suspension is one of the most capable and at its very best in this 120mm configuration. It’s more than enough for most UK trail warriors; rarely did we feel the need for more, yet it climbs at a ferocious pace, finding traction everywhere.
What I took away from my time on the Fuel EX is just how much fun it was. With test bikes there’s always a niggle of some sort, something that doesn’t quite feel right, some compromise somewhere. With the Trek, there was no compromise, it excelled everywhere. And it plasters a massive smile over your face, all of the time. It’s one of the best mountain bikes out there at the moment.
If you’re looking for one bike that can be used for everything and all sorts of riding, the Fuel EX won’t disappoint.