I took my second trip of 2013* to a now-scorching hot Arizona last week for Trek’s 2014 launch camp, which saw several new additions to the brand’s ranges and, more to the point, gave me some quality time on Sedona’s endless network of flowy singletracks on two shiny bikes, the first of which was the Fuel EX 29.
Trek had brought me, along with around 20 other bike journalists, to a completely different zone in Sedona this time, away from the main town and placed at the foot of several high and imposing sandstone cliffs. Our base at the Red Agave Resort was spectacular and the snaking singletrack disappearing away from the corner of the central communal area, where we worked on and nattered about bikes, was a sign of things to come.
Fuel EX 29 is launched
As already mentioned, there were several key launches from Trek on the Sedona camp, including the expansion of Project One into mountain bikes and the launch of the Remedy 29 (stay tuned for the story). The broadening of Trek’s technical trail bikes into the realms of big wheels is hardly something that comes as a surprise with the American market’s lust for the 29” hoops, but I was still keen to see how they would have overcome the difficulties of squeezing bigger wheels into a frameset compact enough to still be manoeuvrable and without compromising cockpit space.
“The light, fast Fuel EX sets the bar for mountain bike versatility, bringing race-day tech to all-day adventure. This fast-rolling ride is your go-to full suspension trail bike.”
The Fuel EX 29 features 120mm suspension travel, a 69.5º head angle, carbon fibre mainframe and seatstay on models above the EX 9, tapered steerer, BB95 and, vitally, Gary Fisher inspired G2 geometry with that defining fork offset, which in theory gives more precise steering. It’s also available in a full six sizes, from 15.5 to 23” meaning there’s a size for almost every rider.
With seven different price points, from £2,199 right the way up £6,849, there’s also plenty of scope to tailor your budget. If you want to go to the moon there’s also the opportunity to fully pimp it with Trek’s Project One.
The pilot on my flight to the States had promised a ‘cooling breeze’ in Phoenix, however at 37 degrees I wasn’t sure that I agreed. Upon arrival into Sedona, which sits in the hills around two hours north of the city and at just over 1,000 metres altitude, we tinkered with the Fuel EX 29 bikes and set our bodies for HEATWAVE.
Setting out at around midday on what should in hindsight have been an early morning ride, with hydration packs full to the brim and spare water bottles stashed in bags and bottle cages, we began the first ride on 29er Fuel EX bikes: a twisty, turny, flowy and smooth singletrack. This trail proved perfect testing terrain for the Fuel – tech trail being its purpose in life and especially that of the lighter variety, which necessitates fast rolling.
Up to speed in no time, I was tucked in behind a line of fast riders, with Trek’s Product Manager John Riley leading the charge. The trail didn’t gain a huge amount of height, rather hugging the contours of the hills and red stacks of rock, with a good dose of pedalling needed to keep at speed. The bike definitely passed the pedal test – I powered round the 15-mile loop with no niggles – the 73.6 seat angle putting the seat in a good place for sitting and pedalling and little in the way of suspension action – and the RockShox Reverb dropper post on the EX 9.8 (which comes in at £4,199) that I was riding ensured that the snake of singletrack was maximum fun.
Getting into the more technical sections later in the ride, which involved rock rollers, small boulder fields and higher speeds through turns, the bike proved equally as capable. And a lot of fun. I was able to play with the trail and its endless succession of crests, fades and rollers, throwing the bike where I wanted it to go at all speeds. The bigger wheels most certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the ride and quite possibly enhanced it. With a chainstay length of just 45.2cm throughout all sizes I probably should have known that it would be a good fun ride, and those big wheels meant the bike was well balanced.
It’s the rear end of the bike that really makes it a lot of fun where some bikes in its category fail. The tight chainstay is thanks to graft by the Trek team to fit the bigger wheel into the chassis without negatively affecting the stroke of the shock. Although one weekend of riding in prime conditions is never prove a complete testing process, I will say that I found the suspension to be stable yet supple – evidence perhaps of the company’s in-house suspension guru Jose Gonzalez, who works tirelessly on bettering the performance of the shocks used across Trek’s ranges and ensuring that they work in unison with the ratios provided by varying dimensions. The rear shock is manufactured and branded by Fox, but the internals are customised for the bike, with Trek’s DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) to thank for the bottomless yet supple feel of the suspension stroke.
We rode some simply sublime trails on the Fuel 29er – from smooth flow to tech flow and the odd bit of nasty steep to ensure a rounded ride package. I enjoyed the ride and the bike did its job without me having to make any major adjustments. The frame package is finished off with a collection of taglines unique to Trek – ABP, EVO, OCLV and Full Floaters all doing their jobs very well indeed. If you want to find out more about the Trek technology that has been applied to this bike and to have the acronyms explained, click here for more.
We’ll be testing one of these bikes more thoroughly (and in less ideal conditions) over the coming months so stay tuned for the full review.
* Read about the SRAM Trail House trip to Sedona here