The 130mm travel Fuel EX 9.8 is a nippy trail-loving lightweight bike that has its limitations but when ridden in the right environment – UK singletrack springs to mind – simply cannot be faulted. With a components package from Fox and Shimano, combined with RockShox's Reverb dropper post and Trek's OCLV carbon, this is one hell of a bike.
It’s been quite some time since my introductory piece on the Trek Fuel EX 9.8 (read it here), time that has been well spent out on the trail having a hell of a lot of fun. In my first ride article I commended the bike and its ride character, but I mentioned that long-term testing might draw a different conclusion. So did it? Read on to find out.
The ride of this bike is utterly fun. It loves to be thrown around on the trail, slammed into turns and picked up over roots and rocks – a character that is no doubt down to the Fuel’s light weight and ‘just right’ carbon frame package, as well as its ‘racy’ angles (click here) and low-slung frame.
Certainly not without limits, the Fuel is most at home on mellower singletracks – steep and rough trails are where you begin to notice its boundaries – but those aforementioned flowing trails are of the sort that most UK riders predominantly ride and if you categorise your riding as ‘trail to all-mountain’ then you will be wanting to have a test ride on a Fuel EX 9.8.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that I can comfortably ride the bike to work and back, around the trail centre and rip down the flat-out singletrack near my house all on the same bike.
I tend to run the fork in the mid (‘Trail’ in Fox’s terminology) compression setting and the rear suspension open (‘Descend’) when I’m hammering as the front is quite low on the Fuel, especially with the somewhat slimline Fox 32 fork. With the fork set to Trail I feel there is enough compression damping for a confidence inspiring ride and when twinned with the shock set to Descend the bike is set in an attacking position that leads to corners being demolished and flatter pedalling sections being annihilated…
The components package
Again, if you predominantly ride singletrack the components package of the EX 9.8 is not going to disappoint. A RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post is the top dog in the up-and-down world and its inclusion on the bike is…sensible, but without it the bike just wouldn’t be the same nor would its stated intentions. Quality brakes are necessary when riding aggressively, or at any speed for that matter, and the Shimano XTs fit well into that category. I’ve had little-to-no fuss from the brakes in the time I’ve been riding the bike, and trust me I’ve put some serious hours in on the Fuel.
The bar and stem, as with so many full bike builds, is seemingly an afterthought with a Bontrager low rise bar and long stem not exactly complementing the bike’s ability to tear a trail to pieces. The triple chainring could also be seen as outdated, although as long as there’s a clutch mech on there I’m happy (there is, of course – a Shimano Deore XT Shadow).
For the riding that this bike loves the components package cannot be sniffed at. However, I can’t help but wish to upgrade the Bontrager XR3 Expert tyres – which I love for flatter trails but can come unstuck when you really start to push towards the bike’s limits and don’t offer a great deal in the way of puncture protection – and to boost the fork to something with a tad more travel. I’m sure that changing from the Fox 32 to something slightly beefier would open the bike’s potential well and truly and could make it one of the all-round trail bikes of the moment.
I have only one dilemma: the fact that at some point I’m going to have to either give this bike back or buy one myself (I know, boo hoo poor me etc.). This is a problem though as I’ve found possibly the perfect steed for the varied trails on my doorstep but it comes with a 4k price tag.
The options then are as follows: The Fuel EX array of bikes ranges from the EX 5 at only £1,400 right up to the model above this particular test bike, the EX 9.9 at £6,250, a total of eight different 26inch-wheeled models. With an almost identical components package (even a Reverb, albeit not the Stealth version), the ‘Alpha Platinum Aluminium’ framed EX 9 at £2,900 is quite possibly the buy of the bunch in my opinion.
Have a look through the range of bikes, study the components and weigh up your options if you’re considering buying one. This bike is so much fun to ride that I would say a dropper seat post is a necessity – why hamper your fun on the downhills when the bike is so much fun – so factor in the cost of an upgrade if you are looking at one of the bikes without one as standard.
A stupendously fun trail bike that laps up corners, begs to be thrashed on singletracks and only comes unhinged on steeper trails. It's not cheap, but with eight different bikes in the 26inch range there is something for nearly every price bracket, although a dropper post is recommended to optimise the potential of the Fuel EX.
Fuel EX notes
For the tech lowdown on the Fuel EX and more of an insight into its workings, check out our first ride feature here.
The new Fuel EX 29 has been launched during the time that I have been testing the EX 9.8 – a bike that bears the same grand title but is very much a different beast.
Price: £4,000 (Trek currently has a summer sale on until 29 July incidentally)
Number of bikes in range: 8
Angles and sizing: Click here
More information: Trek Fuel EX 9.8
What Trek says about the Fuel EX 9.8
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."