Trek's Fuel bikes have been around for years now, and they are still a really good, straightforward ride. The 90 also benefits from all the recent advantages in mid level kit performance to deliver a remarkably complete trail package for half the price of some comparable bikes.
While top Fuel bikes have been upgraded to a full carbon frame, the 90 is still an all-alloy wagon. The large gusset-reinforced down tube twists from vertical to horizontal oval for steering and pedalling stiffness at the appropriate ends, while the slim top tube slopes gently for crotch clearance. The bottom bracket and main pivot sit on a shared 'bottom corner' forging, while the rocker link mount is welded onto the back of the stout, externally butted seat tube.
Out back, curved 'hockey stick' chainstay terminals meet deep, slightly tapered chainstays and simple plate dropouts with a 'we're surprised they still use that' bolt-on disc mount. Disc specific seatstays then triangulate to the rocker links via a neatly forged bridge. The back is all welded alloy now, too - rather than glued composite like before - but it still relies on flex in the seatstays rather than a rear pivot. The pivots themselves are all composite bushings rather than cartridge bearings, too. The frame is also kind enough to come complete with up and under down tube mounts for bottles and plenty of room for shouldering the bike if you really can't pedal any further.
Trek rarely put a foot wrong with handling and the 90 is no exception. With forks set at 100mm, the longish stem can occasionally lurch into tight corners with more force than you intended, but otherwise it does exactly what you want and just when you want it, too. You are also able to speed up or slow down the steering just by winding the fork in and out - although it starts to feel lethargic at anything over 115mm.
When combined with the pivotless rear triangle, the Ario 2.2 shock is not particularly plush over small bumps, but it pedals with minimum bounce or interruption. It smoothes out more significant lumps okay too, and damps nicely over bigger drops and steps to keep you connected and on course when the trail gets lairy. The big lockout and rebound adjusters make tuning on the fly easy, too.
Ride position and weight balance are totally neutral and encouragingly friendly. A tendency to twang and skip sideways adds life into the ride when you start pushing hard through twisty or rooty sections, helping the Fuel disguise its overall weight quite well.
What's really impressive is how well all the kit on this £1200 bike performs. We're not sure why you need a coil fork with 130mm travel potential on a 90mm travel air sprung suspension frame, but the Recon is amazingly smooth and controlled. You even get full rebound and compression control to match the shock, too. XT highlights on LX stop and go equipment give flawless shifts, taut power delivery and smoothly communicated stopping. LX hubs provide long rolling life to the Bontrager rimmed wheels too, while the Kevlar beaded 2.2in tyres add a surefooted feel without extra weight. Bonty saddle, seat post and stem are all fine, although we really didn't get on with the droopy tipped bars and uncomfortably thin yet horribly lumpy grips.
Trek's Fuel isn't new and it's a bit heavy, but it's still a great example of how far mid-price suspension bikes and mid-price equipment have come. The frame's well balanced and sweet handling, while fork and LX kit performance are fantastic for the price. If all we're griping about on this bike is uncomfortable grips, then Trek are onto a winner.