This women’s version of Trek’s Fuel EX8 is a very impressive trail bike that’s huge amounts of fun going up, along and down. While it suffers strange behaviour in ultra-low gears and would love aggressive tyres it’s a great bike for a true all-rounder who want a top-value trail bike to match.
Trek has one of the most evolved ranges of female-speciﬁc bikes. The Fuel EX8 WSD has the same spec and frame design as the standard EX8, but has been tweaked for female riders and has a shorter top tube and better-suited contact points.
Ride & handling: magic carpet ascending, joyful going down
The Trek’s controlled, stiff ride delivered day after day. Climbing performance was superb, especially after we had an epiphany hitting a rocky lump with no time to reach for the ProPedal lever.
The resulting magical levitation led to much giggling, and sparked a search for ever-rockier climbs to attack. The temptation with ProPedal is to kick it into action every time the trail steepens, but it’s worth remembering that there are bikes like the Fuel which climb just as well (and sometimes better) without it.
This is also a very air-happy bike. The poised riding position makes it easy to loft while staying in complete control, and we spent more time with both wheels off the ground on this bike than we have on any other. Descents are a joy, with both shocks cooperating perfectly to smooth everything from small-scale stuff to substantial rocky drops while keeping the trail alive beneath us.
The EX8 tackles singletrack nimbly and at warp speed, with no unprompted wandering of the wheels, and our sprints went to the line thanks to the stiff rear end that did a great job of dropping power from legs to trail. Traction in all conditions is superb, allowing us to clean a rarely tackled climb with conﬁdence and boosting us into tech tricks we’d never have otherwise attempted. It’s rare that we say it’s down to the bike and not the rider, but in the case of the EX8 it’s true.
It does have one odd quirk, which we think is related to the back end of the frame squatting under extreme load and suddenly slackening the head angle. When dropped into ultra-low gears for harsh short climbs, we found ourselves spat off the back of the bike on more than one occasion, despite assuming the usual technical climbing position of perching on the nose of the saddle.
It’s a trait rather than a problem, and one to which you’d get used to pretty quickly if you were riding the Fuel on a frequent basis, but as we often switch between bikes hourly while testing, it cost us a little bit of skin and blood.
Chassis: evolved shocks, improved stiffness
The frame is built from swoopy lightweight aluminium, and Trek has moved the rearmost pivot from just above the rear hub axle. The chain- and seatstays now pivot around the rear axle to increase control by eliminating the issue of the suspension stiffening under braking
Chainstays are asymmetric and pivot points house oversized sealed cartridge bearings for longevity. The rocker plate is now one forged link, which is much stiffer than two joined plates, and there’s a second moving link between the lower end of the shock and the seat tube, giving a more supple feel to the rear shock action.
A Float RP2 shock offers rebound adjustment and a ProPedal setting to ﬁrm things up for hardpacked trails.
It’s perfectly complemented by the Float 130RL fork that does its job brilliantly without fuss. It’s a beautiful example of the way suspension designs are constantly evolving, and it really does work – the ’08 Fuel shows a noticeable improvement over the ’07 version.
Equipment: a tiny bit basic
Look at the Fuel’s spec list and you might feel shortchanged. The drivetrain is straight Shimano LX with an upgrade to an XT Shadow mech at the rear; the brakes are adequate but hardly exciting Avid Juicy 5s; the rest of the ﬁnishing kit is middle-of-the-road Bontrager.
Wheels and tyres are kept in-house, too, and meatier treads would be welcome rather than the mediocre ‘all-rounder’ Jones XRs. These weren’t particularly good at anything except being amusingly loose in dust and mud – the two extremes between which British trails unfortunately ﬂuctuate.
Verdict: good enough spec on great frame
The usual quibbles apply in that we’d really like to see a lighter, slimmer, less-patronising saddle for ease of movement and comfort, and such a high-performing bike really needs rotors bigger than 160mm, since this bike encourages you to get into all sorts of high-speed trouble.
Consider that the EX8 comes in at well below two grand, though, and you have to admit that everything is functional enough. There’s plenty of room to ﬁt the upgrades of your choice once you’ve got to know this bike, too.