The plastic trouser guard bolted to the outer chainring of the EX5 is the one obvious giveaway that this is an entry-level full-suspension bike. Take a closer look and you’ll notice some other downgrades too.
The good news is that none of the cost-cutting interferes with the well-tuned trail manners of the rolling chassis. The new Trek Fuels are all very well sorted and, if this is what you can afford, it’s a great starting point from which you can trim weight and add frills as your riding progresses.
Ride & handling: Well sorted full-suspension bike, if a little heavy for the climbs
A lot of sub-£1,000 full-sussers are compromised by their forks, rear shocks and wheels. By starting at £1,250, Trek manage to overcome those downsides, leaving only the Fuel EX5’s 13.6kg (30lb) weight as an occasional obstacle to performance. But the heft only feels like a hindrance when you’re fighting to keep up with lighter bikes on a climb, or in initial acceleration.
Once you’re up to speed on the Fuel EX5, the 120mm (4.7in) of plush front and rear suspension provides you with the comfort, bump control and confidence to ride harder and faster on any terrain that doesn’t head upwards, and to many riders, that alone will make up for being slower on the climbs than if they'd plumped for a (lighter) hardtail at the same price.
The Fuel’s handling is always completely predictable and surprisingly lively for a 30lb bike. The shallow-treaded tyres help considerably to maintain that liveliness, but they still offer enough traction to make you feel at ease when a stretch of twisty, rocky, rooty terrain looms and you need to bank through the bends without losing too much speed. As the terrain gets harsher, you can revel more and more in the trail-taming joy of an extremely well sorted full-suspension bike.
Frame: Evo Link Full Floater design is worthy of a far more costly bike
This is the same frame as that on the £1,600 EX6. We can see precisely why Trek have chosen to start their full-sus range at a higher price point than they used to. This frame is as good as many boutique brand frames that cost as much for a frame alone as Trek charge for a bike.
Its structure uses state-of-the-art hydroforming techniques to keep weight reasonable and strength high, pivot bearings are all top quality offerings, there’s lots of mud room, masses of standover clearance and two sets of bottle bosses. We like the low stress triple-split seat clamp too.
Trek’s Full Floater suspension frames have always been pretty good, but detail tweaks have resulted in them getting better over the past few years. Both the top and bottom of the shock are attached to floating linkages rather than fixed point pivots, and this results in a pedal-efficient setup that works well with the wheel-axle-centric Active Braking Pivot, which also serves to isolate the braking forces from the suspension action.
The Fox Float RP2 shock offers adjustable rebound damping and two-position platform damping, so you can stiffen up the back end for terrain where you don’t want the shock to compress with every little bump and weight shift.
Equipment: Reasonable spec, but chassis deserves some parts upgrades
A coil-sprung RockShox Tora is more basic in function than the forks you’ll find on hardtails at this price, but it still offers a leg top lockout switch, adjustable preload and adjustable rebound damping.
The clumpy looking M442 crankset is an obvious downgrade, but it still functions well enough with Shimano’s LX front mech, and SRAM’s X.5 shifters and rear derailleur remained efficiently slick through the test. The Avid Juicy brakes are perfectly adequate.
The wheels, Bontrager’s Ranger rims and grippy fast-rolling XDX tyres on Shimano hubs, are ideal for a fast all-rounder like this. The bar, stem, seatpost and saddle are all decent Bonty offerings too.