Trek’s venerable Fuel platform has had a major makeover, ushering in a host of much-needed tweaks to bring a basically sound suspension design bang up-to-date. The EX 5.5 doesn’t get any of these hop-ups, relying instead on the tried-and-tested Fuel EX formula to deliver up to 120mm of travel.
If only the EX 5.5 had a better fork, it’d be an entirely compelling proposition for the money. Light enough, supple and a willing day-long trail companion or enduro race contender, it’s still well worth a look if you don’t mind contemplating a long-term fork upgrade.
Ride & handling: Great blend of comfort and control, but fork holds back frame's performance
It’s a sign of how far full-suspension has come – even at this level – that climbing aboard a 120mm travel bike doesn’t automatically make the rider reach for a full-face helmet and knee pads. In terms of trail manners, ride position and plain old get-up-and-go, the EX 5.5 feels a lot less like a stripped-down freerider and a lot more like a slightly overweight cross-country mount.
While it’s not exactly light (14.2kg/31.2lb without pedals), it’s a willing accomplice on the climbs, helped in no small part by a rear end that’s either reassuringly bob-free (with the shock’s ProPedal platform damping switched on) or, on the other hand, surprisingly supple over the technical stuff (with ProPedal off).
In fact, that ProPedal switch is key to getting the best out of the EX 5.5 – on for a more ‘connected’, slightly ﬁrmer feel, and off for a degree of ground-hugging traction that you can really feel.
While the front end has a tendency to wander on steep upward grunts, it comes into its own as the speed picks up with a conﬁdence-inspiring feeling of point-and-shoot precision.
The RockShox Tora 302 coil fork is the Trek’s only real weakness. Our sample’s stickiness manifested itself in a barely audible knock that could be felt through the bars on slow, technical climbs, as well as a reluctance to get moving over the ﬁrst few millimetres of travel.
Higher speeds and bigger hits improved things a lot, although even breakneck rocky descents failed to coax more than 100mm of the claimed 120mm travel out of our test fork. The rear feels like it could take more; the front always ended up holding us back. Given that the tyres’ shallow tread and cheap rubber compound tends to translate into scarily little grip in the wet, that’s arguably no bad thing at all.
Frame: Solid and reliable all-rounder with long-term upgrade potential
While the superﬁcially similar-looking Trek EX7 and above boast new, and substantially different, pivot, swingarm and shock mounting designs, the original – and reliable – Fuel EX concept, based around an asymmetric swingarm and rocker-activated shock, provides the basis of the EX5.5’s chassis.
Subtly curved and proﬁled top and down tubes give the 5.5 its conventional-looking backbone, while the airy shock linkage plates pivot just aft of the substantially gusseted and beefed-up seat tube.
The shock sits where a second water bottle cage would otherwise live, so there’s a second mud-collecting alternative under the down tube, just ahead of the bottom bracket.
The distinctively lop-sided asymmetric swingarm aside, the rear end follows the conventional-looking proﬁle of the front triangle.
Stacks of mud clearance at the top of the seatstays is just slightly compromised by altogether tighter space down at the bottom bracket, but this is still, by full-suss standards anyway, a relatively mud-friendly design.
Equipment: Tunable Fox shock and decent Deore and Bonty kit, but fork lets side down
Adjustable compression and rebound damping on the Fox Float RP2 rear shock is great to see at this price, giving the EX5.5 owner the opportunity to tune rear suspension setup to a degree that should keep most riders happy.
Unfortunately though, the fork doesn’t reach quite the same standard. Although all the requisite knobs are there for you to play with, the stock coil spring is likely to feel too stiff for riders under 12 stone. Our sample also had a sticky feel that meant the ﬁrst inch or so of travel didn’t kick in without hitting something big enough or hard enough.
What is there to say about a full complement of Shimano Deore components topped off with Bontrager ﬁnishing kit, other than that it all works well?