Trek Fuel EX5.5 £1000

Time-proven all-round trail machine

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

Trek’s well-established EX platform has had a major revamp over the past couple of years, with a complete pivot, linkage and swingarm redesign that completely changes the system’s performance. But not, unfortunately, at this level.

The EX7 and below don’t get the all-new platform just yet. Instead, the EX5.5 offers the tried-and-tested old-skool EX setup in an air-shocked, coil-forked format.

Ride & handling: Tidy handling, and tunable rear end works well in all trail conditions

The EX frame design belongs to an era when 120mm of rear wheel travel was seen as nudging the boundary between cross-country and, for want of a better term, freeride 'lite’. Times have moved on a little and many more recent 120mm bikes are less overtly ‘all-mountain’ in design.

The Trek’s none the worse for its mildly old-skool approach. It actually feels a lot less like a stripped-down freerider and a lot more like a slightly overweight cross-country bike.

More than 30lb of metal, plastic and rubber is never going to win any awards on the climbs. But the EX5.5 is a surprisingly willing accomplice, 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 surprisingly supple over the technical stuff.

Frame: Good attention to detail combined with tried and tested suspension platform

Functional simplicity defines the Trek’s asymmetric swingarm, rocker-activated shock design. The conventionally profiled front end is made up of subtly curved and profiled top and down tubes, while the impressively cutaway shock linkage plates pivot just behind the heavily gusseted and reinforced seat tube.

Although there’s only room for a single set of bottle mounts inside the main triangle, Trek’s designers have gamely added a second set in the muddiest location on the bike, just ahead of the bottom bracket

The swingarm features a distinctively lop-sided arrangement that increases stiffness without putting the driveside chainstay in a chain-fouling position.

Mud clearance is impressively ample up top, but rather compromised down at the chainstays. Even so, by full-suss standards this is a relatively gloop-friendly design.

Equipment: Trustworthy shock, gruppo and finishing kit, but coil fork is too stiff for most riders

The springy bits are a mixed bag. On the plus side, it’s good to see the trustworthy Fox Float RP2 air shock holding up the rear wheel. There’s adjustable damping for both compression and rebound, giving the EX5.5 owner a degree of adjustment that isn’t always available at this price.

On the other hand, the RockShox Tora coil fork isn’t nearly as impressive. Coil forks are perfectly capable of performing well, but they’re harder to set up for different rider weights – and riders under 12 stone are likely to find the stock springs too stiff.

Worse, the Tora’s cheap underpinnings were betrayed on our test sample by a reluctance to get moving until we’d hit a bump hard enough.

Shimano’s evergreen Deore groupset provides the Trek’s stop-and-go parts. It may lack the glitz of the newer SLX group, but it’s still a reliable benchmark for clean shifting and trouble-free stopping.

And Trek’s in-house Bontrager brand, which provides just about everything else on the EX5.5, is a match for anything else out there.

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