With our sister magazine What Mountain Bike running their Bike of the Year awards in one months time here's what has been floating the boat of our testers in 2007. Guy Kesteven gives us the lowdown on why he's been spending so much time on the carbon Trek EX 9.0.
Having a first date with a bike on a three-hour descent of high alpine Colorado singletrack is always a good start. A happy honeymoon with Trek's new carbon fibre bride has continued as a very happy marriage back home, too.
For a start, its 9.5 brother was noticeably faster than other 5in bikes we race tested at last year's Bontrager 24/12 event. It weaved through the trees and kicked out of corners in a way that left the other bikes seeming somehow lumpy and sluggish. Lean back and let it soak up the hits and it was far more capable than most race bikes.
Since then our 9.0 long-termer has been in a constant state of flux, as its latest test kit outfit has either stuck or twisted. Again, it has the combination of lightweight speed gain and infectious agility, but no nervousness or need to back off in the rocks mean it's proved to be the best kit breaker we've had in recent memory. It's split cranks, crumpled several lightweight wheelsets, mangled seat posts and split more inner tubes than we can remember. It blew up one set of forks so well that oil was dripping off the bottom bracket shell the morning after.
Yet even in the depths of winter, when its sarcophagus of hardened mud earned it the 'Fossil Fuel' tag, it hasn't complained or rattled loose once. It's just limped home with its crippled componentry and an innocent: "Don't blame me, I was just riding along," expression on its handlebars.
Occasionally, the faux bar rear end will get hung up or kicked sky high by a square-edged hit that a true linkage bike would handle better. And sometimes its sinewy flex and XC length gets a little out of shape when cross-threading ruts or ricocheting off rocks. Each time, though, it'll immediately make amends by ripping the next climb to shreds or cutting a swashbuckling swathe through the next singletrack chicane like Zorro. In short, whenever the shit has hit the fan, the Trek has come out smelling of roses, and 2008 EX bikes will get a tighter rocker link and radial rear axle pivot for good measure, too.
As for kit changes, it's been a constant tightrope walk between saving weight and survival. Using a short 80mm stem on the large frame was essential after riding the superbly sorted, synapse-fast singletrack development bike of Trek brand manager Joe V.
After trying every imaginable fork to find optimum ride height and handling, I've ended up back with the original custom 90/110/130mm Fox Talas because at least it gives me various options. I'm still getting used to a recent XTR refit after very happy times on SRAM/Avid, though. I love the Dual Control shifting for cashing in on the bike's phenomenal launch speed, but the brakes have taken some balancing up. Wheels have been a real problem too, with most lightweight sets getting screwed within a couple of rides of fitting, and the new Hope straight pulls proving the best stiff/strong/light match so far.
The spec and price (£1600) shown is for the frame only. The bike pictured is an EX 9.0 but only the EX 9.5 is available as a frame only option - decals being the only difference over the 9.0 pictured. Guy has just stripped the standard EX 9.0 and built his own bike around the frame - it's ok for some
For 2008 the new Full Floater EX 9.5 will cost £1800 for the frame only option. Check out the Trek Fuel EX site for further details on the new bikes.