Trek Fuel EX 8 £2300

Continually evolving all-rounder

BikeRadar score 4/5

Trek’s Fuel EX family has been around for years now, gradually evolving to become more capable and confident every season. We’re not totally convinced by the new tech for this year, but the overall bike is still one of the best all-round trail machines available.

It's keen enough to race your skinny mates up the climbs on, but more than happy to take the fight to lardier, longer-travel bikes on fast and furious descents. More confident angles for 2012, plus confidence boosting tubeless-ready rolling stock and excellent Shimano stop/go gear complete an inspiringly ‘can do’ package.

Ride & handling: Tackles everything from epic cross-country to black-run descents with efficiency and enthusiasm

The Fuel EX is a bike that’s very comfortable riding outside its cross-country/light trail orientated 120mm travel category. The screw-through fork and 68-degree head angle encourage a faster approach to rocks and technical descents, and impressive frame stiffness means accurate and predictable follow through.

It’s one of the few bikes on test that we didn’t want to change the tyres on, although something faster might be in order come summer. That’d help it pick up the pace on smoother sections, where the reasonable weight and excellent pedalling manners make it a naturally efficient and raceable rig on the right rubber.

We’re big fans of the DRCV/Full Floater/ABP back end. It takes longer to set up accurately because you have to cycle the shock to equalize pressures. But the end result is a great balance of stable pedalling but seamless repeated hit-and-drop damping that matches most 140mm bikes in terms of control and speed sustain.

We’re less convinced by the DRCV fork introduced for this year, though. There’s marketing logic for transferring a well reviewed and rated rear suspension technology to the front of the bike, and getting “more travel, more of the time” sounds good. But on the trail, less sensitive small bump response reduces comfort and traction.

Its habit of diving deep, rather than maintaining a predictable ride height under cornering and braking loads, undermines tight tracking and balanced steering geometry. The basic smoothness and control of the Fox fork still shines through though, and given the outstanding get-on-and-go performance of the complete bike it’s not a deal breaker, but we'd score the Fuel higher with a conventional fork.

Frame: Excellent proprietary suspension technology built into a stiff, future-proof chassis

The Fuel EX is a well-established chassis but it’s still loaded with more innovation than most. The angular E2 tapered head tube stiffens up the front end, and for the first time this year the EX 8 model gets a screw-through-axled fork to carry the carving advantage through. Rear dropouts with their concentric ABP pivots get the option of a screw-through axle upgrade too, although the bike comes as standard with a quick-release skewer.

Joining it all together is Trek’s proprietary DRCV-design Fox shock and Full Floater mounting system which squeezes it between extended chainstay tips and the single-piece upper rocker. This not only tunes the spring rate to Trek’s liking but also keeps stress off the main frame tubes.

Trek’s introduction of an 18.5in size between their existing medium and large frame options is something that a lot of other brands would do well to copy to serve the large number of riders stuck halfway between two options. This year semi-internal cable routing joins the feature list too, with a stealthy black/dark grey finish available as well as the more vibrant silver/red/white colourway here. 

Equipment: Very good overall kit selection, from screw-through fork to tubeless-ready wheels

As well as colour matching the Bontrager stem and other kit, Trek have thought about the capability of the bike as a whole, rather than going for easy shop floor scores of low weight or easy car park speed. Okay, like most brands the supplied inner tubes are so thin they’ll burst at the sight of the first rock, but the 2.2in wide XR4 tyres are grippy, year-round rubber, and like the broad rims are tubeless ready so all you need is some sealant.

The mixed Shimano Deore XT/SLX drivetrain is a great showcase of how well the Japanese gearing lasts. Even after a winter of lousy weather the only blot on a super-smooth shifting copybook is the scuffing on the XT crank arms. The composite middle ring is still running fine, shifts are still effortless and the SLX brakes have massively impressed everyone who’s tried them. The saddle is comfy, the seatpost is secure and the bar is a decent width. While overall weight is reasonable there’s potential to upgrade and lighten the bike.

This bike was tested as part of What Mountain Bike magazine's Bike of the Year shootout. You can read the full feature in this month's mag, in shops now, and available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Trek Fuel EX 8

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Trail Bike of the Year preview

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The testers reflect on this year's crop of bikes

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