Trek’s Fuel EX has evolved from a flawed but promising newcomer to one of the best of the trail bike breed. It’s all thanks to some well thought-out design and, in particular, a unique partnership with Fox to develop the twin-chambered DRCV rear shock.
The Fuel EX 9.7 doesn’t add anything revolutionary to the established format, but it does add carbon for just £200 over the aluminium-framed EX 9.0.
Ride & handling: The same fantastic feel as the aluminium 9.0
The EX is a former What Mountain Bike Bike of the Year – and they don’t hand those awards out lightly. It’s one of the few bikes to feel ‘right’ straight out of the car park – and still feel right at the end of a long day in the hills.
A host of small details contribute to the Fuel’s all-round alacrity. A 15mm front axle is the norm at this price, but the 142x12mm rear end backs up the front’s implacable solidity with an accurate follow-through, no matter how off-camber and bumpy the corner.
A roomy cockpit with plenty of standover makes this a bike to chuck about with impunity – but that double-barrelled (internally) rear shock is the star of the show, delivering seamlessly impressive stability and calm on everything from nose-of-the-saddle grinders to eye-streaming, rock-dodging descents. It is, in a very real sense, the Trek’s secret weapon.
The problem with this, from the 9.7’s point of view, is that the same sterling performance is available from the cheaper 9.0. The 9.7’s carbon main triangle adds no noticeable benefit. Fact is, we’d take the cheaper alu version and its higher spec.
Frame & equipment: Reduced spec to make room for carbon
Two hundred quid is a small premium to pay for carbon, but you don’t get something for nothing. While the 9.0 boasts a full complement of range-topping componentry – including full XT transmission and Kashima-coated fork – the 9.7 has some strategic downgrades to make room for the frame. So you find SLX where XT might otherwise be, a downgrade to the wheelset and no extra-slippery Kashima coating on the fork stanchions.
Elsewhere it’s business as usual with the by-now-familiar Fuel EX layout. Trek’s unique Active Braking Point (ABP) pivot – which places the chainstay pivot around the hub’s rear axle – benefits from a big 142x12mm axle, while its proprietary carbon lay-up makes up the main triangle – but not the rear, which is aluminium.
The thing that continues to set the Fuel EX apart is that DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) tech, which provides both shock and fork with a second, bigger-volume air chamber that kicks in on bigger hits.
The Fuel EX 9.7 doesn’t gain anything meaningful by the substitution of a carbon main triangle for an aluminium one. It’s very good, but so is the cheaper – and better specced – EX 9.0.