Revised geometry and the addition of a through-axle fork have given the Trek Fuel EX a distinct attacking edge for 2012, but without detracting from the user-friendly poise for which it's deservedly popular.
Ride & handling: Well-controlled suspension and freshly-assertive handling
For 2012 the big change to the Fuel EX is that the head angle has been relaxed by a full degree, to bring it inline with current trends. With a slightly slacker front end combined with a slightly stiffer fork, this year's model has taken a step up in conﬁdence without any real drawbacks. You’ll need to ride it a bit more aggressively on shallower gradients and in singletrack, but there’s little sign of wandering on climbs thanks to good weight distribution.
Budget shocks get better every year, but Fox’s RP2 still has the edge. The EX 6 doesn’t have the sensitive yet bottomless feel of DRCV-equipped Fuels, but it’s well-controlled and it’s not hard to ﬁnd a setup that combines small-bump suppleness with big-hit capability. It’s stable on climbs and under power. While in some ways the 6 is a cut-down version of the Fuel EX, it’s still got most of the riding characteristics associated with the more expensive models.
Frame & equipment: Downgraded chassis and merely okay spec, although shock is good
While the EX 6 frame initially looks like the rest of the Fuel range, it’s only shared with the cheaper EX 5. That means it does without a tapered head tube and will only take a conventional 135mm rear hub. Higher models have Trek’s ABP Convert back end that’ll take stiffer 142x12mm hubs. Neither things are deal-breakers, although both limit scope for upgrades.
The other key feature it’s lacking is the Trek-exclusive Fox DRCV twin air chamber shock. But, the Fox RP2 on the EX 6 is still better than the units usually found on bikes at this price. It’s combined with an air-sprung RockShox Recon up front, with 15mm axle to boost front-end stiffness.
The EX 6 still has a highly-developed frame. The shock’s driven from both ends, with the asymmetrical chainstays pushing up from the bottom and a lightweight magnesium rocker link feeding in from the top. This allows for a lighter front triangle, as it’s not directly taking loads from the shock, and gives designers more control of the rate curve through the stroke.
The inclusion of a Fox shock has meant something has to give somewhere else. You get a Shimano Deore 3x10 transmission but only a Shimano Octalink chainset. There’s a healthy spread of Trek’s own Bontrager parts, which caused no complaints.