Trek Fuel EX9.8 review£3,600.00

Balanced and involving trail master

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Trek’s Fuel EX bike has been one of our favourite rides for several years. This year it gets a lighter, slightly tighter frame, screw-through fork and a unique twin chamber shock boost to put it top of the trail bike parade.

It’s significantly lighter, with a superb combination of race bike pedalling performance and all-mountain big hit capability. It’s a cracking price for the complete package too, leaving only a wider bar on our wish list.

Ride & handling: Feels great in any riding situation, from rocky descents to epic race start lines

Fast rolling tyres and a low overall weight (25.4lb/11.5kg) make the Trek feel outstandingly quick from the box. Stamp on the power and the oversized bottom bracket and bearings, chunky rear end and muscular front give it a rock solid power delivery. Add a relatively long stem to the long top tube and it’s a bike you wouldn’t think twice about sticking a race number on, and one that turns every climb competitive.

The combination of crisp Fox FIT fork response and the pert feel from the new Dual Rate Control Valve shock means it skims along rather than squatting and wallowing when you’ve got the power down. As a result, we never bothered to use the Pro Pedal compression damping lever however square and slow our pedalling got. This all translated to some stunning technical summit scalps and a clear advantage over the other bikes in any sustained speed situation.

Despite a ‘narrower than ideal’ 660mm bar the handling is well sorted in a sharp and incisive rather than slack and lazy way. The super-precise front end response and decent front centre length makes picking lines and holding them very easy, even in the worst conditions. It’s the back end that really blows you away though.

Despite the tight pedalling character the low pivot means consistent trail connection and grip, flattering the low tread, high volume tyres in the process. While previous ABP Treks tended to hang up over square edges on both climbs and descents, the DRCV shock opens its second chamber and swallows them whole. There’s no sense of over-travel or wallow either and it collects the biggest, ugliest landings without any thump or sideways stumble.

Frame: Very light, stiff and well-shaped frame with a superb shock

The Fuel EX’s OCLV black carbon front end with big geometrically profiled E2 tapered head tube, super-stiff Evo rocker link and asymmetrically arranged alloy chainstays haven’t changed from last year. New curved carbon seatstays for 2010 and a slimmed down ‘Race’ version of the screw-through ABP rear skewer cut a full 200g of weight out of the frame, though.

Trek are claiming a four percent stiffness increase too, although that’s hard to feel on a bike that’s already very stiff for its class. However, you can definitely feel the increased stiffness created by the oversized push-fit bottom bracket. Massive tyre clearance, conventional bottle mount and clean cable routing make it a very practical, easy bike to live with.

The big change for 2010 is the addition of the Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) shock units trialled on Gary Fisher bikes last year to the existing Full Floater design, which sandwiches shock between linkage and chainstay. It’s still effectively a low pivot swingarm with a linkage-driven shock but, combined with the floating DRCV shock, it works really well on the trail.

Equipment: Cracking equipment for the cash but needs a wider bar and shorter stem

Trek have introduced screw-through 15mm axle forks to take the stiffness advantages of the tapered head tube all the way to the fork tips. The two carbon bikes also get 120mm rather than 130mm forks for a more aggressively angled, lighter front end.

Fox’s 2010 FIT forks use a cartridge damping system rather than an open oil bath for more accurate control in multi-hit situations and lower weight too. They’re definitely less sensitive over small bumps though, which not everyone likes.

Trek have deliberately kept the spec trail friendly, with broad rimmed tubeless-ready Bontrager Rhythm wheels fattening up already chunky 2.2in Bontrager tyres. The full Shimano XT transmission feels great, while our favourite simple ‘R’ version of Avid’s Elixir brakes gets upgraded with carbon levers and a 185mm front rotor. Bontrager finishing kit is all decent gear, and when you consider the impressive frame performance, the whole package price is excellent value.

Our review scoring system has changed in 2010. Therefore recent reviews may have comparatively lower scores than past reviews. Click here for a full explanation of our ratings.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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