Light, beautifully balanced and with more chaos control than its travel suggests, the Fuel EX8 was last year’s Trail Bike Of The Year winner and it’s still a great bike. You may not get all the latest through-axle trimmings, but for that you should be looking at the EX9 for an additional £500.
Ride & handling: Great all-round trail bike with suspension advantage
With a mid-width stem and bar giving plenty of breathing space, plus relatively fast rolling tyres and low weight, the EX8 is certainly quick enough to Fuel first-to-the-top or marathon race ambitions. The DRCV shock uses a small initial chamber for a pert, short travel feel that rarely needs stabilising with the ProPedal platform damping lever however much power you pile on.
The skinny tyres mean plenty of tyre clearance too, so we had no trouble on muddy rides and traction levels from the neutral feeling back end are excellent given the rubber fitted (Bontrager XR3 Expert TLRs). While it shows a clean pair of heels to most competitors on the climb, when the trail trauma ramps up the EX8 really ignites your ride.
The DRCV shock (more on this below) gives the effect of a high-volume long-stroke shock without the baggy mid-stroke feeling you get from bigger single can dampers, and its effect on the ride is outstanding. While "bottomless" is a pretty big cliché in terms of shock description, nothing fits the combination of the consistently controlled shock stroke and the Full Floater shock mount found on the EX8 better.
Down steps or random rocky trails it stays poised in the mid-stroke whether you're pedalling, braking or just hanging on and hoping. Even when you smash the travel marker ring to full stroke you’ll rarely be aware of it, and overall rough terrain composure would make most 140mm travel bikes envious. Clip-on front and rear sag guides and shock pump supplied with the bike make setup quick and easy too.
While the 100mm stem is relatively long for easy breathing and stable steering, the whole bike is balanced and accurate enough to weave through most singletrack sections at speed, especially if you encourage some rear end slide. A shorter stem is an obvious technical riding tweak, as are chunkier tread, larger volume tyres such as Bontrager’s own XR4s.
Frame: Well-balanced, stiff yet lightweight chassis
The tapered E2 head tube and big geometrically shaped down tube keep the front of the frame true and tight, while the top tube slopes back steeply for plenty of standover. Trek cunningly remove the need for mainframe mounts and adjust the shock rate by sandwiching the Fox Float air can between the forward tips of the chainstays and the chunky 3D forged magnesium EVO rocker linkage.
The shock itself is Trek’s unique twin chamber DRCV design. This first appeared on the bikes of sub-brand Gary Fisher but it's now featured on Trek’s Fuel and Remedy bikes. By putting the mounts on the side not the end, the shock length can be extended enough to fit in two inline chambers.
Under small loads the bike rides on the first smaller volume chamber giving a small bump, supple but firmly progressive pedal-friendly feel. Once you push past the first part of the travel a pushrod inside the DRCV shock opens the second inline air chamber to control the rest of the travel.
The ABP rear pivots, which are concentric to the rear axle, are also a Trek design feature. You’re only getting the 135mm-spacing skinny quick-release skewer version of the setup rather than the latest 142x12mm ABP version found on the EX9 and upwards, though.
Equipment: Decent spec, but screw-through axles and bigger tyres would be a bonus
The Fox F120 RL fork up front is quick-release rather than screw-through axle, which is a shame in terms of ultimate steering stiffness, but the open bath damping is nice and smooth over the small stuff. The Bontrager XR3 tyres are skinny for a nominal 2.2in size even though the broad Rhythm Comp rims add more base than most. Both tyres and rims are tubeless-ready if you add a bit of goo, which puts protection and grip potential back up to par.
The Shimano XT/SLX transmission mix is better than a lot of mainstream bikes for the price and we’ve no complaints about the Avid Elixir 5 brakes. Decent quality Bontrager finishing kit means overall weight is substantially lighter than its big brand opposition, at 12.31kg (27.14lb) and that’s noticeable on the trail.