Trek’s Fuel EX has been a Trail Bike of the Year winner as well as a close contender. It’s still a very safe, efficient partner for tackling technical singletrack or long days in the hills, but it’s focused more towards cruise control than chasing the ragged edge.
Ride & handling: Suited to all-day adventures
The exposed rocks of our heavily armoured test trails highlighted a harsher, more chattery ride than the 650b and 29in wheels created on competing Trail Bike of the Year contenders. The Bontrager rubber gives good grip and their low weight helps to keep the ride lively rather than lung busting on more stop/start trails.
Add the Shimano based-spec and you’re looking at a bike that’s really well suited to heading out into the hills with a map in your pack and an adventure in your head. It felt very comfortable among the vistas and long winding trails of the second day of wild, mountain testing. It worked really well on more natural trails where big hits were generally singular and corners too loose or greasy to load the fork up.
The Trek started to feel out of its depth against the latest bikes when we got aggressive on trail centre terrain. The DRCV twin chamber fork moves less than a standard one when pedalling but swallows bigger hits with full-stroke eagerness. This reduces loose and chattery corner traction, and the sudden dive comes at just the point you want to drive the front end through berms or keep it high under hard braking.
Even with the broad bar overseeing your steering efforts, the front end feels steeper than it is, with a nervous, fidgety feel in corners if you’re pushing it hard.
Frame & equipment: Sharp-tracking frameset with DRCV shock
With 130mm of rear stroke and 130mm up front the Fuel sits bang in the centre of the do-it-all category for travel, but the wide bar suggests a bit more attitude and control than you might expect. The proprietary DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) dual chamber shock also extends impact control deeper than you’d expect at first.
In normal pedalling or rolling situations the top chamber gives a tight and firmly-sprung response that keeps power inputs crisp. This helps offset the high overall weight of the bike on climbs or sprints, to the point where it’s a surprise what you’ve been propelling when you pick it up.
If you wallop something bigger the second chamber of the shock is prodded open to increase its impact appetite, stopping the big hit Buckaroo and pinch flat problems you’d otherwise expect from a 130mm 26in-wheeled bike.
The Active Braking Pivot axle rear pivot and Full Floater shock – it’s squeezed between linkage and the chainstay tip rather than frame – keep things controlled, buoyant and unaffected by braking. The Evolution-spec damper in the Fox shock felt better than similar setups in other bikes when we were pushing the pace.