Trek’s Fuel EX is a previous Trail Bike of the Year winner, and while the basic design has persisted for several years it’s been the subject of constant tweaks and evolution – a little more travel here, a bit off the head angle there, some weight sliced away. This EX 7 sits right in the middle of the five-bike aluminium Fuel range.
Ride & handling: Balanced but not overly confident in extreme situations
Other bikes have pushed the slack and low geometry envelope further than the Fuel, but it still remains a potent weapon. It can get nervous in the most furious trail situations, but there’s very little it won’t deal with.
The 720mm handlebar offers plenty of leverage, the QR15 front axle and tapered steerer make sure the front wheel points the way you want, while plenty of meat in the down tube allows the rest of the bike to simply follow faithfully on.
We like the Bontrager XR3 tyres too, which manage to combine the cushioning of high volume with decent grip and a fast-rolling nature to good effect.
Despite their efforts to shift perceptions, Trek still have a slightly conservative reputation. This incarnation of the Fuel – especially given the fast-changing nature of the competition – does little to change that. But for many, that’s the bike’s strength.
Trek fuel ex 7: Russell Burton/Future Publishing
Frame & equipment: Subtle, sensitive suspension
Most manufacturers use the same frame for the cheapest version of a bike as the most expensive one, and simply fit better parts as the prices increase. Trek’s Fuel EX models are unusual in that the cheaper bikes get different frames; this EX 7 does without certain features that appear on the slightly more expensive EX 8.
The EX 7 has a conventional threaded bottom bracket rather than the latest bigger, stiffer press-fit design, lacks chainguide mounts and takes a normal rather than direct-mount front mech. There’s also no rubberised down tube guard, which seems like nothing more than penny pinching.
However, the bigger technological ideas remain: it benefits from Trek’s ABP pivot, which is there to keep the suspension working whether you’re braking or not; keeps the ‘floating’ shock (it’s squeezed between the swingarm and rocker linkage, rather than against a fixed mount on the frame); and it wears a big, stiff tapered head tube.
The EX 7 is the cheapest Fuel to feature a Dual Rate Control Valve shock. The twin-chamber setup gives a sprightly pedalling feel while retaining very plush small-bump sensitivity, opening up to swallow big bits.
It’s not perfect – it occasionally catches you out with more travel than you expect – and it divides rider opinion. Some love the supple feel while other (generally more aggressive) riders dislike its willingness to give up the travel. It’s a similar story with DRCV forks, but the EX 7 wears a regular Fox Evolution unit.
This is a mature, highly developed bike, and a safe bet with your stake. Bikes with 26in wheels might be at the forefront of development right now, but the Fuel EX proves they’re still eminently capable, very well-understood and – vitally – fun.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.