Small but significant component and suspension changes make the EX 8 a potentially excellent all-rounder if you like your ride fast and focused. The Fox Rhythm fork needs accurate tweaking to match the rest of the ride though.
The Fuel EX is unchanged for 2018, apart from the switch to a metric shock in Trek’s ‘Full Floater’ position between the rocker link and extended chainstay tips.
You’re getting the same super-stiff, ‘Knock Block’-equipped mainframe with neat semi-internal control routing, down tube bottle mount and press-fit bottom bracket (which isn’t likely to last as long as a threaded one). A chip on the seatstay can be flipped to change the head angle by 0.5 degrees and bottom bracket height by 10mm.
Trek’s ‘ABP’ pivot runs through the rear wheel axle to reduce the effects of braking on the 130mm of travel, which is controlled by a unique ‘RE:aktiv’-valved Fox shock.
While the EX 8 is creeping up in price by £99 for 2018, you get a lot for that extra cash. The most obvious hop-up on paper is SRAM’s GX Eagle, with its 12 sprockets and X-Sync 2 ring.
Just as obvious on the trail, though, is the change to top-spec Team Issue Bontrager XR4 tyres (one of our favourites). The 30mm rims plump them up to a chunky 60mm width, but there’s space for 3.0in rubber in the frame if you buy a second set of wheels (or go for the 650b+ rather than 29er bike in the first place).
A bigger negative chamber is fitted into a smaller air can on the 2018 Fox DPS shock for a super-plush start, but Trek’s ‘RE:aktiv’ valving still ensures efficient pedalling support Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Bonty also supplies the updated Drop Line dropper, and the 35mm-diameter bar and stem, which help translate the Fuel EX’s HD-clarity stiffness advantage right through to the grips.
While the Guide R brakes are the entry-level members of SRAM’s four-cylinder family, they’re better modulated and more powerful than the stoppers found on the Whyte T-130 S, Scott Spark 945 and Mondraker Factor XR + that were also on test.
Fox’s Rhythm 34 fork gets an extended EVOL negative spring for 2018, which makes it smoother over small bumps. My sample dived excessively and wouldn’t return to full extension though — effectively steepening the bike’s head angle — even when I ran 20psi more pressure than recommended, so I added two volume spacers.
The larger negative chamber of the 2018 Float DPS shock delivers a similar advantage in sensitivity, but the seamless support of the ‘RE:aktiv’ damper tune stops it being too linear or feeling flaccid when pedalling.
Trek Fuel EX 8 29 ride impression
The combination of accurately-damped rear suspension and a super-precise and muscular front end and cockpit reveals itself as the Trek’s major handling trait straight away.
Relatively low weight means the Trek feels encouragingly positive when you’re pushing watts through it too
Once I’d added spacers to the fork, the long-reach stability and reasonably slack head angle meant I could pick ridiculous lines across cambers and root spreads, and be confident that the Fuel wouldn’t just hold them but cut inside them.
The modulation of the brakes increases confidence in sketchy situations and the well-damped, big-volume tyres and clean-tracking, accurately-controlled rear end take the edge off hits and stutter bumps too.
This all lets the Fuel EX carry serious straight-line speed through rowdy technical sections, in a way that reminded me of its 150mm-travel Remedy bigger brother.
Relatively low weight means the Trek feels encouragingly positive when you’re pushing watts through it too. The Eagle transmission is excellent, and combined with its efficient pedalling and easy roll, this means it’s an impressive technical climber, with epic-distance potential.
Even after extensive tuning, the fork never felt quite as accurate or composed as the Revelation on the similarly priced Whyte T-130 S.
I’d also fit a shorter stem to make it easier to flick the hard-charging chassis into corners and take front-end traction to the limit. But if you’re not into super-twitchy front ends and can get the fork sorted, the Fuel EX is an absolute hauler, whether you’re climbing super-tech pitches or charging through rock gardens.