Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women's 29er mountain bike review£2,600.00

A fast-rolling, smooth-riding, trail-eating 29er

BikeRadar score3.5/5

Trek’s newest addition to its women’s trail bike lineup gives a rip-roaring ride once you get it up to speed. The Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women’s is a hell of a ride, flying over rough terrain and zooming up climbs.

With 130mm of travel, 29-inch wheels and a geometry that’s more towards the aggressive end of the trail mountain bike spectrum, it’s designed for fast and smooth singletrack riding and felt right at home on natural and trail centre trails alike.

The women’s Fuel EX 8.0 takes the place of the 27.5 Trek Lush in the women’s range, and for those who found the Lush too compact and upright, rejoice! For the Fuel has a longer reach and provides a better riding position for women wanting to ride hard and progress their trail skills.

A new addition to the women's lineup

The Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women's
The Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women's

While the Fuel EX has been in the Trek lineup for a while, this is the first year the company has produced a women’s specific model. In this case, this means the same frame across the women’s and men’s/unisex versions, but a different livery and women’s specific saddle.

All other parts and components are like-for-like and both the unisex and women’s specific models are priced the same: there is no ‘pink penalty’ to be paid here. There’s also, it has to be noted, very little in the way of pink at all as Trek has opted for a white and blue paint job that went down well with our reader test panel.

Stiff frame with modern trail-focussed geometry

While those 29er wheels may take some time to get up to speed, once they're rolling the momentum keeps you powering along
While those 29er wheels may take some time to get up to speed, once they're rolling the momentum keeps you powering along

The Trek Fuel EX 8.0 has an aluminium frame with tapered head tube and internal cable routing. One particularly noticeable combination of features is the very straight downtube (or ‘straight shot’ as Trek calls it) and the ‘knock block’.

The former is designed to increase the stiffness of the frame for a more efficient ride, and while I can’t comment on whether this is an improvement since this is the first time the Fuel has made an appearance in the women’s line up, I can say that the stiffness of the frame is noticeable when putting the power down. The frame's stiffness does accentuate the flexibility in the wheels however, more on that later.

That all important impact absorption comes in the form of a Fox Rhythm 34 Float fork and a Fox Performance Float EVOL rear shock

The ‘knock block’ feature is designed to prevent the fork crown — yes, you guessed it — knocking into that straight down tube and effectively stops the bars from rotating fully. I was initially concerned this would feel strange, as I’ve never encountered this on any bike before, but I didn’t notice it at all.

As mentioned before, the women’s version of the Fuel EX has the same geometry as the men’s, with a head angle of 67.7, which puts it comfortably in the range of modern 29er trail bike geometry.

That head angle, which is two degrees slacker than previous incarnations of the Fuel and slightly slacker than the Trek Lush, gives noticeably good control on descents. In fact, the geometry is progressive for a 29er and looks similar on paper to the two other aggressive trail bikes on test: the Cube Sting WLS 140 and the Canyon Spectral WMN AL 8.0.

For climbing, an effective seat tube angle of 74.7 degrees places the weight over the bottom bracket, which helps with those climbs by making pedalling more efficient and keeping the rider’s centre of mass further forward on the bike to help with traction.

One interesting feature of the Trek Fuel EX 8.0 is the Mino Link, a little chip that allows you to adjust the geometry from a high setting to a low setting. Flip the chip over and you get about a half degree slacker head angle and around 10mm lower on the bottom bracket.

Of the two, my preferred setting was the low position because that slacker, lower position on the bike counteracts the ‘perched’ feeling that comes with riding a 29er.

While the bike is of a predictably hefty weight, coming in at 14.5kg, this isn't surprising for a 29er with a 2x groupset and a hefty set of Fox Rhythm 34 Float forks. That extra heft does benefit from having the range of gears a 2x11 groupset offers, helping to get you up the climbs.

Good, simple and effective gearing and brakes

The Fuel EX 8.0 features a 2x11 Shimano Deore XT groupset with Shadow Plus rear derailleur and while some of our test panel liked the range of gears it provides, particularly at the low end, others weren’t so enamoured.

While a 2x groupset is less common at this price point it’s not entirely unexpected. Personally, I would have preferred to see a single ring or 1x system, which means no front mech so less maintenance and a less cluttered cockpit. With the trickle-down effect, larger rear cassettes are becoming available, which means you can have nearly the same range.

The Fuel features Trek's own dropper seat post system
The Fuel features Trek's own dropper seat post system

The Deore XT crankset features a 26/26 chainring and at the back there's an 11t - 42t 11-speed cassette that offers a wide range of choices. The small chainring was useful on longer climbs, or at the end of a long day of riding for hefting the bike up hills, but for most singletrack riding I found the gearing range supplied by the big chainring plenty to play with.

The shifting movement felt clunkier than pricier versions but is efficient, effective and got the job done.

Shimano Deore brakes are a budget choice, albeit a very capable one. With brakes at the cheaper end of the spectrum benefiting from advances at the pricier end, it means that while these don’t have the hard stopping power of some other options, they do have impressive modulation. If you’re a fan of feathering your brakes on technical sections then these offer nice, subtle speed control.

Plenty of tech in the suspension department

That all important impact absorption comes in the form of a Fox Rhythm 34 Float fork with 130mm of travel and a 51mm offset, and a Fox Performance Float EVOL rear shock.

The shock in question features what’s called the RE:aktiv damping system, which is designed to provide that Holy Grail in the world of bike suspension: a system that stays firm while under light work, such as pedalling, so you don’t waste your energy, but that will also react quickly and efficiently to larger impacts like rough terrain.

Does it work? In my opinion, yes. When climbing or pedalling on the flats there was next to no pedal bob so all the hard work went into forward momentum rather than being sucked up into the suspension system.

We found the suspension system performed exceedingly well
We found the suspension system performed exceedingly well

As soon as the terrain got rough, the system reacted immediately with smooth, progressive travel that never felt close to bottoming out. Combined with those big wheels, the result is a butter-smooth ride. The bike flew over roots, braking bumps and technical rock sections and felt balanced, secure and smooth with no risk of getting hooked up. This is supremely confidence inspiring, particularly if rough ground is your nemesis.  

The suspension system also features what Trek calls its ABP, or active braking pivot. With a lot of suspension, applying the brakes will tend to lock up the system and stop it working efficiently, which frankly isn’t ideal when you’re trying to navigate your way down a technical section safely and control your speed at the same time.

ABP works by effectively disconnecting the braking forces from the forces acting on the suspension by some careful engineering, creating what's termed a ‘floating brake’. In practice, what this meant was a noticeably smoother and more controlled ride when tackling rooty or rough descents, over and above what can be attributed to those bigger wheels and better traction. Win, win all round.

Momentum-boosting 29er wheels

This is the only 29er in our test lineup for women’s trail bike of the year. However, it’s worth noting that Trek chooses wheel sizes to suit bike sizes because it believes that large wheels on a small frame would compromise design and handling, so the size 17.5 and 18.5 feature 29er wheels, while the 14 and 15.5 are fitted with 27.5.

As you’d expect from 29er wheels, I found they took some power to get them going, but once up to speed the momentum that's generated powers you along and that wider diameter in conjunction with the suspension system smooths out small hits and braking bumps for an incredibly even ride.

At slower speeds they can be unwieldy. To get the most out of this bike you need to carve the turns, using speed and body weight to corner. 

The wheelset is the Bontrager Duster Elite and while the boost hubs do help increase the stiffness of 29er wheels, I found these still had a fair heft of weight to them and more flex than I’d like when cornering fast. This is one of the parts I’d look to upgrade in the future if I bought the Fuel, to reduce the overall weight of the bike and help to address that sluggish acceleration, which would make it feel more sure-footed.

Talking of sure-footedness, while the Bontrager XR3 Expert tyres are a good do-it-all option, they don’t offer masses of grip, so if you are going to be riding in slick conditions I'd recommend investing in something with a bit more bite. However, for summer riding in the dry they’ll be fast and fun.

Both tyres and wheels are tubeless ready, which is more or less the standard these days and means a weight saving (no chunky rubber inner tube) and more puncture protection as the sealant milk added to the tyre will heal over most nicks and scratches .

Women's specific finishing kit

The Fuel EX is finished with a women’s specific Bontrager Evoke 2 WSD saddle, which most testers found agreeable, although saddles are a personal choice.

The KS eThirty Integra dropper seatpost was a little temperamental, with movement sluggish at times.

The rest of the cockpit is made up from pleasingly wide 750mm Bontrager Line handlebars and a 35mm Bontrager Line stem. It’s good to see wider bars becoming more prevalent on women’s trail bikes and this size is a good choice for a trail bike, providing direct and efficient steering control in combination with that short stem.

Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women's ride impression

The more you give the Fuel, the more she gives back. While the ride may start sluggish, put some power and speed in and you’ll be rewarded with a smooth, flowing ride that helps you float over rough terrain, fly down descents, eat up rock gardens and spin your way to the top to do it all over again.

I loved the confident feeling it gave when it came to tackling rough and technical descents, though I found there is a compromise when it comes to slow-speed manoeuvrability.

While it’s one of the least expensive bikes in our Women’s Trail Bike of the Year lineup, it holds its own among the best of them. The frame is the main selling point here, although the spec is more than adequate. A few upgrades in the future will lighten this bike up a lot and keep it fresh for the forseeable future.

This is a bike that encourages you to push a little harder, try a little more, ride a little longer, and is perfect for long missions with its ground-covering wheels.

Sizing and availability

The Trek Fuel EX 8.0 Women’s is available in 14-inch, 15.5-inch (both with 27.5 wheels), 17.5-inch and 18.5-inch (with 29er wheels) frame sizes.

It’s worth noting that if you ride a size 15.5 and do want 29er wheels, this option is available on the unisex/men’s version of the bike. The unisex version also goes up to a 23-inch frame size.

The bike is priced at £2,600 /$3,199.99.

Our reader test panel put all the bikes through their paces over the course of one hard-riding weekend at the Forest of Dean in the UK
Our reader test panel put all the bikes through their paces over the course of one hard-riding weekend at the Forest of Dean in the UK

How we tested

This bike was tested head-to-head against a number of other women’s specific trail bikes as part of the 2017 BikeRadar Women’s Bike of the Year awards. Each bike was tested multiple times on a test loop that incorporated a variety of terrain from technical climbs and descents to rooty singletrack, steep chutes, berms, rollers, tabletops and drops.

The size tested was a 17.5-inch frame, which is recommended for a rider of my height at 5ft8in.

In addition to the solo testing I conducted, each bike was also test ridden by a panel of five BikeRadar Women readers; all were a similar height and had a range of riding backgrounds, preferences and experience. Their views have been incorporated into this review.

What our reader panel says

This bike was tested as part of the 2017 Women’s Trail Bike of the Year Awards and it’s important to BikeRadar that we take into account the views of the women the bikes in the test are aimed at. All the bikes were ridden by at least three members of the panel who provided feedback, which has been incorporated into this review and into the judging for the overall title. Here are a few of their thoughts on the Trek Fuel EX 8.0.

  • Jennifer Purcell: “Despite largest wheels in the test, the bike felt really nimble. I had no trouble flying down descents, nipping in and out of trees. I could ride this all day!”
  • Rebecca Smith: “Slow to accelerate but holds its speed well and descends well, feeling planted and stable.”

Women’s Trail Bike of the Year

Look out for the results of Women’s Trail Bike of the Year coming soon to BikeRadar Women! We’ll give you the lowdown on the testing, introduce the reader panel, show you the shortlisted bikes and of course reveal that all-important winner. Which bike will take the coveted title? Not long to wait now.

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 74kg / 163lb
  • Waist: 82cm / 32in
  • Chest: 86cm / 34in (below bust measurement)
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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