One of the most common complaints we at Mtbr get is ‘Bikes are too expensive.’ With mountain bikes topping $10k or even $12k, those remarks are not unfounded. But they don’t have to be. What’s happening with bikes is they’re diverging into a much broader range, much like autos, where the high-end becomes exotic, aspirational and unaffordable for most. The good news is there are gems to be found in the mid-range.
The Trek Fuel EX 7 is one such bike that delivers many of the technologies and geometries that the most expensive bikes have to offer. Most of the qualities that can be found on the most expensive Trek Fuels can be found on this bike. Geometry, components, materials and paint are notable on this Trek Fuel.
Does the bike work?
The best part of the bike is the rear suspension. The rear is very active and it feels like there’s more travel than the 120mm claimed. The suspension is very linear and doesn’t get harsh or ramp up quickly like in many 120mm travel bikes. This gives the bike excellent traction on climbs and it keeps the wheels planted on rough corners.
The downside of all this plushness is the rear is not very well-supported in mid-stroke or in the sag position, so it does move a lot under heavy power or when standing up. In these situations it’s best to take the effort to flip the rear shock in to trail mode.
The front shock is a FOX Evolution 120mm travel and although it’s decent, it’s not up to par with the rear suspension’s performance. It’s not supple like the rear end and the damping is not as controlled.
Components on this bike are a well sorted affair. The brakes are very dependable and the shifting is dialed. On a blind test, we’re fairly certain that many riders will not be able to tell if this is equipped with the more expensive XT groupset. The weakest part of the components is perhaps the Duster wheelset, as a heavier rider can flex them and stress them. We’ll call it ‘upgrade ready’ for a pair of the Mavics or the new wide Bontrager Rhythm Elites.
So in a nutshell, it is a capable package, especially for the money. The rear suspension may be a bit too active for some (in wide open mode) and the fork doesn’t quite match up to the plushness of the rear.
This is where the Fuel rises above the competition. The Fuel EX benefits from many iterations of the Fuel platform, as they are all included in this first version of the Fuel 29. Cable routing is internal, including optional dropper post routing. Frame protection on the down tube near the bottom bracket area is a molded-in rubber piece that Trek calls Carbon Armor. Chain stay protection is another molded piece. A different color scheme is available on each Fuel spec model. Finally, the paint details and the luster is quite stunning in the carbon models.
Wheels and tires are now a highlight of the Trek line and the Trek Fuel EX 7 benefits from the awesome Bontrager 29-3 tires mated with Duster wheels. These tires do everything well with their low but sturdy knobs. For more aggressive riding, the rider can upgrade to 29-4 tires in the front. These wheels and tires are tubeless ready as well, so the rider can upgraded to the best system in the business called Bontrager TLR. This system will not only improve traction and flat resistance but also lose a bit of weight as well.
Other key components are Shimano SLX derailleurs with a Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur. This system is very precise and reliable with only a modest weight penalty. And finally, the brakes are Shimano Deore and these are indeed burly stoppers that are more powerful than many of the most expensive models from other brands.
This bike has a triple front chainring which might be out of fashion these days, but for the target market of intermediate riders, this may be a good choice.
Actual weights and prices in the Fuel bike line
EX 7 – 30.2 lbs. – $2629
EX 8 – 28.8 lbs. – $2939
EX 9 – 28.2 lbs. – $4199 – Aluminium frame, with dropper post
EX 9.7 – 28 lbs. – $4199 – Carbon frame, no dropper post
EX 9.8 – 26.9 lbs. – $5249
For more information visit www.trekbikes.com.
Editor’s Note: The color on this test bike is from the previous year, as the latest model is available in two colors, orange and blue as seen here.