Dirt Rag Magazine

Trek releases longer-travel Fuel EX 27.5 Plus


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The Fuel EX wasn’t exactly an “old” bike, even by bike industry standards. It wouldn’t have taken much for Trek to redesign the rear end of the Fuel EX 29 to accept a 27plus tire, slap a new Fox 34 Plus fork on the front and ship it out. It would have been an above average bike.

But that is not what Trek did. At all. This Fuel EX 27.5 Plus is just the start of Trek’s entirely revamped trail bike offerings. We’ll be in Squamish next week to ride the other new bikes, but in the meantime, we’ve been lucky to be one of  small number of media outlets riding the new Fuel EX.

Trek released the Chupacabra 27.5 plus tires this spring, the first clue that we’d be seeing a bike like this from Trek. In fact, we had a bet going that about whether it would be this or a full-suspension 29plus Stash that we’d see released at Sea Otter (it was a full-sus fatbike, so we all lost).

Fully blacked-out, this is perhaps the meanest looking bike Trek has ever released. It doesn’t just look mean, it has the performance to back up the sneer. Long and low geometry, a new frame that is stiffer than the current Remedy and a travel increase push this new bike out of the long-legged XC realm into do-it all trail bike territory. Think less Midwest and more Pacific Northwest.

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Unlike the 120/120 mm travel on the 29 and 27.5 bikes, the new bike is 140/130 mm front/rear. The travel is noticeably more plush, but loses some of the snappy pedalling feel of the shorter-travel bike. It hasn’t lost the oddly magic feel of controlled plushness that the Re:Aktiv shock provides, but feels better sitting and spinning rather than standing and mashing.

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The carbon frame has a huge, almost-straight downtube, and lots of stand-over, Trek’s totally quiet Control Freak internal routing and a new bump-stop headset. Developed in conjunction with FSA the Knock Block headset uses keyed spacers and stem to prevent the fork from swinging 180 degrees in a crash. This protects the top tube from the brake levers and the down tube from the fork’s top caps. This allows Trek to increase tube separation at the head tube, and get rid of the upper bend in the down tube. Straighter, shorter tubes are lighter and stiffer, the attributes everyone is chasing in the full-suspension marketplace.

The downside to this new headset? Proprietary stems and spacers. I have a feeling this idea has enough merit to expand to more of the industry, but proprietary parts are not well received right now. The stock Bontrager Line 35 mm bar and stem is more than serviceable, and any 35 mm bar will work, so it isn’t that huge of a deal unless you really can’t ride without you chi-chi Chromag bar and stem.

The biggest news with the EX is the geometry. The head angle is the most obvious change, rivalling the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 for biggest difference from previous generation frames. Trek continues to use the geo-adjusting Mino link, resulting in a rider’s choice of 67.2 or 66.6 degrees. Seat tube angles are steeper, chain stays are at 433 mm (17”) and a 13″ bottom bracket should keep thing on the shreddy side on the trail.

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I’ve been on the EX 9.8, which is an interesting mix of parts for a modern mountain bike. Brakes and drivetrain are all XT, including a 2×11 with  side-swing front derailleur. The specs say the fork should be a FOX 34 Performance FIT, but my bike has a GRIP damper. Rear shock is a FOX EVOL with three-position Re:Activ valve. Wheels are DT hubs laced to Sun Duroc 40 rims. Everything else besides the 125 mm Reverb are Bontrager bits.

rekFuelEX27plus__WEB-13The other two bikes are aluminum frames. The EX 8 is 1×11 via SRAM GX, brakes are Shimano Deore, Fox 34 Rhythm GRIP fork, same FOX EVOL/Re:Aktiv shock and Bontrager hubs in place of the DTs.  A KS EThirty dropper and Bontrager parts finish it off. The EX5 gets 2×10 Deore, Shimano M315 brakes, no dropper post, and less expensive Bontrager finishing bits. Suspension is handled by RockShox, a Sektor Silver RL up front, and Deluxe RL rear.

All three models use the new “metric” shock sizing and trunnion mounts. Also, all three bikes will work with 29″ wheels, although the bottom bracket will end up about 5mm higher depending on tire selection.

The current Fuel EX with 29 or 27.5 “standard” tires will remain in the line-up, which should be a relief for those riders that don’t need a bike as aggressive as the EX 27plus, but not as race-focused at the Top Fuel.

First  Impressions

This bike is fun. It retains enough of the efficiency of the shorter travel EXs to want to take on long days on the trail, but the added travel and traction are welcome additions when things get rough. Chainstays at 17″ seem to be a magic number for this bike (or maybe just for me), keeping the front end down on climbs, but able to pop and hop without excessive body english.

I’m still messing with air pressure in the rear shock. The Re:Aktiv shock takes a little longer to dial in, and has a pretty broad range of usable pressures. Even when set up on the soft side, the regressive valve manages to make the bike pedal well, and all three positions of platform are all very usable on the trail,. Even on the firmest setting once past the threshold the shock opens up and gobbles up the bumps better than would be expected for something that feels so firm off the top.

The long and low geometry invites aggressive riding, in fact, it rewards it. Unlike the standard Fuel EXs, the plus bike feels best being tossed around versus a lighter touch. When given a choice, the EX plus bike is more fun to ride on the aggressive lines. If you like to stay seated and steer around things, this might not be your bike. With this much quality travel and traction, dropping the seat and attacking the trail is your best bet.

The Chupacabras are impressive performers for a tire with such small knobs, but they can start to feel overwhelmed with things get really hairy. I’m guessing Bontrager will have a more aggressive tread up its sleeve if we see a 27plus Remedy released. A more aggressive front tire paired with the Chupacabra in the rear would be a sweet setup.

Personally, I think Trek should have given this bike its own name, it is that different from the shorter travel EXs. How about Rumblefish or Roscoe, some of my favorites from the now-defunct Fisher brand? Regardless, even though Trek has been talking about simplifying its trail bike line-up, the addition of this bike and the full-suspension Farley EX seems like the opposite of that.

Navel-gazing about names and sales-floor confusion aside, the Fuel EX 27plus seems like a very worthy contender in the hotly-contested trail bike marketplace. We’ll have a full review in the next issue of Dirt Rag.

Pricing and Availability:

Fuel EX 5 27.5 Plus $2,399.99 June
Fuel EX 8 27.5 Plus $3,299.99 NOW
Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 Plus $5,299.99 NOW

Full specs and geometry are up on Trek’s website.

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First Ride: Rocky Mountain Pipeline


For some riders the name Pipeline will bring up old memories of adjustable travel URT suspension and Giro Switchblade helmets. But put those thoughts out of your head. This new bike might as well be an alien species for how little DNA is shares with that early freeride bike.

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Much like the Sherpa, Rocky’s first plus bike, the Pipeline shares a main frame with another model, in this case the 29″ Instinct trail bike. This idea of sharing frames among a few models or wheels sizes while adjusting geometry with fork travel and a different swingarm seems to be a trend that is catching on in the industry, and one that makes a lot of sense considering the cost of developing carbon fiber molds for each size.

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I rode the fancier of the two models, the $4,800 Pipeline 770 MSL. Shimano provides XT for the 1×11 drivetrain and brakes, RaceFace kicks in the bar, stem and crank. The RockShox Reverb does dropper duties and the wheels are a a mixes of brands, most notably 35mm (internal width) Alex tubeless rims and Maxxis Rekon EXO tires front and rear.

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Dre Hestler and Wade Simmons acted as tour guides, and we ended up on a fun combination of trails, dead-ends, and dirt roads. While none of the terrain was particularly challenging, there were some fun bits and sandy corners to give me a feel for the bike.

I’m just finishing up a review of the Santa Cruz Hightower, which has very similar travel numbers to this bike, and has (optional) 27plus wheels. Since the Pipeline is based on a platform that is a few years old, we’ve seen geometry change pretty dramatically since then, and the size large, with its 23.5 top tube felt small while climbing and cranking along on the flats.

Fortunately the rest of the geometry is quite modern. Rocky’s Ride 9 chip system can adjust geometry (and shock progression). I rode it in the middle, which gives it a 68 degree head angle and  about a 74.5 seat tube. Combined with pretty “normal” 17.4 inch chainstays, the Pipeline felt peppy and fun on the trails at the less-than-warp speeds that we traveled. Once the seat was down, any sense of “small” disappeared, and the bike was more than ready to take the roughest lines I could find.

With only a single ride on this bike, versus a few months on the Hightower, it is hard to really compare the two. I’d be will to bet, if compared head-to-head on each company’s’ local trails, I’d like the Santa Cruz better in Santa Cruz and the Rocky better on the Shore.

I would have preferred a first ride on some of the trails in this video, but alas, the biggest U.S. bike event is held at a venue with mediocre trails.

I came away wanting more time on this bike, and wondering how it would feel with some the even more aggressive tires will be seeing soon from Maxxis.

The less expensive $4,000 Pipeline 750 MSL shares the same carbon main frame, aluminum rear end, 1×11 XT drivetrain, but swaps out the Fox suspension for less expensive RockShox options and the RaceFace components for house brand bits. Wheels and dropper remain the same. The 750 is orange. I like orange.

More info at Rocky Mountain’s website, bikes.com.

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First Impression: Salsa Pony Rustler

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Salsa Cycles’ Pony Rustler is the rotund sibling of the brand’s well-admired Horsethief. Both bikes feature the same basic platform and very similar components, with the obvious difference being the wider wheelset of the Pony Rustler. I’ve been riding the Carbon X01 build for a few weeks and have been impressed on how well it tackles the ever-changing winter weather we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast this year. There has been everything from summer-like 70 degree days to Arctic cold temperatures mixed with slush, ice and deep powder. Throw in a couple of blistering windstorms and you get the idea.

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I really have come to appreciate Salsa’s decision to use 45 mm WTB Scraper rims matched up 3-inch WTB Bridger tires. While not the best in the deep snow, the Bridgers have been a great all-around choice. The wide rims also do a great job of creating a nice full tire profile, allowing for more of the knobs to maintain contact with the trail surface.

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Two of the three Pony Rustler build kits come with a 1x drivetrain; the lower-priced model ships with a 2x option. So far I’ve had no issues with the SRAM X01 that shipped with ours. Yea, it’s sometimes a pain to try and dump a bunch of gears when faced with an uphill you weren’t expecting, but I’m willing to deal with the inconvenience for a cleaner handlebar setup.

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The Carbon X01 build features a nice upgrade to the 130 mm Pike RCT3 which uses the awesome Charger Damper that RockShox fans have grown to love. You’ll find a Fox Float 34 with the two other kits.

And, of course, what would a high-end trail bike be without a dropper post? Here Salsa opted for the internal cable routed Reverb Stealth.

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I’ve had the Pony Rustler out on a few regular singletrack outings and a snowy/rainy/slushy overnight bikepacking excursion. It’s been a ton of fun on all of it. I’m really looking forward to putting some more miles on it and seeing if it could be the one bike my stable has been itching for. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Price: $5,499
Check out salsacycles.com for more information on the Pony Rustler and all their other bikes.


We’ll be running a long term review of the Pony Rustler in a future issue of Dirt Rag so stay tuned and make sure you have an active subscription so you don’t miss it, and all the great stuff we’ve got planned for the year.

 

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First Look: New Ibis Mojo 3


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This newest Mojo has almost nothing in common with the steel hardtail that first wore that nameplate. But like the original Mojo, the Mojo 3 is a pretty lust-worthy trail bike.

This bike doesn’t break any new ground for Ibis. It continues with Ibis’ successful combination of the industrial design ascetic of Roxy Lo, the smarts of Ibis’ in-house engineers and the proven suspension design of the Dave Weagle dw-link. And just like every current Ibis, the Mojo 3 is all-carbon, all the time.

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Where the Mojo 3 really gets interesting is the tire sizes allowed by the Boost hub spacing. Besides providing increased frame stiffness, Boost allows for shorter chainstays, increased tire clearance, and room for a single or dual ring drivetrain.

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Bikes like the new Santa Cruz Hightower are designed around 29 inch and 27plus wheels and, originally, Ibis was planning to do the same to its Ripley 29er trail bike. But after a few rides with 27plus tires on the Ripley, that idea was tossed out and the plus sizes tires where moved over to the Mojo 3 that was still in development. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. Even in the full 3.0 size, 27plus tires are still smaller in diameter than 29er tires.
  2. Ibis found the 3.0 to be too bouncy when ridden hard and likes the 2.8 tires much better. Those 2.8 tires are even shorter than the 27.5×3.0 tires.
  3. All tires have some sag, and at preferred riding pressures (12-18 psi) the 27plus tires are the same height as a 27.5×2.3 tire.

All this means that without any fork length or suspension chip adjustments, the Mojo’s bottom bracket height should be the same with a rider aboard, although static heights are different. Seems pretty interesting, to me.

Mojo3 downtubeIbis has been on the wide rim kick for a while now, and its carbon 741 wheels pull triple-duty here, coming stock with either the new Schwalbe Nobby Nics 2.35, the new Maxxis Minion WT  27.5×2.5 WT or plus-sized 2.8 Schwalbe Nobby Nics. The carbon wheels are stock on some build kits; the other stock option are aluminum Easton Arc 30s. The 741 wheels are an upgrade option on any build kit for $1,400.

 

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Also of note is the shock tune option for lighter riders. Named after five-foot-tall designer Roxy Lo, the Fox Float DPS can be order with a lighter rebound “Roxy Tune” for riders under 135 pounds at no extra charge. This shock tune, combined with a 27.4″ standover on the size small should make a lot of short-statured rippers very happy.

 

 

While this is just a 130 mm bike (with a 140 mm fork), it is slacker than a Mojo HD with a 150 mm fork, by a scant 0.2 degrees. It is also shorter in the rear end, with 425 mm chainstays to the HD’s 430 mm. Top tubes are the same, but the Mojo has a steeper seatube and more reach. The Mojo’s bottom bracket is also at a modern 335 mm, and is thankfully a standard threaded interface, not press fit. There are five sizes for riders from 5′ to 6’6″.

LA the Black

Our Take

Ibis has an interesting idea here, and right now is the only company we know of with a bike designed to use 27.5 inch tires from 2.25-2.8 inches wide, with no adjustments to accommodate the change in static heights of the wheels. I’ll admit to being a little skeptical about this tire sag theory, but can attest to the amount of pedal strikes I’ve had on plus and fat bikes, even with what seems like normal bottom bracket heights. A proper test ride is in order, and one is in the works.

Ibis also is using either 30 or 35 mm internal width rims on tires from 2.35-2.8. I’m still surprised to see this, as it seems rim width should continue to increase as tire width increase proportionally, which would put the 2.8 on something more like a 40 mm internal width rim. Specialized goes even further, with its 3 inch plus tires on 29 mm internal rims. It seems now that the 29 vs 26 debate has ended, we can all get online an argue about rim widths. This is great, because I was getting bored trolling people about 31.8 vs 35 mm handler bars.

The frame (with Fox Float DPS shock) is $2,999. Complete bikes start at $3,999 for the Special Blend (available in June). Stay tuned. This should be a fun one.

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Big Red inthe Man Cave REVISED

Get One

The dealers below have the bike in stock. If you want one, get moving. Ibis will have a fleet of Mojos for test rides at Dirt Rag Dirt Fest in May. Ibis did a bang-up job with explaining the hows and whys of the new Mojo on its website. I recommend heading there for further reading.

Pro Bike Supply, Newport Beach California
Tracce Bike Shop, Genova Italy
Competitive Cyclist
JRA Bikes & Brew, Agoura Hills California
Fat Tire Farm, Portland Oregon
Sunshine Bicycle Center, Fairfax California
Trail Head Cyclery, San Jose California
The Hub Bicycle Service, Jackson Wyoming
River Rat Mountain Bikes, Fair Oaks, California
Sunnyside Sports, Bend Oregon
Pedal Pushers Cyclery, Golden Colorado
Tenafly Bicycle Workshop, Tenafly New Jersey
Elephant’s Perch, Ketchum Idaho
Cal Coast Cycles, San Diego California
Fanatik Bike Company, Bellingham Washington
B-Rad Cycle Service, Nelson New Zealand
Jenson USA, Coronoa  California
Moto Ofan, Natanya Israel
Mountain Pedaler, Minturn Colorado
Mountain Pedaler, Eagle Colorado
Fullerton Bicycle, Fullerton California
Cenna’s Custom Cycles, Longmont Colorado
The Bike Peddler, Santa Rosa California
Bicycle Cafe, Canmore Alberta
Calgary Cycle, Calgary Alberta
Hank & Frank Bicycles, Lafayette, California

 

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First Impression: Charge Bikes Cooker 4


Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!


Price: $2,400

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Charge Bikes’ Cooker 4 is a 27.5plus entry in our sub-$3,000 bike group test. The Cooker features an all-aluminum frame, a RockShox Reba RL Boost fork, 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain, a 725 mm RaceFace Evolve handlebar, Shimano SLX brakes and WTB 2.8″ Trailblazer tires riding on 40 mm wide rims.

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The chainstays provide just enough clearance for the 2.8-inch WTB Trailblazers, and I’m wondering how much more rubber can fit in there. 40 mm rims provide a nice wide platform so that the tires don’t look out of place or too round, and I haven’t had any problems since I set them up tubeless.

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Because it was designed in Great Britain, I felt is was appropriate to take the bike out and give it a good mud bath. Like peanut butter and jelly, some things are just meant to go together.

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So far the Cooker has been a worthy companion. The combination of the Reba and large tires make line choices through roots and rocks a bit less important, and the bike seems to roll nicely through most conditions and trail surfaces. I haven’t perceived much of a weight penalty from the extra rubber, and the geometry feels spot on. I’m looking forward to getting a good bit more time with my new buddy so I can bring you a complete review, out in January.

 

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Inside Line: 2016 Fox Float 34 Fork for 27.5+ Tires


Fox kicks off the 2016 product news with an announcement that may signal widespread industry acceptance of the plus size tire as something more than an oddity: A Fox Factory 34 fork for 27.5+ tires.

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Fox claims plenty of clearance for tires up to 27.5 x 3.25, travel from 110 mm to 150 mm, 51 mm offset, and the new 110 x 15 axle standard. Much like the rear Boost 148 axle released last year on Trek’s new Fuel EX and Remedy trail bikes, the wider hub spacing will create a stronger wheel due to less offset and increased spoke bracing angle. It does make one wonder why anyone  bothered with 100 x 15 anyway, since the 110 x 20 axle standard was pretty well established. Oh well.

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Also new is the latest FIT4 damping cartridge and a revised FLOAT air spring. RockShox has been bringing the heat with the new Charger damper in the media-darling Pike fork, we’ll see how the new spring and damper measure up as soon as we can get out hands on one.

Just to be clear, this is a specific chassis for 27.5+ wheels, it will not replace the standard 34. We don’t have prices or availability info yet, but this is a Factory level fork, so expect somewhere in the $1,000 range, and a spring-time release.

The question remains, which bike company had enough confidence in this wheel size to get this fork made? It is doubtful the Fox would develop this fork without at least one sizeable original equipment order. With travel up to 150 mm, will we see a 6 inch travel 27.5+ trail bike at Sea Otter next month? My guess is yes, and probably more than one.

While we wait for what the future holds, we are working on at 27.5+ project of our own, read about it here.

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