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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.