The Great All-Rounder: Trek’s Fuel EX 9.9

Trek’s trail-ready Fuel EX 9.9 is a dream bike for anyone who loves the thrills.


Myles Kelsey |

PRICE: R129 999
GET IT NOW: trekbikes.com

Having ridden and tested many Treks in the past, we’ve come to expect bucketloads of innovative technology from the brand; and the Fuel EX doesn’t disappoint – it’s dripping with it.

The Knock Block steering stop system, the proprietary RE:aktiv shock valving from Formula 1 racing cars, and the Thru Shaft suspension design are just some of the new technologies, while the proven ABP pivot design, geometry-adjust flip chip and simple yet effective single-pivot suspension are old friends.

From this list there are two features on the Trek worth examining in deeper detail, as we believe they separate the bike from the rest of the pack, with tangible on-trail performance-enhancing benefits for all riders: the ABP rear pivot system, and the combined shock technologies of Thru Shaft and RE:aktiv.

ABP Suspension

The ABP suspension system (otherwise known as a split pivot) is available on a mere handful of bike brands across the globe. ABP stands for Advanced Braking Pivot, and it isn’t marketing smoke and mirrors; it’s science and engineering that works.

The pivot design keeps the suspension fully active under braking, meaning the bike doesn’t get wild and out of control when you slam on the brakes. That means you can carry more speed into (and through) turns, brake on the rough line, and maintain traction and dynamic stability at the same time.

The ABP system is so good, it’s been cleverly incorporated on all of Trek’s full-suspension designs, from their XC range right through to their big-travel downhill bikes.

So why is this such a big deal? It’s only braking, surely?

The truth is, when the bike is more composed under braking, there’s less effort required from the rider to keep the thing in check. Over the course of a two-hour ride that translates into a whole lot of energy savings, which can be put back into pedalling effort, whips, technical effort over obstacles, and time to smell the trailside roses.

Thru Shaft

The Thru Shaft shock technology sees the shock damper shaft actually exit the back of the shock as it compresses. In the process it eliminates the need for the internal floating piston used on
most shocks.

The benefit of this is that less force is required to initiate shaft movement, which simply means the rear suspension is more compliant, or has greater small-bump sensitivity. Don’t just think ‘better’… think ‘smooth, creamy, beautiful, butter-like suspension performance’.

Coupled with the proprietary RE:aktiv valving, which increases low-speed compression and high-speed compression sensitivity, the rear suspension is designed to improve both pedal performance and shaft speed, or reaction time to the bigger hits on the trail.

Basically, the shock knows what to do, so you can concentrate on the ride itself.

trek fuel ex 9.9
Image by Rob Ward

The Ride

We took our time to bolt-check this brand-new bike, and set up the cockpit exactly as we wanted it; then the suspension sag, then the rebound; and of course we made the usual saddle- and bar-height tweaks.

Out on the trails, the first noticeable ride characteristic is the climbing speed. With the rear shock on the firmer setting I rocketed up the jeep track leading into the bike park, and settled into a steady and comfy climbing rhythm to the top of the first singletrack descent.

It wasn’t a flat-box effort from me, but Strava gave me a PR for that 12-minute climb – my fastest ascent on that stretch in six years of using Strava. If the climbing performance isn’t quite that of a
full-blown XC machine, that’s not the point of this bike.

Even with the rear shock in the fully open position the rear wheel tracks well, providing both traction and rider comfort when the climb gets rocky, rutted and loose.

Think smooth, creamy, beautiful, butter-like suspension performance.

On my first ride I dropped straight into Tokai’s main flow trail, which is under three minutes of gradual, XC-style descending – not unlike what you’d encounter in a stage race, marathon race, or at your local bike park. I immediately noticed how quickly this Fuel EX picks up speed, no doubt thanks to the light Bontrager Line Pro 30 carbon wheelset and fast-rolling Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres.

This particular trail is laden with a mix of natural and man-made features that were begging to be boosted, gapped and railed. The Fuel EX reacted intuitively to my input, and did exactly what I wanted it to do – the light weight and sublime geometry numbers of this bike mean it’s ridiculously easy to change direction, pop over obstacles, boost long gaps, and negotiate anything the trail has to offer.

trek fuel ex 9.9
Image by Rob Ward

As good as the acceleration is, so is the braking. On a section that had undergone some recent alterations I came in hot, and really had to brake hard to avoid shooting off the trail. The suspension and tyres collaborated accordingly, and I stuck the turn without incident.

At the bottom of the descent I stopped to reflect on the set-up. I let some PSI out of the front tyre and turned the low-speed compression on the fork up by four clicks, to increase support in the turns and under braking, and went up to the top for another run.

It was mid-afternoon, and the trails were pretty quiet; so, with little chance of slower traffic getting in the way, I decided to give it a full-gas run.

I dropped in, and immediately gapped two roots – a four-metre hop – with ease; then I got the speed up to almost 50km/h and settled in, waiting for the endless turns to start. It didn’t take a lot of effort to carry speed through the turns, pedal hard on the straightaways despite the block head wind, or just be smooth on the brakes.

I was a little naughty, and boosted some big hops; but it was all in the name of testing, wasn’t it? As it transpired, Strava liked it too – and gave me the KOM!

The significance of all this is twofold. Personally, I usually take longer to get acquainted with a bike before ‘chasing Strava’; but such is the sheer brilliance and feel of this bike that I instantly felt comfortable riding on the edge.

And secondly, the large amounts of stress I put the bike through yielded no quirks, idiosyncrasies, or eccentric behaviour.

trek fuel ex 9.9
Image by Rob Ward

The Details

Head angle: 67.1° in the slack position
BB height: 338mm in the low position
Reach: approximately 463mm
Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 Eagle 1×12
Fork: FOX 34 Factory Float 130mm
Shock: FOX Float Factory RE:aktiv Thru Shaft 130 mm
Wheels: Bontrager Line Pro 30 OCLV Carbon
Brakes: SRAM Guide Ultimate
Dropper Post: Bontrager Line Drop 150mm
Tyres: Bontrager XR4 team Issue 29×2.4
Weight as tested: 12.2kg (size 19.5 with pedals)

Summary

The attention Trek has paid to every aspect of this bike – from the kinematics and the technology in the suspension, to the geometry and the build kit – has yielded a truly exceptional performer. A wonder bike.

Buy this bike if:

  • You only want one bike to handle most trails in SA.
  • You race, but aren’t bothered about being in the top 15% of the field.
  • You cherish the thrill and fun of trails.
  • You’ve entered a stage race but aren’t a naturally skilled rider. You need a bike that’s going to save you when you’re out of your depth on the singletrack.
  • You’re a highly-skilled enduro racer, and prefer a lighter ride.
  • What we would change
    Slightly wider bars would be nice.

Bicycling Score

Value for money: 8/10
Cornering: 10/10
Pedalling: 8/10
Braking: 10/10
Suspension: 10/10
Rider confidence: 10/10
Build kit: 8/10

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