Review: Trek Fuel EX 7 | The do-it-all trail bike which is also licensed for the Rowdy

The Trek Fuel EX range recently underwent a ground-up redesign that has modernized the brand’s best-selling full-suspension offering.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
It is a modernized trail bike with a steeper seat angle which makes it a neutral climber.

Through many subtle changes to the frame construction, geometry and build kit, Trek has allowed the new Fuel EX to keep it’s ‘every person and every trail’ appeal but licensed it with an X-Factor for the rowdy. The changes are both a slight repositioning of the bike AND a broadening of its capabilities. At 130mm it fills the sweet spot between the Top Fuel – a versatile Cross / Down-country bike [reviewed HERE] and Trek’s full Enduro weapon, the Slash.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
The changes made by Trek bring a definite X-Factor to the ride.


THE BIKE

THE NEW STUFF

| GEOMETRY | The key changes to the Fuel EX start with but are not limited to the geometry. The wheelbase is a little longer, the head angle is a little slacker whilst the seat tube is both shorter and steeper. The frames are also optimized around shorter offset forks.

| TUBING | A wider seat tube improves stiffness around the BB area. It is also straighter to accommodate the trend towards longer dropper posts. By moving the rider forward on the bike (steeper seat tube) the suspension action is said to be a little calmer when climbing. The chainstay is a little taller in design and now sits right underneath the chain which reduces chain slap.

| NO FULL FLOATER | As shock technology has evolved, particularly around compression characteristics and tuning options, Trek felt they no longer needed the full floater system to achieve the desired ride quality. Dropping the Full Floater link reduced weight and improved the lateral stiffness.

| THE FORK | The bike is designed around a 140mm fork and all models are shipped with such. For riders looking for more travel, it is possible to run a 150mm fork on the bike without negatively impacting the ride dynamic – the BB lifts by 3mm and the head angle slackens by a half a degree.

| FRAME STORAGE | All carbon models of the new Fuel EX feature what Trek is calling the ‘BITS’ internal downtube compartment. A handy little storage area for stashing things like tools, spares, car keys or trail snacks.

BUILD KIT, WEIGHT, PRICE – Trek Fuel EX 7

SIZES AVAILABLE| XS, Small, Medium, M/L, Large, X/L, XX/L
FRAME| 130mm Aluminium, Knock Block, internal cable routing, downtube guard, ISCG 05, magnesium rocker link
FORK| RockShox 35 Gold, Debonair Spring, 140mm, 44mm Offset
SHOCK| Fox Performance Float EVOL, 3-position DPS damper, tuned by Trek Suspension Lab, 210×55 mm  
BARS| Bontrager alloy, 31.8 mm, 15 mm rise, 750 mm width
STEM| Bontrager Rhythm Comp, 31.8mm, Knock Block, 0-degree, 50 mm length
SHIFTER| SRAM NX Eagle, 1 x 12 sp
SEATPOST|TransX Dropper 31.6, internal routing, 130mm 
SEAT | Bontrager Arvada, steel rails, 138 mm width
REAR MECH| SRAM NX Eagle, 1 x 12 sp
FRONT TYRE| Bontrager XR4 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Inner Strength sidewalls, aramid bead, 120 tpi, 29×2.60″
REAR TYRE| Bontrager XR4 Team Issue, Tubeless Ready, Inner Strength sidewalls, aramid bead, 120 tpi, 29×2.60″
CASSETTE| SRAM PG-1230, 11-50, 12 sp
CRANKSET| SRAM NX Eagle, DUB, 30T steel ring,
CHAIN| SRAM NX Eagle 
BRAKES| Shimano hydraulic disc, MT401 lever, MT400 caliper
WHEELS| Bontrager Line Comp 30
WEIGHT| 15.2 (With sealant, no pedals)
ESTIMATED RETAIL| R46 999

TECH HIGHLIGHTS

| ACTIVE BRAKING PIVOT | The split pivot rear suspension design which is essentially a concentric pivot of the seat and chainstay, on the rear axle, keeps the suspension active whilst under braking. The Fuel EX has a cleaner looking ABP than the previous model.

| MINO LINK | A small link [or flip-chip] inside the rocker arm allows you to tweak the BB height and head angle to suit the trails and ride feel you are after.

By placing the chain close to the chainstay Trek virtually eliminated the ability for the chain to gather momentum and slap down the stay. The end result is less noise on the trail. Everything is optimized for a 32T chainring but you can run a 30 or 34. The revised derailleur hanger looks to be far more robust. The Bontrager XR4 is a 2.6″ which weighs around 950grams. The inner sidewalls are reinforced for protection and for less wallow on the trail.



GEOMETRY

LOW SETTING

  • REACH: 400mm (XS), 415mm (SM), 440mm (M), 455mm (M/L), 470mm (L), 495mm (XL), 515mm (XXL)
  • SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 355mm (XS), 395mm (SM), 420mm (M), 435mm (M/L), 450mm (L), 500mm (XL), 540mm (XXL)
  • WHEELBASE: 1120mm (XS), 1154mm (SM), 1179mm (M), 1196mm (M/L), 1211mm (L), 1242mm (XL), 1269mm (XXL)
  • CHAINSTAY: 437mm
  • HEAD ANGLE: 66° degrees
  • SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 75°
  • BOTTOM BRACKET: 339mm

HIGH SETTING

  • REACH: 400mm (XS), 420mm (SM), 445mm (M), 460mm (M/L), 475mm (L), 500mm (XL), 520mm (XXL)
  • SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 355mm (XS), 395mm (SM), 420mm (M), 435mm (M/L), 450mm (L), 500mm (XL), 540mm (XXL)
  • WHEELBASE: 1119mm (XS), 1153mm (SM), 1178mm (M), 1195mm (M/L), 1210mm (L), 1241mm (XL), 1269mm (XXL)
  • CHAINSTAY: 434mm
  • HEAD ANGLE: 66.5° degrees
  • SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 75.5°
  • BOTTOM BRACKET: 346mm


TECH TALK



THE RIDE

| THE UPS | For a bike in this class, the Fuel EX 7 is a capable climber. Wait, that’s a lie — it’s a highly capable climber! On smoother trails or dirt roads if you throw your weight all over the show and mash away at the pedals I’d suggest selecting the FIRM setting [almost full lockout] on the shock. On the other hand, if you choose to settle into a smoother rhythm on climbs then you might find the MEDIUM setting gives you a better combination of comfort and performance. On the first ride, on the first climb, I immediately noticed the improved seat tube angle and how it moves the hips a little forward to improve power transfer and efficiency. It isn’t marketing hype or BS, the new Fuel EX ascends far better than the previous model.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
The 75.5° seat tube angle (it actually feels steeper than that) moves the hips forward and calms the suspension a little to take away the chore of climbing. The climbing position is utterly perfect.

| THE DOWNS | As the trail pointed down my first impression was around the [wholesale!] improved capability of the bike on descents. It is far more capable than the previous model and perhaps the main reason for that is its communication. I found it very easy to interpret and understand what the bike was doing, where the tyres were on the trail and how deep in the travel I was. All of those little messages from the bike are easily interpreted which makes it is easy to ride.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
I didn’t do any timed runs with the bike but it certainly feels composed [and fast] when you attack the trail.

As one of the base-level models in the range, it is naturally without the buttery performance of top tier suspension but any shortcomings on small bump performance are well muted by the large volume tyres. It’s my first time on these Bontrager XR4’s and it’s a case of ‘so far so good.’ They are true to their 2.6″ sizing, weigh just under the 1kg mark, have smallish center knoblies for good rolling speed and seem to be pretty robust. They might just be a good option for Enduro racing in South Africa where rolling speed is more important than braking. This brings me to another point: for a 130mm bike, the Fuel EX is very composed under braking and riders who tend to drag the rear brake into corners will love this bike. The concentric pivot does an excellent job of keeping the suspension active when braking (hard or soft) on rough trails.

On jumps I found the bike pretty easy to pick up, manoeuver around and settle it back down onto the trail. In my opinion, one of, if not THE biggest wins from Trek on the redesign has to be the shorter seat tube which means seats can now be dropped well out of the way for technical riding and descending. Not only does it reduce the risk of getting shot out the front door but it offers more room to move your hips around when descending — which is crucial for carrying speed through corners. Nice one Waterloo! Overall, the Fuel EX is a playful descender which is just gagging for air.

| TECHNICAL PROWESS | With good grip comes good control and the grip in all conditions on this platform is excellent. Finding traction on rooty climbs is not a problem and the BB is not slammed so its easier to pedal through stuff. At around 2.5kg more than the average Down-Country bike it does take more rider input to hop up and over logs, stumps and boulders but it’s by no means a tank. The low standover feature keeps the Fuel EX very agile in the techy stuff. It’s just a lekker bike to ride.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin
Whether you are coming from an XC bike or a full Enduro rig, you won’t be disappointed with the bike’s all-round capability. XC and Downcountry rigs are going to climb faster and an Enduro bike will be marginally quicker on very gnarly trails but this Fuel EX is good at everything.
Courtesy of the redesigned chainstay there is virtually no chain slap which means this bike is incredibly quiet on the trail. It is a silent shredder! Take a listen.


THE RANGE

Squeezing budgets down to under R35k you would be looking at the Fuel EX 5 which is the same alloy frame as tested here, with all the geometry updates but the big change really is it’s a 1 x 10 drivetrain along with a base level build kit. The bike does have a dropper post and the grippy XR4 tyres. If your budget extends up to the R56 999 mark then look at the EX 8 model which has a better build kit, Grip Damper and the proprietary RE:aktiv shock. All the models feature the updated short offset forks.

Framesets are available too. The carbon (front and rear) option weighs a featherweight 2.73kg, features the ‘BITS’ downtube storage compartment, has the RE:aktiv AND Thru Shaft shock, is available in two different colourways at R54 999. An alloy frame with the lekker RE:aktiv shock, weighs 3.36kg and will set you back R33 999.

| BUYING ADVICE | Trek has some very light frames and these Fuel EX’s are no exception which means you don’t HAVE TO go for the carbon frame option. BUT, from spending some time on other bikes with downtube storage, I will say I am a massive fan of the concept and it is very practical. You will use it and I haven’t met anyone who says it’s a non-functional feature.

Trek has gone deep on the size curves and with seven frame size options on the 29er platform, you will be able to get that perfect fit. There is also a range of Bontrager Knock Block stems available for you to tweak things. Finally, if you are keen on racing some Enduro’s or are keen on exploring the aggressive side of this bike then ask your bike store to put a longer dropper post on for you. You won’t regret it.



THE TAKEOUT

The Fuel EX was a great bike before the changes and it is, without question, a greater bike after them. It is still the do-it-all trail bike that will appeal to so many riders but the ability to attack trails gives it an X-Factor that aggressive riders will appreciate. I would like to see Trek’s proprietary Thru Shaft damper trickle further down the range a little, but as is, this Fuel EX 7 really does make a case for itself as an under R50k quiver killer.

Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch - 20 November - Trek Fuel EX 7 during a Bike Network photoshoot with Myles Kelsey. Photo by Gary Perkin

| IMAGES: Gary Perkin | LOCATION: Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch |


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