When I heard that the 2016 version of this bike had been updated to be what Trek described as “more trail-y,” I was intrigued but nervous. The previous model is one of my favourite bikes: It was light enough for the occasional XC race, at home in longer marathon races, and—because of the forgiving geometry, dropper post, and 120mm of travel—well-suited to banging around and just having a good time. I even raced it to success in some light enduros.
The new version has stouter top, down, and head tubes; internal cabling; wider (and stiffer) Boost 148mm rear hub and 110mm front spacing; shorter rear stays made possible by Boost; and a burlier Fox Factory 34 fork (a big improvement over the previous version’s Fox 32).
The result is a trail-taming chief. The shorter wheelbase helps this 29er carve through turns, so it’s fast yet still playful and fun to ride. The stiffer front triangle lends a new sharpness to the steering and predictability to the handling.
I was surprised to see Trek abandon the long-running DRCV-equipped shock that had been a hallmark of the company’s full-suspension mountain bikes. The DRCV shock was designed with two chambers separated by a port that opens a third of the way through the travel. This bumped up the spring curve at that point and allowed the old Fuel to climb and soak up small chatter well, but also absorb bigger hits.
The new bike has a Fox Factory Float EVOL shock, and while Trek’s suspension guru Jose Gonzalez says the spring curve remains almost identical, I found it to be a bit soft in the mid-stroke. This led to some pedal bob where the DRCV shock had been firmest before the port opened. To fix this, I installed some volume adjustment spacers to change the spring rate so its initial ramp-up starts a bit sooner. After that, it performed just as well as the DRCV shock.
Beyond that, little needed tweaking. Our tester had the top-of-the-line build with a Shimano XTR drivetrain and brakes, RockShox Reverb dropper, RaceFace Next SL carbon crank, and DT Swiss XMC 1200 carbon hoops shod in Bontrager’s grippy XR3 Team Issue tires.
I needn’t have worried about whether I’d like this new Fuel—it’s kicked the old one from its place at the top of my hill. The Fuel EX is dead. Long live the Fuel EX.
Price $8,400, Weight 25.3 lb. (m)
What You Need to Know
- Versatile and light trail bike that climbs well enough to race XC
- Ten build options starting at $1,989
- Mount for a front derailleur or chain guide (can be covered)
- RaceFace crankset has a one-piece chainring, so a swap requires you to replace the whole ring