Trek Fuel EX 9.9Check Out the Full Specs and Review
Saying that a bike “disappears under you” can be viewed as either the highest form of compliment, or damning by faint praise. In the case of the Trek Fuel EX 9.9, we had to argue through the details to come to some agreement about where exactly this old adage washed out.
On the one hand, you’ve got a versatile, well-balanced 130-millimeter-travel bike that exists happily in the gap between XC and gravity sled; it has impeccable manners up and down the hill, is built with an eye toward the burly side of its limited travel and has a neutral, light feel backed by contemporary geometry numbers that err on the conservative side. It is incredibly easy to feel right at home on it, right away, regardless of terrain. On the other hand, the geometry isn’t as radically aggressive as other contenders in this category. It has a slacker seat angle, shorter wheelbase and 10 millimeters less travel than the Santa Cruz Hightower or Orbea Occam, and the component spec is aimed at functionality within a given pricepoint as opposed to luring buyers with shiny promises. In the words of one of our testers, “it’s a bit boring.”
ABP rear suspension, a beautifully finished carbon-fiber frame featuring a cleanly executed downtube storage compartment (but we must be careful not to call a SWAT box), a Fox 36 fork on 9.9 and 9.8 models, Fox Re:aktiv rear shock on all models and 29-inch carbon Bontrager wheels (27.5 on the XS and S sizes) shod with surprisingly nice 2.6-inch Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tires. There are also some love/hate features like Trek’s Knock Block steering stop and Control Freak cable management. Lay it all on a 66-degree head angle, 75-degree seat angle (in the low setting—it has a flip chip that can enact a half-degree change in head and seat angles with a corresponding 7-millimeter shift in bottom-bracket height), and this is “boring?”
We must be getting spoiled. For some of our testers, the most specific criticism they could muster was that the geometry is not as aggressive as some of the competition. Namely, one particularly femurish tester felt that, having grown used to 77-degree seat angles, pushing a 75-degree seat angle uphill feels sluggish. That observation aside, this is a very well-balanced bike. The suspension works exceptionally well, and the Fuel EX has a feathery-light steering effort at low speed while still remaining admirably stable when bombing down fast, loose, rough terrain. It is far more at ease in tight terrain than most of its contemporaries, efficient enough to be a no-brainer for chewing out big miles, and at the same time is burly enough to handle being thrown into the steep and deep without reservation. The neutrality of steering was a breath of fresh air compared to some of the other bikes on test here that really had to be muscled into turns at anything less than the speed of sound.
The flies in the ointment were few: The Shimano SLX brakes and RT66 rotors didn’t inspire awe. And every single one of us wanted to take the frustratingly slow Bontrager seatpost and throw it far, far away. The brakes could easily be improved with better rotors. And there are a gajillion seatposts out there that do a better job of going up and down.
At heart, the Fuel EX is a broadly capable beast, with a range and an adaptability to handle a wide variety of terrain with enviable competence. It’s not an XC bike, and it’s not whatever the fat end of all-mountain/enduro is being called these days, but it is more comfortable in either of those realms than an XC bike would be in a bike park, or an enduro bike would be in an XC race. It’s a journeyman’s mountain bike, a tool that disappears underneath you and just gets the job done, regardless of where or how you are riding. No muss, no fuss.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!Back to top