This bike doesn’t hit the sweet spot. It is the sweet spot.
The Trek Fuel EX 9.9 has redefined the do-everything mountain bike. It’s not over-stacked with travel, but what travel it does have (130 millimeters front and rear) gets used very efficiently. And it’s not the slackest front end you can get (67.7-degree head tube angle), which means you can actually climb with your XC buddies. If your summer riding schedule includes all manner of singletrack, the Fuel EX should be your new ride.
Trek has leveraged its resources and historical knowledge to create some of the most innovative mountain bikes since the original klunkers. The Fuel EX 9.9 possesses hints of that innovative spirit in the form of its suspension design, which it calls RE:aktiv with Thru-Shaft.
According to Jose Gonzalez, general manager of the suspension R&D Lab for Trek Bicycles, the RE:aktiv with Thru-Shaft design allows the suspension to activate more quickly and provide smooth movement all the way through the stroke.
It does this by eliminating the fluid displacement and dynamic internal floating piston compensator found on traditional shocks. What does that mean for you? While other shocks can be slow to respond to small bumps, Thru-shaft isn’t, according to Trek. This ensures the rear wheel tracks the ground more consistently. The Thru-shaft should also make the suspension feel bottomless, in theory.
From what we can tell, it works on both fronts. The Fuel EX rolls silky-smooth over small bumps; it seems to have no bottom on big hits; climbing on it is a pleasant experience, and it’s surprisingly capable on technical descents we’d consider reserving for an enduro bike. Sure, you’ll actually need some handling skills on high-speed and technical descents. Ultimately, you’ll be surprised at how capable it is when you point it downhill.
The word that kept coming to mind while riding the Fuel EX was “centered.” It was easy to feel centered over the pedals, and even easier to find a balance point between the front and rear of the bike, thereby lending a sense of complete control in and out of high-speed corners
and on long climbs.
Trek specs the Fuel with a collection of high-end parts: Bontrager Line Pro 30 carbon 29-inch wheels, SRAM’s excellent XX1 Eagle drivetrain, and Bontrager Line Pro Knock Block stem and Line Pro carbon handlebar. The Bontrager Drop Line dropper post was the only less-than-stellar inclusion; its actuation was a touch slow, and the movement took some time to smooth out.
The Fuel’s Straight Shot with Knock Block frame design features a straight down tube, which Trek claims increases stiffness and steering precision. It warrants a built-in guard on the frame to prevent the fork from hitting the down tube and damaging it. It also utilizes a “stop chip” in the head tube, special notched stem spacers, and a special notched stem. Don’t worry, you can still use your own stem if you want to.
The flashy radioactive orange paint job is befitting of a bike that lives up to the hype with some stunning suspension and well-balanced geometry.
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