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On The Pedals

The Daily Grind

Over The Bars

Bike Review: Trek Fuel EX6
By Rob Manning

Defining the Trailbike

Great price and great spec makes this a fantastic entry level full squish option.

We often spend quite a bit of time (and server space) reiterating the fact that with each passing season the mountain bike market becomes more and more specialized. Rather than bike models designed to do everything the off-road world has to offer, we are witnesses to the development and creation of bikes literally built to accomplish a single goal or to succeed on a specific type of terrain. We aren’t foolish enough to believe that everyone out there owns a fleet of half a dozen bikes and Trek apparently realizes this as well. The Fuel series of trail bikes exists to cater to the rider who wants a single steed for use on singletrack, slight elevation, light XC racing, SuperD, and just about anything in between.

The versatile Fuel lineup begins with the OCLV carbon Fuel EX 9.5 ($6500) and travels on down to the base ($1200) EX 5. Our Fuel EX 6 is clearly on the lower end of the spectrum but comes pretty well equipped for its $1400 MSRP. The frame is a nicely built ZR9000 aluminum alloy and is outfitted with a RockShox MC3.1 rear shock that gives 100mm of travel. Front suspension is provided by Rockshox Tora 318 Solo Air with rebound, compression and lockout adjustments. The drivetrain is composed of SRAM X.7 and Shimano Deore components, and Shimano clipless pedals screw into a Bontrager Race crankset. Hauling you down from speed are a set of Hayes mechanical disc brakes, and most of the finishing kit is made of Bontrager Select parts.

Setting the bike up is a fairly straight-forward affair and, considering that Trek’s dealer network is one of the largest in the world, finding a shop competent enough to get you rolling shouldn’t be much of an issue. The Rockshox suspension components are adjustable without being overly knob & lever heavy. We took our test unit through some rocky multi-use trail networks followed by a few days of elevation. Here’s what we found.

Trek Fuel EX6
Frame ZR 9000 Alloy, 17.5"
Fork RockShox Tora 318 Solo air with rebound, compression, lockout (100mm)
Shock RockShox MC 3.1 w/Motion Control (100mm)
Headset Aheadset Slimstak w/semi-cartridge bearings, sealed
Wheels Bontrager Superstock Disc
Tires Bontrager ACX, 26x2.2"
Brakes/Brake Levers Hayes MX-1 mechanical disc/Hayes alloy levers
Crankset/BB Bontrager Race 44/32/22
Cassette SRAM PG950 11-34, 9 speed
Shifters SRAM X-7
Derailleurs (F&R) Shimano Deore/SRAM X-7
Saddle Bontrager Select
Seatpost Bontrager Select
Stem Bontrager Select
Handlebar Bontrager Select
Pedals Shimano 505 (clipless)
Available Sizes 15.5", 17.5", 19.5", 21.5"
Contact Trek USA

The Ride

Trek has been putting a great deal of focus on lateral rigidity of their frames, especially down low. Bushings have been replaced by press-fit cartridge bearings at the main pivot and rear dropout pivots. On the trail this equates to slightly more pep from a dead standstill. Climbing into the cockpit puts the rider in a fairly upright riding position with a noticeable weight bias to the rear of the chassis. From the saddle the reach to the oversized bars is more downward than it is forward as found on more traditional XC designs. The reach to the pedals is also quite natural and confidence inspiring in a “hanker down on the cranks” kind of way.

Once moving along, the bike feels lighter than its spec weight would indicate. It’s flickable and light on its wheels when riding on flat terrain on account of its wide beefy handlebar and sharp geometry. The end result is very little rider input required to get the Fuel EX6 to change course. Once in motion, we found our flow by applying steady rotations of the cranks while keeping a loose grip on the bars.

Unfortunately the Fuel’s nimble attitude on flat ground becomes nervousness once the ground starts to lead skyward. Climbing on the EX6 isn’t impossible, but it does take some conscious thought from the rider and a willingness to use the suspension’s lock out feature. Heavy pumping to get up to a steep summit will cause the shock, if left open, to wallow and wander. Traction is never an issue because the rider’s weight is squarely centered over the rear of the bike but a wobbly front wheel is commonplace when the going gets rough. While we were never fully satisfied during our time with the bike, our best solution was to run the Floodgate adjustment on the stiffer side on epics then switch to fully locked-out once a little elevation entered the equation.

Fortunately the Trek Fuel EX6 descends slightly better than it climbs. The rearward-weight bias really plays in favor of the rider once gravity takes hold. Just remember to unlock the suspension and go with the flow. The Rockshox components were adequate for handling slight chop and downhill rollers but steep g-outs, jumps, and drops are going to find the limits of the suspension’s capabilities.

Cornering was decent at low speeds so long as the rider makes a conscious effort to weight the front wheel. Once up to speed the bike’s rearward handling resulted in a few close calls of front-wheel skid. Never once did we washout as a result but the sensation was present nevertheless. Braking was steady and well modulated after the initial burn-in and never gave us a hint of complaint during our test.

Conclusions

The Trek Fuel EX 6 represents a solid choice for riders looking to find their place in the off-road hierarchy without the steep costs generally associated with middle-tier componentry. The sum of the components on the Fuel EX 6 makes the $1400 MSRP quite attractive despite the fact that we’ve encountered bikes capable of as much if not more for hundreds less. The positive news is that the (handmade in the US) frames have gone on to earn industry-wide accolades on most of the upper-tier Fuel EX models proving that individual component upgrades could potentially iron out the rough spots.
Trek USA - Website

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