First ride review: the new Trek Fuel EX 9.9 2020 – longer, faster and even better?
Trek recently presented their brand-new Fuel EX 2020 during a launch in Northern Italy. With an array of clever features, updated geometry, new technologies and more travel, the American brand has introduced the new Fuel EX as the next evolutionary stage of the platform and promises that it will offer even more performance, fun and trail prowess. We were able to take the € 7,499 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 2020 out for a first ride on the rocky, volcanic trails of the Colli Euganei south of Padua.
The first Trek Fuel EX was released in 2001 and has since become the bread and butter of the brand’s offerings. Over the years, the bike has constantly progressed in terms of wheel sizes, brakes, geometry and travel. The previous Fuel EX generation was introduced during the summer of 2016 at a launch in Canada with the words “slacker”, “longer”, “lower” and “more aggressive”. The new Fuel EX 2020 goes a step further, though has been faced with the challenge of finding the sweet spot between the cross-country Top Fuel and the enduro Remedy and Slash platforms.
What’s new with the Trek Fuel EX 2020?
The short answer: nearly everything! That means that the suspension, travel, geometry and spec options have all been updated, along with completely new features and details for 2020.
1. More models, but no women’s specific models for the Trek Fuel EX 2020
There will be seven different variants of the Fuel EX for 2020, but women’s specific models are no longer part of Trek’s philosophy, or rather, form an integral part of Trek’s “Awesome bikes for everyone” mantra. In 2019, Trek offered only three women’s models of the Fuel but identified a low standover height as the key criterion that influences the feeling of security as well as the ease of mounting and dismounting the bike. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, they also identified that not all the women buying Trek bikes go for a women’s specific model. In turn, Trek has consolidated its offerings and updated the Fuel EX frames, particularly in the smaller sizes, with a very low standover height (in comparison with the Specialized Stumpjumper, the Fuel EX’s standover is a full 30 mm lower for a size S). Trek no longer offers a separate range for women, signalling a new strategy that not only represents a more inclusive message for female riders, but also offers smaller riders in general a clear benefit: more spec and colour options to choose from. All seven builds will be available in eight sizes from XS to XXL: the smallest size is fitted with 27.5” wheels, the Small frame size provides the option between 27.5” and 29” wheels. From there, Trek chooses to fit 29” wheels only.
2. Full-carbon frame and the new Trek Fuel EX 2020 geometry
The Trek Fuel EX 2020 comes with both an aluminium and carbon frame. The latter is reserved for the “9.” models. From this year, all carbon models will share the same full-carbon frame. In addition, the frame was also updated to provide more space for long-travel dropper posts. The XS and S frame can fit a dropper with 100 mm travel, the M and M/L frame a 150 mm dropper and the L, XL and XXL models a 170 mm dropper. Unfortunately, only the more expensive 9.8 and 9.9 models make full use of this. The more affordable models in the range come with 150 mm or 130 mm dropper posts at most. The geometry of the new Fuel EX is slacker and longer than its predecessor. The head angle has been reduced by 1° to 66°, the reach has increased by 10 to 20 mm depending on the frame size and finally, the seat tube angle has been steepened by 1° to 75° for a better position while climbing.
|Size||XS 27,5″||S 27,5″||S 29″||M 29″||ML 29″||L 29″||XL 29″||XXL 29″|
|Seat tube||356 mm||395 mm||395 mm||420 mm||435 mm||450 mm||500 mm||540 mm|
|Top tube||546 mm||568 mm||578 mm||603 mm||619 mm||634 mm||663 mm||688 mm|
|Head tube||90 mm||100 mm||100 mm||100 mm||105 mm||105 mm||105 mm||140 mm|
|Chainstays||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm||437 mm|
|BB–Offset||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm||43 mm|
|Wheelbase||1.120 mm||1.144 mm||1.154 mm||1.179 mm||1.196 mm||1.211 mm||1.242 mm||1.270 mm|
|Reach||395 mm||415 mm||415 mm||440 mm||455 mm||470 mm||495 mm||515 mm|
|Stack||563 mm||572 mm||608 mm||608 mm||613 mm||613 mm||627 mm||645 mm|
3. Suspension: more travel, easier setup and no Full Floater
All Trek Fuel EX 2020 models have 140 mm travel up front, compared with the previous 130 mm. The rear keeps the same 130 mm travel. The more expensive 9.8 and 9.9 models now also come fitted with a FOX 36 instead of FOX 34 fork, promising more precision and performance on the trails.
Trek have relied on their proprietary Full Floater suspension design for around 10 years. This saw the shock “floating” between two pivots which in turn was claimed to offer an optimal balance between pedalling efficiency and a bottomless feel. That comes to an end here! Just like the Trek Session, Slash and Remedy, Trek now replace the Full Floater design on the Fuel EX 2020 with a fixed lower shock mount by the bottom bracket. Why? New technology has closed the gap on suspension performance and the simpler shock mount provides improved tire clearance and allows higher frame stiffness (according to Trek around 20%).
The Trek exclusive FOX Float EVOL RE:aktiv inline shock with Thru Shaft damper promises maximum control and traction in rough terrain. While classic shocks pressurise oil in an internal chamber to compensate for the decreased volume caused by the piston’s compression, Thru Shaft allows the piston to move through the shock. The absence of pressure reduces the breakaway torque and leads to a more sensitive response. In addition, the updated shock has a seemingly trivial but helpful feature: a numbered rebound dial which should make for significantly simpler setup.
4. Trek Internal Frame Storage: stowage in the Trek Fuel EX 2020’s down tube
Similar to Specialized, Trek now provides space in the down tube for you to stow tools and spares. A bottle cage is mounted on the cover of the compartment, which can be removed using a mechanical closure. According to Trek, this system adds minimal extra weight and its implementation has been managed successfully and neatly. However, the space inside is rather limited and at most you’ll be able to fit a spare tube, CO2 cartridge and tyre lever in the Bontrager BITS tool roll. Unfortunately, there’s no space to fit a beer or sandwich ;)
5. Lifetime warranty, more details and additional highlights of the Trek Fuel EX 2020
Trek offers a lifetime warranty on both its aluminium and carbon frames. In comparison to some of its competitors, this isn’t just a piece of paper. Trek promise to react quickly and personally if any issues do arise. Trek know that there’s nothing more frustrating than a long-winded warranty claim in the middle of prime riding season.
6.Trek Fuel EX 9.9 2020 weight
Das von uns getestete Trek Fuel EX 9.9 2020 wiegt in Größe M/L exakt 13,0 kg. Im Vergleich zum Vorgängermodell, das wir in Größe L im Dauertest hatten (11,90 kg) ist das neue Fuel EX über 1 kg schwerer geworden. Die Hauptursachen dafür sind die FOX 36 Federgabel und die dickeren Bontrager Reifen.
Trek Fuel EX 2020 models, pricing and spec
As mentioned, Trek offer the Fuel EX in seven different builds priced between € 2,099 and € 9,099 (pricing might differ depending on location) with three aluminium and four carbon frames. The latter are all denoted by the “9.” in their model name.
Trek Fuel EX 5 – € 2,099
Entry into the range comes via the Trek Fuel EX 5 with a RockShox Recon RL fork and a standard Deluxe Select Plus shock without RE:aktiv or Thru Shaft technology, Shimano MT200 brakes and a 10-speed Deore drivetrain with an 11-42 t cassette that results in noticeably less gear range than all other Fuel EX models. You’ll have to accept further compromise on the dropper post which has only 130 mm travel. However, the choice to spec the same tires as the top model is commendable!
Trek Fuel EX 7 – € 2,699
The € 2,699 Trek Fuel EX 7 is fitted with a RockShox 35 Gold fork and FOX Float DPS Performance shock, though this doesn’t feature Trek’s RE:aktiv or Thru Shaft technology either. Thanks to the 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain you have a wide gear range on offer. This model also upgrades to Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheels and Shimano MT400 2-piston brakes. However, the dropper still only provides 130 mm travel.
Trek Fuel EX 8 – € 3,199
From the Trek Fuel EX 8 onwards, you’ll get FOX suspension with RE:aktiv, but no Thru Shaft technology, which only appears from the Fuel EX 9.8 and up. The € 3,199 Fuel EX 8 is fitted with Shimano Deore 2-piston brakes and a 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain. The dropper post has up to 150 mm travel (depending on the frame size).
Trek Fuel EX 9.7 – € 3,899
The Trek Fuel EX 9.7 marks the first carbon model in the range and cost € 3,899. For that, you’ll get a FOX 34 Rhythm fork and a FOX Float Performance shock with RE:aktiv damping along with a 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and Shimano MT420 4-piston brakes. The carbon frame means this is also the first model to feature Trek’s Internal Frame Storage.
Trek Fuel EX 9.8 – € 5,499
From the Fuel EX 9.8 onwards, Trek equip the bikes with a FOX 36 up front. The 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle, 170 mm travel dropper post and Fox Float Performance RE:aktiv shock with Thru Shaft technology really help the full potential of the Fuel EX platform to unfold. In addition, this € 5,499 model features carbon instead of aluminium wheels.
Trek Fuel EX 9.9 – € 7,499/€ 9,099 (AXS)
Equipped with FOX Factory suspension, Shimano XT 4-piston brakes and SRAM X01 Eagle gearing, the Fuel EX 9.9 we tested offers top-end performance but requires you to hand over a princely € 7,499 at the shop. If that’s not enough, then for € 9,099 you can get your hands on the Fuel EX 9.9 AXS with a wireless SRAM X01 Eagle AXS drivetrain as well as a wireless RockShox Reverb AXS dropper post with up to 170 mm travel. The bling-bling benefit is a super clean cockpit with just two hoses left solely for your brakes. And if that’s still not enough, then you can run riot with the Project One customisation programme!
First ride review of the Fuel EX 9.9 2020
Comfortable from the get-go! Thanks to its central position, the Trek Fuel EX 9.9 immediately makes you feel at home. With its 13 kg for a size M/L, the bike might have become significantly heavier, but it’s everything but sluggish. It efficiently scampers up the hills without perceptible suspension bob. It’s particularly on steeper slopes where you notice the effect of the steepened seat tube angle, which allows you to keep enough pressure on the front wheel to stop it from lifting.
Fork FOX Factory 36 Float EVOL Grip 2 140 mm
Shock Fox Factory Float EVOL 140 mm
Brakes Shimano XT
Drivetrain SRAM X01 Eagle
Seatpost Bontrager Line Elite Dropper 170 mm
Stem Bontrager Line Pro 35 mm
Handlebar Bontrager Line Pro
WheelsBontrager Line Carbon 30, Tubeless Ready
Tires Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 2,6″
Weight 13.00 kg
Price € 7,499
On the downhills, the Fuel EX 9.9 2020 tracks the ground, with the suspension offering well-defined feedback and support while remaining supple and smooth. On small edges and roots, the bike encourages a playful and agile riding style. On larger jumps, the Trek is hard to unsettle: the bike convinced us with stable and precise handling in the air. In comparison with the old Fuel EX 9.9 the front end has noticeably improved precision thanks to the FOX 36 fork, without becoming too stiff or harsh. In turn, the bike also forgives the occasional poor line choice and plows its way happily through challenging terrain, maintaining traction throughout.
While the Bontrager BITS tool roll doesn’t rattle at all in the down tube, we did notice some chain slap on our test bike on rougher ground. Closer examination of the chainstays makes it clear why: in the highest gear, there are just a few millimetres of space between the chain and chainstay guard. Shift to an easier gear and the clearance is much more acceptable. However, we do have to ask why there is no asymmetrical or dropped drive-side stay to address this.
There’s some more criticism in store for the travel of the dropper post. Even if it has more travel than its predecessor and 150 mm travel is enough for most situations, we would still like to see a longer dropper post to make better use of the low standover height of the bike.
The Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tires in 29×2.6” rolled quickly on the harder terrain of the flowy berms and jumps of our test trails. They even handled looser, more dusty ground and open corners admirably. The Shimano XT four-pot brakes with a 200 mm rotor up front and 180 mm at the back were similarly capable – depending on where you ride and your weight, we might recommend a 200 mm rotor at the back as well though.
Conclusion: the Trek Fuel EX 2020 is an absolute trail rocket and thanks to its burlier components, increased travel and more aggressive geometry it’s become more shredder than ever! New features such as the Internal Frame Storage are well executed and allow you to easily have an emergency repair kit with you at all times. We didn’t like the rattling chain and the shorter travel of the dropper post, but overall, Trek have done an excellent job with the Fuel EX 2020 and stayed true to their promise of more performance, fun and trail prowess and accordingly true to the motto of longer, faster, better! Oh, and have you seen the Project One paint jobs yet? #bikeporn
For more info head to: trekbikes.com