The traits that largely define how the Fuel EX climbs - active, forgiving suspension - play an even more important role in the bike's personality when the hard part is behind you and it's time for dessert. The same could be said of the previous version, too, but we're asking a hell of a lot more of our trail bikes on the downhills these days than we were just a few short years ago.
One thing that you won't ever have to ask the Fuel twice for is traction and compliance. Fox and Trek have put together what feels like a stiction-free suspension system, which is obviously not possible, but the back of the bike could trick you into believing exactly that. The high-volume, mid-weight Bontrager rubber has to be a factor in that, so I installed a set of Maxxis tires on both the Trek and another soon-to-be-released trail bike with the same intentions and similar travel. The result? The Fuel EX was still magnitudes more forgiving, despite having the same tires at the same pressure and the sag being within a few millimeters of each other.
The active suspension does well to smooth out edges and chatter that would upset a lot of other trail bikes.
Sure, one big hit could ruin your day, but it's really the thousands and thousands of smaller, chattery impacts that erode your body and abilities over hours and hours of riding. On the Trek, it feels like there might only be a few hundred of those during a ride, and that's the kind of thing that makes a massive difference over a long day, or even just a long, tiring downhill. The bike is magic at muting that sort of stuff, and as you'd expect, it's not as likely to deflect off of such things than a less forgiving machine, which makes a lot of those "Ohhhh shit'' moments disappear.
I sort of want to describe descending the on Fuel EX as being a relatively calm experience given how it eats that small to mid-sized chatter that usually upsets bikes in this category, but that's only half the story.
Here's the other half. When things ramp up, be it your speed or the trail's intensity, that forgiving suspension starts to feel a little bit too forgiving when the shock is left in the open mode. It's almost as if you've eaten a few too many servings of dessert and gained a pound or ten. It'll take the edge away from roots and rocks, sure, but it can also make it harder to understand what's happening under you if that makes any sense. Let me put it this way: When I'm on a short-ish travel bike like the Fuel, I expect to have to think about what's under my tires and what I'm pointing at - that's part of the fun. But when I'm pushing hard with the suspension left open, it often comes across like it's trying to be a 150mm bike, only not in the way I'd like it to.
The Fuel EX is most at home covering ground and focusing on fun. You can get loose on it, too, but that's not its MO.
With the Fox shock in the open mode and the O-ring saying just under 25-percent sag, dynamic moves that require a lot of body English and commitment weren't as comfortable as I would have hoped. The 130mm of squish felt much deeper than that at those moments, and the result is a vague, imprecise ride when you're at your personal ten-tenths.
Let me beat some of you to the comment section: ''Levy, you idiot, just run less sag or, you know, firm the shock up with that blue lever like Trek intended.'' Yes, the bike was much more to my liking at those ten-tenths efforts when it was in the middle setting, but there are plenty of other short-travel bikes that work well all the time without needing a different suspension mode.
I did firm it up anyway, though, for science, and I tried a few different kinds of smaller-volume rubber as well. Those changes lit a fire under the Fuel's ass, and I was much more comfortable on it when things got hairy (for a trail bike). For riders who seek out the hairy, I suspect that the Fox shock's blue lever will offer more of a wet and/or cruisy mode (open) and a dry, go-fast mode (firm), which isn't a terrible way to look at it at all. Trek's best-of-both-worlds approach to the Fuel's suspension is effective, that's for sure, but I'd like to see it offer more support and ramp-up so the bike could spend most or even all of its time in the open mode.
Plenty of traction and revised geometry make the new Fuel EX much more capable than the previous version.
On the handling front, this is easily the most capable Fuel EX that Trek has ever created. No surprises there given the geometry changes, and it allows the 130mm bike to comfortably roll into chutes that I'm not sure I would have been so flippant about if I was aboard on the previous version. We all know how this goes; it's less pointy, less nervous, more composed, and therefore more confidence-inspiring. There, review done! Not really, though, as I have to say that while Trek could have easily added much more length than they did and also have gone a bit slacker, not doing so keeps the new Fuel from losing that nimbleness that some other bikes are happily trading away to go pretend enduro-ing.
The Fuel EX is still a trail bike through and through, and while it might love the steep and gnarly a whole lot more than the previous version did, it's still a hoot to ride on rolling, flowy descents. Of course, you'll likely want the suspension to be firm-ish to get the most out of said rolling descent, so don't hesitate to reach for the shock's go-switch.
The revised geometry has opened up more terrain to the Fuel, which is exactly what should be happening with the all these new trail bikes, but it's also easy to ride. It doesn't ask you to take a different approach to an ultra-tight corner or awkward section of trail, and it's still relatively stable when the corner is ultra-fast or there's no berm to save your ass.
Is the Fuel EX one of the most capable trail bikes out there? Nope, as its forgiving suspension and middle of the road geometry keep it from getting that nod, but it is the kind of bike that's going to be at home in a wide variety of terrain, some pretty damn steep and scary lines included.