From TGR's Big Sky Bike Test, here's the full report on the most excellent 2017 Trek Fuel 9.9. After reviewing Trek’s Stache, Farley and now the new Fuel EX, I realize Trek’s jam is expanding the capabilities of a bike until it can crush at least two categories. The Stache is a hardtail AM/trail 29" plus-tire traction monster. The Farley is a fully rigid 25-pound fat bike that can race and shred technical trails. And the new 2017 Fuel EX? When I find something it can’t do, I’ll let you know.
2017 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Specs
Did we mention it comes with SRAM's new 10-50 12-speed Eagle drivetrain? Ryan Dunfee photo.
OCLV Mountain carbon main frame w/1x-specific stays
ABP (active braking pivot)
Boost 148/110 hub spacing
Knock Block steerer stop
Full Floater EVO link
Mino Link (for geometry/bb change)
Control Freak internal routing
130 mm travel front and rear
Fox Factory 34 Float fork with FIT4 3-position damper
Fox Factory Float EVOL RE:aktiv shock with 3-position damper
DT Swiss XMC1200 carbon 29'er wheels
Bontrager XR3 Team Issue 2.4" tires
SRAM XX1 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain with 10-50 tooth casette
32-tooth direct mount X-Sync chainring
SRAM X01 Eagle chain
Bontrager Drop Line 125 mm dropper post with under-bar remote lever
Bontrager Pro OCLV carbon handlebar with a 15mm rise and 750 mm width
Bontrager Pro 35 mm stem
SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes
Weight: For the 17.5" frame, 25 pounds. We were testing the 19.5” frame, which may have been a few ounces more, but still crazy light.
Swapping the Mino Link in the rear triangle drops the headtube angle from 67.7° to 66.9°. Ryan Dunfee photo.
A few relevant measurements:
Seat Tube Angle = 66.2°
Head Angle = 67.7° (adjustable to 66.9° by adjusting Mino Link)
Effective top tube = 63.2 cm
Frame Reach = 46.5 cm
BB height = 33.7 cm (adjustable to 33 cm by adjusting Mino Link)
BB drop = 3cm
Chainstay length = 33.7 cm (17in)
Wheelbase = 118.8 cm
The Fuel's geometry and travel got pushed closer to the older Remedy norms. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to build bikes at Big Sky. The insanely capable Adam Glick, head wrench at the resort, did that. Though I did ship the Fuel back for an extended test in CT, including a 45-mile endurance race, so I know it comes together well. It’s slick and beautiful. Fit and finish are magnificent.
For the Fuel, Trek basically started with the massively popular 2016 Remedy geometry and brought the Fuel up to that (a bit of an oversimplification, of course), upping the Fuel's travel to 130mm front and rear. They stiffened the frame in several places, most noticeably the down tube, and dropped weight. Of course, the real test of any bike is how all that grand planning, theory and R&D come together. Usually for Trek, it does so very well.
What did we expect going in?
Terra Flow's amazing trails at Big Sky provided the insanely good testing grounds for Trek's revamped Fuel EX. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Trek was pretty secretive about this bike. "We're sending you a bike. It's media embargoed until July. We'll send you a link to a presentation soon with some specs, but keep it under wraps." Oooooh, cool. Then, just a day or so before the test week, they told us "It's the new Trek Fuel 9.9." BIG TIME! The Fuel has been one of the most light, capable, and popular trail bikes (with XC leanings) of all time. And this was to be a significant re-work.
I flew to MT with a backpack that weighed more than this bike. Their advance media kit talked about some of the new specs outlined above, the realignment of their product line, as well as their desire to create a trail bike with a massive sweet spot: respectable travel, serious descending, but still be light enough to rocket around any course. Our hopes were high.
The Fuel EX On The Ups
Big Sky Bike Tester Branham Snyder, who needs no help climbing... climbs. Ryan Dunfee photo.
The first thing I did after waking up at 3 am, taking two flights and an hour shuttle to get to Big Sky (coming from sea level to 6,500 feet), was get on the Fuel and start pedaling uphill. Because I'm an idiot. This should have killed me. But I instantly felt comfortable and monstrous. Up and down over loose terrain, the Fuel was immediately confidence-inspiring and smooth. Trail chatter is SERIOUSLY mitigated on this bike.
All our testers quickly gave it the nod for going uphill. It's a 25 pound bike. Its stiff frame and efficient drivetrain waste none of your energy. The Fuel's light DT Swiss 29'er carbon wheels are agile and roll really fast. While getting used to the bike, I definitely flipped the easily-reachable switch on the RE;aktiv tuned shock to feel out how much that reduced pedal bob (of which there wasn't much). It remains plush even in climb mode, which not a true ‘lockout’.
A long wheelbase, stretched-out feel, and Eagle drivetrain made easy work of climbs. Dunfee in an ironic muscle shirt, again. Gunnar Waldman photo.
The SRAM Eagle drivetrain is, of course, a phenomenal climber. I seemed to never to run out of gears. You could easily put a 34 or 36 tooth front chainring on this bike, but I think the 32 was designed to give you the flexibility to just keep cranking no matter what. When I thought I was maxed out, I'd look down and would STILL have the 50 tooth rear cog left to fall back on.
One of our testers commented on how the bike's “stretched-out feel and long wheelbase made for very comfortable climbing. Eagle drivetrain gives you a ton of range for steeps."
Others just gave it a “With its super light weight, and big wheels, it climbed with ease.”
The Fuel EX On The Descent
Big Sky's postcard-like scenery almost makes it hard to focus on the bike. Ryan Dunfee photo.
This is where the new iteration of Fuel has the most change. It's incredibly plush, fast, and handles very rough terrain with style. The stiff wheels and frame give you an in-control feel, and it's quicker than you'd think edge-to-edge. And it's still a 29'er, so while it's happy on the tight berms, it's even happier on the rough stuff. And it jumps pretty well.
Root-y, rocky, undulating descents are a pleasure. You can see why this geometry (as mentioned, its geometry very closely matches that of last year's Remedy, which certain pros were upgrading to ride on EWS courses) hauls on the downs.
The flow... just kept flowing. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Ryan commented that, on steeper terrain, you could sit in the middle of the bike and not need to move as far back. "Extremely plush; probably the smoothest feeling suspension of any bikes in the test. Butter smooth. Pops out of corners beautifully and could get sideways as well; not too hard to lean the bike over hard and slide around. Nice pop off of airs and a smooth return to earth."
Tester Jed Donnelly pushes the Fuel down some blown-out chutes in Big Sky. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Ryan also thought that with a slightly shorter wheelbase, it might manual better, but for my longer arms it was wonderful. "Otherwise," Ryan wrote, "it was outrageously fun and smooth. Feels as expensive as it is. DT Swiss carbon rims let you load the bike up and pop with a lot of energy."
I felt the wheels, even though carbon, weren't as deflective as some other stiff carbon hoops I've recently tested. Which is good. Every suspension and wheel decision on the Fuel seems to add to the bike's plushness.
Note the steep landing in the background, which Jed conquered with ease. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Tester Jed Donnely got on it and instantly sent a 30-foot step-down ladder drop at eight in the morning. I nearly pooped my pants watching, but according to Jed, "the rest of the descent was awfully fun, as I then trusted the Fuel's capabilities. For a ultralight trail bike, I was very impressed with how it went downhill. "
I excitedly sent the Trek product people a note saying "Hey, this 130mm trail bike can huck a 30 drop." While happy to hear this, they urged us to maybe dial it back a bit.
Ripping into Big Sky's Otter Slide flow trail. Ryan Dunfee photo.
What isn't a standout component on this bike? The shock and fork operate perfectly once you got them dialed to the right pressure for you. the Fuel seemed perfectly happy to sit a little lower in it's sag for lift park plushness—where it held its own VERY well. The Eagle drivetrain is a worthy evolution, if not a revolution.
The Fox 34 fork's stanchions feel very stiff, and the new Fit4 damper is very compliant and sensitive.
Stewart45 endurance XC in NY State. Same Bike. Smugmug photo.
The same bike can race XC. Not a similar bike with a few setup tweaks, THE SAME BIKE. After a week riding a high-altitude western bike park, 30 foot huck included, it went into a box, came out of the box, and raced a marathon XC race. Same beefy tires. And on the last horrible four miles of that 45-mile XC race, it was great to have that last 50-tooth gear to urge myself up technical climbing features with nothing left in my legs.
Other testers in Big Sky called out similar experiences. They loved the Fox suspension, the Eagle granny gear, the carbon wheels. Well, ALL the carbon.
Butter-smooth Fox suspension and loads of carbon throughout. Ryan Dunfee photo.
I wouldn't change anything. If you splash for the 9.9, you have the best and most carbon of everything. Go out and enjoy it.
Dunfee was the only one to offer a complaint, mentioning that "I'd like a wider bar and shorter stem." Author's note: Shorter stem? It’s a 35 mm stem; obviously Dunfee just wants to make some sort of freeride remark. He rides flat pedals and wears ironic camo jerseys. Though, at 750 mm, you could throw wider bars on there if you're a bigger person.
The Bottom Line
Trek has turned the Fuel EX into a bike with pumped-up descending chops that can handle an enormous range of riding. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Man, the Fuel EX has got a big sweetspot. It rocked the lift park, crushed a 45-mile XC race and everything in between. And it's a PARTY on a trail ride. I have yet to really find its limits. Did I mention there's a 27.5" plus version if you're so inclined? Might be fun.
"The overall experience was really great," Dunfee wrote. "A distinctly plush feel with excellent cross country abilities, yet still a bike that can crush nasty terrain. Not a new-school crazy poppy and playful enduro bike feel, but really plush and extremely capable. Great for someone with a lot of cash to burn who will pedal for all their riding and isn't going to hit bike parks but still wants a really capable rig to tackle whatever terrain, however technical, may come in its way."
Jed: "For your aggressive trail rider who really likes to pin the descents."
You want to both huck around burly terrain and crush an XC race, and shred everything in between? Then the Fuel EX is for you. Yeah, it costs a pretty penny. But you won't need another one for a LONG time - this is one of those bikes you can swap two or three others for, and never look back.