In case you missed it last week, Trek updated their popular trail bike, the Fuel EX. Naturally the bike is longer and slacker, but there are a few subtle changes to note as well. We got a chance to check out the bike in person at Crankworx last week, and after diving into the stats a bit more, here are some key takeaways.
Adjustable geometry gets tweaked
Editor’s note: The analysis in this section was based on incorrect information published on the Trek website on August 21, 2019. In fact, the bottom bracket height does change between high and low modes.
Trek’s adjustable geometry feature, dubbed Mino Link, offers the ability to set the bike in “high” or “low” mode. It’s interesting to note that in the updated Trek Fuel EX, both high and low modes promise a consistent bottom bracket (BB) height; only the bottom bracket drop is changed. In previous versions of the Fuel EX, both the BB drop and the height were affected by the Mino Link position.
The upshot to this change is a consistent height which should mean fewer accidental pedal strikes when swapping between modes. In low mode, riders keep the same bottom bracket height and pedal clearance as high mode. It’s unclear how this is actually accomplished, though one clue may be that the placement of the Mino Link chip appears to have moved inboard rather than outboard as in previous models.
Wheelbase and reach get longer
The wheelbase on the new Fuel EX grew about 20mm (size large) to 121cm. Much of this added length comes from the reach (up to 47.5cm in large) but a bit comes from the longer chainstays as well (up to 43.7cm).
If there is any doubt about whether bikes will continue to get much slacker, this update shows angle changes are still making significant jumps. The Fuel EX sports a 66-degree head tube angle (66.5 degrees in low mode), one degree slacker than the previous version.
To compensate for the more relaxed head tube angle, Trek, like others, steepened the seat tube angle to 75 degrees (75.5 degrees in low mode), again moving the needle by a degree. It’s worth noting that going from low to high mode slackens both the head tube angle and the effective seat tube angle (this is the opposite direction from previous versions, which makes the terms high and low confusing). Not only is this confusing, it also seems counterproductive since a steeper seat tube angle is generally used to move weight forward for climbing to compensate for a more slack head tube angle.
To account for the slackened head tube angle on the new Fuel EX, Trek decreased the fork offset from 51mm to 43mm.
Select models of the 2020 Trek Fuel EX are offered in sizes ranging from XS all the way up to XXL. Previously, the Fuel EX was only specced with 29er wheels which precluded offering an XS frame.
For 2020, Trek is speccing extra small and small size frames with 27.5″ wheels, while the rest of the line of sizes use 29er wheels. Riders who fit a size small are in luck with options, as Trek offers small bikes with either 29er or 27.5″ wheels.
Internal frame storage
Perhaps one of the most notable features of the new Fuel EX is the addition of internal frame storage. Of course there’s another big bike company that’s been offering a similar feature for a few years now, but that doesn’t take anything away from the utility of being able to stash tools and supplies on the bike. Trek’s solution features a large, easy to use lever to secure the trap door to the frame. In my experience, it’s a bit more intuitive to use than the other internal frame storage solution on the market.
More travel in front
The Fuel EX still offers 130mm of rear travel, but Trek upped front suspension travel to 140mm. Even with the slightly bigger fork, Trek claims the weight of a medium Fuel EX 9.9 dropped slightly from 26.87 to 26.45 pounds.
Most Fuel EX models are seeing a slight bump in the suggested retail pricing. The Fuel EX 7 is about $70 more expensive than last year’s model at $2,900. Both the EX 9.7 and 9.8 models tack on an extra $100 over last year’s prices at $4,100 and $5,500, respectively.
Only the Fuel EX 9.9 model sees a price reduction, dropping from about $7800 down to $7500.
Overall, the Trek Fuel EX appears to be an even more capable descender than ever before with minimal compromise in its climbing abilities.
For years, I’ve thought of the Fuel EX as the definition of Trailbike. It’s the perfect middle ground between XC and Enduro in terms of travel, geometry, and tire. And this latest 2020 edition with more progressive geo, wider 2.6 tires, increased 140mm fork travel, and a budget model that sells for only $2100 redefines what a Trailbike can be.
This new crop of short travel Trailbikes with 29×2.6 tires and progressive-geo like the Trek Fuel EX, Ibis Ripley, and the Santa Cruz Tallboy (comes with 2.3 tires but has clearance for 2.6) are, I think, some of the most ride-able Trailbikes ever made. They beg the question, “How much travel do you really need?” If someone asked for a recommendation for a new Trailbike, it would be real easy to recommend any of these bikes. Anyone who buys a Fuel EX or similar bike is unlikely to be disappointed.
Look up the definition of the modern Trailbike and the new 2020 Trek Fuel EX is what you should see!
Still no XXL carbon fiber models. I gotten to the point of hating to read bike reviews.
Yeah, disappointing for sure. I guess the cost of building carbon molds for extreme sizes doesn’t make economic sense, even for the most popular models produced by the biggest bike companies.
Jeff I totally understand….. you can make bikes sound so good though and it is frustrating knowing that I am limited to just a few choices. Shouldn’t complain I guess; my old 23″ hardtail and XXL Fuel EX 8 have carried me over some great trails. Graham Swamp (a few miles from the Florida Atlantic coast) to Mount Saint Helens (Washington) this year. Back home after 10 weeks and missing those cooler temps of the PNW.
I . . . Kind of want this bike now. At 6’5″ (+/- hair) I’d fall in the XXL category. I don’t have the cash for a carbon bike and I was thinking the “next bike” I chase would be the Full Stache.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my Stache 7 and plan on riding this thing into the dirt for the next decade or so. But this review makes me kind of . . . well, rethink that.
Thanks for the review.
$5500 for the 9.8 and you don’t even get XT brakes….
True. But speaking from firsthand experience, there is no way the I could pass a blind comparison test between XT and SLX.
Had a Garry Fisher Sugar for around 15 years dropped out of MTB for a few years got back on it and remembered how much I loved riding. Started to look around for XC bikes (I all thought existed were downhill or XC bikes)
Picked up a used Anthem x29er and been riding it for 3 years Its great and fast but it can be tough to ride on these east coast rooty, rocky, quick turn trails. I’m beginning to think that a trail bike is the one I should have gotten (maybe with 27.5 tires).
Specs on Trek’s website indicate that the BB height actually does change between high and low modes. But it is 0.5″ higher than on my 2016 EX8, so that’s a plus.
You’re right! Not sure if Trek updated the chart on the website, or if I made a mistake. Will get this updated…
Just confirmed that Trek updated their website today with the correct BB heights. 🙂
Thanks for clearing that up. Oddly, I’m still seeing the previous two BB heights even after clearing browser cache, but I assume that that is some kind of maintenance issue on their site. Regardless, it’s cool that they were able to keep the BB height constant. And per the new spec, it’s now more than an inch higher than my 2016 in low mode! Impressive!
I like the lower BB on my 2019 Fuel EX in low because it keeps rider weight slightly more planted. Pedal strikes happen despite a centimeter – rider finesse comes into play. IMO, geometry has hit the point of diminishing returns – again, my 2019 with a degree steeper and shorter wheelbase is perfect for the old school section of my home trails. Longer, slacker might come in handy when railing the newer, sculpted trails. It doesn’t seem so long ago that reviewers were lamenting loss of quickness suffered by the 29″ wheel and now bikes are stretching wheelbase without worry. It’s hard to go too wrong on most trail designated bikes from about 2016 on (with a few dud’s) – as a whole they really show the leaps in R&D.