First Ride: Trek’s New Fuel EX Has More Travel & More Adjustments

The Fuel EX name first appeared in the Trek catalog in 2005 with just 100mm of suspension, but like other full-length models, each iteration since has gained travel, gotten slacker and longer, or has received other upgrades to make it a more capable trail bike. Seventeen years later, the 2023 Fuel EX gets similar treatment, with a new 140mm-travel frame paired with a 150mm fork and much more adjustable geometry.

For riders looking to get even more out of their trail bike, that adaptability even extends to being compatible with a 27.5″ rear wheel and coil spring shock. And in case you haven’t noticed, sure that looks a lot like your also new Fuel EX-e.

Fuel Details EX 2023
• Intended use: mountain biking
• Travel: 140 mm rear / 150 mm front
• Frame material: Aluminum, carbon fiber
• Wheels: 27.5″ and 29″
• Sizes: XS – XXL
• Reach: 400 – 545mm
• Weight: to be confirmed
• Price: $2,699 – $10,749 USD
trekbikes.com

frame details

The Fuel EX’s frame is brand new and looks quite different from the bike it’s replacing, especially the meatier front end and more complicated design in the seat tube and bottom bracket area. There’s also much more adjustability built into the new frame, including aftermarket angle-adjustable headset cups, two shock positions, coil shock compatibility, and reverse-chip pivot hardware you can read about below.

Suspension: When it comes to the rear of the Fuel EX, there are some things you’ll recognize and some you won’t. Starting with the new stuff, Trek has increased the travel at both ends by 10mm compared to the previous version, with 140mm paired with a 150mm fork, making it the largest Fuel EX ever. And while none of Trek’s eight complete bikes come standard with one installed, it’s also the first version to be compatible with coil spring shocks. Helping on that front is an inverted chip in the lower shock that adjusts the leverage curve; one setting adds bottom-end resistance or works better with a coil, while the other is less progressive to accommodate the inherently increasing spring rate of an air can.

You probably won’t be surprised to see Trek’s ABP suspension design at the rear of the new Fuel EX. Those three letters are short for ‘Active Braking Pivot’ which describes the claimed advantages much more succinctly than it ever could. Instead of a Horst Link or chainstay pivot, ABP rotates concentrically around the hub axis.

Wheel sizes: Trek sells the Fuel EX in 27.5″ and 29″ wheels, putting the former on extra-small and small bikes. They’re also doing a small size frame with 29″ wheels, while the medium, medium/large, large, x-large, and extra-large will come with 29″ wheels.

And if you want to put a 27.5″ wheel on the rear of your Fuel EX, you can too thanks to all this adjustability. With the smaller wheel lowering the bike, Trek says you’ll need to use a 160mm fork of travel and place the Mino Links in the high position to prevent the bottom bracket from sitting too low to the ground.

Greater adjustability: If you’re familiar with Trek’s full-suspension bikes, you’ve probably already seen the inverted-chip pivot hardware that connects the seatstays to the rocker arm. Trek calls them Mino Links and you’ll find an updated version of this bike that offers the same 0.5-degree head angle and 8mm of bottom bracket height adjustment. I always thought these were relatively conservative changes in geometry, but a larger variation would require more independent adjustment…

That’s precisely what Trek has done for 2023, with Trek offering headset cups that can be swapped out to change the head angle by one degree in either direction. Stock cups provide a 64.5 degree head angle, but those who want to go slacker (or steeper) can purchase a cup set that does both. You install them one way for 63.5 degrees or the other way for 65.5 degrees. The upper cup will drop, Trek says, but you’ll need a headset press for the lower one.

Those three head angle options and two Mino Link setups create six geometry setups, which is why Trek has a new geo setup tool on its website to help you figure out where to put what. They suggest using the Mino Links to fine tune things:”You can install the headset cups in the slack position and use the Mino’s tall setting to maintain bottom bracket height and prevent pedal strike, all while maintaining a 64-degree head tube angle. Need even higher and steeper? Use the tall Mino setting and the steep steerer cup setting to get a 66-degree head tube angle.

Other details: There’s also a 34.9mm seat tube, a threaded bottom bracket with an ISCG-05 chain guide mount all around, and the world’s longest down tube guard that should prevent damage from both rocks and tailgates. It’s also nice to see full-length internal case guides from front to back which should make maintenance easier while also giving the frame a neat look. The down tube storage compartment has been carried over to the new design, of course, and they also added it to the new aluminum Fuel EX frame.

While it seems like Trek has put all the stuff on the latest Fuel EX, there is one they left off: Knock Block. The integrated steerer stop on the headset is designed to prevent the fork crowns from hitting the straight down tube (which Trek says makes the frame stiffer) on some of their bikes, but the 2023 Fuel EX it’s back to having a curvy down tube that provides a lot of clearance. This is a good thing.

Geometry

There are no surprises when it comes to what has changed: The new Fuel EX has a longer wheelbase, longer reach, a steeper seat angle and a slacker head angle.

Up front, the previous Fuel EX could be set to 66 degrees slack with its 140mm-travel fork, while the new bike can be slacked out to 63.5 degrees if you use the aftermarket headset cups. explained above. Are your trails too flat and slow for that number? You can also lean the bike up to 66 degrees using the same cups, all without drastically altering the bike’s seat angle. Speaking of seat angle, these are steeper across the board, with the big seat at 77.2 versus the old big’s 75.5-degree number.

The length of the front end has also grown a bit, with our full-size test bike measuring 485mm (Mino low) versus 470mm on the previous bike. It starts at 400mm for the smallest bike and goes all the way up to 545mm for the largest size. However, the effective top tube length has done the opposite, going from 634mm to 626mm due to the steeper seat angle.

This is also the first Fuel EX to have size-specific chainstays, with four lengths used between the extra-small and extra-large sizes. Much like Norco does, Trek accomplishes this by using slightly different main pivot locations rather than making different chainstays; sizes extra-small to medium have a 435mm rear, medium and large 440mm, x-large 445mm, and the big boi has 450mm chainstays.

9 (or so) EX fuel models

There are nine different 2023 Fuel EX models ranging in price from $2,699.99 to $10,749.99 USD, but only eight of them are new bikes. That first price is for the EX 5 which is actually a carryover using last year’s aluminum frame, meaning it has 130mm of travel and a 140mm RockShox Recon Silver-shaped fork.

The new bikes start with the EX 7 Aluminum for $3,700 and the EX 8 Aluminum for $4,300. These have all the same features as more expensive carbon bikes, including storage compartment, angle-adjustable headset, and coil compatibility. Equipped with a Fox Rhythm 36 fork, XT drivetrain and Deore four-piston brakes, the EX 8 looks like a smart choice. Carbon fiber comes up next with the EX 9.7, which has a similar spec but costs $4,700 USD.

If you have more than double that to spend, the 9.9 XX1 AXS gets all the expensive parts and will set you back $10,749.


travel impressions

I was able to slip away from the hustle and bustle of Crankworx Whistler to hop on the new Fuel EX. An aggressive trail bike field test is in the works, so this yellow machine will be battling other similar contenders in the near future.

The downhill portion of that first ride started with a thick, steep section of trail full of rocky steps, followed by a blind drop down a very dusty chute. Luckily, I spent a few extra minutes setting the brake pads beforehand, and the tricky move went off without a hitch. In its stock configuration, the Fuel EX’s geometry feels ready for just about anything; nothing about the fit or handling of the bike immediately struck me as out of place.

There’s plenty of traction available for climbing, but there’s also more support than the old Fuel EX: It’s not as eager to sink into your ride, with a better platform to push off of when you get out of the saddle. The fact that the amount of progression can be increased without opening the shock is also a nice feature—that first ride was in the most linear mode, and I’ve since switched to the progressive setting to get more final stroke. ramp up. I can use full travel when needed, but the extra progression helps keep a few more millimeters in reserve for bigger hits.

That grip on the climbs translates to the descents, where the Fuel EX has a nice flapping feel, calmly smoothing out trail rattle. I found that the integrated handlebar and stem combination felt stiffer than I would have preferred. Granted, my hands were a bit banged up from several really big days of riding earlier in the week, but I wasn’t the only rider who noticed the extra stiff feel.

The Fuel EX feels like a bigger, more capable bike than its predecessor, which isn’t entirely surprising considering it has 10mm more travel to go along with that longer, slacker geometry. Realistically, the new top fuel it has trail manners that are closer to the previous version of the Fuel EX, and the 2023 Fuel EX handles more like an updated big-wheeled Remedy.

With so many possible tweaks and settings, it will take more than a couple of rides to really discover the Fuel EX’s strengths and weaknesses. We’ll dig into the next field test and I’ll also put together a mixed wheel version with a 160mm fork to see how it holds up long term.

mike kasimer

Leave a Comment