When it comes to full suspension trail bikes these days, there are so many options to look at. We’ve got super high-end, luxury carbon options from the likes of Santa Cruz, Yeti, and Pivot, to the other end of the scale with alloy offerings from brands such as Specialized, Giant and Merida. There has never been more choice for riders looking for a trail bike.
With that in mind, we got two bikes together from two well known brands to run a head to head test to see where the state of play is at.
The Bikes & The Test
What we have here are two bikes from two large, well-known manufacturers that you can find on the high street; GT and Trek.
The aim of the test was of course to see how they both stood up to a good thrashing over a review period, but also to see just how different two very similar bikes can be. Although these bikes both utilise a carbon/alloy frame build, run 130mm of travel both front and rear, and roll on big 29in wheels, I think they offer something vastly different to prospective riders.
These two bikes have different characters. Different motives to how they want you to ride, and they ask different questions of you while you are riding. But which would get my vote? Bear with me, while I try to explain how these bikes have left me feeling after the three month test period.
2019 GT Sensor Expert
To read the full review, click here.
GT has been producing bikes since the 70s and it has seen glory days that are a match to any other successful bike brand. Over the years though, its decision on suspension platforms and design has steered it away from the mainstream slightly, which has kind of been its USP.
For 2019 though, GT is back with two new bikes, the LTS name, and a simpler four-bar suspension platform. Nice and simple, just how it used to be. The GT Sensor Expert we’ve tested here brings a new carbon frame, a neat build kit and a tasty selection of technology to the table.
As I’ve said in the main review for this bike, I see the GT Sensor as a big friendly horse. Not a groomed racehorse no, but one that’s looked after, well fed and cleaned – then taken out down country lanes on a weekend. It’s not the best looking bike I’ve ever seen and neither is it the most technologically advanced. But what it lacks in some areas, it more than makes up for in others.
The carbon frame is a work of art, with a neat aesthetic quality through those fluid shapes and curves. In this colour, and as a full build in general it is still a bit marmite to some, but I’ve grown to really appreciate its shape and finish.
When I first got aboard the GT, I was very pleasantly surprised. The way this mid-travel bike wants to go full pelt at everything is impressive. That however, isn’t always what you want.
On a bike of this price, you want a bit of composure, you want some sort of restraint and delicacy when on the trails. This bike though (if you let it) rips along at quite alarming speeds, and while doing so, it does rattle and slap its way through rough terrain. It’s a hard balance to achieve – that composure and performance split.
The GT is spritely and energetic uphill, with a firm suspension system which feels controlled and encouraging. Pointed downhill, the Sensor’s slack geometry makes it blisteringly quick on the descents and its throw-around capabilities make for a super fun ride.
For me though what it lacks is that composure you want from an all-day-riding bike. The brakes just aren’t up to the test on a bike which is this capable, and the tyres, although they roll quick on hard packed trials, do miss a beat when the going gets sloppy.
The Sensor is a fun bike, without doubt. It’ll leave you smiling I can almost guarantee, but it does come at a price. With an RRP of £3299, the Sensor does tip over that £3000 mark by quite a chunk, and with areas that could do with upgrading, is it just a bit much for what you get?
2019 Trek Fuel EX 9.7
To read the full review, click here.
Next up, let’s look at the Trek Fuel EX 9.7.
Since 2005, the Fuel EX has been in the Trek line up as its XC/trail bike offering. What started its life as a 100mm travel front and rear, XC race bike way back when, the Fuel has adapted to the times and by doing so has got larger, slacker, longer and lower throughout its life. Here we have the latest version of the Fuel EX, and it really is one hell of a bike.
It took me a good few rides to get into the swing of the Fuel. I’d been riding the GT Sensor for a week or so before I picked the Trek up, so I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted from these bikes. The GT feels raw and ready to take a pounding, while the Trek felt more delicate and sophisticated from the get-go.
The amount of technology packed into the Fuel EX is mind boggling, and after sitting on the Trek website watching videos of Cam McCaul going through each piece of tech in-depth, I felt a bit drained. Is this what riding bikes has got to? You’ve got to sit at a computer or on your phone for 3 hours watching videos of what the bike does, before you can go out and ride it? That’s not for me. I like being outdoors and getting covered in mud – I felt like I was selling myself out a bit.
I gave Cam a pause, and got the bike out. A basic set up, and I was good to go. The first few rides were carried with a reasonable helping of conscious riding – which for me felt usual. I felt as if I really had to take care when riding the Trek. Loading and unloading from the van was a surgical like experience due to the Knock Block stem. And even bolting axles up was done with more care than usual.
I was scared of damaging the bike, chipping any paint work or getting the grips mucky when the bike was upside down. Once I’d stopped worrying too much and got riding though, the Trek felt tight on the trails.
On the trails, the Trek is an incredibly composed bike. It has a very well mannered character, and if it were a dog, it’d be an obedient one that came back when you whistled and sat before crossing roads.
On rolling, undulating trails the Fuel EX bounds along with ease and getting up to speed is a piece of cake. On the descents, the position you’re put in feels commanding and authoritative.
A few down sides for the Trek would be some areas of the build kit. The bar is too narrow for a bike which is this capable, and the stem is a touch long. The Knock-Block system that Trek has developed is clever and stops you from taking chunks out of your frame, but at the same time, having to buy a new fancy spacer to use a non-Trek stem is annoying.
For the Fuel EX 9.7, you’ll be paying an RRP of £3150, which for this much tech, and a bike that performs this well, means it should definitely be on the list for riders looking for that new trail bike.
If you’re looking to spend £3000+ on a do-it-all trail bike, the good news is you’ve got plenty of options. The bad news however, is that you’ve got plenty of options – which makes actually choosing a nightmare.
After this test, I know what I want a trail bike to offer me, and if I could breed these two bikes, I reckon I’d be onto a winner. Both have impressed me in different ways, yet both have negatives. Each bike offers an alternate riding experience, with a differing range of pros and cons. Unless you’ve got a frame building friend, who is up for designing you a custom frame, then you’re going to have to sacrifice in certain areas and make your mind up where the pros outweigh cons.
The Trek Fuel EX 9.7 is an incredibly controlled and impressive bike. It has a build kit that is ready to ride out of the box, but the amount of technology feels a touch unnecessary for an every-day rider like me. The GT is simpler, and definitely lights a bit of fire inside me. But again, drawbacks with the spec and composure in some aspects of its rids means I’d have to spend more cash on the bike to get it to how I want it to ride.
If it were my money, and I was putting it down on one of these bikes, the Trek Fuel EX 9.7 would be my choice. For £150 less than the GT, you get a bike with a more confidence inspiring build kit, along with an impressively well detailed frame and a thoroughly balanced suspension package.
The ride on the GT is a more raw and unfiltered, and in my eyes it is more exciting, but for long days out and bigger rides, the comfortable and composed nature of the Trek makes it a more appealing bike. I would still have to spend a bit of cash by swapping out that narrow bar from the get-go, and potentially other parts in the not too distant future – but as an out-and-out trail bike, the Trek gets my vote.
See more on the GT Sensor Expert and Trek Fuel EX 9.7 here:
|Brand:||Trek & GT|
|Product:||Fuel EX 9.7 & Sensor Expert|
|Price:||£3150.00 - £3299.99|
|Tested:||by Rob Mitchell for 3 Months|