The new Trek Fuel EXe is an important bike. It’s attracting a lot of attention from the e-curious who don’t think much of the current e-bike offering from elsewhere.
NB: Ignore the price tag of this model. Let’s talk about the bike behind the bling.
- Brand: Trek
- Product: Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS
- From: Trek Bikes
- Review by: Benji for three months
Three things I loved
- Looks great
- Less scary on technical terrain than heavier e-bikes
- Rides like a normal bike
Three things I’d change
- Range anxiety
- Wish we’d tested a more affordable version
- Rides like a normal bike
A warning. I’m not going to go into great detail about the nuts and bolts of this bike. You can read our ‘5 reasons the Trek Fuel EXe is most important bike of the decade‘ from when the Trek Fuel EXe was announced for that stuff.
Another warning. Nor am I going to talk much about this particular £14,350 showpiece model. It’s a distraction. It actually gets people’s backs up (mine included to be honest). It doesn’t give the Trek Fuel EXe concept a fair chance.
I’m going to focus on the frame, the motor, the battery and the controls. The stuff that’s exactly the same on the £6,400 Trek Fuel EXe 9.5.
In this review I’m going to focus purely on how a Trek Fuel EXe bike rides.
For those who do need a quick refresher, or understandably don’t want to click open another browser window for a reminder, the Fuel EXe is Trek’s mid-power e-bike. 50Nm of torque, compared to the 85Nm of full-power e-bikes and the 35Nm of Specialized’s SL low-power e-bikes.
The ostensibly similar – and surely the current main rival – Orbea Rise has 60Nm of torque by the way. And there’s also the new Fazua Ride60 equipped e-bikes with 60Nm too (check out the Pivot Shuttle SL as an example).
The battery is a 360Wh capacity one (same capacity as Orbea Rise). Some full-on ebikes have 700Wh+. A common capacity is 500-600Wh. Specialized SL e-bikes have 325Wh batteries.
There is also a range extender battery available for the Trek Fuel EXe which gives a further 160Wh, for £450. I would have really liked to have had one of these for this test period but they have yet to land in the UK in large enough numbers to get hold of one. Believe me, I tried.
Perhaps the two main USPs of this bike are its weight and its appearance. It weighs around 40lbs. And it looks like a normal mountain bike. Both of these factors cannot be understated as to their importance with the mountain bike market.
There is a third USP too but it’s only once you’re on the bike and riding that it appears: it is pretty much silent. Honestly, once off-road you can’t hear it. You can only just hear it when riding on the road but even then you have to be going pretty slow for the wind noise not to drown it out.
The Trek Fuel EXe can pass for a regular mountain bike. And while this might partially be about hiding the ‘shame’ of riding a pedal assist bike, I actually think it’s more to do with people’s existing fondness for their current mountain bike.
Existing experienced mountain bikers like how their mountain bike looks and sounds. The Trek Fuel EXe totally nails the remit of looking and sounding like a normal mountain bike. Massive kudo to Trek for that alone.
Trek Fuel EXe review
I’ll come out and say it. I still don’t really know how I feel about this bike. I’ve been dithering and delaying writing this review for quite some time. The only thing I am sure about is that the Trek Fuel EXe is not for me.
The thing is, I also think it is brilliant. And it will be perfect for loads and loads of riders out there.
In a nutshell, after passing it round as many other riders as I can convince to get on it, everyone says the same thing: “it’s just like a normal bike”. That is exactly what I say too, although I mean it in a confused head-scratching way. Everyone is saying it in a giddy enthused way.
Despite everything, the overarching experience of the Trek Fuel EXe is one of subtlety. It does not blow your mind upon first pedal stroke. Indeed because of the silence and the instant and super natural way the motor assist comes in, a lot of the time you can’t tell you’re getting any assistance at all. There isn’t a visual display confirmation of the assistance level you’re getting either (a la Shimano or Bosch displays).
It feels like not a lot is happening. But it is.
Finish a ride on the Trek Fuel EXe and then instantly hop on a normal mountain bike and the assistance is instantly noticeable by its absence. The Trek Fuel EXe is like riding with a massive tailwind. Or on ascents that have had a few degrees of gradient removed from them. Or you’ve suddenly become twenty years younger. It’s not that climbing becomes whistle-while-you-work easy (which it can do on full-power e-bikes), it’s still pretty strenuous activity on the Trek Fuel EXe.
I’d go as far to say that, unlike full-power e-bikes, the Trek Fuel EXe cannot do things that normal mountain bikes (and/or mountain bikers) can’t do. You won’t be scrabbling up preposterous trials-y techno climb challenges on the Fuel EXe. You won’t be trebling your usual altitude gain. What you will be doing is riding for that extra hour, and doing that extra hill.
What about descending then? Despite ‘only’ weighing 40lbs or so, the Fuel EXe does definitely exhibit some of the suspension flattery that you get with the extra weight of e-bikes. The Fuel EXe is an excellent descender. It’s pretty long and acceptably slack, which helps, but it’s the weight that is the most significant thing at play here.
The suspension on this bike works excellently. So calm. Very supportive. Very grippy. Sure, some of that may be due to the fancier dampers in the top-end suspension parts specced, but my gut feeling is that it’s to do with the sprung/unsprung help that comes when the frame is heavy, particularly the placement of that weight (central and relatively low down).
Compared to full-power (heavier) e-bikes on descents, the Trek Fuel EXe wins some and loses some. It does lose out on some of the super stability and speed-holding of heavier e-bikes. But on the whole, I think I prefer the nimbler handling of the Fuel EXe. Particularly when things are loose. It feels much less scary. Less like the bike is careering away out of control. More confidence inspiring.
Which brings us to the real surprise arena. Flat stuff.
The Trek Fuel EXe feels most at home on contouring terrain. Or rather, its assistance is more overly felt and appreciated on flatter trails. It’s when you’re not fighting gravity, or using gravity, that the Fuel EXe feels like a rocketship. It feels amazing. It makes you feel like a World Cup XC bod.
It’s also really good fun and capable on technical traverses. Off-cambers. Teetery stuff. Gamble do-you-don’t-you decisions. Ledges, Stream crossings. I felt much less fearful of stumbling and ending up being trapped under a bike, compared to the experience of full-power big-battery e-bikes.
A word here about the motor. They lack of delay is really, really impressive. There’s none of the fear of stopping pedalling (and the subsequent stall/dabbing) as there is with other e-bikes.
There’s also no detectable overrun either (where the motor is still assisting for a brief time even though you’ve stopped pedalling). Whilst some experienced e-bikers will miss the overrun (I did), there is no denying that the combination of instant engagement and instant disengagement really helps make the bike feel incredibly normal.
The controls and the display are fine. Totally intuitive and clear. Again, as an experienced e-biker I did miss the extra info of Shimano and Bosch (even Specialized) displays. But if you’ve never had the info, you’ll not miss it. Again, the Fuel EXe is not for experienced e-bikers. It’s very much a My First E-Bike.
Which bring us to the battery. And here I think there is a bit of an issue. Fundamentally I don’t think the battery is big enough to play to this bike’s strengths. Namely, big days out doing normal mountain biking. I’m not even that sure the aforementioned range extender battery will add enough extra range (for what and where I’d like to go anyway).
On one hand, the Trek Fuel EXe feels very much like a step into the future in terms of aesthetics and acoustics. On another hand, the return of range anxiety feels rather retro.
I appreciate that the whole battery capacity versus system weight is something of a vicious circle. Would adding one or two kilograms to the bike’s weight significantly impair the bike’s handling? Maybe it would. You do have to draw the line somewhere and it can’t have been an easy or quick decision made by the Trek team.
I think personal preferences come into play a great deal here too. I am a bit of a Boost* fan. I can’t help it. I don’t have the discipline to stay in Eco or Trail modes. With a different rider on board, one who switches to Eco for flat road linking sections, and keeps it in Trail for pretty much everything else.
(*Trek don’t actually give their three different power levels names, so I’m using the common e-bike parlance of Eco, Trail and Boost.)
The top power mode certainly does seem to really rinse the battery significantly more than you’d think. It doesn’t feel (there’s that word again) like it’s giving you that much more assistance, yet it certainly gets the battery bars dropping faster.
Ultimately, I did eventually end up doing rides pretty much keeping it in middle/Trail mode and just leaving Boost well alone. But is that like buying something and then putting it away and never using it? You’ve paid for a bit with 50Nm/300W of assist. Surely you should be able to use it?
Again, I’d like to point out that I haven’t had a range extender battery to test out to see what difference that makes to the Fuel EXe’s MPG.
I did use the top/Boost setting under certain circumstances. Those circumstances being going for a ‘Power Hour’. Those sort of sub-20km lunchtime blasts. Stick the bike in Boost and leave it there until you’re on fumes and need to Eco back home. That felt like a good use for Boost. And certainly opens up that short-but-intense type of ride that is pretty unique to e-bikes. Similarly, Boost was great for de-harshing and funning-up night rides (my night rides are always on the short side).
This may sound stupid obvious but if you only want a bit of help, that’s what this bike is for. It’s for normal rides. Normal riders. It is a very subtle bike. That subtlety is easily mistaken for being underwhelming. It’s arguably a waste of time to compare the Fuel EXe to full-power e-bikes. Trek do a full-power e-bike (a really ace one called the Trek Rail). Full-power e-bikes are like a new type of vehicle. The Fuel EXe is much closer to a regular unassisted mountain bike.
Fundamentally the Trek Fuel EXe is a beautifully executed machine that is going to be exactly what a great swath of experienced mtbers are looking for. Folk who are just finding mtbing too hard, but still want it to be strenuous. Something that takes the unpleasant edge off but doesn’t remove the ‘joys’ of Type 2 fun altogether.
Ignoring the motor aspect of it altogether, the ride and handling of the Trek Fuel EXe is brilliant. It’s a fantastic trail bike. Nimble and fun but with great stability and planted-ness.
Right. That’s my review finally done. Although I’d quite like this to be the start of an ongoing conversation about this bike. ‘Cos it’s interesting and I’m sure there are things I’ve not covered here.
Questions please! Comment below.
- Frame // OCLV Mountain Carbon 140mm
- Motor // TQ-HPR50, 50Nm, 300 watt peak power
- Battery // TQ 360Wh
- Head unit // TQ handlebar-mounted, TQ LED Display
- Shock // RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate AirWiz RCT2, 205 x 60mm
- Fork // RockShox Lyrik Ultimate AirWiz Charger 3 RC2 150mm
- Wheels // Bontrager Pro Line 30 OCLV Mountain Carbon
- Front Tyre // Bontrager SE5 Team Issue 29 x 2.5in
- Rear Tyre // Bontrager SE5 Team Issue 29 x 2.5in
- Chainset // E*Thirteen E*Spec Race Carbon 34T 165mm
- Shifter // SRAM Eagle AXS 12-speed
- Rear Mech // SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS 12-speed
- Cassette // SRAM Eagle XG-1299 10-52T
- Brakes // SRAM Code RSC 200/200mm
- Stem // Bontrager RSL Integrated bar/stem 45mm
- Bars // Bontrager RSL Integrated bar/stem 820 x 27.5mm
- Grips // Bontrager XR Trail Elite lock-on
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb AXS 170mm 34.9mm
- Size Tested // L
- Sizes Available // S, M, L, XL
- Weight // 19.3kg
Geometry of our size L test bike
- Head angle // 65º
- Effective seat angle // 77º
- Seat tube length // 435mm
- Head tube length // 110mm
- Chainstay // 440mm
- Wheelbase // 1,245mm
- Effective top tube // 630mm
- BB height // 343mm
- Reach // 485mm
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