This bike climbs! There is no way to hide the Fuel EX’s roots in XC racing. Even with the shock fully open, every pedal stroke is delivered directly to the rear wheel. Switch the lever over to climb and this bike will set the pace.
While the power delivery and platform is outstanding, the suspension is still fairly active. During out of the saddle climbs over rough terrain, the rear tire stays planted with very little supplemental body language. The steeper head angle allows the bike to be steered around switchbacks with ease. The relatively steep seat angle keeps the rider right over the cranks and not off the back when seated and pedaling.
Even without 50T eagle gearing, this bike has no problem going up some gnarly steeps. We thought that the Fuel EX climbed the best out of any bike in the shootout and is our first choice for long days on the trail.
Another standout area for the Fuel EX is rolling cross-country terrain. The bike carries speed thanks to the light, 29er wheels paired with very fast rolling Bontrager XR4 Team issue tires. Every roller and undulation in the trail can be pumped and turned into momentum. Around Bend, we have a lot of rolling terrain to access any of the steeper trails and this bike turns those usually monotonous trails into ripping singletrack.
On the downhills, the bike can handle its own in nearly any terrain. The suspension is up to the task for anything from rocky, technical descents to flowing berms. During testing, we found the bike prefers to take more steering input rather than a carving feel due to its steeper head angle. This sensation was somewhat decreased when flipping the suspension to low mode, which dropped the head angle by half a degree and the bottom bracket by 10mm. This allowed the bike to settle into turns and hold lines a bit better. If your long-legged enduro bike is a chainsaw, the Fuel EX rides like a surgeon’s scalpel.
It’s quite impressive that much of what Trek uses to make their ten thousand dollar bikes ride so well is carried over to this sub four thousand dollar bike. Pedaling efficiency, suspension sensitivity and overall handling are take-away highlights that, when combined with the aesthetics, make the Fuel EX 9.7 one of our favorite bikes in the roundup.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Overall, the Fuel EX 9.7 offers a lightweight package that is ready for almost any ride, right out of the box. At 29.7lbs, for the price, this bike is an impressively lightweight rocket uphill that is composed on the downs. We’d argue it’s one of the classiest and most expensive looking bikes in the bunch, yet still retails for a very reasonable price.
Trek has really defined what is possible at this price point, choosing solid suspension and brakes with a very robust component set. If you are looking for a do everything bike and don’t live for the steeps or overly aggressive terrain, the Fuel is a very refined machine and one of our favorites in the roundup. The beauty of the EX is that you can easily enjoy it in its more XC/trail oriented build, or step up to a longer travel fork and have one hell of an aggressive trail shredding 29er.
Trek also offers a Slash and Remedy for folks looking at bikes with more travel and slacker head angles. We still think this bike has a lot more to offer for riders who don’t quite need 160mm of travel and want a 29er to rip.
Price: $3,699 as tested
How does the Loam Wolf rate the Fuel EX 9.7 29
Ride Quality: ★★★★.5
Likely to Recommend: ★★★★★ (★★★★ for more aggressive riders)