First Impressions: 2013 Trek Fuel EX 9.9

Trek's tried-and-true trail offering gets some serious upgrades under the hood.

By Kevin Rouse
Photos: Sterling Lorence and Dan Milner

Believe it or not, the singletrack trail category makes up a whopping 78-percent of Trek’s sales in the United States. So when the company goes and gives the Fuel, its bread-and-butter trail bike, a complete redesign, there is definitely some pretty decent incentive to make sure they don’t, er, mess things up, so to speak. Fortunately, it’s safe to say after some hearty riding in the heart of the Dolomites, that’s far from the case.

Completely redesigned for 2013, the Fuel EX sports a whole raft of changes--even if they aren't the most readily apparent at first glance. Heading the list is the Fuel's transition to 130 millimeters of travel, up from 120 millimeters in the bike's previous guise. Beyond the bump-up in travel, the Fuel EX gets a completes suspension tweaking, with revised linkages and leverage ratios, as well as Trek’s DRCV both front and rear.

The Dolomites provide a rather striking backdrop for Trek’s top-of-the-line trail rig. They weren’t just there for scenery though, they also provided some pretty thorough testing grounds.

Ten extra millimeters of travel may be hard to spot, but it was readily apparent on the rocky singletrack we sampled in Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy--a picturesque paradise in the heart of the Italian Dolomites.

Feeling utterly balanced through chunderous rock washes, Trek chalks this up to a more balanced suspension setup thanks to DRCV suspension front and rear. Completely redesigned suspension kinematics also contribute a great deal to the improved suspension feel as well.

Trek attributes the bike’s balanced feel on larger hits to its being equipped with Dual Rate Control Valve (DRCV) technology in both the Fox rear shock and suspension fork. While this may not be news to you (DRCV-equipped forks are a 2012 upgrade), it’s definitely an innovation you appreciate when the trail turns ugly.

What Trek explains as basically having two shocks in one, DRCV accomplishes that sensation on the trail via the use of two air chambers both in the fork and rear shock. On smaller hits, only the smaller chamber comes into play, offering a lively, responsive feel, whil on larger hits, a plunger (which performs the role of Control Valve in the DRCV acronym), activates a second chamber that introduces more volume to the equation to provide a nice, plush response to bigger hits. And as in the case of explaining anything suspension-related, pictures truly are worth a thousand words, here’s a schematic from Trek that inevitably helps explains things much better than yours truly.

Things always tend to have a funny way of making more sense when you draw them out in chalk.

On the frame side of the equation, the 2013 Fuel EX undergoes some serious changes as well. Sporting a new pivot placement, Trek engineers have imbued the Fuel EX with a bit more progressiveness and have played with chainstay length, shortening them just a touch in order to achieve a more active feel on the trail.

In their efforts to make the Fuel more capable, Trek has also endowed the Fuel EX with ISCG05 tabs, and has brought dropper post routing inside the frame with Rockshox’s Reverb Stealth.

A revised EVO link and shock placement have increaesed leverage ratios over the previous EX.

Out on trail, technical thoughts aside, the Fuel EX lends itself to a feeling of instant familiarity. With just a cursory suspension setup session the bike immediately felt supremely balanced and, and as promised by Trek’s Mountain Bike Marketing Manager, Travis Ott, extremely lively under foot.

Thanks to the Fuel EX 9.9’s efficient early-stroke travel, über-lightweight carbon frame and the ultra-posh parts selection anchored by SRAM’s X0 group and DT Swiss’s XM 1550 wheelset, climbing was surprisingly pain-free affair.

Trek’s latest ABP Convert dropout design offers 35-percent more stiffness over an open-dropout design.

Suffice it to say, based on the Fuel EX’s already-proven track record, we expected the Fuel to perform--and it certainly did. Bottom line, Trek managed to improve an already extremely capable bike, and with no sacrifices whatsoever. Impressive.