Trek Fuel Ex 7 29
Big, bouncy, brilliant
Unknown trails, on an unknown bike. A recipe for disaster, that became a growing fondness and turned eventually into full respect.
Being hire bikes, they weren't the newest versions, we rode the Trek Fuel Ex 7 29, both 2014. The latest model costs £2,200,and frankly looks amazing in red. Available from Trek.
The Trek Fuel Ex 7 is not the only 29er either of us have ridden. We both own 29" hardtails, and we both own full suspension bikes. But a full suspension 29"? neither of us could see the point. The chance to hire some, therefore, came as a welcome opportunity for a decent test. Much more so than repeatedly ragging a few sections of trail centre trails to decide. Having to live with a bike everyday, over unknown terrain, is a great way to get under the surface impressions.
The strangest thing about the Trek's is that the head angle is different with different sizes. My large size frame was a lot slacker than Richard's medium, which not only aids my less-than-great skills, but also just looks better (shallow, I realise, but if you don't like how it looks, it's going to be a hard sell).
The Trek Fuel Ex has been around for a long time, converting to 29 a few years ago. These are hire bikes, so they are going to get a lot of use, and certainly the pedal stripping out at the furthest point of the first days riding was testament to the abuse they take. Who changes their pedals every few days? (I'm sure there's someone - ed). I'd bought my Wellgo B-54s, whilst Richard had his Crank Brothers mallets. Watching these being inexpertly screwed in by the assistant added to my already overflowing cynicism levels about how well these bikes would perform, both as the bikes they were, and the state these particular ones would be in.
Other than the pedals, we had no mechanical's, and in fact no punctures. The suspension held up well, as did the forks. One of the reasons for this is that these bikes are set for this terrain. It's a mix of small rocks, and hard-packed trail surfaces, and it was pretty similar across the whole of our riding. The state of these bikes then, was nailed. No worries there.
The areas we rode tended to be long, wide tracks, and the large wheels provided superb confidence at rolling at speed down some sketchy paths - not very much you'd describe as technical, but rides that would be easy to take a slight judder and find yourself with a wheel a right angles and your face in the gravel. Nothing doing - the Trek's held their lines, and held their speed, and delivered great big bundles of joy. The technical stuff was dispatched with a certain swagger as well. The Trek was not the big lumbering beast of a 29" that I ride at home. I dragged the back brake quite a lot, which helped it to turn sharper corners, but it was not difficult to muscle round a bend. The suspension was active when I wanted it to be, but I was surprised by how effectively it climbed, even when I forgot to lock it out (which is quite a popular habit of mine).
If it sounds like I'm smitten, then that's probably a fair assessment. In the same way that customers that have had a problem, can become extremely loyal if you fix the problem in the right way, by starting extremely cynical and expecting problems, I have entirely changed my feelings towards this excellent bike. I think that if I rode a medium I would be less impressed. That head angle is just so steep. But, for once, the large size is the better looking, and better performing approach.
I'm currently looking to replace my Genesis High Latitude (I'm sorry, I'm sure it's great, it's just not for me), and I was going to go hardtail again, to cope with the winter mudfest. But the Trek has got me thinking I'd do better to change the hardtail and the full suspension, and just have one of these for everything. It would certainly cut down on decision-making, instead of indecision, I could go out and just ride the bike.
Image from Bike Experience Mallorca
What we think about the Trek Fuel Ex 7 29, in 50 words or less
It marries big wheels and full suspension seamlessly; to the point where we didn;t worry about whether it was the right bike or not. It was the right amount of fun, both up and downhill.
The Fuel Ex has long been the go-to bike for most mountain bikers.
It's a trail bike that's fast enough to excite cross country riders, and capable enough to tackle technical terrain on par with longer travel bikes.
It does everything really well.
Bike test facts
Bike: Trek Fuel Ex 7 29
Fork: Rockshox Revelation RL
Rear suspension: Fox performance float EVOL
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore, Shimano SLX shadow plus
Test terrain: dirt paths, fireroads, technical singletrack, bridleways, technical climbs
Price: £2,200 from Trek
There is quite a long list of alternatives, all the main brands, alongside some boutique ones, run a short travel full suspension big wheel mountain bike. But then he price range is phenomenal, from about £1000 up to £10,000, so you can spend a lot of money, depending on what you expect. We know it's been said, but bikes really have got expensive in the last couple of years. The first thing to do is to decide what sort of riding you mostly do, and where you are willing to compromise. This is pretty close to one bike that does most things well. is that good enough for you?
Specialized Camber Comp 29
So similar to the Trek it's even red. 120mm of travel, vs Trek's 130mm. Spec is almost identical (although the purists would disagree). Fork is Rockshox Revelation RL. Rear suspension is Fox Float performance.
Available from Specialized in the UK, £2,100.
Cube Stereo 120 HPA
A classic Cube name, with too many suffixes (HPA?). Comes in 27.5 or 29 variants. Cube's are a very popular brand, and come in at a good price.
Available from Cube dealers, from £1,299
Kona Hei Hei 29er
Fork: Rockshox Recon Gold solo Air
Suspension: Rockshox Monarch RL.
Drivetrain is Shimano XT, this comes with 1x11, of which the Magic Spanner is a big fan. And a KS dropper post (which probably explains the higher price).
Available from £2399.99, see Kona.