I’ve been wanting to properly write up my experience of the Fuel EXe for some time now. It was impressive on my first ride back in autumn 2022 and since then it’s won awards across the globe as a game-changing eMTB. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to do this bike justice, with it spending too much time just sat waiting for me to ride whilst I recover from foot surgery. This is all now behind me and riding is back on the cards, as is fitness as four months of not riding has taken its toll on my fitness, trail confidence and waistline.
I chose the Isle of Man as the location for the test rides due to the abundance of open trails, centres and quiet roads to test out the full spread of use cases for the Fuel EXe. I was also booked to visit family on the island so it made sense to chuck the bike into the car for my trip. It was an early start for the first test ride, waking before dawn in a ferry cabin, briefly snoozing, getting dressed, disembarking and swinging by the local Maccy D’s for a coffee within 15 minutes at 5:30am. I was sceptical the ride would be a good one. Not remembering that dawn in the Irish Sea is half an hour later than in the home counties I had to then wait an hour before beginning the ride at a still dusky dark 7:30am. I decided the best bet was a mooch around some of the island’s TT sights, bringing in some coastal views before dedicating the afternoon to family matters.
The trail route I chose on day one took in all of the classics; muddy trails, fast descents, baby heads, rocky descents and deep motocross cut ruts. In the 25+ years since last riding this route, I forgot there was also a 10-minute hike-a-bike when the rocky trail turned into a full-on stream and, not wanting a slow, painful off, I figured walking was the sensible option. Day two was a visit to the Conrhenny forest trail centre where I could try the bike across varied terrain, more like how it’s likely to be used by most riders. Some singletrack, some technical trails and some built-up trail features. Nothing too adventurous!
Enough of the preamble. What’s it like to ride?
It’s like riding a normal, unassisted full susser!
The cookie cutter template of “full fat” e-bikes is well-trodden; 25kg+ with long travel, slack angles and big tyres, all monster trucking their way through trails across the UK. You don’t so much pick your line as mash your way through!
The Fuel EXe is different. It has the nimble feel of a non-assisted “acoustic” mountain bike, probably due to its lower 19kg weight. The handling is sure-footed and very Trek, almost identical to the last two generations of Fuel EX. On the acoustic front, it’s nearly silent for an eMTB, so no-one knows you’re being e-assisted. Nice!!
The revelation is riding non-assisted
The most notable thing, having ridden Trek eBikes through the generations over the past 7 years is the ease at which it transitions between power on and power off as you reach 15.5mph. The original 2016 eMTBs had a transition similar to the change from descending an alp to riding through treacle in the blink of an eye. This resulted in riders perfecting the 15mph ride to minimise resistance and the fabled slow pedal floating ride we see from inexperienced ebike riders.
The TQ system on the Fuel EXe is an absolute revelation. I don’t think I can understate this: it really is. As you power through the speed range the transition to full human-only power is completely un-noticeable, and I mean completely. Also, riding without assistance is smooth and easy, with no noticeable resistance from the motor. In order to work out why, I switched the head unit to show power output (both rider and bike) and it was clear as day. As the bike reaches 14mph the power delivered by the bike starts to creep down until at 15.5mph the motor’s only outputting a handful of watts. Simple; you get handed back the controls of this fast bike as smoothly as drinking a pint of Guinness in St James Brewery on St Patrick’s Day, but without the hangover and tweedly-dee Gaelic music.
A few times I forgot what mode I was in as the power delivery is so smooth. Did I mention that already? But a quick glance down to the display on the top tube and it was easy to see, and a quick blip on the left hand trigger and you were backed off or pushing on.
On traditional full fat ebikes, I’ve also had some scary experiences in tight technical turns where the bike lunges. But not this bike. The smooth delivery means you can tackle tight switchbacks or trail furniture without any worries, just like riding a non-assisted bike.
So how do you ride the power modes on this bike?
Power modulation is not intrusive but is a good helping hand. All modes have a clear purpose and are easily learned. I know this is a personal preference but I found the following mode selection worked for me.
Flat/rolling/descending roads – OFF
Steady and medium inclines off road – 1
Medium and technical off-road climbs – 2
A quick kick out of trouble – 3
Something I would change
The Bontrager XR5 Team Issue tyres that come as standard on the bike are heavy, blunt beasts with a tendency for lateral trail sliding. They were good on tarmac but that’s really not important! Personally, I either prefer a tyre that cuts into the side of ruts on trail riding (like the Schwalbe Nobby Nic) or is faster on smoother trails (bring out Schwalbe’s Ralph and Ray). I’m on the cusp of trying out the new Pirelli off-road MTB rubber but am waiting for the trade show in a couple of weeks to see what 2.35/2.4 offering is available to suit my riding style. Future, blog post and content promised!
It looks like a mountain bike, it sounds like a mountain bike and most importantly it rides like a mountain bike, but it’s an ebike. A revelation!