Monday, November 10, 2014

Bike Demo: Trek Fuel EX 9.8

WOW, that was freakin' awesome.

Yesterday I went out with my buddy Ollie to Fairfax, CA to Sunshine Bikes to borrow a super-epic 2015 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 mountain bike. Sunshine Bikes was doing a FREE Trek Factory Demo and it was totally stellar. I got to try a fancier bike than I will be able to afford, but oh my was it sweet. What a sick bike:

Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 (MSRP $5249.99)
We arrived in the morning, I got my bike sorted out (I borrowed a 17.5" frame), and after getting the shocks set for my weight, and seatpost set to the correct height... off we went to do the Tamarancho loop.

Trek Factory Demo truck
The first thing I noticed about the Fuel EX is that is was extremely comfortable. Also, apparently, 17.5" is EXACTLY the right frame size for me. Since I have a Gary Fisher bike now in the same size (and Gary is now a designer for Trek), this was such a natural feeling and everything just sortof "worked". I had a "feel" for the bike right off the get-go, it felt very comfortable and I felt like I sortof "knew" the bike already. I have ridden my Gary Fisher for 7 years now, so there must be something to riding a similarly-designed bike, I guess. It rocked.

Ollie posing with my sweet Trek for the day
We headed up the Tamarancho trail. The last time (and only other time) I did Tamarancho I was on a Specialized 29er, and found the cornering REALLY tough on that one. This time I found it much easier, though, MAN Tamarancho is still a tough trail. Ollie and I both ate it at one point, and I sortof hip-checked a tree a couple times and also toppled down a hill a bit (landing in a pile of leaves, thankfully), but just a couple scratches and nothing that a couple band-aids wouldn't fix. Tamarancho is definitely still a bit past my skill-level, but Ollie said I was attacking the trail very well -- both on the incline and the decline. He said it looked like I was "very comfortable" with the bike, and that it was a perfect fit, and also that I had clearly been practicing more on harder trails since we last went out. So that was great to have someone watch me and for it to look like my skills have improved.

Ollie, Me, and Mitch
We rode with our buddy Mitch too which was great fun and awesome to catch up with both of these fine fellows.

So, how did the bike fare?! Well, in a word: BEAUTIFULLY.

As the Sunshine Bikes guy said, "the Fuel EX is PERFECT for the trails around here (Northern California)." And it sure was. The "Climb, Trail, Descent" settings on both front and back shocks was very intuitive just like the Remedy 8 I rode in Scotland in May. The bike was just glued to the ground, bouncing and tracking the crazy roots and jagged rocks that were everywhere. The suspension I left on "Descend" even during some non-descents, and the back shock especially was very forgiving -- it didn't engage unless it really needed to, and I was very impressed when it did. Not bouncy or unwieldy, just exactly what I needed and when I needed it.

One thing I didn't think I'd expect to like but did, was the dropper seat post. This one came with a button to drop the seat down and I thought that was just for when you take huge jumps... apparently not. As the guys explained, it's actually for when you're cornering or when you're going downhill... you take the seat out of your way just a little, and you can then get lower on the bike. This gives you more stability, and you can also get back behind the seat as needed. Pretty great. Then, a simple press and the seat jumps back up to your regular height for the climbs. I actually found I used it a fair bit. It was a bit hard to get used to, since I usually use the seat bouncing around as another "indication" of the feel of the track itself -- it bouncing around gives me more information about the trail, and so with the seat not there at all, I was finding I was missing that. Also, man your legs get even more tired when you're off the seat for even longer than usual. That said, I thought a dropper seat was way out of my skill level and I'd never need one, but after trying this one I actually kindof liked the option. Especially for a crazy route like Tamarancho, this worked out super well.

As on the Remedy 8, the Shimano Deore XT shifters and brakes were a TOTAL slam-dunk. They were incredibly responsive, there when I needed them, and exceedingly accurate. This was super important for the tricky curves on this trail. This bike really performed, and I loved it.

As Ollie mentioned, the fork angle on the Fuel EX has been getting "slacker" over the years, and it actually felt quite a lot like the Trek Remedy 8 I rented in Scotland. I loved that bike so much that I asked the folks at the bike shop about the differences. They do seem pretty close, though the Remedy is a bit more "downhill" than the Fuel EX. They said the Fuel would do great in Tahoe and other spots too, but the Remedy would give me a bit more comfort and feel like I could roll over more rocks and trail features potentially in a more downhill situation. "For around here though, nothing beats the Fuel EX", the guy said. The Remedy would be a bit more work to climb up hills in this area, he suggested, and since I tend to have more trouble with climbing than descending, it may be wiser to aim for the Fuel instead of the Remedy. Probably, I should just go to Tahoe in the summer and rent a Remedy and then decide after that (and maybe borrow a Remedy for around here just to be safe). The weight on this Fuel was awesome, as I could easily get up some hills I thought were much harder on Tamarancho before with the 29er I borrowed last year.

I am definitely leaning closer and closer to Trek for my full-suspension bike. I have now tried a Specialized, a Santa Cruz, and 2 Treks. Ollie suggested I also try an Ibis Mojo to get a feel for a different suspension type. So far, Trek feels the most comfortable and the best "fit" for me. Perhaps it's because of my experience on the Gary Fisher, or maybe just the combo of components and geometry feels right to me. Anyway, I love it. Now I gotta start trying to find a Demo/Last-Year's-Model situation, and see if I can get a really awesome one at a great price.

After a great run at Tamarancho, we headed out for beer and burgers (mmm) and I got a Chocolate Stout Float. So, what I mean to say is, Sunday morning and afternoon was a complete win. :)

Celebrating a glorious ride with a glorious Chocolate Stout Beer Float

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