I rediscovered my bike after a few weeks in lockdown. At first, I just pedaled my cheap, steel-framed bike around the neighborhood. After a few rides, It dawned on me that this was a mountain bike! So I took it to my closest trail.
That first exhilarating ride is forever etched into my memory. The early morning sun breaking between the trees as deer darted away, the sound of tires on packed earth, and the stupid grin on my face as I rode fast, flirting at the edge of disaster—or at least pain—with my inexperience on trails. I was hooked to the point of riding bike into the ground, taking a perverse pleasure every time something broke and I upgraded it. I eventually upgraded to a Trek Fuel EX 7, and I love it.
The Fuel EX is Trek’s full-suspension trail mountain bike family intended for various terrains, from flowy to techie. Like every model in Trek’s lineup, it comes in a large range of trim levels, including aluminum and carbon frames. (My EX 7 has an alloy frame.)
Currently, the EXe version is only available for the highest-specced 9.x bikes with carbon frames, but it is hoped that there will be an aluminum frame option in the near future.
Getting my hands on the Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS involved a two-hour drive to Trek HQ in Waterloo, Wisconsin. There, I not only had a chance to speak with members of the team that developed the Trek Fuel EXe, I also got to ride Trek’s private trails.
With the Fuel Exe, Trek is targeting the single-track mountain biker who rides for fun, fitness, and the outdoor experience. To achieve the look, feel, and even sound of a traditional mountain bike, Trek partnered with German technology company TQ. TQ’s patented harmonic pin-ring drive can deliver 50 Nm of torque in a tiny package that fits neatly behind the chainring.
The motor offers this torque at a low RPM as it achieves a large gear reduction in a single step. Its movement is akin to a Wankel rotary engine. With the battery pack hiding in the down tube and minimalistic controls, the entire battery-motor combo adds just 8.6 lbs to the weight—an impressively low-weight addition in exchange for some real power. My EX 7 weighs just under 32 lb; the EXe comes in at 38.5 lb. Pedal assist tops out at 20 mph.
The electronic features are well-integrated into the EXe. The display is simple and easy to read at a quick glance while on the trail. Its handlebar controls are simple and intuitive while allowing for quick cycling between the three assist modes, Eco, Mid, and High.
Customization is done through Trek’s new phone app, which offers customization of the three e-bike modes by tailoring max power, assist level, and pedal response. The app defaults for these modes shift each up through Eco, Mid, High. A couple of weeks into my time with the EXe, I tweaked the Mid settings to give me all the power with a mid-high assist, but in a gradual and controlled way. With these settings, I found my ride experience to mimic my analog bike very closely—just easier.