First released to the world in the second half of 2022, Trek is the latest big industry player to debut an e-mountain bike that favours a lightweight battery, lower output motor and ride characteristics similar to that of an analogue trail bike.
Named the Fuel EXe, the lightweight e-bike is based on the brand's wildly popular Fuel EX line of trail bikes and features a host of similarities to its unpowered sibling. In this video, we’ll take you through what we liked, what we didn’t and exactly who this modern trail e-mountain bike is aimed at.
Who’s it for?: Anyone in the market for an e-mountain bike that is so similar to a traditional mountain bike in terms of its ride characteristics that it's almost imperceptible aside from where it counts.
What’s it cost?: AU$9,499.99, As tested.
What we liked: The drive unit and battery system are up there with the best we’ve experienced, excellent ride characteristics and playful geometry.
What we didn’t: Entry-level components let the bike down, as does the lack of adjustable suspension at the frame and fork.
A Solid Foundation
While Trek isn’t the first brand to release a lightweight e-mountain bike, the Fuel EXe represents a significant shift in how brands approach e-mountain bikes. When first introduced, the e-mountain bike was all about being big. Big batteries, big power outputs, long wheelbases, and big weight. While there is still a place for these more traditional rigs, nowadays, riders are seeking something that offers the benefits of an e-bike without the downsides, and with the Fuel EXe, Trek may have nailed that brief.
The mechanical components of the Fuel EXe mirror that of a traditional, modern trail bike. The steed rolls on 29-inch hoops wrapped with 2.5” rubber front and rear, while 150mm of suspension is found at the fork, with 140mm of rear travel also present, slightly up on the regular Fuel EX. Trail-spec specific 4-piston brake callipers are found across the entire range, with our 9.5 model using post-mounted Tektro Orion 4P callipers front and rear.
12-speed drivetrains also feature across the entire range, with our entry-level unit utilising a Shimano Deore 1x set-up mated to an eThirteen Espec 34T crankset. Out back, an 11-51T cassette provides a wide spread of gears.
Touchpoints come courtesy of the in-house brand, Bontrager, with a 750mm wide alloy bar, 50mm stem, and MTB-specific Arvada saddle all featuring. A TransX dropper seatpost with 170mm of travel on our Size Medium test bike finishes the build.
Making full use of the lack of compromise needed with the svelte drive unit and battery, the geometry of the Fuel EXe is best described as balanced. Highlights include a 440mm chainstay length, which is impressive given the bike's ability to take 27.5” and 29er wheels and its 2.5” worth of tyre clearance. The rear wheel uses a Boost 148 standard, so the chainline won’t feel too quirky if you’re coming from an analogue trail bike.
Much like the regular Fuel EX, the EXe uses Trek’s Mino link, allowing riders to adjust the bike's geometry if their ride style, bike set-up or trails dictate. While admittedly, we found the standard 64.7º head angle, 76.7º seat angle and 38.5mm drop adequate for our needs, steepening the angles by 0.5º and raising the bottom bracket by 7mm may be required if riders opt to run the Fuel EXe in mullet mode (29er front, 27.5” rear) or swap out the front fork for a longer 160mm travel unit.
The Electrical Party Piece
Utilising a unique german made TQ drive unit, the all-new Fuel EXe markets itself as one of the quietest and lightest e-mountain bikes available. The HPR50 drive unit delivers a maximum of 50Nm of torque and a peak power output of 300 watts. However, it's inside the unit that the point of difference lies. Said to comprise just two moving parts, TQ claims that the HPR tips the scales at just 1.85kg, lighter than its direct competition in the Specialized 1.1 (1.95kg) and significantly lighter than its big brand competitors, Bosch (Performance Line CX - 2.79kg) and Shimano (EP8 - 2.6kg). The lighter weight and lack of moving parts also have a secondary benefit of quieter operation. Trek claims the tonality, as in the electrical whirring sound of the drive unit, has been significantly reduced as a result, as has the peak dB, or volume emitted from the motor.
The Trek Fuel EXe is available in three different levels locally. The 9.5 (tested) will set riders back $9,499 and is available in either matte grey or blue. The 9.7 is priced at $11,499, while the range-topping 9.8 will be available for $13,499 in a single deep smoke colourway.
From the first moment you throw a leg over the bike, you know that something is different, yet familiar with the EXe. With an aesthetic that closely resembles its acoustic sibling, it has a real wolf in sheep's clothing vibe about it. One of the main benefits of this lightweight aesthetic is that it is actually physically lightweight… for an e-mountain bike, at least. This meant that simple things like putting it in the car or loading it onto a car bike rack are much easier than other e-bikes I’ve tried.
The travel and geometry combination makes it playful and easy to maneuver. However, the extra weight of the e-bike has some side effects, some positive and some negative. For example, braking needs to be much more precise and calculated on fast trails featuring technical turns so you don’t overcook the corner. Additionally, the extra weight is noticeable on tighter sections of the trail, making it harder to correct if you are not in a good position.
On the flip side, thanks to the extra weight, the additional stability on offer means that the Fuel EXe is an amazingly fun and wickedly fast descender. I could carry much more momentum on flowing sections of the trail, and it generally felt more planted at speed than my regular bike, which carried through to just about every trail around my local area. With the assistance, a couple of pedal strokes are enough to get back to speed whenever you are about to hit a feature, get out of a tight corner or hunt along a flat section.
The motor on this bike is what makes it so interesting. It is barely noticeable when looking at the bike, but it’s even more impressive when riding it. In operation, the TQ THR-50 drive unit is so quiet that it is easily drowned out by the sound of your tyres rolling beneath you, making it audibly unnoticeable. Throw in the maximum assistance of 300 watts and 50Nm of torque on offer, and this bike can climb anything the trail throws at you.
Most of the time, I found myself riding in the eco and a blended mode. Not only because it was enough assistance for me, but it also had the added benefit of battery saving, allowed me to get some exercise done, and stay with my other mates that weren’t riding e-bikes. By doing this, I was getting around 3-3.5 hours of battery life, which I found was more than enough as my body’s energy drained faster than the battery.
To reduce the so-called battery anxiety, Trek has included some interesting features that provide peace of mind when thinking about the battery range. First is the companion app, which allows riders to tweak the settings of the drive unit to eke out that extra little bit of life for the range anxious or turn the wick up, to maximise the power output. Trek also offers a range extender that adds 160 Wh of power to extend your range by up to 44%. Priced at $899, the range extender is claimed to provide an additional 1.5 hours of trail time when used in blended mode. However, it does take the place of the sole bottle mount on the bike.
If I’m honest, everything on this bike is so on-point that its components were the only downside. Despite commanding a price of $9500, the 9.5 tested here is the base model and comes with somewhat entry-level components. When you combine a top-of-the-game motor, battery and frame with entry-level components, the magic of the bike does kind of disappear a little, if I’m being completely honest. If I had this bike in my stable, I’d swap out the fork for something with more travel, upgrade the brakes, and add an adjustable shock at the frame.
However, the stock components do their job. I didn’t like the Tektro brakes; even though they feature 4-piston callipers and have decent braking power, they lack the modulation and finesse of more expensive units. The same goes for the RockShox fork and frame suspension. They lack tuneability, which I think is essential when riding heavier bikes.
I truly believe that you should fall in love every time you look at your bike. This will make you want to ride it more. And for me, this is one of the strongest points of the EXe. It looks clean and classy and will pass as an analogue bike for the untrained eye.
Most people I rode with didn’t know I was riding an E-Bike until they saw the screen on the top tube. If I think ahead to the mountain bikes of the future, I see more bikes like the EXe popping up on the trails, and for good reason. Simply put, this is the type of bike that has the power to turn nonbelievers into E-Bike riders.
Thanks to Trek Australia for providing the bike for this review. This review is not sponsored, and all thoughts and opinions are our own.