Monday, August 01, 2005

New Bike: Trek FuelEX 9 WSD

Posted on behalf of Chipmunk...

Having ridden a Marin Rock Springs for three years and never really feeling 100% confident or comfortable(!) we decided that it was time to look around for a replacement. It's also reasurring to see that manufacturer's are now gradually expanding their range of women specific rides. A rough short list had us looking for; Trek FuelEX9 WSD, Scott Genius Contessa, Specialized FSR XC (& Comp) Womens.

It took a while to locate any local bike shops that stocked women's bikes let alone those that we willing to let us have a test ride. Eventually our perseverence paid off tho as Pitsford Cycles had a medium/16" Trek FuelEX9 WSD demo available. A number of laps around the lake later and mucho fiddling with the settings by Farqui (can't he leave anything alone!) and we'd found a machine that felt much more stable, was easier to pedal (with less bob), lighter and much more comfortable. The Rockshox Poploc system on both the front and rear shock really rewards all your pedalling efforts in the locked out position and even Farqui had trouble keeping up on a blast over the damn. Whilst there, we found that another lady had just test ridden a Specialized FSR XC Women's and even tho they'd just put down a deposit she was kind enough to let me have a spin around the car park. Compared to the FuelEX it didn't feel as immediately comfortable but it did have a crackin' saddle! - a lady's BG2.

We managed to kick tyres and whiz around the car park on a Scott Genius Contessa over at Rutland Cycling but as it was their display model we weren't allowed to venture around the lake. A few more calls and the most helpful Buckingham Bikes were able to source a medium Contessa for a weekend demo. A return trip to Pitsford allowed us to compare the FuelEX against the Contessa over the same terrain and overall I'd have to report that the Scott felt more nimble, racy and had the most un-female friendly saddle on the planet ! The 3 position, adjustable rear shock was good and made a marked difference to the ride.

A couple more return visits to Pitsford comfirmed that the medium FuelEX was top of the shopping list, especially after trying the smaller 14" which felt much too cramped. Shopping around we found that Cycle Surgery were offering us the best deal and although supply was thin (with new stock on the horizon at this time of year) they were confident that they'd be able to source one. A few weeks later and Rob graciously collected my new ride which was in fine health apart from a sick rear wheel, which was temporarily replaced with a nasty, heavy Specialised unit Trek could source a replacement a week or so later. The first few rides around our familiar local trails were very encouraging and so much easier than my old bike.

A few weeks on and I felt that cockpit was perhaps a little cramped. As the original stem was only 70mm we sourced a 120mm replacement which calmed down the steering nicely. After a couple more rides, I still thought that the cockpit could be made a little longer so the 5mm layback seatpost was swapped out for a 20mm. The next ride was around the unfamiliar territory of Sherwood Pines and I immediately felt much more relaxed and almost 100% more confident, if that's possible. That such subtle adjustments can alter the ride so much is quite amazing. Reading the latest magazine review of a women's FuelEX it appears that this is not an uncommon complaint which is comforting that we already understood the issue.

The only other adjustment has been to fit a Specialized BG2 women's saddle like the one I briefly tried on the FSR XC. The original Bontrgager saddle was exchanged at the point of sale for a Specialized Dolce which looked comfortable but still left me with hot spots.

So I'm now the very proud owner of a bike that I find hard to fault. It's pimped out with carbon loveliness, top flight Shimano bits, reliable Rockshox suspension and I've found that I even like the Shimano integrated, flippy shifter thingies - which drives Farqui nuts when he's trying to setup the gears, hehe.


Farqui said...


* Frame Size: Medium - FuelEX9 WSD
* Frame Year: 2005
* Frame Colour (Ano): Blue
* Shock: RockShox MC3
* Fork: Rockhox Reba (dual air, Poploc, QR, bossless, silver)
* Brakes: Shimano XT Integrated (160/160mm)
* Brake Levers: as above (std Shimano lines)
* Cranks: Shimano XT Hollowtech II (170mm)
* Shifters: Shimano XT Integrated
* Front Derailleur: Shimano XT
* Rear Derailleur: SShimano XT
* Chain: Shimano
* Pedals: Time Z
* Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite (120mm x 7, black)
* Handlebar: Bontrager Race X Lite (carbon, oversize, black)
* Seat post: Bontrager Race X Lite (carbon, 330mm x 30.6mm x 20mm layback, black)
* Seat post Collar: Bontrager (black, 30.6mm)
* Saddle: Specialized BG2 Womens
* Bottom Bracket: Shimano XT Hollowtech II
* Cassette: Shimano XT
* Headset: Bontrager (black)
* Grips: Bontrager
* Tyres: Bontrager ACX (2.2, kevlar, tubeless ready, black)
* Tubes: yup
* Hubs/Skewers: DT Swiss Disc (black, splined disc) / Bontrager QR (black, ti)
* Rims: Bontrager Race X Lite
*** Build Weight: 27lbs (without Pedals)

Dan Howell said...

Well I test-rode an EX9 (non-WSD) today as a potential replacement to the Marin I lost a few months ago. I didn't think it really warranted a complete blog entry - I'll leave that until/if I buy one!

Spec was pretty much identical bar the pedals and the saddle. So what did I think?!

Well, to end on a high-note, let's get the negatives out of the way.

Firstly, I don't like this flippy flappy LX brake lever shifters, sorry. It's just the long downward travel to change up that I don't get on with. It's far to much of a conscious effort for my liking. It also makes the whole lever feel loose and wobbly. This doesn't affect braking performance in the slightest, but it's just offputting.

Bottom bracket height was another thing I noticed is lower than the Marin - on paper, and out in the field too. Clonking pedals on the mildest of rides around Sutton Park was a bit of a surprise.

I picked it up from Red Kite Cycles in Solihull and it was set up for someone much heavier than me, such that I ended up taking a good few psi out of both the front and rear shocks. This very much improved it, but it still rode like a hard-tail compared to the Marin.

On the positives, then, it climbs like a bastard :). However it felt like there was such little travel and cushioning in the back end that it was hardly surprising. As a sprinter, it was great. But clattering down the rough stuff, it really felt like there was a lack of travel and cushioning. The "lockout" never got used once and seemed to make feck all difference, so I fear I could have taken even more pressure out of the rear shock and seen a lot more benefit.

The bars are quite wide and the whole bike has much more of a racer feel to it than the Marin (as it should; these are clearly meant to be very different bikes). I'm not sure it suited me, in all fairness. It felt very much like my old Merlin Malt 1 hard tail - very nimble, very nervous and very light - great when you need it, but belting down a rough, uncertain downhill track with ruts and roots, I was never confident in the front end. It would buck and skip over everything, the Bonty tyres spitting back at me.

I'll have a chat with them at the shop and if it can be made to be a little more pliable all round, and slower on the front, I'd probably consider it perfect. As it stands, I'm erring towards the super-plush, take-on-the-world ride of the Marin; it was just so confidence inspiring that what it lacked in out'n'out flickability it made up for in it's ability to go through or over just about anything.

Don't get me wrong, the EX9 was a fantastic little hooner - so easy to pull some air over the smallest of hops - but just remember the racey XC market it's aimed at...

Dan Howell said...

Whoops - that's of course :S

Farqui said...

It looks like you had an interesting wkend Brumster.

Chipmunk really appreciates the brisk ride and its an appropriate choice for her as she's not into anything knarly.

If the Poploc didn't make much difference then I expect that you're right, those pressures need lowering a tad more. I'm thinking of sabotaging Chippy's 'cos when a tarmac section comes along she rips it. Fortunately not for too long ;-)

At the very least it's highlighted traits that you appreciate in an off roader e.g. pedal clearance, relaxed geometry and sure footed.

Perhaps the Trek Liquid or Remedy with a more travel might be more your style ?

Phew, I'm glad it's not just me that doesn't get on with flippy shifters. Hehe, I got into all sorts of trouble yesterday for fiddlin with Chippy's rear mech - cos it then shifted like cr@p. Little did I know that it was one of these racey low-normal rear mech's which works back to front !

Farqui said...

Dose sir have any more steeds on his "to test" list ?

Dan Howell said...

Just a Remedy, really, and if that doesn't sell me then a quick ride on a newer Marin just to make sure they changes to head angles and BB heights hasn't ruined it. The way we're going, I'm starting to cringe away from 4" bikes as I'm thinking 5+ is the way to go.

Makes the Turner a constantly more interesting option :D

Rob said...

Very interesting review of the Ex-9, pretty much what you'd expect as the bike is not one of the latest crop of FreeXC's. It's much more about speed which it does very well as you say. The sus was clearly quite badly set up, esp the locks, they should reduce travel to fixed 1in but are fiddly to set up. Shame you didn't get chance to really appreciate the excellent speed and comfort compromise this bike offers. It's still a hard act to follow for this sort of money.

For some reason many of these bikes are pumped up for guy the gorilla by the shop. I tried a Santa that I couldn't get to deflect at all front or back!!

Sounds like Turner/ Santa/ Intense etc is more up your street, they manage to achive that plush ride without totally binning the speed.

The low normal is fab but I use it with rapid fire, strange I know but I stumbled across this freaq combination and wouldn't consider going back.

Dual control is an acquired taste for sure, not compatible with Hope, Avid, Magura etc is my objection. Riding a Cannondale teaches you the pain of proprietary parts and tools!!

Have you tried the EX8? Same as, but minus the bling and the bling price tag. If you can live a carbon fibre free existence and don't like DC anyway you could fit Rapid fire and Juicy 7? LX is so much easier to take off than XT!!

Dan Howell said...

Yeah, if I was going the Trek route it wouldn't be an EX9 - the EX8 would fit the bill much better (no pun intended). Probably the lack of carbon and a little more weight might actually do it some favours (in terms of my requirements, I mean).

I can appreciate it's strengths - but the time I want a bike to shine is in the tough, serious stuff like Afan/Coed/etc. I can look back at Afan earlier in the year and safely say I would have been crapping myself in a few certain places if I'd been doing it on this thing!

Again, I guess it's only fair to remember I'd only had it a couple of days and I'm sure a bit more tweaking would have improved it further - but I think, as an overal impression, it's not the sort of bike I'm after.

Farqui said...

Yikes to "low-normal", another acquired taste. Much like calamari...

Good points about the EX8. I know that Brumster likes SRAM shifters.

It sounds like he's swinging (ahem) to something with a bit more travel, along the lines of a Scott Genius MC, Trek Remedy (aka Liquid), Specialized Stumpy FSR, 5Spot, etc.

Farqui said...

Quote "...I can look back at Afan earlier in the year and safely say I would have been crapping myself in a few certain places if I'd been doing it on this thing!"

Hehe, I rekon all the Posse experienced at least one of "those" moments at some point during the wkend. Bring it on !

Farqui said...

SheCycles have recently posted a very favourable review of the FuelEX9 WSD.