Review: Trek’s 2023 Fuel EX-e Is Light & Nearly Completely Silent

Technical Report

TQ HPR50 Motor: You know Trek and TQ are onto something special when you watch someone with high standards and low expectations jump on this bike and come back in awe of just how damn quiet the motor is. Hats off to the two teams who built this bike. It’s a well-oiled machine and hasn’t missed a beat, even in torrential downpours and plenty of bike washing with no precautions taken. You know exactly what to expect when you stand on the pedals or let off for that matter. That tiny harmonic pin ring drive unit is the golden goose of e-bike motors.

Bontrager SE5 Team Issue Tires: Holding back the stellar singletrack mind of the Fuel EX-e are the Bontrager SE5 tires though. They work decently in dry dirt, but through the rain-soaked summer we’ve had in Squamish they quickly spun out on polished roots and glistening rock. Their round profile on the Line 30mm wide rims meant that leaning on the side lugs commitment and time to reach. I swapped them early on for something with more tackiness to unlock what the bike was really capable of.

Bontrager Raceshop SLR bars: I dig the unibrow look of the one-piece bar and stem – thankfully there are no integrated cables. The 6 and 7-degree up and backsweep might not be the most common, but I got along well with the straighter backwards bend. Although, I did notice a little more pressure on my palms than normal. Most bars tend to have a 5-degree upsweep and can be rolled in the stem clamping surface to your liking. Initially, I chalked up the hand fatigue to the low front end, but it might be worth thinking about slip-on grips if you start to feel discomfort here. I also trimmed the width down from a whopping 820mm to 770 and never felt like they were too stiff.

Rock Shox Super Deluxe: This shock in combination with the suspension kinematics is phenomenal. There’s plenty of range to twist the dials and it’s not overly complicated. No matter the size of the impact, the shock ate it all with forgiveness and support when needed, only ever using the perfect amount of travel. I’d go far enough to say that, aside from the motor, it’s the standout component on the bike.

How Does It Compare?

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of other bikes in this lightweight e-MTB category, at least from mainstream brands. The two main players before the Fuel EX-e arrived on the scene were the Orbea Rise and the Specialized Turbo Levo SL. The Rise uses Shimano’s full-size EP8 motor, but it has been de-tuned in terms of power and runs off of a smaller battery, while the Levo SL uses a different motor than its full-powered e-MTB siblings from the big” S”. All three competitors come in carbon-framed offerings and hover around the 18-19 kilogram mark.

Where they are drastically different are the power delivery, output, and noise levels. The Shimano motor in the Rise has plenty of jam, but it is the least refined and the gears rattle considerably on the descents. The Rise frame geometry also has a more conservative feel with a steeper 65.5-degree head angle. On the other hand, the Levo SL doesn’t have extreme geometry and the minimal motor output emits a higher pitch whine than the Rise. Its power delivery is smoother than the Rise, although all three bikes can be tuned via apps.

Then there’s also the cost factor. Yes, this top-spec Fuel EX-e 9.9 XX1 AXS has all of the bells and carbon whistles, but compared to the equivalent Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo SL, it comes in under the $14K mark. They are both well-finished bikes that are very sleek, but the extra power and minimal noise of the Fuel EX-e wins out by a mile. Looking back at the Orbea, the price is reasonable, but the motor trades a boost in power for a less polished experience.

Simply put, nothing comes close to the Fuel EX-e when you paint the picture of the mountain bike experience as a whole. Up and down the hill, the TQ motor rides along under the yellow carbon carpet in such a hush manner that you’d barely know it’s there. You also have to factor in the torque density and packaging. Look at it – it’s tiny and powerful.

The only way I could see it improving would be to revert the AXS derailleur back its own battery pack and use a similar size remote on the motor assist controller for zero wires. I know that goes against the grain of tying all those servos to a central power bank, but I’d prefer to eliminate those tiny wires before they get eliminated on the trail.

Turbo Levo SL: 35Nm
Orbea Rise: 60 Nm
Trek Fuel EX-e: 50Nm

Turbo Levo SL: 320 Wh + 160 ext.
Orbea Rise: 360 Wh + 252 ext.
Trek Fuel EX-e: 360 Wh + 160 ext.


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