Review: Trek’s 2023 EX-e fuel is light and almost completely silent

Technical Report

TQ HPR50 Engine: You know Trek and TQ are on to something special when you watch someone with high standards and low expectations jump on this bike and come back in awe at how quiet the engine will be. Hats off to the two teams that built this bike. It’s a well lubricated machine and you didn’t miss a thing, even with heavy rain and lots of bike washing without taking precautions. You know exactly what to expect when you step on the pedals or let it go. This small harmonic ring motor unit is the golden goose of e-bike motors.

Bontrager SE5 Team Edition tires: The Bontrager SE5 tires, though, dampen the stellar monocoque mind of the EX-e fuel. They work decently in dry dirt, but during the rainy summer we spent at the Squamish they quickly set out on polished roots and sparkling rocks. The rounded profile on the Line 30mm wide bezels means leaning on the side lugs is commitment and time to reach. I replaced them early on with something more creative to unlock what the bike was really capable of.

Bontrager Raceshop SLR bars: I dig the monocular look of the one-piece rod and stem – thankfully there are no integral cables. 6’s and 7’s up and back bend may not be the most common, but I handled it well with a straight back bend. Although I did notice a little more pressure on my palm than usual. Most rods tilt 5 degrees high and can be rolled into the stem clamping surface to your liking. Initially, I removed the hand fatigue to the lower front end, but it might be worth considering the slip grips if you start to feel uncomfortable here. I’ve also cut the width from 820mm to 770 and have never felt it too stiff.

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RockShox Super Deluxe: This shock in combination with the kinematics of the suspension is an exceptional phenomenon. There is a lot of scope for twisting the dials and it’s not overly complicated. No matter the size of the impact, the shock ate it all with tolerance and support when needed, using just the perfect amount of travel. I’d go far enough to say that, apart from the engine, it’s the most prominent component on the bike.

How do you compare?

To be fair, there aren’t many other bikes in this lightweight e-MTB class, at least from the major brands. The two main players before the Fuel EX-e hit the scene were the Orbea Rise and Specialized Turbo Levo SL. The Rise uses Shimano’s full-size EP8 engine, but has been modified for power and runs on a smaller battery, while the Levo SL uses a different engine than its big “S” e-MTB siblings. All three contenders come in carbon-framed offerings and hover around the 18-19 kilogram mark.

They are drastically different from levels of power delivery, output, and noise. The Shimano motor on the Rise has a lot of jam, but it’s the least accurate and the gears make a lot more on the slopes. The Rise frame geometry also has a more conservative feel with a steeper head angle of 65.5 degrees. The Levo SL, on the other hand, doesn’t have extreme geometry and minimal engine output emits a tone louder than the Rise. Its power delivery is smoother than the Rise’s, though all three bikes can be tuned via apps.

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Then there is also the cost factor. Yes, this high-spec fuel EX-e 9.9 XX1 AXS has all the carbon bells and whistles, but compared to its S-Works Turbo Levo SL equivalent, it comes in under the $14,000 mark. Both are well-equipped and very stylish bikes, but the extra power and minimal noise in the Fuel EX-e win out by a mile. Looking back on the Orbea, the price is reasonable, but the motor trades 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’s engine rides under the yellow carbon carpet in a silent way you barely know it’s there. You should also consider the torque density and packing. Look at her – she is small and strong.

The only way I could see it getting better is to put the AXS derailleur back into its battery pack and use a similarly sized remote on the ECU without wires. I know this goes against the pill of connecting all of these machines to a central power bank, but I’d rather get rid of those little wires before getting rid of them on the way.

Turbo Levo SL: 35 Nm
Orbia Height: 60 Nm
Trek Fuel EX-e: 50 Nm

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

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