I’ve previously shared my thoughts on my custom Fuel Ex 9.9…
Saturday, we did a 40 mile road ride (on the Madone, of course), which I’ll write about separately at some point…and in the afternoon, I headed up to Kettle Morraine with a good friend, to do a lap on the mountain bike.
I was pretty hammered after 40 miles on the road, a significant chunk of which was spent rocking at full speed, with a strong group of riders…but the weather was beautiful (80 and sunny), and I couldn’t wait to spend some more time on the Fuel.
I have to tell you, it may be the greatest bike I’ve ever ridden. It is so incredible to ride–so confidence inspiring–it’s amazing. The Madone is a great bike. But honestly, the gains in speed I have on the Madone over previous road bikes I’ve had were marginal–if you’re looking at the gains solely attributable to the bike. My Moots is a great bike–but again, compared to previous gravel bikes I’ve had–marginal gains. Marginal gains do make a huge difference over a full day in the saddle…and even if the gains are marginal, I’m in no rush to go back to earlier bikes I’ve had. But there’s something truly different about the Fuel.
It makes me a better rider.
I ride at a comfort level on the Fuel that I’ve never had on any previous mountain or fatbike. Unless you’re in sand (more on that below), the grip seems endless. I’m running about 30psi in the tires (tubeless), recommended pressure in the shock based on sag, recommended pressure in the fork based on weight, and the bike just shreds. The harder I push, the tighter it turns. It’s the perfect bike for my mountain biking.
The XTR 1×11 drivetrain is perfect. For midwest climbs, plenty of gearing. Shifting is perfectly intuitive–think about a gear change and it’s already happened.
The XTR Trail brakes are literally braking perfection. The levers are perfectly shaped for one-finger braking, the brakes work consistently on every stop from first to last, they don’t squeal, they don’t fade, they don’t change consistency. They don’t require bleeding, they don’t warp, they don’t do anything bad. They just do everything you ask of them, perfectly.
The RS-1 fork took some getting used to–you can’t set pressure based on sag. (Pressure ends up way to low). But if you use the weight chart, it’s just buttery perfection on every surface. My RS-1 is laced up with Sapim CX-Ray spokes to an ENVE XC rim…and it’s like having a surgical scalpel. Wherever you think about putting your front tire, it’s there. The level of detail and precision in the handling is amazing. That surgical steering precision is combined with buttery shock absorption that is disconcerting at first–but when you get used to it, it’s just amazing. It’s the best fork I’ve ever ridden–made better by stunning wheels.
The DRCV shock does its DRCV thing in a totally transparent fashion. You just use the travel on the bike–no sagging, no hopping, no bottoming out. It just crushes whatever obstacle you ride over, and you don’t feel anything averse from the saddle.
The dropper post took some getting used to, and some effort to get properly working, but now it’s fine. Honestly, I don’t really use it much. I have it set so that at full height, I’m at full cycling extension (road bike saddle height). I tend to drop it about 3/4″ from there, and just leave it set. That gives me enough leg extension for comfort and power, but enough saddle clearance to move around and get in front of or behind the saddle. For my purposes, a carbon post would be lighter and less complex. But it’s on there, and it works, so I’m not changing anything just yet.
I spent years screwing around with Ergon grips, and getting hand cramps at the end of a long day of biking. On the Fuel, I have a set of ESI Chunky foam grips. Stupid simple, stupid cheap, stupid comfortable. I’ve chewed up the ends a bit from some narrow trails, but when they need replacement, it won’t be a shock to the bank account.
In short, this bike allows me to ride faster, and more comfortably, than any other mountain bike I’ve ever owned, or test-ridden…and that’s quite a big swath of bikes. It just shreds. I brake less, carry more speed, feel more comfortable.
I suck in sand. I can’t figure out how to ride it, and Kettle has quite a bit. My front wheel pushes, I steer more, my front wheel grabs, and I oversteer off the trail. Or my front wheel pushes, I try to hold a steady line, and I understeer off the trail. I’m not sure if that’s technique, tire pressure, tire or a combination of all. I suspect it’s technique, but trying different things (more weight up front, less weight up front) didn’t seem to help. I have some reading to do there.
This is a rare circumstance where I can definitively say that I would be slower (and less comfortable) if I was on a different bike.
I continue to question the wisdom of those who do not ride full-suspension bikes. My good friend was on a new Trek Stache 29+, but even with 29×3″ tires, there were areas with roots and such where he had to get out of the saddle to pedal, or just to try to ride over stuff. In many instances, I was able to stay in the saddle, pedaling in comfort, letting my bike do the work for me. I had better traction and greater comfort, and in those areas, I made up ground on a faster rider because of my rear suspension. And this is such an incredible rear suspension. ABP helps prevent brake jack, and whatever the anti-squat geometry built into this thing is, it just plain works. The Superfish avoided squat by having very little travel. The new Spearfish and (Horsethief, and all of Salsa’s other FS bikes) uses the Split Link rear suspension. Every brand has their own thing. The Trek rear suspension is simple in design, simple to maintain, elegant, and it just plain works. It doesn’t get any better than that.
I know. I’m not a former BMX’er, and I just don’t get the hardtail life. C’est la vie.
With the possible exception of the seatpost, if I was ordering a new all-purpose mountain bike tomorrow, I would change nothing about it. Nothing. It’s just perfect.
If I was moving to the Rockies tomorrow, I’d throw a 2x XTR drivetrain up front, and change nothing else.
If I was doing an XC race, I’d change nothing.
Really–it’s an incredible bike.