I used to be a huge Cannondale fan, but not anymore. After they went hell for leather with their awesome dirt and supermoto motorcycles at the end of the 1990’s, they went bankrupt and were owned by a few people, and finally Pacific—who owns lots of Wal-Mart type brands—acquired them. Some of their bikes are really cheap now, and most just look chintzy and plasticky to me.
Trek is my new pet—I especially like their old road bikes, with simple steel frames and their classic logos. This summer, I had a chance to ride one of their finest, the Fuel EX 9.5.
I’d been waiting for months, wondering what it would be like to step astride one of America’s finest bikes. It was going to come with carbon bits, magnesium bits, wildly sophisticated suspension, and two big discs.
When it arrived, I pulled it out of the box and got to savor each component before I assembled the thing. Glossy carbon shifter pods held carbon levers to carbon bars clamped by a carbon stem, spaced by carbon spacers away from the carbon frame. Somehow the grain even matched. The rear derailleur had a carbon plate on it, and the seatpost was carbon too. As Elliott VanOrman would say, “I got a fever and the only prescription is more carbon!”
As I finished assembling it, I poured over the big magnesium link that was in the rear suspension, the concentric rear-axle/pivot arrangement which supposedly isolates the rear suspension from braking forces (to allow better bump absorption during braking), and the massive machined aluminum adjustment knobs on the Fox shocks. The finish of all the components was quite fantastic. It looked like a piece of jewelry.
It also looked like a weapon, color-matched all black with red and white accents. The Bontrager components definitely let you know who made them, and included the wheels, hubs, tires, seat, seat collar, bars, and stem. Shimano made only the crankset, chain/cassette, and front derailleur. Avid brakes and rotors rounded out the package.
First time out on it, I entered a race on an extremely rocky course in upper Manhattan—on a trail that in parts is as bad as a beginners observed trials course. Even the riders on high-end full-suspension bikes gawked at the Trek. At the beginning of the race though, the suspension felt awkward (my normal steed is a fully rigid Cannondale M700 from 1992). I was steering around the bumps and throwing my weight around, and the suspension would rebound just when I was about to hit another rock, and I would lose momentum. By the end of the second lap, however, I began to ride straight through the bumps, lean back a little, and would pedal through them. This put the suspension to much better use, and it worked with the bumps a lot better.
On the faster, less technical trails of Blue Mountain, NY (just up the Hudson from NYC), the bike really came into its own. There was one fire road littered with softball sized rocks—and it was the same story as before. Weaving through them would upset the suspension and cause a loss of momentum. Powering straight through—absolutely flat out—would allow the suspension to smooth out the rocks and get the power to the ground—it just sucked up the bumps, and didn’t bob much when the It was an incredible feeling, so thoroughly different from a rigid bike. I took it off a few 3-4 foot drops and—predictably—it didn’t skip a beat. I suspect it could take a lot more.
I love simple bikes, but it was a treat to ride this most complicated of Treks. I liked showing up to a race on the sickest bike for once, and to intimidate my competition before the race even started. And for rough, long races, I’d not prefer to be aboard any other package.
Here are a few of my favorite details. I especially like the swirls on the cable housing and the hollow bottom bracket spindle.