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The Lightest Production Bike in the World: Trek Émonda
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On the eve of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate, Yorkshire, Trek presented its all-new Émonda bike to the World. At just 10.25lb (4.65kg) for the SLR 10 version – with Bontrager’s new Blendr bar/stem combination, a SRAM Red groupset and a host of lightweight Tune components – it truly lives up to Trek’s claim that it is the “World’s lightest production bike”.
Ben Atkins/Photos: Trek
According to Trek’s Road Product Manager Ben Coates, “the 10lb bike idea had been thrown around for a while” and, after three years of development, it has become a reality.
The name comes from the French verb ‘émonder,’ which means to prune, or to trim away, because Trek has trimmed away as much weight as it can whilst leaving a frame robust enough to enjoy the Wisconsin company’s lifetime warranty. Despite pairing the SLR down to just 690 grams for a painted 56cm frame, the Émonda comes with the same hefty 275lb rider weight limit as Trek’s other top models.
“The idea was; we have the resources to build a complete bike system. Let’s use that advantage to look at every aspect of the bicycle and how each component interacts with all the others,” Coates explains. “Once we covered the basic bike functions, we focused on every minute detail. Every decision was based on what was the overall lightest option for the system.”
Trek used the usual Finite Element Analysis, strain gauge instrumentation, and a custom-designed cornering computer model to trim away as much material deemed unnecessary as possible, but credits the testing of its Trek Factory Racing team riders – including Jens Voigt, Fränk and Andy Schleck, Markel Irizar, Stijn Devolder and Bob Jungels – riding iteration after iteration of different carbon layups and ride characteristics, before finally settling on a product that everybody was happy with.
“It’s lighter, it’s stiffer, it’s the best bike I’ve ever ridden. Accelerating this bike feels amazing.” said a clearly satisfied Jungles, who rode an unlabelled Émonda at this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné.
Like the 7-series Madone , the Émonda SSL is built to take direct-mount brakes but, along with the new frame, Bontrager has developed some new Speed Stop calipers, which save a claimed 35 grams each. the new frame also comes fitted with a new-generation DuoTrap S sensor in the non-drive side chain stay, which offers Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity for a variety of devices.
Rather than replace the Madone, the Émonda will sit alongside Trek’s existing frame line up, as part of a three-model invitation to “Choose Your Weapon.” The idea being that those wanting aerodynamics will go for the Madone, those wanting comfort will choose the Domane, while the Émonda is aimed squarely at those wanting light weight above all else.
While the 690 gram SLR level frame makes all the headlines for its super light figures, and stiffness-to-weight ratios, those with lower budgets are catered for with the SL (1050g) and S (1220g) frames. Aside from the less-svelte numbers, these differ from the SLR only in that they are built for conventional brakes, rather than direct-mount.
The frame has now been rolled out to the rest of the Trek Factory Racing team, and many of its riders are set to use it in the Tour de France, with former US champion Matthew Busche remarking: “It seems crazy that a bike can be that light.”
The Émonda is not just a super light dream bike, it is a full line of bicycles starting with the $1650 Émonda S4 that weighs 19.27lbs, to the $15750, 10.25lb Émonda SLR 10. An Émonda SLR frameset is $4200. They are available as H1 frames or with the taller, more relaxed H2 head tube and fit.
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Lightest 27.5 DH bike? TREK SESSION 9.9 27.5 19
This my my project dh bike, wanting it as light as possible, yet reliable, strong and good to ride. Ended up at 12.470kg witj the ht pedals(I swap between flats and spd, pics have spd. Starter in July 2019, finished build as is in June 2020, Big thank you to Ilja at dieenefotograaf.nl for the pictures and to all that helped realize this build.
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Best lightweight bikes 2023: Our pick of the lightest climbing bikes
The best lightweight bikes offer speed on the flat plus faster climbing on the steep stuff
Best lightweight bikes: quick list
How to choose.
Best lightweight bikes: quick list 1. Specialized S-Works Aethos 2. Cannondale LAB71 SuperSix Evo 3. Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 4. Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 5. Scott Addict RC Ultimate 6. Bianchi Specialissima RC 7. BMC Teammachine SLR 8. Trek Emonda SLR 9. Factor O2 VAM 10. Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 11. Cervelo R5 12. Wilier 0 SLR Disc 13. How to choose
The best lightweight bikes can now give you a great mix of low-weight and aerodynamic performance.
Gone are the days when you had to sacrifice efficiency and on-the-flat speed for an easier ride in the hills, with many lightweight bikes featuring among the best road bikes . The majority of these bikes and the components with which they're fitted give you aero benefits while still often coming close to or below the 6.8kg weight limit that the UCI imposes on its sanctioned competitions.
After a few years of disc brake-equipped race bikes being a little on the heavy side, it now seems the best race bikes are heading back down around the UCI weight limit mark whilst still retaining aero features and designs. The exception below is the Specialized Aethos, where aero gains have been sacrificed for out-and-out low weight. Specialized has carried over design features of the Aethos to the new Tarmac SL8 though, where you do get both.
The low overall weight of the best lightweight bikes is despite the general shift to disc brakes , which still weigh more than their rim brake counterparts. Bike brands have learned how to use the properties of disc brakes, and the thru-axles with which they almost always come, to build a lighter frame that's still as stiff as one using rim brakes. There are fewer physical constraints on disc brake wheel rims, with the best lightweight wheels saving even more weight.
Below, we run through our pick of the best lightweight bikes available today, followed by a short buyer's guide on what to look for when choosing.
Best non-aero lightweight bike
The Aethos achieves a 6.1kg weight in S-Works guise, although that means round tubes and external cables.
Read more below
The new SuperSix EVO is more aero than its predecessor and the top spec LAB71 frame is lighter too.
Best for ride comfort
The latest Tarmac SL8 manages to be lighter and more comfortable than the SL7 whilst being faster too.
Best Italian lightweight superbike
The new Bianchi Specialissima RC is more aero and more integrated, as well as lighter at 6.56kg.
Best for colour choices
At 6.86kg, the Emonda is light and Trek's Project One lets you choose from a huge range of colours.
Best value climber's bike
Canyon continues to offer great value with its bikes - the top spec Ultimate CFR builds weigh around 6.3kg.
Best lightweight bikes
You can trust Cyclingnews Our experts spend countless hours testing cycling tech and will always share honest, unbiased advice to help you choose. Find out more about how we test.
1. Specialized S-Works Aethos
Specifications, reasons to buy, reasons to avoid.
Rather than aiming for a bike that fitted conveniently with the UCI's rulebook, Specialized went all-in for a lightweight machine with the Aethos, resulting in a frame weighing just 585g +/- 5g for a size 56cm, and a full build, here with Shimano Dura-Ace, that weighs just 6.1kg.
Specialized has also majored in building a frame that's stiff in all the right places but shunned the lightweight/aero idiom with round tube profiles to keep the frame's weight to a minimum, resulting in what's claimed to be the lightest disc brake frameset available. It's also a pretty good-looking one.
The brand has bolted as many lightweight components as it can muster onto the S-Works model, with a set of 1,265g Roval Alpiniste CLX II wheels, a 9g 4iiii power meter and titanium bolts everywhere. It has retained a threaded bottom bracket though.
Geometry is the same as the Tarmac SL8 (see below), resulting in a ride that's as fast downhill and through corners as it is when the road tilts upwards.
Specialized Aethos early review
2. Cannondale LAB71 SuperSix Evo
A happy conjunction has seen Cannondale update its SuperSix Evo and release its premium LAB71 series bikes together at the start of 2023. The result is a fourth generation of Cannondale's lightweight/aero machine that's, well, more lightweight and more aero.
The LAB71 SuperSix Evo hits the UCI 6.8kg limit, with a painted size 56 frame weighing 770g. Although the geometry hasn't changed - no bad thing - aero tweaks have saved 12 watts. Cannondale incorporates a battery slot ahead of the bottom bracket, allowing it to fit a skinnier seatpost, for example. Like the Aethos, the SuperSix Evo also now sports a threaded bottom bracket.
Our first ride on the SuperSix Evo 4 around Girona displayed the bike's all-around characteristics: light on the climbs, fast on the flat, great handling on descents, lively when you want it to be but mellow when you ride easy.
Cannondale SuperSix Evo 4 first ride review
3. Giant TCR Advanced SL 0
Our expert review:
The TCR Advanced SL 0 is a world-class road race bike. All the metrics and the riding experience suggest it has managed to bring itself back in line with - if not ahead of - the competition. Price-wise, the TCR Advanced SL 0 is in the same ballpark as the S-Works Tarmac, Cannondale SuperSix EVO and Trek Emonda.
The TCR Advanced SL 0 misses out on a perfect score due to a couple of things. The negatives of the ISP outweigh the positives and the lack of a Dura-Ace build is something that will put many riders off.
All told, if you're forever chasing the final watt of energy, there will always be a new bike that claims to be faster, lighter, or better. If you're looking for a world-class bike that brilliantly blends weight, aerodynamics and efficiency, the Giant TCR is a bike you should consider every single time.
Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 review
4. Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8
The latest version of Specialized's hugely popular Tarmac retains the fantastic efficiency and handling of the SL7 while shedding weight. It's also more aero, thanks to the one-piece cockpit on higher spec models and the 'Speed Sniffer' headtube.
At the rear, Specialized has slimmed things out, using its expertise from the Aethos to reduce the seat tube's width. It says that aerodynamics are less of a priority here than at the front of the bike and that the skinnier sections add extra compliance.
With a size 56 frame weighing a claimed 685g, a full build at S-Works spec level has a claimed 6.8kg weight ready to ride, complete with pedals and bottle cages. Our short first ride suggested that the Tarmac SL8 is fast both on the flat and when climbing, with great power transfer.
Although the price tag is still hard to swallow, it's actually cheaper than its predecessor. There's not much depth to the range for those looking for a cheaper build though.
Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL8 first ride review
5. Scott Addict RC Ultimate
The Addict RC Ultimate unsurprisingly sits at the top of Scott's lineup. The frameset, which has been ridden by Roman Bardet and the rest of the DSM team, is built from Scott's HMX SL Carbon and forms aerofoil tube shapes for improved aerodynamics. Following the aero trend, Scott has also completely hidden all cables within a Syncros Combo Creston iC cockpit.
The Ultimate spec model comes with a pick of the best road bike components and features an SRAM Red AXS groupset (including power meter), Zipp 353 NSW wheels and Syncros carbon finishing kit. If the heavy price tag of the Ultimate is off-putting, Scott offers the same frame in a range of build specs down to mechanical Shimano Ultegra 11-speed to cater for more reasonable budgets too.
Check out our Scott Addict RC 15 review
6. Bianchi Specialissima RC
Bianchi has reworked the Specialissima, with improved aerodynamics and a weight that now sits at 6.56kg for a size 55 in top RC spec.
As with the Tarmac SL8, the front end is where the aero treatment has been greatest, with a one-piece cockpit and nose cone to the head tube, while weight is saved at the rear. Bianchi claims that the Specialissima will be faster than its Oltre aero bike at a relatively shallow gradient of between 4 and 6 per cent.
With its weight, it's no surprise that we found the Specialissima a formidable climber. Its aerodynamics also make it feel fast on shallower climbs and on the flat, while the inertia feels lower than when riding an aero bike.
Bianchi's wheels weigh a claimed 1,380g and the bike rolls on 26mm tyres, both of which help, although the tyres don't provide the feeling of cornering confidence or the comfort of wider options. The ride feels slightly jittery and the Specialissima feels more generic than Bianchi's heritage would indicate.
Bianchi Specialissima RC review
7. BMC Teammachine SLR 01
While the latest Teammachine R aero road bike grabs the headlines with its Formula One-derived tech, BMC will continue to sell the Teammachine SLR alongside it as a lighter-weight climber's bike.
Dropping the seat stays for improved comfort and aerodynamics is now a bike-design must-have, but the BMC commitment to progressive bicycle design is such that it debuted this feature back in 2010 on the Teammachine.
The latest generation Teammachine SLR inherits that bike's DNA but with an integrated cockpit and the usual lighter, faster, stiffer, more compliant combination. It's more aero thanks in part to the bottle cage design, but also the ICS carbon cockpit, although this only comes in two widths and six-length options, limiting adjustability.
BMC's D-shaped seatpost adds comfort - you can fit 30mm tyres if you want more. The frame design offers impressive power transfer thanks to its chunky down tube and bottom bracket, while the stack and reach are in the middle of the pack, making for a not-too-racy ride.
BMC Teammachine SLR review
8. Trek Emonda SLR
It should come as no surprise that Trek focused on improving the aerodynamics of the new Emonda. Trek is not alone in this with most brands also adding aero to their lightweight bikes, addressing the fact that aerodynamics are at the fore even when you’re not travelling 40kph on flat ground.
The frame sees truncated aerofoil sections to the fork legs, downtube, seat tube and seat stays which the brand says saves 183g of drag over the previous model. Interestingly the no-cut integrated seat mast is round, and so is the cap, which Trek says helps to retain compliance.
While 183g of drag is probably an abstract figure to anyone who doesn’t have an aerodynamicist within arm's reach, Trek has modelled how much time a rider would save up various famous climbs around the world riding at 350-watts on the 2018 Emonda vs the 2021 Emonda. The newer bike saves 15 seconds on Alpe D'Huez, 11 seconds on the Angliru, 21 seconds up the Stelvio, 80 seconds up the Taiwan KOM Challenge and 4 seconds up Willunga Hill.
For the latest edition of the Emonda, Trek has added a few new colour schemes to its Project One program : ICON, KOM and Ultimate. Our test sample is the latter, which allows you full creative licence over Trek’s colour palettes as well as tailoring every component. The yellow-to-pink fade is definitely Trek flexing its proverbial painting muscles, and the bike is anything but subtle.
Trek Emonda Project One gallery
9. Factor O2 VAM
The Factor O2 VAM Disc can easily hold its own against the segment's best road bikes. It's unquestionably light, superbly efficient on the flats and descends with predictability, sure-footedness and poise. Sure, there are faster bikes out there but unless you're riding at the highest level of the sport or testing it back-to-back against its rivals in a controlled environment those nuances are imperceptible to us mere mortals.
We said most people would probably be better served by the brand's more aero Ostro model, but if you are in the market for a stunning, lightweight bike that's fun to ride, the O2 VAM may be just the ticket.
We've completed our review of the latest generation Factor O2 VAM which launched earlier in the year. Factor claims that it improves on its predecessor's aerodynamics by 12 watts in its wind tunnel tests and that it is 35 per cent stiffer than the previous generation bike.
Factor O2 VAM review
10. Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0
The fifth generation of the Canyon Ultimate is available in three guises. We tested the SLX with Canyon's mid-spec carbon, but head up to the CFR frame and you can expect a weight of around 6.3kg - and it's still not as expensive as most of the bikes here.
Our test bike came with Ultegra 12-speed (with a 4iiii power meter) and DT Swiss ARC 1400 Dicut db wheels but still weighed in at a featherweight 7.4kg with pedals. All specs get the same adjustable-width bar/stem as used on the Canyon Aeroad, there's a D-shaped seatpost and 32mm tyre clearance. There is also a wide range of sizes available, with smaller frames coming with 650b wheels for similar handling to the larger sizes which run on 700c wheels.
We found that the Ultimate shone uphill, particularly when things got steep, with a stiff frame and weight distribution that gets you more over the pedals than some other options. With aero flourishes, it ticks along happily on the flat too, although the handling is on the edgier side.
Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 review
11. Cervelo R5
The Cervelo R5's latest makeover has resulted in a 16 per cent reduction in frame weight to a claimed 703g. It is also perhaps the only bike to have got less stiff in its latest iteration, Jumbo-Visma riders demanding more comfort. Although pedalling efficiency hasn't decreased, the new headtube and fork design are claimed to increase compliance.
Otherwise, the R5 has the classic looks of a road bike, even as other bike makers have moved on to dropped stays. The pros' results prove that despite the slightly retro looks, this is still a high-performance bike though.
The frame is electronic groupset compatible only and tyre clearance is now 34mm. Carbon wheels come from sister brand Reserve, with a claimed weight of 1,300g a set.
Cervelo R5 launch story
12. Wilier 0 SLR Disc Dura-Ace Di2
Despite their illustrious histories, Italian manufacturers are generally not renowned for being on the cutting edge of bicycle design. We tend to think of Italian racing bikes as beautiful, classic, perhaps even old-fashioned ( Tom Boonen certainly thinks so ) – but the reality is that with Wilier at least, this couldn't be further from the truth.
The 0 SLR Disc is a lightweight bike from Wilier. Borrowing design cues from the Cento10 Pro aero bike, it's a thoroughly modern lightweight bike. It ticks all the boxes; a super lightweight carbon frame with truncated aerofoil tube shapes, integrated handlebars with fully hidden cables, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon wheels and clearance for 28mm tyres.
Its tried and tested geometry, and stiff frame and fork mean handling is great, and its clean lines and complete cable integration make it a real looker. Wilier is kind enough to offer some very nice paint jobs as well.
There's no denying that this is a pretty expensive bike – Wilier retains that classic Italian bike characteristic – but you're buying into a European brand with over 100 years of experience in making bikes, and all of the racing heritage that comes with that.
If you're looking for the best lightweight bike, here are the things that mark out a lightweight bike from alternatives among the best road bikes .
What's the significance of the 6.8kg UCI weight limit?
With the UCI weight limit seemingly stuck at 6.8kg, 'lightweight' has been largely defined at that point, and brands have been able to focus their attention on improving other areas of the bike, instead of simply chasing grams in a race to the bottom (although, naturally, that is still a thing ).
Where aero bikes often have to make compromises on things like ride quality, fit and user-friendliness in pursuit of all-out speed, lightweight road bikes have tended to become the all-rounders of road cycling, with development focused more on these important, but often undervalued characteristics.
Such are the improvements in these areas that many WorldTour pros still choose to ride lightweight bikes over their sponsors' aero-bike offerings , despite the apparent penalty in aerodynamic efficiency.
When does a lightweight bike make the difference?
The data tells us that aerodynamic bikes are faster on flat and rolling courses and on all but the steepest climbs. But let's be honest – the hills are still where it really counts. The important Strava segments are, generally, not boring sections of flat or rolling road, they’re hills, and, on the proper hills (once you dip below about 15kmh), lower weight still beats aerodynamics.
Most of the best lightweight bikes now sport disc brakes. Rim brakes have long been favoured because of the difference in weight, but the gap has narrowed considerably, to the point where disc brake-equipped bikes are regularly skimming or bettering the 6.8kg limit.
Should I choose a lightweight bike over an aero bike?
The good news is that today you don't have to choose - many lightweight bikes are also aero. To keep their weight down, they may not have quite such developed aero features as the best aero road bikes , but many brands' lightweight bikes have aero tube profiles.
Couple that with aero seatposts, integrated one-piece cockpits and deep-section lightweight wheels and you don't have to sacrifice watts on the flat to save watts on the climbs.
On the other hand, there are now plenty of aero bikes that are not that far off the UCI's magic 6.8kg, so you've got even more lightweight choices. A full-on aero bike will still be the more rapid option if you want to ride fast though.
Does a lower weight provide a tangible difference?
Perhaps more crucially, lightweight bikes still retain the power to impress your friends or family members, because weight is tangible. Show them an incredibly expensive aero bike and the first thing they'll do is pick it up and complain that, "It's quite heavy… How much did you say this cost?"
By the time you've started explaining that "over a typical 40km rolling course, performance modelling shows that this bike is 45 seconds faster at 50kph than an equivalent lightweight bike…" they'll likely have lost interest and wandered off, thinking that you got royally ripped off.
A lightweight bike provides an obvious tangible difference, and, sometimes, that provides a greater psychological benefit than the few intangible seconds offered by manufacturers. It's fair to say most of us will still get excited by a really light bike.
Do I need to spend a fortune on a lightweight bike?
Unsurprisingly, carbon fibre dominates the scene for lightweight road bikes. Its unique, tunable characteristics make it the perfect material for making light and stiff bikes that excel when pointed uphill. The downside is that these lightweight frames and components tend to come at an exorbitant cost.
As the great Keith Bontrager once said: "Strong, light, cheap. Pick two." That said, if the UCI limit is what you're looking at, you don't necessarily need to buy the top-of-the-range model these days, which will often actually be lighter than the UCI's minimum weight limit. Some brands are even able to offer builds with Shimano Ultegra that can still hit the 6.8kg benchmark; just don't expect them to be particularly cheap.
Of course, bikes are readily discounted, so it's worth taking a look at our roundup of the best road bike deals to find the best bike-to-price ratio.
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As the Tech Editor here at Cyclingnews, Josh leads on content relating to all-things tech, including bikes, kit and components in order to cover product launches and curate our world-class buying guides, reviews and deals. Alongside this, his love for WorldTour racing and eagle eyes mean he's often breaking tech stories from the pro peloton too.
On the bike, 30-year-old Josh has been riding and racing since his early teens. He started out racing cross country when 26-inch wheels and triple chainsets were still mainstream, but he found favour in road racing in his early 20s and has never looked back. He's always training for the next big event and is keen to get his hands on the newest tech to help. He enjoys a good long ride on road or gravel, but he's most alive when he's elbow-to-elbow in a local criterium.
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Best lightweight mountain bikes – the lightest mountain bikes for cross-country under 10kg
The best lightweight mountain bikes combine sensational acceleration and XC speed for ultimate off-road climbing performance
Sub 10kg (22lb) has always been a benchmark for the best lightweight mountain bikes. However, with XCO courses becoming more and more technical and riders demanding bigger tires and dropper posts to tackle them, 10kg bikes are rarer than ever. That's not to say it isn't achievable, many bike brands manage to get their hardtails and even their best full-suspension mountain bikes under the 10kg mark.
In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference in the ride between a 10.2kg bike and a 9.8kg bike but the psychological/bragging rights of going under 10kg is massive. Developments and demands of riders mean it’s harder than ever for cross-country mountain bikes to hit that target though. 29in wheels, tires, and forks will always be heavier than 27.5in or 26in (remember them?) but their smoother speed makes them an XC essential. Some top racers like Nino Schurter are routinely using 2.4in tires now too, while others are wide rim or wide handlebar fans.
Most of the world’s fastest racers are now using dropper posts for extra control on challenging courses despite a 400-500g penalty over fixed posts. Huge cassettes mean simpler 1x transmissions are often heavier than old double chainring setups too. Even fitting a remote control lockout to the best XC forks adds significant weight, but again most racers won’t be without it for smashing smoother climbs.
Best lightweight mountain bikes under 10kg
Why trust BikePerfect Our cycling experts have decades of testing experience. We'll always share our unbiased opinions on bikes and gear. Find out more about how we test.
Canyon Exceed CFR LTD
Our expert review:
Reasons to buy, reasons to avoid.
Canyon has grown from a small trailer-based spares ‘shop’ at German XC races to a global bike-brand superpower with an ever-increasing number of World Cup and World Championship race wins under its belt.
This top-line hardtail features a 69-degree headtube angle, 1,154mm wheelbase, and 455mm reach on a size large. It also gets a sweet exclusive paint job, and the full build comes in at 8.9 kg.
For the build kit, the bike features a SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS drivetrain and a remote-controlled RockShox SID SL fork. SRAM also provides the braes with Level Ultimates bringing the stopping power. Reynolds Blacklabel XC wheels are paired with Maxxis tires to keep you rolling.
It has a sharp classic XC ride feel, which Guy found out when he tested the bike, "the unfiltered stiffness, super lightweight, and direct drive efficiency of the Exceed CFR will be an unholy trinity that’ll create a religious experience for many hardcore racers. They’ll rejoice in the rapid, climb-friendly steering feel from the relatively steep head angle and 740mm bars too.
On a budget? There are multiple other Exceed models to choose from with more wallet-friendly build kits. They feature the same frame geometry but will have different components and will be heavier, however even the lower spec Exceed CF is still sub 10kg.
For more, check out our full Canyon Exceed CFR LTD .
Scott Scale RC SL
Scott totally redesigned their Scale cross-country hardtail which had remained unchanged for the last six years. With the launch of the new bike, the Scale sees a radical redesign that revolutionizes Scott's hardtail race bike.
Built from Scott's HMX SL carbon Scott has not only refined the frame's carbon layup but also the construction and hardware. There are some new features too, including adjustable headset cups as used on the Spark to give + / - 0.6-degree head angle adjustment. The new geometry can be adjusted between 67.9 degrees as supplied, neutral cups (included with the bike) for a 67.2-degree, to a super slack (for XC) 66.7 degrees in a few minutes. The seat angle is 75.3 degrees in the standard 67.9 head angle position and reach is measured at 463.6mm on a medium.
Scott put Guy through his paces at the Scale's launch but the bike's qualities weren't lost on Guy. "Between the hyperventilating, lactic burn, and hallucinogenic lack of oxygen though it was still clear that the new Scale is blisteringly, brutally fast. While it’s not the lightest hardtail option by over a kilo and the DT Swiss-based hub internals have a ten-degree lag before engagement, when they do connect, the power delivery is sledgehammer direct".
Regarding components, Scott has kitted their new top-of-the-range hardtail with an equally best-of-the-best spec list. Highlights include Trickstuff Piccola Carbon brakes, a Quarq power meter, carbon finishing kit from Syncros, and the incredibly light Silverton SL2-30 CL carbon that weigh a claimed 1280g per wheelset and are the same wheels Tom Pidcock choose to ride at the Olympics.
The astronomical asking price of the Scale RC SL is far beyond what most people could possibly comprehend spending on an XC bike. the good news is the Scale RC World Cup retails for less than half and still slips under the 10kg mark.
For more details head over to our full Scott Scale RC SL review .
Orbea Alma M-Ltd
In terms of frame weight, Orbea’s carbon fiber Alma OMR race hardtail isn’t crazy light at over 1kg, but they’ve done something radical to get complete bike weight low enough to kill on the climbs. Depending on what fork you run, Orbea’s 550g Spirit Rigid fork will save you 800-1,000g over a 100mm suspension unit to bring complete bike weight well under 9kg. The kinked, super-flat top tube is designed to help dissipate the extra shock coming through from the front end too, although the long, tapered, carbon legs deliver a smoother ride than you’d expect. The super-slim stays are designed for extra flex but there’s still plenty of meat around the cranks and chainstays for kicking hard and making that low weight count. The fork is also the same length as a 100mm travel unit so swapping around won’t disturb the agile, short wheelbase handling.
The same OMR frame appears on the top four Alma models with another four Alma models using the slightly heavier OMP frames. Whatever your starting point, Orbea’s ‘MyO’ customization program lets you pick and mix from a range of components to tune cost, weight, and character. You can even choose from multiple color options (fully custom on the top models) so that you get a truly personalized Alma built for you in Orbea’s Basque factory. The direct-sell model means they’re generally very good value too although you will have to wait longer for delivery than if you pick an off-the-shelf bike from your local shop.
Mondraker Podium Carbon RR SL
Mondraker has redesigned the Podium hardtail for 2021, so it has a more conventional look but keeps its lightweight and 'Forward Geometry.' The brand claims that it has created the world's lightest production frameset.
Born on DH race tracks thanks to the work of Unno’s Cesar Rojo and others, Forward Geometry was the spark point for the current trend for super-short stems on extended reach frames. Mondraker was the first mainstream brand to be bold enough to use the concept right across its range from gravity bikes to cross-country machines. The Podium was designed a while ago now but the geometry has been refreshed, bringing a 463mm reach, 68.5-degree headtube angle, and a 70mm stem on a size large.
If you can afford the price tag for this beast of a hardtail, then you'll be smashing the climbs in no time.
Santa Cruz Highball X01 Carbon CC 29 Reserve
Santa Cruz’s original Highball race hardtail was so stiff it could make your feet numb in under an hour in the wrong shoes and rattle teeth out on rocky descents. That meant we weren’t expecting an easy ride when we met its new race rod.
Santa Cruz has completely flipped priorities with the new Highball though, realizing that fighting fatigue and preserving performance is more important than ultimate power punch. The 67-degree head angle balances snappiness and stability and the 460mm reach (large size) is long for an XC bike, which helps calm control on flat-out fast sections. The frame compliance also noticeably improves the bike’s ability to conform to the trail for traction as well as reducing the chance of you being rattled offline or ricocheting randomly off rocks and drops. The threaded bottom bracket and three bottle cage mounts are designed for the long haul. Despite shaving weight from past frames it has a no weight limit, no questions asked, lifetime frame warranty.
Riders can also opt to equip their Highball with Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon wheels . They’re covered by a similarly no-nonsense lifetime warranty and again the ride feel is obviously damped and shock smoothing rather than skittish and sketchy. That means you can hit stuff hard without worrying about comfort levels or construction quality and it’ll work great as a daily driver.
Unsurprisingly, power delivery definitely isn’t as taut as some pure racers, but trail connection and rollover performance are excellent.
Trek Supercaliber 9.9
A couple of years ago now, Trek created an all-new type of full-suspension bike, using what it calls ‘Isostrut,' a tiny but full feature remote control Fox air shock, hidden inside a Kashima gold stanchion that bolts into the cutaway top tube. The flat flex stays stretch forward to a tube that slides along the stanchion, connected to the shock via top and bottom slots that also stop twist. Add a main pivot just above and in front of the chainring and you’ve got 60mm of travel with all the usual shock rate, pressure, and damping adjustments plus a remote control lockout. Fewer pivots and linkages mean reduced mass and maintenance and it also gives a very clean frame look with room for two bottle cages if the race/ride is long or hot.
Trek has certainly committed hard to the concept too, with no carbon-framed, purely hardtail bikes in its XC lineup. ProCaliber 9.7 and below use its road-bike-derived ‘IsoFlex’ scissor frame. Meanwhile, the new Trek Top Fuel beefs up from its previous super-light and twangy incarnation, getting 115mm of travel out back with slacker angles, longer reach and a much stiffer power and precision-friendly ride.
We have personally not tested the Isotrut-equipped Super Caliber yet, the top racers in the world seem to have no problem making it go fast on the trails. This is a very "XC" bike, so the unique design certainly won't be for everyone.
Specialized S-Works Epic
Specialized has killed off their impressively light 8.6kg S-Works Epic AXS HT however for 'just' a few more thousand dollars and an extra 1,000 or so grams you can get Specialized's S-Works Epic. A thoroughbred cross-country race bike that has seen success on the world cup race circuit to the grueling marathon stages of the Absa Cape Epic.
The S-Works Epic has one goal in mind and that is to cover ground as fast as possible. The 9.7g weight combined with Specialized Brain suspension, a system that uses valves to differentiate between pedal forces and bump forces, means this bike is set for every type of climb from long and smooth to steep and technical. Specialized knows that what goes up fast will need to descend equally as quickly and the 67.5-degree head angle means the Epic is not losing any time on the descents.
Although the S-Works Epic is the only model of the range to tip under the 10kg mark, Specialized offers a couple of build options that all benefit from the Epic's Brain platform and are very competitive in regards to weight in their price brackets.
Scott Spark RC SL EVO AXS
Scott recently updated its long-running Spark XC format; a bold new look and a seriously progressive and tech trail-ready ride mean it has been a real hit. It’s more than accurate enough to get really aggro with too. The latest iteration also has the best Spark suspension by far, with proper chunder-calming, speed-breeding performance in its ‘Open' mode. Push the TwinLoc trigger on the bar though and you can toggle into a tauter, reduced travel ‘Traction’ mode for feisty climbs or fully lock it for sprinting, and that response is matched by the front fork, too.
Arguably the Spark shouldn't be on this list as the range-topping Spark RC SL EVO AXS model doesn't actually meet the sub 10kg criteria for this buyer's guide. We are willing to forgive that 300g though considering it has an uncompromising spec including a Stouter Fox 34, a dropper, and big tires which means you can really rally this bike to its full 120mm of travel potential.
We reviewed the Scott Spark Team Issue AXS model and were very impressed with its performance.
Cannondale Scalpel HT Hi-MOD 1
Cannondale is another brand that has always had racing close to its maxed-out heart and the Scalpel HT Hi-MOD 1 is a new super-light hardtail platform loaded with typically left-field features.
Most obvious is the Ocho fork, the latest version of a left-leg-only suspension family that’s now 20 years old. The cantilevered single crown carbon fork makes it the lightest Cannondale fork yet and it’s also competitively smooth once you find the set-up sweet spot. Even after a double decade on the faceted, inset needle-bearing leg technology, the tracking is still a head bender but you’ll soon learn to make the most of it on aggressive overtakes or tire ripping turns. The 50mm fork offset and short stems as standard make for fast yet confident steering despite a slack 66.5-degree head angle although the comparatively short reach (444mm on a large) will feel a little odd compared to the modern crop of longer bikes.
The Ballistec carbon frame shaves weight with a narrow shell 30mm press-fit bottom bracket and Cannondale was one of the first to adopt road bike style ‘Flat Mount’ disc brake fittings. It also uses a Cannondale-specific Ai wheel offset which you need to factor in when upgrading.
What you need to know about the best lightweight mountain bikes
What are the lightest mountain bike frames.
When it comes to frames the big weight penalty that racers are now routinely paying is opting for a full-suspension bike rather than one of the best hardtail mountain bikes . Unless it’s a super-smooth or strength-sapping high-altitude course most of the men’s World Cup XCO field will be on a double-damped rig, and more and more women are lining up on full sus every race. They’re a lot more fun and forgiving outside the tape if you’re not a completely competition-focused rider too. That inevitably means a roughly 250g rear shock plus pivot bearings, other mounting hardware, and extra frame parts piling on the weight. As a result, even the ultra-light 1,870g Scott Spark is still over 1000g heavier than the hardtail Scott Scale and most head-to-head, in-brand comparisons are significantly heavier. Softail bikes like Trek’s Supercaliber race bike or Moot's ultra-premium Mountaineer split the difference in weight and full suspension function.
Are cross-country race bikes lighter?
Cross-country race bikes that are ridden by pros are very light as they feature specs that are either too expensive or not available to the general public. That said it's not uncommon to find brands selling premium models that are even lighter than the bikes their team riders use. That’s generally due to sponsor demands (for example, RockShox SID Ultimate SL fork s are heavier than Fox 32 Step-Cast, and Shimano XTR is heavier than SRAM XX1). With no contractual obligations for consumer bikes, sometimes brands just fit cost-no-object component mixes to create a super-light show stopper you can buy off the shelf.
What is the lightest MTB in the world?
Some bikes like Orbea’s Alma M-Ltd and Scott's Scale which can be specced with a rigid fork are lightened further than most of us would regard practical. Alternatively, you can get a bike with an eccentric bottom bracket or sliding drop-outs and go single-speed and ditch gears altogether. If you really want to see what’s possible then click on the infamous gram-hating hangout weightweenies.starbike.com. Or check out how anti-gravity artists like Gustav Gullholm (Dangerholm on Instagram) get Scott Spark and Scale bikes down to 7kg with belt sanders, paint stripper, and ultra-light carbon fiber cockpit and seating combinations.
NB: We’ve had to rely on some manufacturers' weights for this run down, so if you want to be sure of weights take your scales with you when you go shopping. Please contact us if any of the numbers are right off so we can update the feature for everyone else.
Guy has been working on Bike Perfect 's since we launched in 2019. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.
Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Forbidden Druid V2, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem
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2023 Trek Fuel EXe Review | This brand new lightweight e-MTB is the stealthiest we’ve ever tested
The not-so-minor details.
Trek Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS
- The near-silent motor performance - Solid chassis with excellent weight distribution - Great geometry and all-round handling - Supportive suspension offers exceptional control at speed - Sleek frame is low on e-bulk - The 9.8 model is surprisingly well priced
- Highly damped RockShox suspension isn't the plushest - TQ motor can lag - Not as light as some of its competitors - Rear axle lever makes noise while riding - Crankset Q-Factor is very wide
Mick & Wil review the Trek Fuel EXe
Following two years of development, the Trek Fuel EXe launches as a brand new electric mountain bike for 2023. Aiming to straddle the gap between the Rail (Trek’s full-powered, big travel e-MTB) and the regular Fuel EX, the Fuel EXe is built around a unique, never-before-seen motor that is claimed to be one of the quietest and lightest on the market. Along with its slim battery and carbon frame, the Fuel EXe is purported to weigh around 18kg in its lightest configuration, which is a good 5kg lighter than the Rail. That puts it into direct competition with the Specialized Levo SL and Orbea Rise ; two bikes that have had a significant head start in the lightweight e-MTB category. So what exactly does the new Trek Fuel EXe bring to the party? And how does its new motor perform on the trail? We’ve been testing it for the past few weeks to find out!
Watch our Trek Fuel EXe review here:
Overall it’s a very clean system, and combined with the compact motor and slim downtube, the Fuel EXe does a remarkable job of not looking like an e-MTB.
An overview of the Trek Fuel EXe
Whereas the Rail is based upon the Slash enduro bike, the Trek Fuel EXe is essentially an electrified version of the Fuel EX trail bike. It features 29in wheels, though it gets a touch more travel with a 150mm fork and 140mm of rear wheel travel courtesy of the ABP four-bar suspension platform.
OCLV Mountain carbon fibre has been employed to construct the Fuel EXe frame, while a two-piece alloy rocker link drives the rear shock via a trunnion bearing mount. Unlike the regular Fuel EX, Rail and Slash that feature Trek’s proprietary Thru Shaft damper, the Fuel EXe relies on a conventional rear shock.
The compact TQ motor
Powering the Trek Fuel EXe is a brand new and extremely compact motor that has been developed in collaboration with Bavarian company TQ.
TQ has previously been known for producing the 120Nm monster motor found within the Haibike Flyon. Taking the same patented Harmonic Pin-Ring (HPR) mechanism, those clever Germans have shrunken it right down to create what it believes is the lightest and smallest e-MTB motor on the market.
Comprised of just two moving parts, the HPR drive unit doesn’t require a belt or additional cogs, and it spins at an RPM that is three times lower than a conventional motor. Thanks to its simplified construction, the HPR design is claimed to result in fewer operating frequencies, reducing not only the overall decibels produced by the motor, but also lowering the ‘tonality’ (read: annoyance) of the sound.
Despite its compact form, the German-manufactured HPR50 motor delivers a healthy 50Nm of torque and a peak power output of 300W. TQ claims this motor has the highest torque density on the market, while offering seamless power delivery with virtually no lag.
It’s bloody light too
According to TQ, the HPR50 motor weighs just 1.85kg. That’s lighter than Specialized’s SL 1.1 motor (1.95kg), Fazua’s Ride 60 motor (2.3kg), Shimano’s EP8 (2.6kg) and Bosch’s Performance CX (2.79kg).
To make the most of its weight advantage, the HPR50 motor is paired to a modest 360Wh battery. This is claimed to weigh 1.83kg, which is notably lighter than the 360Wh battery used in the Orbea Rise (2.2kg), and about the same weight as the Specialized Levo SL’s smaller 320Wh battery (1.8kg). The compact battery allows the downtube to be made much slimmer, which results in further weight savings.
Putting the motor and battery together, here’s how the total system weight compares between the new Fuel EXe and its two main competitors;
- Trek Fuel EXe (50Nm motor & 360Wh battery) – 3.68kg
- Specialized Levo SL (35Nm motor & 320Wh battery) – 3.75kg
- Orbea Rise (60Nm motor & 360Wh battery) – 4.8kg
Unlike the Levo SL and the Rise, the Fuel EXe’s battery can be easily removed from the frame without having to drop out the motor. This means you can charge it in the bike, or separately if you don’t have a power point in your shed. Trek claims you can fully charge the battery in just two hours with a fast charger.
Trek will also be offering a 160Wh Range Extender battery that customers can purchase separately for $1,199 AUD. Boosting range by a claimed 40%, the piggyback battery is designed to fit into a standard water bottle cage with the addition of a built-in retention strap for security. Unfortunately the Range Extender battery won’t be available in Australia until late 2022 however.
Tidy, integrated display
Just like the Specialized Levo and Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay , the Trek Fuel EXe features a display that’s integrated directly into the top tube. This 2in O-LED screen forms the control hub for the bike, with a single button that turns the system on and off. This same button is then used to cycle through four pages that display key metrics including battery status, riding speed, average speed, rider power, motor power, and estimated range. Because of its integrated display, the Fuel EXe doesn’t have room for the Knock Block steering limiter, and so omits it entirely.
A discreet two button controller sits next to the left-hand grip, allowing you to toggle between the Eco, Mid and High assist settings. Holding the top button also engages the Walk mode, which delivers power to the rear wheel when you’re off the bike and pushing uphill.
Bluetooth and ANT+ capability allows the TQ system to pair with your GPS head unit and mobile phone. Further functions can be unlocked via the Trek Central app, which offers navigation and integration with third party apps. You can use the app to tune the motor’s assistance levels, and it’ll also provide you with tyre and suspension pressure recommendations if you’re using a TireWiz and AirWiz.
Geometry & mullet capability
Without a bulky motor getting in the way, there are few compromises forced upon the suspension layout and geometry of the Trek Fuel EXe. For example, the chainstay length sits at an impressive 440mm, which is quite short given the 29in rear wheel and 2.5in tyre clearance. Trek has also chosen to stick with conventional Boost hub spacing and a 55mm chainline, so there’s nothing funky in terms of standards.
With the Mino Link flip chip set in the Low position, the Fuel EXe features a 64.7° head angle, a 76.7° seat angle and a 38.5mm BB drop. In the High position those angles steepen by 0.5° and the BB lifts by almost 7mm.
In that same High setting, Trek also states that the Fuel EXe can be run as a mullet with a 27.5in rear wheel. This will affect the motor’s output and 25km/h cutoff point however, as there’s currently no way for users to adjust the rear wheel circumference in the TQ system.
Trek Fuel EXe price & specs
Globally, there will be six Trek Fuel EXe models offered for 2023. Only three of those models will be available in Australia, with prices starting at $9,499 AUD for the Fuel EXe 9.5, and maxing out at $12,999 AUD for the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT.
All Fuel EXe models make use of the same TQ-HPR50 motor, 360Wh battery and OCLV carbon frame. There will be no alloy models for the foreseeable future.
The bike we’ve been testing is the top-end Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS, which in the States will come with a staggering retail price of $13,999 USD (that’s approximately $20,000 AUD!). It features RockShox Ultimate-level suspension, Bontrager Line Pro carbon wheels, a one-piece RSL carbon bar and stem, a SRAM XX1 AXS drivetrain, Code RSC brakes and a Reverb AXS dropper post. While this model won’t be available in Australia, aside from the wireless bits the spec isn’t drastically different from the 9.8 XT. As usual though, our review won’t be focussing a whole lot on the individual components, but rather the important stuff that’s shared throughout the range; the frame, handling, suspension and drive system.
2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.8 XT
- Frame | OCLV Mountain Carbon Fibre, ABP Suspension Design, 140mm Travel
- Fork | RockShox Lyrik Select+, Charger 3 Damper, 44mm Offset, 150mm Travel
- Shock | RockShox Super Deluxe Select+, RT Damper, 205x60mm
- Drive Unit | TQ-HPR50, 50Nm Peak Torque
- Battery | TQ 360Wh
- Wheels | Bontrager Line Elite 30, OCLV Carbon Rims, 29mm Inner Width
- Tyres | Bontrager SE5 Team Issue 2.5in Front & Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano XT 1×12 w/e*thirteen E*spec Race Carbon 34T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano XT 4-Piston
- Bar | Bontrager RSL Integrated, OCLV Carbon, 27.5mm Rise, 820mm Width
- Stem | Bontrager RSL Integrated, OCLV Carbon, 45mm Length
- Seatpost | Bontrager Line Elite, 34.9mm Diameter, Travel: 100mm (S), 150mm (M), 170mm (L), 200mm (XL)
- Saddle | Bontrager Arvada, Austentite Rails
- Claimed Weight | 18.1kg
- RRP | $12,999 AUD
2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.7
- Fork | Fox Rhythm 36, GRIP Damper, 44mm Offset, 150mm Travel
- Shock | Fox Float X, Performance Series, 2-Position Damper, 205x60mm
- Wheels | Bontrager Line Comp 30, Alloy Rims, 29mm Inner Width
- Tyres | Bontrager XR5 Team Issue 2.5in Front & Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano SLX 1×12 w/e*thirteen E*spec Race Alloy 34T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano Deore 4-Piston
- Bar | Bontrager Line, Alloy, 27.5mm Rise, 780mm Width
- Stem | Bontrager Elite, 45mm Length
- Seatpost | TranzX Dropper, 34.9mm Diameter, Travel: 100mm (S), 150mm (M), 170mm (L-XL)
- Claimed Weight | 19.05kg
- RRP | $10,999 AUD
2023 Trek Fuel EXe 9.5
- Fork | RockShox 35 Gold RL, Motion Control Damper, 44mm Offset, 150mm Travel
- Shock | RockShox Deluxe Select+, RT Damper, 205x60mm
- Wheels | Bontrager Sealed Bearing Hubs & Alex MD35 Alloy Rims, 34mm Inner Width
- Drivetrain | Shimano Deore 1×12 w/e*thirteen E*spec Plus 34T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano MT420 4-Piston
- Bar | Bontrager Rhythm Comp, Alloy, 15mm Rise, 750mm Width
- Stem | Bontrager Alloy, 50mm Length
- Claimed Weight | 19.93kg
- RRP | $9,499 AUD
Noise isn’t everything, but geez it’s nice when you’re on a quiet bike. And in this regard, the Fuel EXe sets a whole new benchmark that we expect other brands will attempt to follow over the coming few years.
Trek Fuel EXe sizing & fit
Deviating from the regular Fuel EX, which comes in six sizes, the Trek Fuel EXe will only be available in four. To suit our 175-178cm testers we chose the Medium, which features a 452mm reach.
We had few complaints with sizing, though the stock handlebars are comically wide at 820mm. Those were promptly chopped down to a more conventional 780mm width, which proved to be a better fit with the 45mm ‘virtual’ stem length.
While the big diameter seat tube is nice and short, the 150mm dropper post limited our freedom of movement when riding down steep descents and along jump trails. We’d prefer to see a 170-180mm dropper on a bike that’s as capable as this.
Otherwise the Fuel EXe cockpit is a comfortable place to be thanks to the agreeable Bontrager saddle and lock-on grips. The seat tube angle isn’t too steep, with neutral weight distribution that doesn’t put a load of pressure on your hands. There’s plenty of adjustability thanks to the long saddle rails for those who do want to shunt it forward for a more aggressive climbing position.
Where the Fuel EXe definitely feels like an e-MTB is in its Q-Factor. Although the TQ-HPR50 motor is very compact, the fat e*13 carbon crank arms see the pedalling width blow out considerably. We measured the Q-Factor at 195mm, which is wider than any other e-MTB we’ve tested, and around 20mm wider than a regular mountain bike. Many riders will be unfazed by the difference, and indeed the wider stance can improve your overall stability on the bike. However, flat pedal riders will need to be wary when riding through deep ruts, and those with sensitive knees may simply find the Q-Factor to be too wide for comfort.
The rear shock on the Trek Fuel EXe is designed to be run with 30% sag, a process that’s made easy thanks to the anodised gradients on the RockShox Super Deluxe.
Jose Gonzalez of Trek’s Suspension Lab explained to us that the Fuel EXe does have a slightly lower leverage rate compared to the regular Fuel EX, and the rear shock has been valved with a medium compression tune. The aim here is to provide more support to handle the additional weight of the battery and motor. Because of the greater damping forces generated by the shock, we trended towards having the compression adjusters backed off from the neutral setting. High-speed was set at minus two clicks (fully open) and the low-speed dial was set at minus one click. Rebound was set a couple of clicks faster than halfway to suit our 68-75kg testers.
Up front is the new 2023 RockShox Lyrik that features the new DebonAir+ spring and Charger 3 damper. RockShox recommends an extra 10psi for this fork when it’s fitted to an e-MTB, but we found this pressure to be too high when paired with the highly supportive Charger 3 damper. We ended up running 10psi less than recommended on the chart, set the rebound on the faster side, ran the high-speed compression at minus one click, and set the low-speed adjuster a few clicks lighter than neutral.
Trek Fuel EXe weight
Confirmed weight for our Trek Fuel EXe XX1 AXS test bike is 18.6kg, weighed without pedals and with the tyres set up tubeless.
That’s an impressive weight for a full suspension e-MTB, especially when you factor in the aggressive Bontrager tyres, powerful brakes and piggyback shock. Still, it’s not quite as light as some of its competitors;
- Specialized Levo SL Expert – 17.84kg
- Orbea Rise M10 – 18.38kg
- Trek Fuel EXe XX1 AXS – 18.6kg
- Specialized Kenevo SL Expert – 19.12kg
When you consider that the Fuel EXe is the only bike in that list with carbon wheels and crank arms, as well as a one-piece cockpit, its weight becomes a little less impressive. Given that the Fuel EXe supposedly has the lightest drive system out of the lot, we suspect some of the additional weight is found in the frame itself. That’s no bad thing, especially if it equates to having a stiffer and more robust chassis.
What does the Trek Fuel EXe do well?
When riding the Trek Fuel EXe the first thing you notice, or more accurately don’t notice, is just how quiet the TQ-HPR50 motor is. No doubt about it, this is easily the quietest e-MTB we’ve ever ridden.
The overall decibel output is low, and the motor’s pitch is significantly less prominent than other motors we’ve ridden. Rather than droning or whining, the TQ-HPR50 motor emits a more discreet sound that’s a bit like a gentle breeze whistling through the trees. Furthermore, there’s no annoying clacking noise on the descents like you’ll find with the latest Shimano and Bosch drive units. The TQ motor does feature an integrated freewheel that allows the drive wheel to disengage from the cranks to minimise drag, but despite this we couldn’t detect any obvious noise when descending on rocky trails.
Indeed the motor and chassis are well damped, with very little vibration or rattling present. While riding back-to-back with our Canyon Spectral:ON test bike, which features a cavernous downtube and a Shimano EP8 motor, the difference in trail noise was stark. Noise isn’t everything, but geez it’s nice when you’re on a quiet bike. And in this regard, the Fuel EXe sets a whole new benchmark that we expect other brands will attempt to follow over the coming few years.
Initially the muted motor gave the illusion of providing us with less assistance. This is because the power delivery is less obvious than a louder, whinier motor. However, a glance at our average riding speeds had us soon correcting that illusion.
Of course there’s not as much punch compared to the bigger 85-90Nm motors on the market, which is to be expected. During our standardised range test (more on that below), climbing speeds aboard the Fuel EXe hovered around 14km/h, compared to 18km/h on an EP8-equipped bike. This means you’ll be working harder on the Fuel EXe if all your pals are riding on full-powered e-MTBs.
Still, if you only ever ride singletrack aboard your e-MTB in the Eco or Trail assist settings, the TQ motor is likely to meet your needs. This will especially be the case for lighter and fitter riders, who will find the 50Nm output to be just about perfect for trail riding.
Well-damped suspension & no-fuss handling
It isn’t just the motor that’s quiet either, with the Trek Fuel EXe delivering a nicely damped ride quality that’s complemented by the distinct lack of any slurping noises from the fork’s new Charger 3 damper.
The carbon chassis feels stout and reliable, with no hint of twisting or excessive flex under load. It somehow manages to achieve this sensation without feeling harsh or pingy, and instead offers an accommodating platform that allows you to push it quite hard without fear of being punished for less calculated line choices.
The top-notch suspension plays into this beautifully when you’re smashing down rowdy descents. The Lyrik’s mid-stroke is particularly good, offering a heap of support with plenty of big hit damping control that encourages you to let off the brakes when gravity takes over.
While the suspension is good, it’s worth acknowledging that the Fuel EXe is not as plush as the Rail. Along with its lower overall weight, it can’t monster-truck down wide-open terrain like the Rail can.
The Fuel EXe takes the upper hand as the trail gets squigglier though, with less exaggeration required from your handling inputs. The smaller and shorter battery puts less weight up towards the head tube, helping to centralise and lower the bike’s centre of mass. Combined with the stout frame, there’s very little understeer present with the Fuel EXe. Compared to bigger and heavier e-MTBs, it never feels like it’s trying to push wide or ride away from you.
The excellent handling and weight distribution makes the Fuel EXe an easier bike to ride for less experienced riders. For more advanced pilots, the Fuel EXe delivers a thoroughly involving ride quality. Yes it’s still an 18kg bike, but it’s far more playful than the heavier Rail, with the shorter chainstays helping to encourage front wheel popping shenanigans.
It dips into corners without requiring constant persuasion, and it takes to the air well too, maintaining a steady trajectory without making you feel like you’re an unwilling passenger. There’s a heap of support from the suspension for soaking up ill-timed landings when things do go awry, with the shock’s Hydraulic Bottom Out ramping up the travel in the final 20% of the stroke. While the O-ring indicated we’d used full travel on many occasions, not once were we able to detect it while riding.
What does it struggle with?
Though the progressive RockShox suspension on the Trek Fuel EXe offers bucketloads of high-speed control, it does feel quite aggressively damped on smaller chatter. This is more so the case with the new Lyrik, which hasn’t amazed us with its small-bump compliance, transmitting more feedback through to our hands.
The fork on our test bike has improved noticeably over the first dozen rides as the seals and bushings have bedded in, and there’s no denying the incredible support and control that the Charger 3 damper brings. However, the Fuel EXe hasn’t exactly delivered a cloud-like ride quality, certainly not compared to the floaty Spectral:ON we’ve been testing alongside it. For this reason, we’d be curious to try out the Fuel EXe 9.7 to see whether its Fox suspension package brings about a more supple ride.
We’ll point out that heavier and more aggressive riders may not encounter the same experience as us. And it has to be said that the damping support does make the Fuel EXe a highly responsive and rewarding bike to ride. Still, those eager for the cushiest ride on the chunkiest of terrain will likely be better served by the Rail.
Overall we’ve been impressed by the usable and natural-feeling support from the TQ-HPR50 motor. It doesn’t spike or surge, offering a nicely progressive power band that makes it predictable and easy to modulate on tricky climbs. The 25km/h cutoff point is about as seamless it gets, and because the motor is so quiet, it’s difficult to tell when the motor has disengaged from the cranks.
It took us a few rides to get used to though, as it can occasionally lag before the power starts to come on. Spinning a lower gear at a slightly higher cadence seems to be its preferred input, though we’ve not found it to be as adept at responding to rapid changes in RPM compared to some other e-MTB motors.
There are options to tune the TQ motor via the Trek Central app, which allows you to tweak the pedal response, assist factor and the maximum power of each of the three settings. Unfortunately the app hasn’t been available prior to the Fuel EXe’s public launch, so we’re yet to play around with those tuning options. We’ll be exploring more of that functionality over the coming weeks of riding.
What range can you get with the Trek Fuel EXe?
Depending on the terrain, most of our rides on the Trek Fuel EXe have typically racked up 1,000-1,300m of elevation gain over a distance of 30-38km. We’ve mostly utilised the Mid power setting, which strikes a nice balance for general trail riding.
It’s been mighty helpful having the battery status displayed as a percentage, and the remaining ride time and range estimations have proven to be surprisingly accurate. When you do get down to the final 10% on the battery, the motor’s power output automatically lowers a few notches to help conserve what’s left. It doesn’t totally limp home though, retaining a usable level of support all the way down to 0%. When you have finally cooked the goose, the lack of drag through the TQ motor means it’s not an awful experience to ride the Fuel EXe on human power alone.
To see how the Fuel EXe’s efficiency compares directly to some of the other e-MTBs we’ve reviewed, we subjected it to our standardised range test. This involves the same rider pedalling up a road climb with a 10% average grade, with the motor set to its most powerful setting, before bombing back down a singletrack descent. The idea is to see how much elevation, and how many laps each bike can rack up on a single charge, while keeping the variables as constant as possible.
Here’s how the Fuel EXe faired in our range test;
- Norco Sight VLT (Shimano EP8, 900Wh Battery) – 2,478m climbing (12.8 runs)
- Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay (Dyname 4.0, 720Wh Battery) – 2,108m climbing (10.9 runs)
- Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 (Bosch Gen 4, 625Wh Battery) – 1,800m climbing (9.3 runs)
- Canyon Spectral:ON (Shimano EP8, 630Wh Battery) – 1,570m climbing (8 runs)
- Orbea Rise (Shimano EP8-RS, 360Wh Battery) – 1,388m climbing (7.2 runs)
- Specialized Levo SL (SL 1.1, 320Wh Battery) – 1,377m climbing (7.1 runs)
- Trek Fuel EXe (TQ-HPR50, 360Wh Battery) – 1,312m climbing (6.8 runs)
- Specialized Kenevo SL (SL 1.1, 320Wh Battery) – 1,053m climbing (5.5 runs)
As you can tell by those figures, the Fuel EXe managed to achieve considerably more range than the Kenevo SL, and not just because it has a larger capacity battery. The Fuel EXe is also lighter, comes fitted with faster-rolling tyres and features a more efficient suspension platform.
It didn’t get quite as much as the Levo SL however, and there are reasons for that. The 35Nm output of the Levo SL’s motor is naturally less demanding in terms of its fuel requirements, since it delivers a slower average riding speed. This makes the Fuel EXe a noticeably quicker bike on the climbs, which isn’t accounted for in our range test data.
Given the Orbea Rise has the same capacity battery as the Fuel EXe and a more powerful motor on paper, how did it achieve more range? The simple explanation is the tyres. The Rise M10 we tested was fitted with a lighter and much faster rolling Maxxis Dissector and Rekon tyre combo, which likely accounts for the difference.
Of course it’d be possible to get more range out of the Fuel EXe by fitting lower profile tyres, and you can also utilise the lower assist settings to reduce power consumption. Once the Range Extender batteries are available, Fuel EXe owners will have the opportunity to boost range by up to 40%, which will see it get closer to some of those bigger capacity e-MTBs.
Component highs & lows
As mentioned earlier, we won’t be dwelling on the components of our Trek Fuel EXe 9.9 XX1 AXS test bike. And truth be told, there’s not a lot to be said about the ultra high-end build kit that we haven’t discussed before.
We’ve largely ignored the TireWiz and AirWiz gizmos to begin with, partly because we’ve been experimenting with tyre and suspension setup. However, we’ll be delving more into their functionality now that we have access to the Trek Central app that pairs with the sensors to provide live readings and recommendations.
It is worth touching on the new Bontrager SE5 tyres, which are spec’d on each Fuel EXe model. These 2.5in wide tyres feature a Minion DHR II-inspired tread pattern and a dual compound mix that combines a firmer 61a rubber in the centre tread, and softer 50a rubber for the cornering blocks. They’re built upon the Core Strength casing, which combines sidewall protection with a sub-tread reinforcement for puncture protection. The result is a solid, durable and well-damped tyre that isn’t overly stiff on the trail, while also feeling predictable across a broad range of surfaces. They’re decent all-rounders, though they aren’t as tacky as a Maxxis 3C compound or a Specialized T9 tyre. If this were our bike, we’d likely be fitting something softer up front for a little more bite.
There have been some mild annoyances on our test bike, like the rattling thru-axle lever at the rear dropout. Thankfully this lever can be removed, though you do lose its handy 6mm hex key. That didn’t matter too much as the fork’s steerer tube comes loaded with a Bontrager BITS multi-tool inside. The tool can be a bit tricky to remove, and we also found the bits have a habit of coming loose, allowing them to rattle around inside the steerer. Once tightened up, the Fuel EXe returned to its blissfully silent state.
We love how the TQ display sits flush with the top tube, though it’d be nice to see a clock offered on one of the data screens. The option to display cadence would also be useful, especially while getting accustomed to the TQ motor’s output. The controller offers a nice tactile platform with an audible, yet discreet ‘beep’ whenever you switch assist levels. However, accessing the Walk mode requires you to constantly press down the top button with your thumb, which is awkward when you’re holding onto the bars and pushing the bike up a steep and slippery incline.
Otherwise all the electrics on the Fuel EXe have proven to be totally functional. Being able to easily remove the battery will be a welcome feature for anyone who needs to charge it separately to where the bike is stored, and we like that the main charge port is located high up on the downtube where it’s protected by a thick rubber plug. Internally there’s also an automatic lock built into the main battery’s connector, basically eliminating any chance of the cable coming loose while bouncing down the trail. Sure they’re only small details, but they’re also clear signs of a well-considered design.
Trek Fuel EXe vs Specialized Levo SL vs Orbea Rise
Over the past year we’ve spent a load of time aboard two of the Trek Fuel EXe’s main rivals; the Specialized Levo SL and Orbea Rise. So how do these bikes compare?
Specialized Levo SL
Specialized launched the Levo SL at the start of 2020, which shows just how far behind Trek and most other brands have been. No, the Levo SL wasn’t the first lightweight e-MTB to hit the market, but it is the bike that has legitimised the category.
The Levo SL is built around the SL 1.1 motor, which you’ll also find in the Kenevo SL and the Creo e-Road bike. This motor dishes out 35Nm of peak torque, making it considerably less powerful compared to the TQ motor in the Fuel EXe. It’s also much noisier, emitting an annoyingly whiny pitch that takes a while for the rider to tune out. However, the SL 1.1 motor does offer more intuitive power delivery, and it’s also better at handling high-cadence pedalling spurts.
In terms of ride quality, the Levo SL delivers noticeably plusher and more active suspension performance, which makes it a comfortable bike to pedal over choppy terrain. It does have 10mm more travel at the rear, though the suspension kinematic and shock tune also feels lighter compared to the Fuel EXe. We have found it easier to bottom out the Levo SL, and the sensation is harsh with the Float DPX2 shock.
The Levo SL’s handling is nice and lively, though the front-end steering is a little light with the 51mm fork offset, resulting in some twitchiness at speed. In comparison the Fuel EXe feels better balanced across a range of riding speeds thanks to its solid chassis and well-damped suspension. It’s no doubt the more modern bike of the two, making the two year-old Levo SL feel a little outdated.
It also has to be said that the Fuel EXe kills it on value compared to the Levo SL. The Levo SL Expert we tested features a Fox 36 GRIP2 fork and Float DPX2 shock, alloy Roval wheels, a SRAM GX/X01 drivetrain and Code RS brakes. In comparison, the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT gets a similar level of suspension albeit with a Shimano XT groupset, carbon wheels, carbon cranks and a one-piece carbon cockpit. Despite featuring a higher-end spec, the Fuel EXe sells for $2,100 AUD less , making for a far more appealing package.
The Orbea Rise arrived not long after the Levo SL at the tail-end of 2020, though it took a slightly different tact by taking an off-the-shelf Shimano EP8 motor and de-tuning it to reduce the peak torque output to 60Nm. Orbea also developed its own ‘RS’ firmware for the Japanese motor, which aimed to provide a more natural feel to the power delivery while improving efficiency. This was then paired to a smaller 360Wh battery and a gorgeously svelte carbon frame to deliver complete bike weights from as low as 16.2kg.
The more sensibly-spec’d Rise M10 we tested came in at 18.38kg, though it was fitted with lightweight Maxxis tyres that felt somewhat out of place. With more appropriate rubber, the Rise would likely come in at a similar weight to the Fuel EXe.
While value for money from Orbea is better than Specialized, it’s still not as impressive as the Fuel EXe. The Rise M10 comes with blingy Factory Series Fox suspension, a Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain and alloy Race Face wheels, but sells for two grand more than the Fuel EXe 9.8 XT.
On the trail the Rise is a closer match to the Fuel EXe. The geometry is pretty similar, though the Rise chassis doesn’t feel quite as stout when being pushed hard. This also comes down to the steeper head angle (65.5° vs 64.7°), and it’s also due to the suspension, which is marginally more sensitive off-the-top. It delivers terrific traction and a comfortable ride quality, though it’s not as supportive as the Fuel EXe.
Speaking of suspension, we wouldn’t be opposed to seeing both the Rise and Fuel EXe equipped with 150mm of rear travel like the Levo SL. Sure these are lightweight e-MTBs, but travel is travel, and we’re still talking about 18+kg bikes that are capable of going very fast on rough terrain. That said, any increase might see them encroaching too far into the territory of their bigger travel, full-powered siblings (the Wild FS and Rail).
We found there to be terrific power on tap from the Rise’ EP8-RS motor, and the E-Tube app allows you to tweak the acceleration response and assistance character of each setting, depending on how you want the power to come on. The stock tune works mighty well though, with the Rise being an efficient performer that feels natural and intuitive on the trail, with just a fraction more punch available for scaling crux features on a technical climb.
As mentioned earlier, the Shimano EP8 drive unit is much noisier than the Fuel EXe’s TQ motor, which is basically silent in comparison – both on the climbs and on the descents. We also prefer the clean integration of the TQ system, with its bright and easy-to-read top tube display. The standard display on the Rise is a rather austere junction box that features a couple of tiny LEDs. You can upgrade this to the Shimano EM800 display for an additional fee, though it comes with additional wires that add clutter to the cockpit. It’s plenty functional, just not as tidy as the Fuel EXe.
The Trek Fuel EXe is a terrific example of just how far e-MTB technology has come. Not only is it a fantastic looking bike that’s low on bulk, it also manages to deliver a load of performance out of an impressively lightweight package.
The unique TQ motor is stunningly quiet, and for many riders its 50Nm output will be ideal. Heavier folks and those chasing maximum power with maximum range will still be better served by the Rail and is full-powered Bosch motor. The Rail also features a plusher ride quality that suits brainless bombing down the roughest descents.
In comparison the Fuel EXe is a more involving bike to ride, and it rewards an active pilot that seeks to work and play with the terrain. It’s responsive and fun to ride on twisty singletrack, with the sort of on-point handling and geometry that we expect we’ll be seeing in the next generation Fuel EX.
While the suspension isn’t buttery smooth over smaller chatter, it does produce a heap of support and incredible control at higher speeds. Along with the stout chassis, the Fuel EXe exhibits a well-damped ride quality that shrugs off the big hits and awkward landings despite not having a tonne of travel.
Indeed for those riders who are looking for that hallowed middle-ground between a regular mountain bike and an e-MTB, the Fuel EXe presents one of the most compelling options to date.
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