The setting for this press camp simply couldn’t have been any more beautiful. The mountain town of Châtel, France is nestled in a part of the French Alps called the Portes du Soleil, which translates to “gateway to the sun.” This region of the French and Swiss Alps is comprised of 12 village resorts with over 500 miles of multi-use trails, which are serviced by 25 chair lifts throughout the summer. Jeff Guerrero wrote about his experience within the Portes du Soleil after his 2004 visit to the region.
This region of the Alps delivers all of the stereotypical visual cues we’ve all seen in the movies; French chateaus, high mountain meadows with free-range cows providing a melodic cowbell symphony, all set on a back-drop of rocky and steep snow-capped peaks.
Not only is this region incredibly beautiful, but lift access makes recreating within these mountains incredibly easy. For €20.50, you can buy a day pass access for every one of the 25 lifts within the Portes du Soleil, which facilitates huge back country epic rides throughout the various villages of the region. Not only that, but your lift ticket will also gain you access to the bike park at Châtel as well as 4 other parks in the region. Given all the elevation gain and loss with the excellent lift access, the Portes du Soleil seemed like a great place to put some of Trek’s 2011 bikes through their paces.
Before we get to the bikes, though, let me run you through some of the new technologies Trek introduced.
OCLV Mountain is a new variation of Trek’s traditional OCLV carbon, which is said to be 25% stronger. This strength increase is due to using different carbon material as well as using different epoxies, but the OCLV production process remains largely the same. That’s all the info I could get out of the engineers, any further into and they might have needed to kill me. This tougher carbon is more resistant to impact than traditional OCLV carbon, which makes well suited to the rigors of offroad riding. Not only is Trek striving to build a more robust carbon mountain bike, but they’re also working to ease consumer fears about the long-term durability of carbon for offroad use.
ABP Convert is the newest iteration of Trek’s Active Braking Pivot which now uses a 142 x 12mm thru axle that’s said to be 10% stiffer than the more traditional 135 x 5mm ABP skewer. For those worried about backward compatibility, as the “convert” portion of the name suggests, ABP Convert is also compatible with traditional 135mm QR hubs via frame inserts included with the bike or frame. Seems like the 142mm standard is here to stay, and this execution with a 142 x 12mm RockShox Maxle is a pretty elegant solution.
Custom Fork Tuning is present on all of the Fox FIT damper equipped forks found on both the Fuel EX and the Remedy. The compression valve and shim assembly have been tuned to better match the damping and ride characteristics of the DRCV rear shock. The goal was to create a fork that reacts smoother and more quickly, while better balancing the suspension front and rear.
Integrated Frame Armor is something we first saw on the 2010 Remedy carbon bikes. Trek has now expanded this technology to the Fuel and Scratch series as well. The polymer pads on the underside of the downtube protect both the carbon and aluminum frames from damage due to rocks being kicked up by the front tire. Motivation for this protection was provided by the significant percentage of Trek warranty claims due to downtube damage resulting from rocks.
Combine 120mm of travel and a 69º headtube angle with a bike that weighs in around 23 lbs (Fuel EX 9.9), the Fuel EX is a seemingly solid package for both ascending and descending.
For 2011 the Fuel EX receives a few major refinements and many detail-level improvements, but the fundamental package remains largely the same.
Change for 2011:
- OCLV Mountain frame w/ remote seatpost routing
- OCLV chainstay on the carbon bikes—entire frame is now carbon
- Carbon Armor
- ABP Convert
- 100 grams lighter and 15% stiffer than 2010
- Custom fork tuning on models with FIT Damper forks
In my one long and grueling (at times) ride aboard the Fuel EX 9.9—top of the line model with SRAM XX parts—I came away pretty darn impressed with both the efficient pedaling and technical capability of the EX. I haven’t ridden a bike this light—something like 23 lbs. with pedals—in ages and had forgotten just how wonderful they to pedal.
When the trail turned technical and/or pointed downhill the EX continued to be an eager player. The combination of the DRCV rear shock and the new fork tuning certainly seems to play well together, though I hesitate to base too much of my opinion on a fork that really hadn’t even had a chance to break in yet.
It’s certainly easy to see why bikes in this 120mm category are so popular with riders around the world. They pedal very well and handle the rough stuff respectably, too. Within this category the Fuel EX certainly is a solid contender and it’s no surprise given the extensive R&D and engineering that goes into a bike like this.
Since the Remedy was completely redesigned for 2010, the 2011 model-year changes are again focused on detail-level developments:
- OCLV Mountain Frame w/remote seatpost routing
- OCLV Mountain seatstay
- Carbon Armor
- ABP convert
- 100 grams lighter than 2010 model
- Custom fork tuning on models with FIT Damper forks
My ride aboard the Remedy was a day-long affair that involved something like 5 chair lifts up the mountains with miles of descending and climbing in between. That said, the Remedy is definitely not a bike that requires a lift, it pedals incredibly well for a 150mm travel bike. The Remedy 9.9 we rode weighed in the vicinity of just 26 lbs, so the climbing prowess isn’t surprising. Due to the longer suspension travel, I did feel compelled to switch the ProPedal on more than when riding the EX, but overall the pedaling performance was impressive.
Pointing the Remedy downhill brought a huge grin to my face as you really have a chance to stretch the Remedy’s legs and use all 150mm of highly refined travel. Having been ridden aggressively by another journalist the day before, the fork felt considerably more broken-in and I was better able to feel the damping difference provided by the custom valving. The front and rear suspension on the Remedy felt capable on bigger stuff yet responsive and controlled on smaller high-frequency bumps.
The Remedy carbon chassis felt stiff and predictable, while the 68º headtube angle proved to balance high-speed stability without being floppy while climbing. That said, the Remedy’s suspension is so capable and I can totally see some owners opting to install a 160mm fork on this bike to rake it out just a touch and gain a little extra travel. The frame and rear suspension are certainly up to the task.
Trek’s Scratch bikes both run the same frame introduced for the 2010 model year, but the models have been differentiated further to better fit their intended uses.
The Scratch Air remains fundamentally the same for 2011, but does receive a host of minor improvements and spec changes:
- New Fox 36 TALAS fork 120-160mm Travel
- 2 ring RaceFace crankset with MRP chainguide and bashguard
- Custom tuned RP23 instead of DHX AIR from last year—for a more responsive ride with less weight
- Downtube Protection
I didn’t have a chance to ride a Scratch Air while at the camp, but watching others ride the Air bikes and listening to feedback about the Air experience, I got the impression it’s a solid performer. Undoubtedly the RP23 shock will provide a better pedaling feel than the coil shock on the Scratch Coil, not to mention the lighter weight of the air suspension on both ends.
If you’re looking for an aggressive 160mm travel bike to pedal around, the Scratch Air is something to consider. Just be aware the top tube lengths on the Scratch bikes are on the short side, with a large (19.5″) frame’s effective toptube measuring 22.48.”
The 2010 Scratch Coil I currently have in for test seems like a bike that suffers just a bit from “jack of all trades” syndrome. It seems to do everything with a decent level of aptitude, but doesn’t really seem to excel in any one realm. Fortunately, for 2011 Trek has narrowed the focus of the Scratch Coil to make it a more adept park-type bike with the following changes:
- 180mm travel Fox 36 fork, up from the 160mm fork in 2010
- Custom tuned Fox DHX RC4 rear shock
- RaceFace 1×9 crankset with MRP chainguide and bashguard
- Downtube Protection
The new 180mm travel Fox 36 fork is bound to be a hit for bikes like the Scratch Coil, as it’s certainly a better fit than a 160mm fork for this application. With the longer fork the Scratch Coil’s headtube is raked out to 65.1º, compared to the 66º headtube from last year’s model. This might seem like a little change, but the personality of the bike changes for the better by becoming even more stable and confident.
Playing in the bike park at Châtel on the Coil bike was a riot. The Scratch was confident and predictable even when the trails were not, and the bike felt at home whether we were railing flowy, bermy jump lines, or rubbing our butts on the back tire as we picked our way down steep, rooty and rutted singletrack trails. The only place I found myself wishing for more travel was when clattering through sections of massive braking bumps entering the bermed corners at Châtel.
Overall, Trek is continuing to refine and tweek their products into some pretty impressive pieces of machinery—they sure have come a long way from the days of the original Fuel and Liquid just six years ago.
Product photos by Sterling Lorence and Geoff Waugh, courtesy of Trek.