“The switch was really easy and setting up suspension was easy,” says Gwin, “It’s something non-racers might not have to deal with very often. But anyone who races seriously knows how often you need to service, set up and remove your shocks. The access on the Demo makes it so easy, plus I just think it looks rad.”
A floating seatstay keeps the pedalling and braking forces separate, while the standard size 12 x 135 millimetre axle has been engineered to stiffen the rear end with a square-design. However, Gwin says any stiffness gained in the rear end has not added weight. “It’s really light in the rear end, which allows the bike to stay agile,” he says, “I really like a stiff bike so it’s great to not have to sacrifice any rigidity for the added agility.”
have about ten different black jerseys, a few different black helmets, and at least four or five pairs of shorts that range from light black to dark black, so you can take a guess as to where my mind was going. Gloss black with matte black highlights? Yes please. Matte black with gloss black highlights? Even better! And then, as I was sitting there curling my toes in excitement, my eyes drifted away from the computer screen to the rather expensive, utterly useless, and yet entirely needed model of Porsche’s legendary 917 sports car racer that I keep on my desk. Suddenly finding myself staring at the model isn’t anything out of the ordinary, to be honest, due to it being one of the most beautiful race cars ever assembled, and its light blue and orange Gulf Oil livery is enough to have any motorsport fan sigh in acknowledgment in the way you might do if you were to cross paths with a young Audrey Hepburn (trust me, Google it). And while I was born about fifteen years too late to be able to see the 917 fight for glory, I’m also far from being the only fan to swoon over its lines – it is, without a doubt, the most recognizable and celebrated race car ever made, at least by people in those kinds of circles. So that settled that, it was to be a 917 themed Fuel EX 29er.
No, neither the blue or the orange are a perfect match to those iconic Gulf Oil colours, but they are close enough for me to both get stoked when I see the bike and to be able to cite its inspiration. I’m not the only one who has taken note of the colour combination, either, with a number of strangers approaching me on the trail to tell me that my “Gulf bike” looks quite good. It’s been said that black is timeless, but I have to say that there’s something about this blue and orange that will always strike a chord in me, even if the closest I’ll get to seeing a 917 in action is watching YouTube clips over and over again. And how does it ride? Well, it’s a 120mm travel bike that weighs bang-on 25lb, is equipped with lightweight wheels shod with high-volume tires, and sports a short stem, wide handlebar, and a dropper seat post… in other words, it’s a hell of a lot of fun on the trail. I like to refer to bikes like these as cheater bikes because they can perform at levels that approach that of a pure cross-country bike on the climbs, yet won’t punish you as much on the downs. The best of both worlds? Sort of, although a real cross-country racer will want to be on something even lighter and firmer, and a truly aggro rider might want more travel. But for me and how I ride, which is often a little bit sideways and more than a little bit irresponsible, my vision of the ideal Fuel EX 29er works well.
That said, we did have a brief hiccup when a rather spectacular high-side crash saw me do my best scorpion impersonation into a minefield of rocks in Utah. Rider error was to blame, as it always is, and while I was battered and bruised, it was the Fuel’s seat stay that took the brunt of it. A damaged stay was the result of a direct rock strike that likely would have been fatal regardless of the frame material, and a replacement was required. Not ideal, no doubt about it, but the severity of impact with the rock gave the Project One program a chance to step up – would I get a new seat stay in the mail that matched the 917 theme, or would the replacement part forever look odd and mismatched? It was dead-on, as it turns out, and the 917 Fuel EX 29 was rolling again after minimal downtime