Trek has just released the latest version of their popular Top Fuel bike, I’ve had it for a month already so these are our first impressions. Look out for the full review in the upcoming issues. With the release of the Supercaliber taking the place of the full-noise XC race bike, the Top Fuel had the opportunity to evolve out of that same XC space, and that’s exactly what it has done, moving firmly into the ‘trail’, or, - dare we say it - ‘downcountry’ segment.
For 2022 travel in the rear ups from 115mm to 120mm, and is matched by a 120mm fork. The model I have had on review is the 9.8, which means you get the full carbon frame along with Bontrager carbon wheels, and a full XT build kit from tip to tail. Out of the box, I personally liked the matte carbon look with holographic details around the edge of the logos, it’s subtle, smart and stealthy. But if you’re bolder than I am, it’s also available in a pretty striking Red/Purple/Yellow fade too. All the housing is internal, which completes the sleek look, and also internal is your tool kit! Or it can be if you want it to be with a handy tool storage compartment integrated under the bottle cage, sadly you have to provide your own tools, but it does come with a nice little pouch to wrap things in. I’m looking forward to seeing just how much stuff I can jam in there, it looks like an ideal shape for a long cream doughnut. At the bottom of the down tube, there is a plastic armouring to protect the carbon, and a chunky rubberised chainstay protector to keep things quiet. Interestingly for an XC-oriented bike, there is only one bottle cage mount, which seems strange as this kind of ride would seem to be perfect for longer stage or marathon racing. Our 9.8 model has the full XT mentioned kit, which includes the superb 4-pot XT calipers and a 10-51 tooth cassette.
With 120mm travel, 66.0-degree head angle, and 2.4” tyres, the Top Fuel is set, on paper at least, to be a pretty fun whip. The term ‘Top Fuel’ is a term associated with American drag racing, which is all about acceleration, and that is immediately noticeable, the Top Fuel draws on its XC roots and gets up to speed fast, but with modern geometry and tyres that give the confidence to push through the corners - it can stay there, where with a more traditional XC bike might ask you be tempted to pull back.
After a month of riding on the Top Fuel, I left thinking, ‘this is the kind of bike a lot of people should be riding’. My totally un-scientific belief is that thanks to effective marketing companies, more riders are riding longer-travelling, heavier, squishier (yes it’s a technical term), bikes than the terrain really requires. Part of that has been the evolution of geometry. It has only been longer travel bikes that have had the matching geometry that inspires confidence at speed, or over steep terrain. But with more modern geometry (read: longer, slacker) trickling into bikes like the Top Fuel, you have the choice of riding lighter, shorter travel bikes, with more confidence over technical terrain. What’s more, tyre choice can often be one of the most significant choices in what terrain a bike will excel on and with Trek speccing the new 2.4” XR4 tyres, they clearly had this same thinking in mind. They are noticeably chunkier tyres than you might think to find on a 120mm travel bike, and probably reflect the kind of personal changes most riders end up making to their bikes in time.
Anyway, all this theory aside, spending this month on the Top Fuel only confirmed my thinking - I felt I was undeniably faster over 90% of the terrain that I usually ride than I was on a longer travel bike. This was confirmed when finishing one descent, and waiting at the bottom for my regular riding partner to catch up, his immediate comment when he eventually arrived was “You were RAPID down there today!” The light wheels (and overall lightweight, 27.80 lbs / 12.61 kg) and fast engaging 108t freehub means it gets up and going very quickly.
On the suspension front, the SID Select+ does the job nicely, but I’m looking forward to spending some time fine-tuning this. I’m thinking that it might benefit from the addition of a bottom-less token. The frame is rated for a 130mm fork as well, so if you really wanted to take a step towards the down part of the down-country putting something like a Pike on here would really make it rip.
So far I have been really enjoying this bike, and I am really hoping the time I have it for isn’t going to be hampered by another lockdown because it really makes me want to get out and go for a good long ride each time I look at it. Look out for the full review coming soon.
Words & Images: Lance Pilbrow