Trek Bikes Top Fuel 9 2016 Mountain Bike Review

Trek Bikes Top Fuel 9 2016

Reviews / XC Bikes

Trek Bikes 1,552,613

At A Glance

Trek's previous incarnation of the Top Fuel was retired in 2012 with the appearance of the Superfly, pretty much as Trek ditched the 26” wheel size on its cross-country line-up in favour of the 29” rolling stock we have become used to in the last few years. 2015 saw Trek launch a new XC range, the Procaliber hardtail and the return of the 100mm Top Fuel, full suspension, which we have on test. The bikes geometry and style has a racing focus, designed to fit the more technical cross-country courses that are around these days and longer stage racing where full suspension pays dividends in minimising fatigue.

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The range consists of two alloy versions, the Top Fuel 8 and 9 (with a women’s specific 8) and 2 carbon versions: the 9.8 and range-topping 9.9. Boost hubs front and back, clever cable routing named 'Control Freak Routing' is able to accommodate pretty much any set up required, 1x, 2x, dropper post etc. The Mino Link allows the user to alter the ride geometry and a single combined lockout for front/rear suspension is controlled from the bars. Trek has also introduced what they call 'Smart Wheel Strategy' into the mix, all this really means is that if you choose the 15.5” frame you get 27.5” wheels rather than the 29” that’s on all the other frame sizes and gives a better fit for the smaller rider.

On The Trail

Our test bike was the well spec'd Top Fuel 9 model which feature mostly XT level components with the Rockshox SID XX on the front and a Monarch XX on the rear. I loved the hydraulic Pushloc that locked or released them both at the same time, sure the cockpit was a little busy with cables, but in my opinion well worth it for climbs and sprints. I guess my only reservation would be the maintenance and bleeding of a combined system, which might prove awkward.

The in-house Bontrager Mustang PRO wheels are tubeless ready, as are the XR1 tyres that come as stock. The whole package on the 17.5” frame ,out of the box with XT pedals, came in at 28.5lbs. Serious racers will find that a little on the heavy side and will probably have to open their wallet slightly wider for the 9.8 or 9.9 (9.9 coming in at under 22lbs!), but for the rest of us setting up tubeless and the odd component upgrade would easily knock off a couple of pounds.

I fiddled with the Mino link a few times, it’s a small “chip” located on the seat stay/rocker junction and easy to swap round with an Allen key, the higher position giving 70.9 degree head angle and 34.1cm bottom bracket height compared to the low setting at 70 degrees and 33cm bottom bracket height. I settled for the low, as it suited me better so it was left there for the majority of my riding.

Over the past couple of months I’ve put probably over 1000 miles on the bike, riding everything from the 2012 Olympic course at Hadleigh in England to a bunch of trails in North Scotland. The bike's hugely capable, 700mm bars, 435mm short chain stays coupled with the Boost wheels front and back, definitely add up to a nice solid bike that is happy to be pushed hard on what would be considered a technical trail for XC riders. I’ve swung a leg over plenty of super-light bikes in the past and they are great for climbing, but sketchy as hell on the loose stuff and descents, so it’s all about getting the balance right and this bike feels incredibly dialled for long days in the saddle.

The old Superfly had the swing link for the rear shock, but the Top Fuel takes a leaf out of the EX and Remedy’s book with the EVO link allowing a Full Floater design. It’s a proven success and works well in giving a really progressive shock action, you definitely feel like you get the full 100mm of travel on offer. The shock doesn’t incorporate the RE:Aktiv technology seen in the EX and Remedy yet, but we are told that may come in the future. One drawback for those looking at longer rides is that the design eats up one of the spaces for a second water bottle. This is an important factor on long races, so you’d find yourself having to look for seat post mounting which in turn takes up the space where many carry a small tool bag. It’s swings and roundabouts really, but also something to be aware of if that’s the kind of riding you have in mind.

The drivetrain is one by eleven, nothing new here and it’s a setup that the majority of XC riders use now, offering a big spread on the 10-42 cassette. The stock chainring is 32 tooth which is a good “in the middle” range, if you're aiming to conquer long steep hills then you can slap a 30 on there in a few minutes as the crank doesn’t need to come off. I’ve found that I can get away with a 30 or 34 with no change in the chain length. The X1 shifter and mech are solid performers, just remember to keep the mech GT85’d after the wet rides and it won’t let you down. The XT brakes are ideal especially with the 180 rotor up front - certainly no issues there.

Geometry is quite a personal thing, sure you can bracket some of the numbers and angles into race XC, trail, all-mountain and the rest, but within that it’s a lot to do with what we are used to. I, personally, found I had to fit a slight lay back seat post to “open” up the cockpit a little, that’s just me though as I like riding low and fast. Once set up, I found the bike incredibly compliant with a definite 'part of the bike', rather than 'on the bike' feel. I had no issues confidently pushing the bike hard no matter what the trail. All frames also come with a lifetime warranty for the original owner, peace of mind at least against any manufacturing issues, no matter how long you have the bike

Overall

The geometry may be focused on speed yet the Top Fuel 9 gives a great riding position for hours in the saddle. Whereas the Top Fuel 9.9 has already seen a stage win at this year’s Cape Epic, the “9” would be a great bike for anyone who enjoys thrashing round trail centres or simply getting from A to B as quickly and efficient as possible with the odd race thrown in along the way. In addition, the ‘Kermit The Frog’ green colourway looks fantastic in the flesh, easy for your mates to spot you out in front as you leave them for dust on the trails…

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This review was in Issue 41 of IMB.

For more information visit Trek Bikes

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By Derek Wilson

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