Words by Ryan Palmer.
When the new beefed-up Top Fuel came out in mid-2019, prior to Trek launching its mysteriously cloaked World Cup XC bike, the Supercaliber, people went ape shit. The Top Fuel had long been Trek’s fastest, leanest, most torturous cross-country racer, and all of a sudden it had more travel, came with a full-length dropper, and to the chagrin of every gram-counting troll on the internet, was slightly heavier. When they saw that the updated rocket ship had 115 millimeters of rear-wheel travel, 120 up front, and that a size large Top Fuel 9.9 weighed under 25 pounds, they flipped their dressing-on-the-side lids.
What they hadn’t done prior to shooting their Strava-stalking mouths off was ride the bike. If they’d done so, they would have realized that this sub-25- pound “boat anchor” is fast as hell. More importantly, it’s damn fun, and it’s vastly more versatile than the XC alien bikes World Cuppers are riding, without giving up the exhilarating quickness that’s so intoxicating about XC bikes. And, while racing is meant to be hard, painful and uncomfortable, not all mountain bike rides are supposed to be. This new breed of cross-country bikes, and this new Top Fuel in particular, makes some of us nostalgic about the days when every mountain bike was a cross- country race bike, before XC bikes became so purpose-built for speed that all the fun was sucked out of them. This bike is purpose-built for both. In one tester’s opinion (mine), it’s precisely what cross-country racing needs. Bikes like the Supercaliber should be for winning World Cup races only. Meaning they should only be available to people who’ve made it onto World Cup teams. Meaning they shouldn’t be available to over-entitled semi-pros just so they can beg their local shop for a discount on one.
The Top Fuel is a reminder that riding bikes is supposed to be fun. It’s also become increasingly necessary in the lineup in order to fill the gap that the Great Trail Bike Endurofying era has created. Mike Ferrentino and I agree that it’s a superb trail bike for many areas of the country and for certain types of riders. Even where I live in Bellingham, Washington, a place known for its steep-and-deep loamers, there’s plenty of terrain that with the right pilot, no other bike on earth would be quicker. In Park City, we had no problem finding trails that the Top Fuel absolutely lit up. Mike was nearly 10 minutes faster riding the Top Fuel on the climbing portion of our test loop than he was on his second-quickest lap. Granted, this was the only XC bike at Bible, but that just highlights the gap between what trail bikes have become, and what XC bikes are transforming into.
Simon Stewart, a dyed-in-the-wool trail bike guy, was not impressed with the Top Fuel. The suspension was too harsh, head angle too steep, bike too twitchy for his delicate sensibilities. He felt that the trail bikes he was testing had better rear-wheel traction on climbs, requiring less body English to keep calm, and descending the Top Fuel sketched him out. To Mike and I, that was just confirmation that Trek didn’t go too far in trailifying the Top Fuel. It’ll still scare non-XC riders. That’s a good metric, right? It terrified me at first, but after some getting used to, it became a thoroughly enjoyable bike to ride.
We did agree with Simon’s criticism of the seat tube angle being too slack (It’s strange to live in a world where a 75-degree seat angle could be considered slack). I wasn’t bothered by it, but then again, none of us could come up with a reason why it shouldn’t be a degree steeper. Other than that, two of three testers were quite impressed with and surprised by the new Top Fuel.
I’d like to leave you with a little story. When I worked as a mechanic on a World Cup XC team, I had a racer once demand I take the sealant out of his tires to save weight on race day. At the start line he asked me to confirm I’d done so, and I assured him I had (I hadn’t). He went on the win the race—after puncturing his too-light tire and the sealant I didn’t take out saved him a pit stop that would have cost him the lead.
So, when looking at the Top Fuel, don’t listen to the trolls on the internet telling you it’s too heavy. Those are the same people who’d take sealant out of their tires to save weight. Instead, get this bike, rip their silky-smooth legs off, and have a whole mess of fun doing it.