Bike Review: 2019 Trek Top Fuel 9.8

Words by: Lance Stephenson | Images by: Frans le Roux

In a country with a massive cross-country bike following, can the slightly refreshed and updated Trek Top Fuel still hold its own? Our resident bike tester, LANCE STEPHENSON spent a couple of weeks finding out.

The black decals on
this grey frame looked
gorgeous!
The Bontrager Kovee
Elite wheels were sturdy
and lightweight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trek Top Fuel platform has been around for a little while, sporting suspension tech like ABP (Active Brake Pivot, which is supposed to allow for movement of the rear pivot under braking which normally stiffens or locks the suspension) and Full Floater (which puts the lower shock mount on the seat stay swing
arm. Between these two unique technologies, Trek gave the Top Fuel range a very responsive, active and engaging ride characteristic. Trek also add a Mino Link system which allows you to swap a chip around in the suspension which changes the BB height and head angle, giving it more tunability than most bikes in the XC category. A detail on this bike that stands out to me is the cable management which is what they call “Control Freak Cable Management”. This is essentially a beautifully thought-out system of cable port positioning and clever plastic chips that slot together to fasten and hold the cables neatly in position. This stops unwanted cable rub on the paint, and also cable slap inside the frame. Trek has also fitted a Twist Loc Dual Lock-out, this allows for locking the front and rear suspensions out with a light action and to me, a very novel way. I don’t use lockouts much, to be honest, I hardly see the point of having a suspension bike you turn off, but I found myself using this one plenty for it’s amazing action (plus the actual grip of the twist loc is hardly thicker than a normal grip which is my pet hate with twist shift). The Dual lockout is solid, and makes the bike taught and gives you the feeling of wanting to test its sprinting and climbing limits. On many occasions I dumped the lockouts and just went hell for leather to see what this bike can do, and, I can say with much glee that this bike returns your efforts with speed and a sense of superiority. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but this bike is rewarding to ride. You never feel like it “short changes” you.

 

A slammed stem is
what most die-hard racing
snakes would prefer.
A carbon Bontrager
handlebar completed the
build.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ride

I setup the bike, seat height, fore and aft positions, bar rotations and stem lengths and all that important stuff. I sat on the bike to adjust my suspension and set off to ride my local trails. My trails were sandy as hell and blown-out from too many hot days without rain and lack of maintenance. In most cases I would be cautious with a “foreign” bike in such conditions to take my time to get used to the “manners” of the bike. That’s just it, this bike was instantly like home to me. It had such a good bike fit, and the handling was inspiring to say the least. The front end of this bike is possibly the most planted, direct and yet not twitchy front-end I’ve ever ridden. It comes with a Lightweight Rock Shox SID fork, which is smooth and stiff enough, but I can imagine how well this bike would steer and perform with a stiffer counterpart like one of
the new DT Swiss forks! I found myself railing my trails with reckless abandon, but it never felt like that. The bike is composed, fast and nimble. For a bike with 100mm travel it handles far better than that figure. I found myself seeing new lines and jumps on a trail I train on daily, only because this bike allowed me to do things, take lines and adjust mid turn lines like no other. It truly is a capable and remarkable race bike.
Climbing on this bike must be average if it’s descending manners are so good. No, this bike climbs
with a poise that you rarely see on anything that can descend like this. I found the traction to be velcro like
uphill even of really loose rocky terrain, and yet it felt light to pedal. I never felt that the amount of suspension being used effected how the bike pedalled. I aimed for rocks and bumps to test it. It has such a great suspension system it was hard to find any faults.

The famous Mino-Link
flip chip lets you alter the
bikes geometry.

Conclusion

I love this bike, and I hesitated to return it to Trek. It’s a remarkable bike and I would spend my own money on it. Trek offers a custom bike service called Project One, and being me, I would have mine painted up in my own guise. This bike is for the XC, marathon mind-set who wants a bloody fast bike that is efficient without taking you to pieces on scary downhills. This bike will inspire you to try harder, ride faster and take those lines you haven’t thought possible. This little machine makes you believe you are a better bike rider and that is what I describe as a GREAT bike.

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