Being Lance

Steve Worland says Trek’s Top Fuel is already a race winner, but is that enough?

Every company is aware that having a champion riding your bikes helps to sell more of them and Trek knows it better than most.

The new Top Fuel isn’t even finished yet and Lance Armstrong has already won a race on it. Many people didn’t even know he was planning to race again, or even liked to ride off road.

This brings up a few issues, some relevant to ‘normal’ riders, some not:

  1. Many riders are surprised that a road champion would choose to race on a full suspension bike rather than a hardtail, strangely overlooking the fact that Christoph Sauser has been winning races on his Specialized Epic for ages, often pulling away on climbs for the win.
  2. There’s a general assumption that a race-winning bike wouldn’t be suitable for the limited skills and abilities of the average rider.
  3. Given that Trek’s full suspension platform comes in other versions and that none of them appear to make you ride any slower than their price point and bike type rivals, a lot of people are wondering which bike would work best for them.

It'd be a little presumptuous of me to try to provide all the answers, but here’s some food for thought. I’ve just finished a two-hour ride on a 22lb(ish) 100mm travel Top Fuel on the second Interbike Dirt Demo Day and I’ve already spent several hours each with the 25lb(ish) 120mm travel Fuel EX and the 28lb(ish) 140mm Gary Fisher Roscoe. All three were subjected to a hammering (in my terms) on fast rocky trails of the type where one rider at the trailhead actually questioned the wisdom of me taking the Top Fuel along there.

The two Treks and the Roscoe are all superb bikes and they’ll all appeal to different rider types who relate to different bike images, different amounts of suspension travel and different degrees of built-in hard hitting durability. But whether you’re looking at Trek, Fisher or one of the many other suspension bike platforms out there, have a good long think about what sort of rider you are before you commit. A surprising number of riders buy into the idea that more suspension travel and a more radical image will somehow make them into a better rider. My experience tells me the opposite.

Of the two Trek Fuels and the Fisher Roscoe, I'd go for the Top Fuel every time if money were no object.

Why? Because ‘race’ suspension bikes have developed to the point where, as well as making you go faster up the hills because they’re so light, they can also stay with the harder hitting plusher bikes on the downs because they work so well. They are no longer ‘just’ race bikes. The Top Fuel, the Giant Anthem X and the Specialized Epic S Works (all bikes I’ve spent a lot of time with in the last couple of months) are all superb race bikes, but they’re a lot more besides.

With 100mm of suspension travel and a surprisingly casual ride feel once you’ve fitted your favourite handlebar and tyres, they’re simply very fast and very light trail bikes that happen to be a hell of a lot of fun to ride.

Most riders buy a bike that has far more inbuilt ability than they do. I suspect that Lance Armstrong chose the Top Fuel over one of Trek’s superlight carbon hardtails because he wanted a bike that flattered his limited off road abilities but still allowed him to ride to its limits without getting totally beaten up in the process.

And I suspect a lot of riders will be quietly trying to emulate Lance in 2009, in bike choice if nothing else.

Look out for full reviews of the bikes mentioned in the next couple of editions of What Mountain Bike, beginning with WMB89, on sale 15 October.

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