For skilled, time-hardened riders willing to put in the effort to show it who’s boss, Trek's aluminium race whippet is capable of stunning cross-country speed – a purist racer’s racer. But a laid-back all-rounder the Top Fuel 9 most certainly isn’t, so for trail use there are better options out there.
Ride & handling: Race-light whippet that's a capable but demanding ride at speed
From the moment you wheel the Trek out of the front door, it imparts a sense of straining at the leash. Its slender tube proﬁles, light wheels and a compact cockpit with no-nonsense straight bars are all so racy. Throw in a steep seat angle and a low weight, and it’s no wonder that it feels as though it’s going to rocket towards the horizon at the ﬁrst turn of the pedals.
There’s no doubt that Trek’s rear suspension setup works extremely well. The rear axle pivot point and ‘full ﬂoater’ setup – which puts the Fox Float RP23 shock between the one-piece rocker and the swingarm – combines with a well thought out shock leverage ratio to create one of the most supple rear ends we’ve ridden. Switch the shock’s ProPedal compression damping off, point the Top Fuel up a rooty climb and marvel at the way the rear wheel sticks to the ground.
There’s no fuss, no squishiness and no unwanted bobbing. Invisible suspension is our favourite kind, and Trek have got it sussed (pun intended). The Top Fuel is a climber’s dream – all the speed and light weight of a hardtail with all the ground-sucking potential of a full-susser. If you thought suspension was a hindrance uphill, Trek’s engineers are out to prove that exactly the opposite is the case – they’ve pulled that off convincingly here.
Cashing in those gravity credits isn’t quite so much fun though, thanks to the Top Fuel's nervy, attention-seeking geometry and the very light build. It’s certainly possible to pilot it down rocky descents at speed, but you’ll need well-honed reﬂexes and a deft touch to hold it to a chosen line. If its climbing performance is deﬁned by an uncanny ability to keep the rear wheel planted, that’s not as true at speed. While the suspension continues to work well, svelte wheels and tube proﬁles make it difﬁcult to avoid bouncing off course. It’s fast, sure – but only in the right hands.
Equipment: Great spec with light build and supple-but-responsive suspension to boot
Despite being overshadowed by its £3,750, carbon-framed big brother, the Top Fuel 9’s clearly been on a racer’s diet. Comfortably below the 25lb mark for a 100mm-travel bike at this price is pretty respectable. When you’re pounding out the miles in search of a better race result, that kind of difference can matter – psychologically, if not strictly physiologically.
There’s no one single reason to attribute for Trek’s svelte build, although details such as the magnesium rocker link, aluminium spoke nipples, carbon seatpost and full Shimano XT kit undoubtedly help. Yes, you did read that right – the Top Fuel 9 boasts a complete XT group, right down to the brakes. Wheels, tyres and ﬁnishing kit are all high-end, in-house Bontrager.
On the suspension front, the Trek has a characteristically active rear end. Up front, RockShox’s evergreen SID race fork takes care of its duties with typical aplomb, and can be locked out in a second from the bar-mounted lever. There’s nothing here that needs changing, although the plain rubber grips do look a tad stingy next to the fancy lock-ons sported by most of the competition.