Trek Top Fuel 8 £1500

Race-bred short-travel thoroughbred

BikeRadar score 4/5

Great handling and taut feel make rapid forward progress a blast on this short-travel race suspension bike, and the kit’s great value. It can’t match some of its short-travel rivals for plush, though and its quick steering won’t suit everyone. A great value race bike nevertheless, and a responsive day-long ride rig.

The Top Fuel 8 is the result of Trek’s years of experience turning out race-winning full-sussers. It makes no pretence of being anything other than a race bike, and nor should it.

Although it sits just one rung off the bottom of the Top Fuel range, there’s plenty here to keep both raceheads and gear freaks happy, from hydroformed main frame tubes to a new swingarm, classy Bontrager finishing kit, a Shimano transmission and Fox suspension. Oh yes, and go-faster stripes.

Ride & handling: racy by design, racy by nature

Trek has a long experience in cross-country racing, and it shows. The long, low and efficient ride position and single-minded suspension design emphasise speed above all else. The Top Fuel 8 simply isn’t capable of the root-sucking plushness of, say, the Commençal Meta or Iron Horse we tested alongside it.

Taut responses are the order of the day, emphasised by the pedalling-friendly compression damping tune of the Fox shock. Stomp on the gas and feel the bike surge forward – riders looking for hardtail-like acceleration with added comfort won’t be disappointed.

This isn’t to say that the Trek isn’t comfortable, because it is – for a race bike. But with just 90mm of travel on tap, a design that emphasises pedal input and a geometry that favours cut-and-paste immediacy over easy-going stability, the Top Fuel 8 isn’t a bike to doze off on.

Technical, rooty climb? The rear wheel will track over the worst of the detritus, but you’ll need to give it a helping hand with some carefully chosen body language. Fast, rocky descent? Lightning-quick steering responses will keep you on your toes. Racy by design, racy by nature: the Trek earns its go-faster stripes and demands respect.

Chassis: weight-saving simplicity

Trek’s big news for 2008 was its new Fuel EX line-up of full-sussers, featuring a rejigged system that includes a pivot point around the rear axle and a floating shock mount. The Top Fuel line doesn’t have these changes, but with less rear wheel travel on tap – 90mm compared with the Fuel EX’s 120mm – it arguably doesn’t need them.

Trek dubs the Top Fuel’s suspension system R1, meaning rocker-activated single pivot. Previous incarnations of the Fuel made use of seatstays bonded into the rear dropouts, but the 2008 Top Fuels feature asymmetric chainstays and conventional welded seatstays – a set-up that, Trek claims, is both stiffer and nearly a half pound lighter than the old swingarm.

The Fox Float RP2 shock – set up with a high level of compression damping tune – is driven via an elegantly sculpted rocker. The main frame eschews the gussetry of earlier versions in favour of hydroformed top and biaxial down tubes, welded together and subtly curved up at the head tube to help disperse stress away from this vulnerable area.

Neat detailing includes unusual triple slots at the top of the seat tube – presumably to improve seat post fit and help prevent stress-related weakening caused by over-tightened seat collars.

Holding up the front and keeping everything pointed where the rider wants to go is Fox’s reliable F100 RL, serving up 100mm of fluid travel with adjustable rebound damping and a lockout lever. It’s everything a budding racer could want – reasonably light, easy to set up, and capable of getting on with its job without giving the rider any nasty surprises.

Equipment: Bontynessabounds

Keith Bontrager is one of the most experienced bike and component designers in the business. There’s little to say about the wheels, tyres, saddle, seat post, stem and handlebar used here that carry his name, except that they all work well and look equally great.

A big stack of washers under the stem gives plenty of scope for handlebar height adjustment, while swapping the old school straight handlebar for one with a bit of rise would convert the Top Fuel 8 into a willing day-ride accomplice.

Verdict: not just a one-trick pony

With all this talk of racing, it’d be easy to dismiss the Top Fuel 8 as a one-trick bike. But that’d be a shame, because it’s capable of more than lapping circuits at the weekend – riders used to a hardtail will find it compellingly efficient with added comfort for day-long epics.

If you’re looking for maximum plush from a short-travel bike then it’s probably not the best choice, but riders who enjoy a responsive, eager ride with a few inches of bump-eating leeway will find a lot to like....

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