The carbon Top Fuel bikes took pole position in Trek's Fuel range last year. For 2007, Trek have added two aluminium bikes for cross-country racers on a budget. We thrashed the higher end rig, the Top Fuel 8.
The aluminium frame looks similar to the carbon fibre Top Fuel frames, but the whole mainframe has been reworked and lightened, with a lower top tube and wider main bearings in a slightly changed position. Wide stance main pivot bearings and a new asymmetric rear end also stiffen the back of the bike up and reduce the weight by 200g. Tyre clearance has also increased to 2.35in and pivot stiction has been reduced, although the rear travel still stays at 90mm (3.5in).
The build is a mix of mid-level SRAM and Shimano components with an SRAM X.0 rear mech highlight. The Avid brakes are excellent stoppers and the usual selection of stalwart Bontrager Race parts provides reliable rider comfort and performance. We'd stick faster tyres on for summer race days though, because the Bontrager ACXs drag in drier conditions. The lightweight, quality frame means there's also plenty of potential for upgrading.
First impressions are of a naturally fast trail bike rather than a pure racer, but much of that is due to the tyres
First impressions are of a naturally fast trail bike rather than a pure racer, but much of that is due to the tyres. The rear end feels pert and usefully precise, with enough travel to suck up the occasional drop or rock strike that would otherwise punch you over the bar. Even if you run generous sag for extra comfort and traction, a flick of the shock lockout lever toggles you between smoothly active and sprint stiff so you're not left wallowing.
The 2007 Fox forks we've ridden all feel harsher over smaller bumps, but we haven't ridden any long enough to see if they bed in. They definitely feel like they steer stiffer though, and Trek have chosen 100mm (4in) rather than 80mm (3in) travel forks for the Top Fuels to increase general trail performance.
The handling is as neutral and easy to work with as we've come to expect from Trek - you'll need to work hard to open gaps on the first lap in a race, but this bike will look after you all the way to the finish. It also feels surprisingly compact because the top tube is much lower beneath you than usual. Unlike some race bikes like the Santa Cruz Blur XC or Giant Anthem, the top tube length is standard rather than extended, so you'll need the same size bike as normal, rather than a size smaller.
The Top Fuel 8 and the cheaper Top Fuel 7 (£1,350) are going to be popular with XC riders and deservedly so. They're light and competitively fast with a tight but confident feel that'll add easy speed to most trail situations.