2020 Trek Top Fuel 9.8 Review – The Icon Reborn

The 2020 Trek Top Fuel 9.8 has brought a new flavor to the XC marathon field. Its well-crafted frame has undergone a major face-lift, with the geometry getting slacker, the fork travel increasing and the long-anticipated addition of a dropper seat-post. Trek has brought the Top Fuel out of the ‘for racers only’ category and made it more enjoyable to the average mountain biker.

With that said, the bike is targeting at a different aspect of XC racing compared to its predecessor. And that aspect would be multi day stage racing and long-distance marathon racing. Its launch in May 2019 revealed that it would take more of a back seat on the XCO circuit and that it would inevitably be replaced by the Supercaliber later in the year. Nonetheless it’s still one of the great XCM legends, and with all the modifications for 2020 its perfect for the long haul. Truly presenting a happy medium between XCO and XCM.

The Frame – American Muscle:

Every inch of the Top Fuel 9.8’s frame is iconic in the field of mountain biking. With every bike we test from Trek we become even more blown away by the OCLV carbon layup and its performance levels. Thanks to years of refinement, the frame can maintain great stiffness under pressure, and you can really feel this come into action on tight corners, and steep climbs. Not to mention the overall weight reduction, even with Trek’s carbon protection technology.

Its all about being practical when it comes to the extra benefits of owning a Top Fuel – you’re getting Trek’s Knock Block on the head-tube which prevents the handlebars from slamming into the top-tube of the bike. Then there’s neat threading of the internal cable routing that will guide your drivetrain, suspension lockout, and dropper post cables in a clean and easily accessible manner.

It’s also worth mentioning the cool colourways you’ve got available with the Top Fuel’s frame. On the standard bike model for the Top Fuel 9.8, you’ve got solid black, black to teal, and viper red to choose from. However, if you truly want to make the bike your own, you can opt for a customized paint scheme through Trek’s Icon paint workshop. 

The Suspension:

The idea that you should have to settle for one riding style, is evident with Trek’s choice of suspension for the 2020 Top Fuel 9.8. The fork – Fox’s Performance 34 Step Cast – with a GRIP 2-postion damper. The weight of the 34 StepCast forks are noteworthy, being lighter than the 32 StepCast on the current models. Its also slightly more efficient in stiffness, and the most exciting thing is, its got a 120 mm of travel!

Fox’s Performance Float is a shock with a 2 position DPS damper, and it looks after suspension at the rear well. Its also got a little more suspension travel than one might expect – that being 115 mm. Both front and rear shocks can be locked-out from the TwistLoc remote lever on the handlebars.

The Drivetrain:

SRAM’s GX Eagle has become an icon on the market, representing a drivetrain that bridges the gap between quality and affordability. While it doesn’t have any carbon construction the GX Eagle still does a good job of shifting between the 12 gears efficiently.

The Wheels:

The Trek Top Fuel 9.8 comes locked and loaded with a set of mean and lean Bontrager Kovee Elite 30’s. With their carbon design and high durability, these wheels are hard to match up to. They add a lot of stiffness to the bike as a complete unit. In terms of rim width, you’ve got about 29mm on the inside. Which will seat wider mountain bike tires easily. Speaking of which the bike comes standard with a set of recently launched Bontrager XR3’s – the Team Issue with a 2.4inch tread width.

Geometry Station:

Head-tube angle: 68-degrees on Mino Link High Setting and 67.5 on Mino Link Low setting

BB-Height: 34.3cm on Mino Link High setting and 33.7cm on Mino Link Low setting

The Ride – Explosively Efficient:

The 2020 Top Fuel’s build gives it muscular ride feel. With the carbon tubing of the frame seeming evidently thicker, and the chain-stay relatively stiffer, the bike can charge through any type of terrain without breaking a sweat. I even had a few guys comment and mistake it for an e-bike – from certain angles it looks like you can be hiding a battery pack in the downtube and running a motor in the bottom bracket.  The bike has become a powerhouse on climbs, and a confident downhill shredder. The slacker geometry also compliments the bike’s new nerve for downhills; some will love it, while others will hate it.

Climbing is solid, with the Sram GX Eagle 1×12 gear ratio, running a 32T chainring upfront. The new an improvement frame stiffness, allows you to surge forward efficiently with every stroke. For XC marathon racers this type of combo and symbiotic relationship between the drivetrain and strong frame, create the ideal bike for efficient long-distance mountain biking. And essentially the handlebars don’t strain your hands in anyway.

I’d like to see a longer stem – on the bike I rode the Trek Top Fuel medium to large had a 60mm stem, however Trek have got options available for longer 70mm and 80mm stems on hand, depending on your arm length and body length. None the less it was still a comfortable ride on the longer distances. Even the Bontrager XR3 tyres had a low rolling resistance, and that gave the bike a slippery, yet a targeted marathon vibe. Almost everything about the bike is pieced together to be as efficient as possible.

Downhills have become so much more fun aboard the Top Fuel. The longer suspension travel, and slacker geometry are perfectly matching up to the single track of today. And the unique build and design of the Top Fuel provides immense stability on corners. Its as if Trek have embodied a complete downhill bike into a modern XCM race bike. The Bontrager Line Elite Dropper post which had 150mm of free-flowing travel gave the bike that divers edge to tackle larger trail drops, and of course the 115mm rear suspension didn’t hesitate to get involved.  

Verdict:

Looking back at my test rides with the Trek Top Fuel 9.8, I’m happy to conclude that it’s a brilliantly thought out and perfectly executed mountain bike – with its engineering, its ride, and its components. The bike knows no bounds in efficacy, and I’m keen to see it in action at stage marathon races like the Cape Epic.

RRP: ZAR 95 999.00

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