You walk into the bike shop to pick next year's race bike up, and the moment you see it, you have that five year old kid feeling at Christmas and a grin from ear to ear. Well, multiply that feeling by five and this was my first impression of the all new Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL. This bike looks fast, even while being held in the vice of the shop's bike stand! Equipped with the new RS1 fork (more on that in a minute) this bike was built for purpose. The purpose of going fast, very fast!
Mine also came with XTR 1x11, which I changed to XX1. Not that I'm not a fan of Shimano, but I just prefer the range on the cassette of Sram's top groupset. I have used Sram for the last two-three years and cannot fault it.
Two wins out of two - Marc reviews his Top Fuel
So, on to the first ride. I went in to my local woods with trails I am familiar with and easy to make comparisons. Once again this was just a grin fest at how easy this bike got up to speed and held it. I was also loving the RS1 fork which just eliminates trail buzz. By that I mean the feeling you get as the front wheel bobbles over the uneven ground mainly at high speed. It felt more on a par with just riding along a smooth fire road. If you looked down at the fork you could see it working hard, moving up and down in about a 20mm range. But without looking you would swear the fork was static. Braking into corners is greatly improved with the RS1, because it is stiffer at the top, the fork doesn't try and tuck back under the frame. Therefore you don't have that juddering where the front wheel is being thrown backwards and forwards very quickly.
After the second ride, and the fork had bedded in a bit, it felt a bit soft in the last third of the stroke. Don at Cotswold Cycles was soon on the case and ordered up some Rock Shox bottomless tokens (me neither!). With one more added (three in total) it was just about perfect. After a tough ride I am left with about 5mm of travel or it has just pushed the 'O' ring gently to the bottom of the stanchion.
With the front end being so good it magnified the fact that the back wasn't quite so. I had started with 150 psi in the shock based on previous bikes I'd rode. After a few trial and error adjustments I ended up letting this down to 95 psi and a mid range rebound. The last ride I did on it, I have to say, I had the smoothest most effortless descents on a 100mm travel bike I've experienced. It felt like the bike was just turning the rocks into cushions and got the sensation I was almost floating down.
What goes down must go up, and once again I wasn't disappointed. Whether it's sat down climbing with a nice cadence, or an out the saddle full on smash, the bike gains altitude quickly and efficiently. You have the lockout button, which with one simple press locks out the front and rear simultaneously. Everything you put through those cranks is projected into forward movement - fast. On the more technical climbs I prefer to ride with the suspension active. This allows for the rear wheel to dig in a little and track the ground, avoiding those fateful half crank rear wheel spins. The short wheelbase and steep forks allow you climb fast and keep the front wheel down easily.
This geometry also comes in to play when whipping left and right along twisty singletrack. It's so easy to manoeuvre the bike around the trail and put the front wheel exactly where you want it. The steep fork angle gives a nice tight turning circle too.
I have raced the bike twice so far. It is definitely a head turner and I have received a fair few comments on the bike's good looks (not so for the owner!) The bike races, and feels, every bit as good as my previous bike, which when I tell you was the Specialized S-Works World Cup Epic, it gives you an idea of which league this bike is competing in. Specialized built that model to, in their own words, "show up to blow up": built purely for xc races to be the fastest out there. I've only done four or five rides on the Top Fuel, but this bike inspires me to think that it will be all that and possibly a bit more.
I am looking forward to a season's racing aboard this bike.
Hmmm, thats one less excuse I can use!