First Rides

Test ride review: Trek Top Fuel 9.8

In our brand new bicycle series, we sample the latest bicycle from Trek. Is the Top Fuel 9.8 the ideal XC bike that you can lay your hands on? Our in house bicycle guy Jehan finds it out

I got my first bicycle at the age of three, which was my steed for the next ten years. Given that I was underage and also had strict, though loving parents, I used to cycle not only to school and classes but all over town. Back then, and even now, cycling has been looked at either for children and the less fortunate folk. However, I was introduced to the world of cycling enthusiasts who did so much more with their cranks than just commute. I raced and hit the trails with the MTB folk, learnt BMX-ing from the BMX-ers and went cross country (XC) with many others. Sadly, I lost touch as soon as college began and I was legal to ride motorcycles and scooters. But I have always missed my cycling adventures. So when, Trek Cycles offered us a taste of their top-spec Top Fuel 9.8 cycle, I jumped at the chance.

Who the heck is Trek?

Founded in 1975, Trek Bikes has been catering to American enthusiasts over the years, spreading overseas soon after. Currently, a majority of their manufacturing takes place in Germany, the Netherlands and China. They were brought to India by Firefox Bikes in 2007/08 but they have now officially entered as a standalone entity this year. A pioneer in the segment, they make use of hi-tech materials in the construction of their frames and rims. Spacegrade aluminium, titanium and also carbonfibre frames have been constructed at the company’s factories in Wisconsin.

Light AF!

The Trek Top Fuel 9.8 we have on test here is a freakishly light bicycle; especially for a dual suspension bike. High spec componentry and technology makes this possible. Back in the day, mountain bikers used to prefer aluminium frames rather than carbon ones as the latter had a tendency to split apart, causing major accidents. Trek has nearly perfected the carbonfibre frame with their patented OCLV Carbon process. Carbon being lighter and stiffer than aluminium is ideal for hardcore biking. Trek uses different layers of fibres for different sections to improve the longevity as well. For extra protection to the downtube, there is Carbon Armor at the bottom of the downtube which soaks in debris impacts.

“Back in the day, mountain bikers used to prefer aluminium frames rather than carbon ones as the latter had a tendency to split apart, causing major accidents”

The frame is available in four sizes to suit the rider’s dimensions. Since I am 5 feet 9 inches tall, the 17.5-inch frame was the right size for me. The bike came specced with Bontrager (Trek’s component subsidiary company) Kovee Pro 29-inch rims which are also made from the same Carbon OCLV material. They come shod with Bontrager XR1 Team Issue rubber and can be switched to tubeless tyres as well. The bike weighs just 10.84 kilos! For a dual suspension bike this is absolutely crazy. It makes for an ideal companion on tight trails and XC riding, you’re better off using a Fuel EX for pure downhill riding.

Next level components

The Top Fuel makes use of air shocks made by Fox. The front Float fork has a stroke length of 100mm while the rear one is pushrod activated RE: aktiv XC damper. Both of these components are fully adjustable and one can adjust rebound on the go via the lever on the left side of the bar. According to the rider’s weight, the shock absorbers need to be pumped up to a certain pressure to offer the correct compression. Ideally you would want it to be slightly stiff and the rebound to be on the faster side to make for a fast ride through the trail section as well as in case of tarmac bits.

German component manufacturer SRAM provides the necessary drivetrain items such as the 11-speed X1 steel sprocket cluster, the X01 bearing clutch rear derailleur, X1 Carbon 32 D Direct Mount X-Sync crankset and the PC-1110 chain. The shifts are slick and quick. The Bontrager wide bar is also made from Carbon OCLV while the Montrose Elite seat is narrow and quite intrusive for my anatomy. Even though on its lowest setting, the seat post was far too high for me. The seatpost was designed keeping Europeans and Americans in mind, who are larger in comparison to the Asian/Indian body.

The brakes on this baby are out of this world. SRAM Level TLM Hydraulic-operated disc brakes on both ends just help you shed massive speeds in no time. It took some getting used as the front one was retarded by the left lever rather than the right and vice versa.

On the go

As soon as you set off, the Top Fuel 9.8 feels agile. As mentioned before, I was perched a little too high than I would have liked. It did put my family jewels in harm’s way while doing some of the dirty business you can see here. That said, old memories came flooding through and I put it to good use at the newly opened ‘Spirit of Mogli’ pump track on the outskirts of Pune. A day later, traversing the short trail behind my residence was so refreshing in so many ways that it left even my lanky-bare-boned brother searching for words when he saw me just hurtling through.

The cost factor

The price tag though is eye-watering as it retails at Rs 4.11 lakh, four times the price of a power commuter motorcycle. This one though is for the purist, for the racer who races those trails and XC competitions, that have grown over the years in India. Takers? Anyone?

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