TESTED: Trek Top Fuel 9.8 XT
At the time we were putting our 2023 shootout together, Trek had just launched their brand-new Supercaliber, with IsoStrut rear suspension upped from 60mm to 80mm of travel and a 110m fork up front. It’s their de-facto XC race bike and will no doubt be hugely popular, even if the ‘entry-level’ model, with Shimano SLX and alloy wheels, costs R85k.
We were frothing to test the Supercaliber (and we will), but we forced ourselves to take a deep breath and consider the alternative – this beautiful Top Fuel 9.8 XT, which is on special for only R5k more than the base Supercaliber.
In our opinion, it’s a better option for the vast majority of South African riders; and the spec is definitely superior. With 120mm of rear suspension travel and a buttery 130mm RockShox Pike upfront, the Top Fuel ventures into trail bike territory; but with its high-tech carbon frame, incredibly light Bontrager Line Elite 30 carbon wheels and carbon cockpit components, it’s only a block of butter heavier than the other pure XC bikes on test. And that’s with a dropper post and 29×2.4” tyres.
It’s also crammed with design details that make a real difference. The internal cable routing is some of the best in the business, and there’s an internal storage compartment in the down tube with a bespoke neoprene pouch for your tools and spares. Some competitor bikes offer this, but it usually feels like an afterthought. Trek’s solution really works – you’ll never have to ride with a tool bag again.
What’s it like to ride?
Too much fun, is what. The extra suspension travel gave me the confidence to ride lines I’d never dreamed of riding before, and I went faster downhill than on any of the other bikes.
This is probably because I’m an amateur – a pro on an XC bike would obliterate me. But that’s the point: the Top Fuel makes an amateur like me feel like a superhero.
It’s such a premium bike. The oversize 35mm-bore carbon handlebar gives you all the cockpit stiffness you’ll need; the frame is beautifully crafted, and looks amazing in this ‘Pennyflake’ colourway; the carbon Line Elite wheels are first-class, and the hubs spin forever; and the Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres won’t need upgrading anytime soon.
Also worth mentioning are the Shimano XT brakes: they’re the latest M8120 version, with four-piston callipers that offer tremendous one-finger stopping power with perfect modulation. The faster the bike, the faster it needs to stop, and Trek have gone all out in this department.
Another honourable mention must go to the RockShox Pike. There are lots of settings you can play with, and it might take an hour or two of YouTube videos to set it up right; but when you do, the plushness is otherworldly. You might be sacrificing a few hundred grams, but the Pike is leagues ahead of competitor XC forks in terms of ride feel.
A note about frame sizing: it’s worth heading to your local Trek store for a fitting before you decide to bite the bullet. The Top Fuel is designed with a longer effective top tube and a very short 45mm stem, which gives you awesome handling downhill, but the medium I tested felt a bit cramped for my long-leg, short-torso 175cm frame. Going one size up to medium-large would have been ideal.
The price of new bikes is ridiculous. We get that. But even though the Top Fuel 9.8 XT costs nearly R100k, you actually feel like you’re getting value for money.
As a cross-country bike, it might not be as racy as some of its competitors; but it’s certainly no slouch, and will serve you well on any stage race. And on the weekends, it will have you whooping with joy when you’re riding trails with your mates.
✓ Internal frame storage
✓ Excellent brakes
✓ Premium suspension
✓ Dropper post
✗ Not as fast as a ‘pure’ XC race bike
Trek Top Fuel 9.8 XT SPEC
Frame: Trek carbon; 120mm travel; flip chip; internal storage
Fork: RockShox Pike Select+ 130mm
Shock: RockShox Deluxe Ultimate RCT
Drivetrain: Shimano XT 30t chainring; XT derailleur, shifter and 10-51t cassette (12-speed)
Brakes: Shimano XT
Wheels: Bontrager Line Elite 30 carbon rims; Bontrager hubs
Tyres: Bontrager XR4 Team Issue 29×2.4”
Cockpit: Bontrager Line Pro carbon flat bar (780mm); alloy stem
Seat: Bontrager Arvada saddle; Bontrager Line Elite dropper post (100-200mm travel, depending on frame size)
Price: R90 000 | Weight: 12.9kg | trekbikes.com