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2011 Trek 'Top Fuel 9.9 SSL' Riding Notes
Related: gear, Moots, mountain biking, Shimano, White Mountain Peak, White Mountains
The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is a dual-suspension race-tuned bike with 26" wheels outfitted with Shimano XTR components, a Fox F32 racing fork with remote lockout and Bontrager carbon fiber wheels.
The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL weighs in at an amazing 22.9 pounds (as actually weighed) with Shimano XT pedals, one carbon fiber water bottle cage, Bontrager XR2 Team Issue tires with tubeless setup— ready to ride.
Since many racers are abandoning 26" wheels for a 29er bike, please see Why Is a 29er So Different From a 26er Mountain Bike?.
The bike loaned for evaluation was used, and needed new cables and cable housings, new brake pads, seat clamp, and a new seat post, which had been sawed too short for my height.
I cannot know what if anything had been degraded by prior use (e.g., shock performance), but the bike seemed to ride more or less as would be expected of a new bike.
Testing consisted of one epic all-day ride, the Trek to the Summit of White Mountain Peak, along with five local rides of 2-3 hours each.
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The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is an attractive bike visually as such highly decorated bikes go, though. I could do with fewer Trek and Bontrager logos plastered all over every component. While that’s a very minor point, I personally prefer elegance over loud advertising, especially on an $8K bike. Still the color scheme on the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL hangs together coherently, see for yourself. And the Trek logos on the frame are real paint, not stickers. Real paint does chip, as was the case when the bike arrived, with spots of paint flecked off from rocks or whatever.
I did not use the supplied race tires and tubes, choosing instead to install Bontrager XR2 Team Issue 26 X 2.1" tubeless tires with Stan’s sealant for the Trek to the Summit of White Mountain Peak. Therefore, comments below are not about a tube setup.
Like all dual suspension bikes, the crispness of a hardtail is lacking in a dual suspension setup; that’s a compromise paid back in full when hitting the rough stuff.
The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL provides front and rear remote lockouts on the handlebar which are very easy to operate. On pavement where one can notice the effects of suspension, the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL provides an efficient ride, but one less crisp under acceleration than a hard-tail, even when locked out.
Shortly after the Trek to the Summit of White Mountain Peak, the rear shock went soft and could not be locked out effectively. Twiddling the adjustment knob did not bring satisfaction, and I did not explore further than to raise the shock pressure from 120psi to 150psi, which reduced the slop somewhat. Complexity of any kind on any bike is worth noting: dual suspension brings more maintenance and more potential issues.
Standard 9mm front axle ≠ 15QR
I was impressed with the integrity of the frame and carbon fiber wheels.
However, Trek did not choose to use the 15QR front axle, and my testing suggests that this results in handling that is less crisp and precise than the 15QR setup on my Moots YBB (same fork). For an $8000 bicycle, this is a weak point, perhaps the only significant flaw in the build. One can replace the front wheel and fork with 15QR at some expense. I believe this would substantially improve the feel of the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL. Perhaps Trek will make this improvement for 2012.
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The Shimano XTR shifters worked crisply and flawlessly.
The Shimano XTR brakes were powerful and used metallic pads on 160mm rotors.
During a descent of Silver Canyon on the Trek to the Summit of White Mountain Peak, the brakes performed flawlessly, with no overheating, which was not the case with the Avid XO brakes on the SuperFly 100 Elite. As I can think of no more demanding descent, I rate the Shimano XTR brakes as outstanding under severe duty.
The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is geared for racing with a 30 X 42 dual chainring. This is an excellent setup, but less than ideal for those with really steep climbs, so I’d advise buyers to go to a 28 X 40 setup, or even 26 X 38 if one regularly rides steep grades. In short, the 11-36 rear cassette cannot make up for a 30-ring when the grade hits 18% or more.
The Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is quick and nimble down singletrack, more so than a 29er, but this also means that on high speed fire roads and wide sweeping turns it demands much more concentration than a 29er like the SuperFly 100 Elite. That is simply a result of the longer wheelbase and 29" wheels, not a criticism per so— the right tool for the job.
The Bontrager XR2 Team Issue 26 X 2.1" tubeless tires with Stan’s sealant performed admirably for grip when climbing. But there’s no getting around the fact that when the ground turns loose and gravelly or becomes fist-sized rocks, then a 29er is much easier to pilot through such technically demanding areas. Again, this is not a criticism of the Top Fuel, but simply a commentary on 29" vs 26" wheels.
Getting air over water bars
Descending at high speed and hitting a water bar for some “air” is great fun, but the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is an unbalanced bike for this maneuver, and it required attention to bike attitude just prior to launch to avoid an unfortunate incident. No such problem with my Moots YBB, which maintains perfect poise with no effort over such things. Of course, a hard impact upon landing is much more friendly on the Top Fuel, provided one keeps the shiny side up. Admittedly, some of this is simply a skill issue that one must acquire over time with a dual suspension bike.
Tires: tubes vs tubeless
Trek ships the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL with tubeless-ready wheels and relatively heavy Maxxis CrossMark 26 X 2.1 tubeless-ready tires (782g each), but the bike ships with tubes installed.
Though the Maxxis CrossMark tires are tubeless ready, Trek suggested used the Bontrager XR2 Team Issue 26 X 2.1" tubeless tires instead, which is what I did, and indeed I felt they performed extremely well using the Stan’s sealant (see the Bontrager XR2 page). I did not have a chance to weigh the XR2 tires before installation, but they are nominally a 525g tire. I’m not sure why the XR2 tires are not standard on the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL, since they are over 1/2 pound lighter (each).
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The stock grips are far too thin for comfort on longer rides— race grips. I replaced them immediately with a more comfortable grip. No bar ends are supplied by Trek, and these require some care to install on the carbon fiber handlebar.
The carbon fiber handlebar is very stiff and lightweight, but I personally prefer the little bit of flex that a titanium bar offers, for comfort on bumpy rides.
Water bottle cages
There is only one water bottle cage that really works well, and it is awkward to insert a full size bottle on the 17.5" frame, which explains why so many riders use a hydration system. However, I was able to insert my favored 1-liter Evian bottle into the cage without undue effort. A second water bottle cage is on the underside of the bottom tube, but placing a water bottle there is subject to falling out easily, as well as contamination from dirt and manure thrown from the tire.
I liked the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL a great deal. It’s an agile and fun to ride bike, with its light weight contributing significantly to the feel, and sprinting much more enjoyable than with the more reserved Trek SuperFly 100 Elite 29er, which simply cannot jump away with the same perkiness because of the larger wheels.
My only real beef with the Top Fuel 9.9 SSL is the use of a 9mm front axle instead of a 15QR axle, discussed further above.