Properly lightweight full suspension at a winning price
Okay, so the Fuel range of full suspension bikes has been around for years now, but Trek has really lit the burners for 2007. The totally revamped shorter travel, superlight Top Fuel race bikes top out at the sub 20lb, £4500 full carbon Top Fuel SL, but the good news for most riders is that even the basic alloy bikes like this TF7 are speedy trail weaponry.
While it might not be superlight carbon fibre, the new alloy Top Fuel frames are still seriously light at just over the 5lb mark.
An oversized ‘hydroformed’ hockey stick hooked down tube, flared top tube/seat tube junction and ‘double barrel’ headstock keep things stiff for the weight, too. A single forged piece includes bottom bracket, main pivot and lower shock brace, while the new asymmetric ‘Hi/Lo’ seatstay design saves an impressive 200g.
Press fit main pivot cartridge bearings in the swingarm boost smoothness, although the rocker linkage still uses bushings and 3mm of flex in the alloy seatstays, instead of a full bearing above the dropout. New Rocker link squeezes the Manitou Radium shock with a very low 2.37:1 leverage ratio and there are bosses for a remote shock lockout cable if you can find yourself a suitable upgrade.
The back end has enough room for a 2.5in tyre, although the distinctive three-slotted seat clamp area increases the chance of post corrosion, with water and grit getting in and seizing the post solid.
There’s no fumbling for levers on the front end though, as the Reba Team fork gets a full PopLoc Adjust lever, letting you not just lock it out, but also adjust the lockout threshold you want it to operate at. Adjustable negative and positive air springs also mean you can set the fork response up as stiff or soggy as you want, although it seems daft to waste the 100mm of travel when you’ve got a lockout anyway.
Gearing comes courtesy of a workmanlike Shimano Deore/XT mix, with the new entry level Avid Juicy 3 brakes providing powerful braking with no hint of dumbing down. Bontrager AC-X 2.1in tyres are fast all-rounders rather than out-and-out racers – which affects top speed – but if you’re on a budget they’ll work fine all year round. The Select wheels aren’t particularly light either, but they’re durable and look good, too.
The cockpit setup is defi nitely proper race spec though, with narrow fl at bars on a mid-length stem, while the rest of the Bontrager Select seating gear is all decent, durable kit. Like the GT, it’s a tribute to the frame that the whole bike comes out this light, at what’s still a relatively low price point for a full suss bike.
In fact, the whole feel of the bike is well above what we’d expect for the price tag. While it uses conventional rather than stretched for speed dimensions, the flat bars immediately drop your elbows into an aggressive position for tearing off the start line or squeezing the bike into the ground up technical climbs. Despite the steady rather than superfast tyres, the acceleration and ascending advantages of the low overall weight are very clear. We certainly spent way more time in the big ring than normal, which is always a good high velocity indicator.
Although the steering sits at a relatively neutral 70-degree head angle with the 100mm fork, Trek has deliberately designed the bike to adopt a more aggressive, last minute manouevrable 71-degree head if you drop the fork to 80mm (you’ll need to buy the appropriate spacer separately, though).
As it is, the TF still turns in pretty sharp without ever stumbling or straight lining stubbornly, and despite the narrow bars, it’s easily controllable if it starts to slide or shimmy sideways through highspeed turns. Despite the light frame and only 90mm of travel, it feels planted rather than super whippy on the trail, though. It tackles tough sections without too much nursing or overly ‘safe’ line choices too, which adds a welcome ‘reckless overtake’ advantage on race day. Suspension feel is equally neutral and non-intrusive. The new R1 ‘Rider Tuned’ pivot position means minimal pedal feedback, so cadence and rhythm stay largely undisturbed through rough sections.
The combination of aggressive compression damping in the shock, and bushings and flex stays out back, means it’s a naturally pert – rather than plush – performer. We think that’ll suit most riders though, as will front and rear lockout to combat noticeable bob if you run it soft enough to suck up small stuff and really stick the rear tyre down.
Properly lightweight, naturally rapid bikes are fantastic to ride as well as and the Trek is a great example the budget priced end of the breed. More neutral and less predatory than obvious competitors – like Giant’s Anthem, for example – but bang on the money for kit and weight, and the clipped suspension is probably perfect for most of intended speed-hungry buyers.