This ain’t your daddy’s sweaty lycra…
It wasn’t that long ago that cross country racing fell out of vogue in favor of the enduro format. And for good reason.
Where enduro offered baggies, bros, and hucks, XC seemed to have stagnated with shaven legs, lycra, and boring bikes. Well, until recently.
Welcome to the New School version of XC, where courses have jumps, proper rock gardens and technical climbs. If you’re a fan of World Cup XC like we are, the progression of the sport has been a joy to watch. As with any changes to formats though, come changes to technology and this is where we find ourselves today: a new way of thinking about what defines an XC bike.
Trek Top Fuel 9.8
Compared to the Yeti, Trek came later to the party with the new Top Fuel. Instead of outright efficiency and weight, Trek pursued a more rounded approach. Modern reach, reasonably slack front end (67*), and increased the rear travel to 115mm. The party piece, of course, is the TwistLoc feature which takes the Top Fuel from plush XC bike to full rigid in a half a second. Whoa.
So, is the new Top Fuel just a watered down Fuel EX? Well, yes. But isn’t a Fuel EX just a watered down Slash? Also, yes. The suspension design and layout is all too familiar for those accustomed to Trek’s lineup, but this is a plus. With a stout and efficient frame, the Top Fuel blurs the lines of XC and Trail. For those of us who enjoy 24 hour races or long rides through the desert, it’s hard to imagine a smarter bike. We like that.
Yeti SB100 C1
Yeti revealed in late 2018 that they had been tinkering in the dark depths configuring a new Switch Infinity link, but to our surprise, it was on a 100mm cross country bike. What was Yeti thinking? Turns out, Yeti was on the bleeding edge of new XC designs with a longer reach, slacker front end (68*), steeper seat tube angle (74*), more progressive kinematics, and built for abuse well above its cross country label. The SB100 was as unexpected as it was unconventional.
To drive that point home, Yeti’s pro rider Nate Hills took second place riding the SB100 during the Scott Enduro Cup Moab 2018. Last we checked, Moab had rocks. This was a new approach to a tried and true formula: keep it stiff, light, and efficient. But…the benefits of more progressive geometry and smart rear shock kinematics makes for a bike that punches well above its stubby numbers.
Kyle @klain_photo and Kim @radnm were headed out to Sedona, so what better place to give these bikes a healthy mixture of speed, chunk and technical climbs. Kyle’s 6′ and fits squarely on the 19.5″ Top Fuel, while Kimmy felt perfect on the medium SB100 at 5′ 7″. If you’re familiar with Sedona’s Northwest trails, they rode the typical mix of Chuckwagon, Mezcal, Scorpion, Skywalker, Pyramid and Thunder Mountain. Full disclosure: This is Kyle’s personal Top Fuel as it only took a quick parking lot ride to get the nod of approval.
SB100: With only 100mm, you’d expect an efficient climber. You won’t be disappointed. The SB100 is far from plush when climbing and provides steady traction and no surprises. It shines most in technical climbs, where some magic occurs in that Switch Infinity. Ledges and awkward sections feel less daunting and you can’t help but want to keep pushing it. Only bummer is a tendency for pedal strikes given the low bottom bracket.
Top Fuel: A little more travel and a little more pedal-bob. The Top Fuel is middle of the range in pure efficiency, but the trade off is a truly active rear end that loves to pop and push its way up the trail. The steep seat tube angle helps keep you over the pedals and never does it feel wallowy. Once you pull the TwistLoc, it’s a true full rigid, making sprints and fire road type climbs a breeze.
Winner: SB100, only because it makes the lockout switch obsolete.
Unlike its predecessor, the new Top Fuel feels downright plush. If you could ride with a blindfold, Kyle says you’d be surprised you’re not on a Fuel EX (he should know, he had one). Trek’s ABP suspension is a funny thing: it just works. On big hits, you never feel a harsh bottom out. On the small chatter, it seems to just float high enough that you can stay focused on the trail. On rollers and lips, it begs to be preloaded. It’s a very ‘set it and forget it’ suspension, which, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is the biggest compliment we can offer. On Pyramid Trail, where the drops and large rocks make it a true black diamond for the Sedona area, the limiting factor on the Top Fuel was not the geomtery or travel, but rather the tires!
Verdict: Plusher than 115mm, yet extremely composed. At times can feel a bit stiff in the midstroke, but that’s really the only reminder of how short the travel is.
Winner: Top Fuel. The plusher rear suspension and active braking pivot means you worry less about making a mistake and focus more on the ride.
The reality of the SB100 is that it never fools you into thinking there’s more than 100mm–for better and for worse. In some ways the SB100 shows how far geometry can take you. Instead of a super plush rear end, the Yeti remains calm and composed throughout it’s travel–never making you feel like a hero, but always letting your hands and feet know what the trail is telling you. Given the slacker HTA and longer reach, you feel inspired to charge harder than one would imagine on such a short travel rig. Combine that with a frame that is stiff and slung low and you now have an absolute cornering machine. Again, though, you’ll never think you have more than 100mm travel. During moments of poor line choices, you quickly realize your mistakes although the bike will keep you upright.
Verdict: The geometry is the real star here. You feel confident that despite the little travel you will come out the other side unscathed. The trade-off with the firmer rear end is that you can carve corners like a fine edged ski. Under a good rider, this bike will shine. Others may start to find that limit sooner than expected.
After 50 miles and everything from blue cruisers to chunky black diamonds, what can we say about this New School version of the classic XC bike?
Less is more. We’ve all heard this time and time again, but there’s some truth to it. It has long been our hunch that geometry trumps all other considerations (well, besides fit of course) and this new generation of cross country rig further makes the argument. The combination of steeper seat tube angles, longer reach, and slacker head tubes with a well sorted suspension makes you wonder if you need 160mm of travel. After all, how many of us are actually hucking large gaps or hitting rock gardens at full speed?
If your ideal ride is meandering through the woods and experimenting with the occasional feature that makes your heart race, then an efficient, comfortable bike is likely your ticket. These bikes push the boundary of ‘short travel’ in a positive direction and we couldn’t be anymore excited. Riding fast uphill AND downhill? Now there’s a concept we can all get behind.
Want to try a demo? Give us a call or check out our Rental page.