Now THAT was a bike: 2000 Trek Fuel
Photos by The Pro’s Closet / Words by Mike Kazimer, Pinkbike
When the summer Olympics descended on Sydney, Australia, in 2000, it was only mountain biking’s second appearance as a medal event at the Games. Hardtails still reigned supreme in the XC racing world, and even front suspension was occasionally skipped by riders looking for the lightest bikes possible.
When the big day arrived, Travis Brown, the 1999 NORBA National XC champion, rolled up to the starting line aboard a completely new full suspension bike from Trek, one that looks rather pedestrian by today’s standards, but certainly turned heads when it was first unveiled. Handbuilt in Waterloo, Wisconsin, Brown’s ride was still very much a prototype, even though the custom paint scheme suggested otherwise. Trek didn’t want to miss a chance to show the Fuel’s design to the world, so what would typically have been a raw frame had custom paint and graphics applied in order to make it look more production-ready than it actually was.
Compared to Trek’s previous full suspension bikes – the VRX, the Y-bike and the 9500, the Fuel’s link-driven single pivot suspension design looks much less archaic, and it’s a testament to the longevity of the basic configuration that the Fuel remains a mainstay in Trek’s lineup to this day. The bike’s front triangle and chainstays were made from aluminum, while carbon seaststays were chosen to help reduce the overall weight.
Even with those carbon seatstays and a top of the line build kit the bike still weighed roughly two pounds more than a race hardtail at the time, but for Brown the additional comfort provided by the 80mm of travel made it worth it. According to Brown, the suspension wasn’t that much of an advantage versus hardtails on the descents – after all, 80mm of travel only goes so far, and the suspension at the time wasn’t nearly as refined as it is today – but it did help reduce fatigue over the course of a race. As for the extra weight, “Athletes are easily compulsed by weight, in both endurance and gravity disciplines, and I think we still regularly make net performance compromises for the sake of reducing weight. Weight is important but just one factor in a fast race bike,” says Brown.
The geometry of Brown’s prototype Fuel had been designed around his personal preferences, and when it came time for the time the bike to go into production the head angle was steepened by one degree to 71 degrees, and the top tube was shortened. Interestingly, sixteen years later the angles of the original prototype aren’t that far off from the current geometry of Trek’s Top Fuel. Of course, the modern version of this bike is much lighter, made from carbon fiber, and rolls on 29” wheels rather than 26″, but it does go to show that Brown was ahead of the curve with his ideas about the bike’s ideal numbers.