The average South African mountain bike racer is content to ride a full-suspension 29er within (or maybe just outside) his or her budget. But the above average South African mountain bike racer is more discerning and understands that there are different bikes suited to different types of races and courses.
Team First Move’s Jaco Venter and Jacques Janse van Rensburg are in the fortunate position to be able to choose between the Trek Top Fuel AXS 9.9 and the Trek Supercaliber AXS 9.9 to achieve their best mountain bike race performances.
It’s been almost a decade since they both raced mountain bikes, detouring to the tar to race the UCI World Tour with Team Dimension Data (now NTT Cycling). In that time, mountain bike technology has advanced relentlessly! Twenty-nine-inch wheels, single-chainring drive trains, electronic shifting, refined hydraulic disc brakes, category-specific geometry… There’s not much that hasn’t changed on mountain bikes for these two South African racers.
Understandably, they’ve been on a mission to find out what works best for them and have now done two UCI-level races to determine where the recently-launched feather-light Supercaliber and the more traditional Top Fuel fit into their battle quivers…
“The Supercaliber is a really stiff and superlight bike and it’s power transfer to the wheels makes it feel like it accelerates like a hardtail! It was awesome in the Tankwa Trek Prologue, where the surface was semi-smooth to hard pack through the rock formations,” said Janse van Rensburg.
“Coming from the road, the bike felt amazing when I rode it the first time. I found that I had to choose my lines more carefully on the really rough sections.
“The Top Fuel is a more forgiving ride, but still an aggressive racer. On long sections (up to 30km) of rugged terrain like we had at Tankwa Trek, and that we will encounter at the Absa Cape Epic, the Top Fuel is better suited. The same goes for the rough-surface 15-20 minute descents,” added Janse van Rensburg.
“I had ridden much of the Tankwa Trek route a few weeks before, so I knew what to expect. But the pressure of a race changes things and small errors can lead to big penalties,” said Venter.
“We only got the Supercalibers a few days before the start of Tankwa Trek, so didn’t have a lot of time to fine-tune the set-up. But we were able to get a good idea of how they perform during the first two stages,” explained Venter.
“The Supercaliber is super stiff, light and responsive. We also replaced the standard 100m fork with a 120mm fork in anticipation of the rugged surfaces. A 100mm fork is fine to tackle a one-day race, or a smoother surface stage race like Sani2c. But the Cederberg is the home of rough surface trails but with the cumulative fatigue, it made sense for us to switch to the Top Fuels for the final two stages,”
“The Top Fuel is the perfect allrounder and best suited to rough-surface stage races. I chatted to some of the others at Tankwa Trek that were racing the Supercaliber and they seemed very content. Maybe I’m still adapting to being a mountain bike racer and need the extra bit of forgiveness and stability that the Top Fuel offers,” smiled Venter.
“Having ridden both in racing conditions, I would say the Supercaliber is more about speed than comfort/control and ideal for XCO or one-day marathon races; or even tame-surface stage races. But for the rough terrain of the Tankwa Trek and Cape Epic, the Top Fuel offers the best balance between speed, comfort and, on the descents, control,” concluded Janse van Rensburg.
Key areas of comparison: