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Fuji SL 1.1 review

5 Oct 2016
Verdict:

Can a bike ever be too light? Fuji doesn’t think so…

Price: 
£8,499

There are many schools of thought on bike weight. The most popular is what we’ll call the Froome approach, where you simply go as light as humanly possible. As such you’ll do things like choose a Dogma F8 XLight over a standard Dogma F8 to save a claimed 80g in the chassis (although you have to wonder why, given that most pro bikes come in well under the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight limit). 

Then there’s the Anquetil theory, favoured by strange beasts for whom weight seems to be as much a state
of mind as a physical property. Telltale signs include things like switching your bidon to your jersey to make your bike lighter for climbs, while thinking nothing of carrying a comb about in your back pocket. 

Fuji SL 1.1 Reynolds

Polar opposite to that is the Merckx attitude, where stability, strength and safety are kings. Exponents of this theory will argue that at least one of Froome’s two cracked frames at the Tour might have been avoided had he just stuck with a regular F8. 

At 5.11kg (56cm) on the Cyclist scales, it’s safe to say the Fuji SL 1.1 is very much in the Froome camp, although carefully examine the build list and you’ll see touches of Anquetil. As for hints of Merckx? That depends on you.

Wealth and safety

The UCI introduced rule 1.3.019 in 2000, stipulating that the ‘weight of the bicycle cannot be less than 6.8kg’. This arbitrary figure was designed to prevent pros riding perilously light bikes that were prone to failure, as well as level the playing field for teams with smaller budgets. Yet in truth, pro bikes routinely do weigh less than 6.8kg. Initially some teams would cheat the system by dropping ice cubes down seat tubes for ballast pre-weigh-in, but commissaires soon wised up. Mechanics now attach lead weights (usually under the bottom bracket shell to keep the centre of gravity low) to make up the difference.

Fuji SL 1.1 bottom bracket

That’s far from ideal, and Fuji says the rule has long since outlived its purpose. ‘I don’t think there’s any danger of bikes getting too light, especially with EN and ISO testing, which ensure the frame and components are safe,’ says global product manager Steven Fairchild. ‘Plus the UCI will soon revise its minimum weight limit.’ 

When this will happen is unclear – it’s been mooted for a number of years now – but one thing’s for sure: the SL 1.1 laughs in the UCI’s po-faces. 

Froomedog

Ostensibly replacing the Fuji Altamira SL (see issue 26), a bike that was 6.11kg out of the box, the SL 1.1 sheds a claimed 237g across the frameset – 110g from the frame to drop it to 695g and a hefty 127g to achieve a 293g fork. 

To justify its abbreviated ‘Super Light’ moniker, the SL’s main tubes have squared-off edges. Fairchild says this permits the use of higher-strength carbon fibres (so less material is needed), which can only be used if they can lay flat, as per the flat tube sides. The fork is designed around the same principle, being almost diamond-like in cross section. It’s also been reinforced with a rib running down each leg, which Fairchild says adds just 12g but helps make the fork 18% stiffer than its predecessor.

Fuji SL 1.1 EEcycleworks

Crucially, though, there are fewer bonded joints on the SL – just four, which are required to connect the stays to the main triangle, as opposed to the seven overall bonded tube junctions on the Altamira. Fewer joints mean less material and most significantly less resin, which translates to a lighter frame. Froomey would be pleased.

Maitre Jacques

The spec list is an enviable one, but it did leave me a little puzzled in some areas. The carbon-spoked Reynolds RZR wheels are some of the very lightest out there, at a claimed 968g for the pair. Likewise the 22mm Vittoria Crono CS tubulars tyres at 165g each. And it’s the same story with the brakes from US firm Eecycles – wonderfully engineered, the Eebrakes weigh a claimed 152g (without pads), 100g less than the Sram Red callipers they replace, and I’d say they work every bit as well.

The 251g Ritchey saddle and seatpost combo helps too, with the seatpost trimmed to remove excess weight. Even the headset uses super-light bearings from FSA that save 9g over their conventional equivalents, while the chain from KMC saves a further 14g over the stock Sram Red.

Fuji SL 1.1 Sram Red

It all points to Fuji wanting to push the lightweight envelope, yet I think it could have done more. Like Anquetil and his comb, there’s a juxtaposition in some areas of the build. For example, the standard-double chainset could have been a lighter compact version, and the cockpit could have been some exotic carbon creation, as opposed to in-house kit from Oval Concepts. A 70g stem from AX-Lightness and 155g bars from Schmolke, for example, would save over 70g alone. You could even have specced the latter’s carbon bottle bolts too.

I put this to Fairchild and he explained performance, comfort and longevity were key considerations, and that Fuji wanted the SL 1.1 to be a ‘mainstream bike’. But with an £8,499 price tag it’s hardly that, so why not go all out? And while those stem and bar upgrades would have added £510 and £310 respectively, I wouldn’t doubt their performance for a second, nor that a customer with £8.5k to spend would quibble over the extra cost. Still, it all rather pales into insignificance when you consider the ride.

The Cannibal

I was lucky enough to interview Eddy Merckx a little while back, and he said he disliked light bikes ‘because you cannot go fast on descents. Luis Ocaña used to ride a light frame and light wheels, and he used to crash a lot.’

Fuji SL 1.1 review

It’s an interesting point and one I would agree holds true for the most part. Weighty bikes do feel more stable at speed, and depending on your stance you might be prepared to sacrifice some climbing ease for a feeling of safety and dependability. But what if you could have both? Well with the Fuji SL 1.1 you very, very nearly can.

I tested the Altamira SL more than two years ago, and even now it’s one of the best all-round non-custom bikes I’ve ever ridden. The good news is the SL 1.1 builds on it, and makes it even better. There are no surprises with its climbing ability – it weighs little more than a cat, and climbs just as nimbly. Yet surprisingly, its climbing prowess is actually one of the lesser strings to the SL’s bow. Where it really excels is in its handling.

As with its predecessor, the wheelbase is short at 983mm, so too the chainstays at 405mm, and the head tube is a racy 155mm tall. Add to that reduced fork trail and a compact frame and you get a taut, responsive bike that’s exceptionally snappy and accurate through corners. There is a caveat, though. With it being so light I felt the need to make a conscious effort to ‘dig’ the wheels into faster, longer corners for traction, pushing hard on the outside foot. That said, once I adapted to the SL’s needs I could carve deep, sweeping arcs far faster than I’d ever previously dared. As a crit bike it would be fantastic, and the Reynolds RZR wheels don’t leave anything wanting in the acceleration stakes either. 

Fuji SL 1.1 ride

However, those corners come thick and fast when descending, and the SL does eschew the Merckx imperative. It’s not skittish – the frame has enough flex to help it track well while being plenty stiff enough at the pedals and when bar-wrenching – but I’ve ridden more stable bikes, and it took me time to adjust to its overtly racy style of riding. It does require concentration, but once I’d managed to drag myself up to the SL’s level I found a bike that is in almost every way exceptional. 

On second thoughts, perhaps it’s perfectly fine as it is – a beast straight out of the box.

Spec

Fuji SL 1.1
Frame Fuji SL 1.1
Groupset Sram Red 22
Brakes EEcycleworks EEbrake 
Chain KMC X11SL
Bars Oval Concepts R910SL
Stem Oval Concepts 777SL 
Seatpost Ritchey SuperLogic Vector Evo
Wheels Reynolds RZR 46 tubular
Weight 5.11kg (56cm)
Contact evanscycles.com

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