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Ridley Fenix SLX review

12 Jun 2017
Verdict:

Ridley adds an X and a pair of discs to its performance-focused Classics-winning chassis

Price: 
€3,399 (approx £3,000)

As a proportion of budget relative to income, Ridley supports more racing teams than any other brand. While flat outings are covered by the brand’s aerodynamic Noah-Fast, and days in the high mountains better tackled on the minimalist Helium, the Fenix (pronounced 'phoenix') serves the company’s sponsored riders during the cobbled races that constitute the Spring Classics.

Despite being touted as an endurance platform, given its manufacturer’s racing pedigree it's unsurprising that the longstanding Fenix model is no slouchy comfort bike. In truth its low and tight geometry would look aggressive stacked up against most other brands' conventional race bikes. 

The addition of disc brakes has done nothing to dampen this race-focused attitude, which has been carried over entirely to the bike’s latest iteration. 

The frame

Like its forebears the Fenix SLX's frame retains the distinctive Ridley bow shape and standard non-compact geometry.

However, its seatstays have been dropped to create a smaller rear triangle. This diminutive area is stiffer for the benefit of the rider when pushing, but is also designed to better support the new Campagnolo Potenza disc brake calliper, ensuring that the forces it generates don't cause the frame to distort.

The leading end of the bike has also been further braced. The wide section which extends diagonally behind the head tube stiffens the front, with the intention of improving cornering, while the whole bike is further shored up by the 12mm thru-axles that hold both front and back wheels in place.

The larger tubes employed across the bike feature the slightly truncated aero profile that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

These are also flattened above and below, so as to exhibit some degree of vertical flex in order to smooth the bike’s progress across rough terrain.

The new-flat mount brake callipers are integrated without troubling the bike’s good looks and the ultra-minimalist matt black paint job both looks tough and doesn't add unnecessary mass.

The result is a claimed frame weight of 840 grams, which is lighter than the previous calliper version, with the complete bike (size Medium) coming in at around 7.95kg.

Campagnolo Potenza Disc groupset

Ridley's tinkering with the frame aside, it’s the addition of disc brakes that has totally transformed the ride of the Fenix.

Ridley managed to secure the the first batch of Campagnolo's new Potenza disc groupset, so our outing on the Fenix SLX was both our first ride on the bike, as well as our first taste of the Italian component maker's new gruppo.

The main attraction here is the brakes. Using small, and very neatly formed 140mm rotors, the absolute braking power available from Campag's discs seems slightly less than on Shimano alternatives.

However the modulation – the degree to which you can vary the braking force before the wheel locks up – is truly excellent. The shifting, which is also very competent, will be familiar to existing Campy users.

Components

Like with the previous calliper brake-equipped Fenix, some concessions are made in the name of comfort and stability, such as the ability to accommodate tyres up to 30mm wide, though our test model was fitted with 25mm Vittorias.

They were good on conventional tarmac, while also being quick-rolling and grippy, but we would have appreciated a slightly broader contact patch to match the power of the brakes.

Along with the new Potenza groupset, Ridley also secured some of Campagnolo’s newly released Zonda wheels for the Fenix SLX.

They’re notable for their unobtrusiveness – with their shallow profile and silent freehub, it’s very easy to forget about them altogether.

Given proper contemplation they reveal themselves to be be both stiff and easy to propel forwards, thanks largely to their low rotating mass. Our one slight complaint would be that their internal rim profile is probably best suited to 25mm tyres such as was fitted, rather than anything much wider.

The finishing kit adds to the Fenix’s race-ready credentials: the Selle Italia Flite saddle is light on padding, while the Deda handlebar and stem combo is also pretty unyielding.

The bar’s tops are hugely chunky, providing quide a handful for riders who like to keep their mitts on the upper part of the bars.

The tops also sweep forward towards the levers, suggesting this is a bike best ridden from the hoods or the drops, which Ridley believes to be the most aerodynamically efficient positions. 

On the road

We spent some 260km riding the Fenix SLX around the Vosges region in France. While this hilly terrain might seem an odd choice for a bike designed with the Classics in mind, it actually proved a great match.

Despite the fact that disc brakes are often touted as a panacea for the muddy conditions of the Classics, they are also well suited to imparting additional braking conviction on long mountainous descents – anyway, we’d much rather get catapulted into a muddy ditch than be launched off the side of a mountain.

And although it might be bad form, knowing that we could drag the brakes without risking the tyres exploding definitely helped keep us calm as we barreled down the extended descents of our hilly test ride. 

While many companies attempt to have it both ways with their endurance bikes, creating machines they say are capable of winning races but featuring geometries not much removed from touring bikes, the Fenix’s stance is unapologetically racy.

Any concessions it gives with regard to comfort are done in the service of making it faster over its intended terrain, instead of being there to flatter the potential limitations of its rider. 

A shortish wheelbase and medium head angle mean it changes direction rapidly, certainly rapidly enough for anyone other than a crit racer. Yet at the same time, the cobbles-ready stiffness means there’s no hint whatsoever of juddering or woolliness in its handling.

The disc brakes feel like the missing piece of the puzzle for the Fenix SLX, adding the ability to get yourself out of trouble, whether in the mountains or on the pavé. It’s comfortable too. Just not comfort bike-comfy.

A world away from the cushioned ride of bikes like the Specialized Roubaix and Trek Domané, instead it just about takes off the rougher edges, while still leaving plenty of feel for the road. If you can sustain the required low and stretched position it’s a bike that won’t hold you back, regardless of the use you put it to.

On the other hand, because it's an endurance bike that wants to be pushed hard, it’s worth considering whether the Fenix SLX is the best choice for the sort of riding you’re into.

If you’re turning up purely to get around the course, you might be better served elsewhere – just because it’s a endurance bike doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right choice for all day riding.

But if you’re prepared to dig in and want a disc bike that’s unrelenting across a range of terrain, the Fenix won’t sell you short. 

The Ridley Fenix SLX is available from October, provisional priced at €3,399. Shimano Di2 and mechanical models, as well as Sram-based alternatives, are also planned

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