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Ignoring the fact that if you want to truly save weight you’d just lose it — the five pounds by your belt line is weighing you down more than your aluminum bottle cage — the world of precision carbon engineering is a tantalizing game of gram slicing. This is the realm of bike frames the weight of bread loaves (normal weight, 625 grams), and in this game of who is lightest, every single frivolous gram is cause for an engineer’s ulcer. So to start the discussion, we must talk numbers, because numbers are the building blocks of these featherweight bicycles.
The Bianchi Specialissima: 780 grams. Cannondale Evo Black: 777 grams. Fuji SL: 695 grams. Trek Émonda: 690 grams. These claimed frame weights are some of the lightest available in the US market (German brand Canyon, who should arrive on American shores this year, is also up there with their Ultimate CF Evo frame at 665 grams), and they offer riders the golden nugget of road bike design: low weight, high stiffness.
Yet there is a trade-off when you’re skimping to these numbers. Often, with weights this low, the frame design can invoke collateral negative aspects, such as twitchy handling or an overly-stiff and uncomfortable ride. As much as the bike may inspire you to climb higher faster, you may also lose ground careening wildly over poorly paved roads or taking downhills trepidatiously, fearing loss of control. Bikes are, alas, about compromises.
And so it was with mild fear for my toosh and my below-average bike-handling skills that I mounted Fuji’s SL 1.3. My previous experience with Fuji’s Transonic left me loving the weight-to-stiffness ratio, but exhausted by the excessive bounciness of the ultra-stiff, aero frame. The route I ride to work every day, a cheese grater of pavement known as the Manhattan Bridge and Lower East Side, is not forgiving terrain for an ultra-stiff bike.
Frame: C15 ultra high-modulus carbon
Fork: FC-330 carbon monocoque
Groupset: Shimani Dura Ace Di2
Wheelset: Oval 724 aero alloy clincher
Tires: Vittoria Open Corsa CX, 700 x 25mm
Saddle: Oval Concepts R900
On this route and others (up the famous 9W), the SL never faltered. In the places the bike should sing — rolling hills, false-flats, long climbs — it belted out an oratorio. In the places it could go awry — bumpy roads, excessively windy days — it triumphed magnificently. For all the worthiness of pointing out that this bike is the lightest that Fuji has ever produced (19 percent lighter than the Altamira), it’s more worthwhile to note that Fuji has created a lightweight bike that’s a complete and wonderful bicycle, one that absorbs road noise, remains stiff under exerted force, steers into corners well, and is eager to climb.
This comes through a handful of intelligent engineering re-jiggerings, most notably the low number of bonding joints (there are only four — the seatstays and chainstays are only two hollow pieces), the use of High Compaction Molding (using internal molds to smooth out wrinkles and excess resin for better carbon compaction in complex areas), and the octagonal downtube, which allows ultra high-tensile carbon to be utilized in its best orientation, flat (the straight portions of the octagon make the downtube more rigid). Power is transferred through a PF30 bottom bracket, and each frame size comes with different carbon layups and tube diameters, so the 46cm model doesn’t boast the same stiffness as the 61cm (for reference, I rode the 58cm). For feel, the fork has Fuji’s proprietary Reinforced I-Beam technology, which increases stiffness to the fork for more precise steering.
It’s notable, too, that part of the SL 1.3’s generous ride feel came from the Oval 724 wheels and the Vittoria 25mm tires. Fuji is working the system the right way by pairing an ultra-stiff frame with wheels that have been well received (as an OEM) for their generous ability to run lower-pressure tires and the wider contact patch of a 25mm tire. I ran my tires around 85 PSI, given the generally nasty roads of New York / New Jersey, and it felt right — not too slow or mushy, not overly stiff. The complete package of the SL led me to look forward to riding. There was no punishment over bad pavement, no sluggishness on long climbs. It was good, pure riding on an exceptionally capable bicycle.
The team at Fuji is excited about this bike — at the announcement at Eurobike, the bike hung on a large scale and crowds gathered for the official reveal. An elated announcer shouted out specs that reverberated through the Zeppelin hall. My winter riding confirmed that their excitement is well founded. With the SL, Fuji brings a complete bike to the table — a contender not only among its featherweight competitors, but in the entire pro-level peloton.