First Ride: Fuji’s Norcom Straight aero bike
Named after an uphill Strava segment on Norcom Road near Fuji’s Philadelphia office, the Fuji Norcom Straight aero bike looks fast standing still and feels fast when riding it. With the slogan, “When Seconds Matter, Fit Comes First,” Fuji is staking its claim that the bike fits a wider range of body sizes than any other aerodynamic “superbike.”
Steven Fairchild, the designer of the Norcom Straight, holds the current record on the Norcom Straight Strava section. He and his design team have been working on this bike for three years. They have spent countless hours in the A2 wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina dialing in the aerodynamics of it, and then working out the positioning options to fit a wide range of riders without throwing out the aerodynamics with the bath water that has absorbed countless more hours.
On their first day in the wind tunnel on this project, Fairchild had a modular prototype with interchangeable sections so that he could quickly make 24 different configurations of the frame. Once the wind tunnel results had narrowed it down to a single fastest frame shape, he taped dozens of short sections of yarn to the frame. The next day, he watched in the tunnel to see which pieces of yarn were running straight, indicating smooth, fast airflow, and which pieces were fluttering, indicating turbulence.
The next time he was at the wind tunnel, he brought a plastic prototype that he’d refined to smooth the airflow in those fluttering areas. He particularly worked on the airflow from the fork, over the hidden brake and onto the down tube. A further iteration was a model with a narrower head tube, which Fairchild found to speed the bike up in the range of zero to five-degree yaw angles in the wind (Fuji tested every prototype from zero to 20 degrees of yaw).
This back-and forth process continued until he was satisfied with the gains over Fuji’s previous most aerodynamic bike, the D-6. Fairchild claims a 7-16 watt reduction (depending on wind angle) in the power required to propel the Norcom Straight at 30 mph vs. the D-6. (At 30 mph, 11 grams of drag is roughly equivalent to a single watt reduction in power required.) Fuji’s superstar triathletes Cam Dye and Sarah Haskins dialed in their positions on the bike in the wind tunnel as well. Haskins, who was three months pregnant at the time, proclaimed herself to be “the most aerodynamic pregnant woman in the world!”
The seat clamp is very clean and aerodynamic, with an internal wedge securing the aero seatpost by means of a tightening bolt whose head is flush with the top of the top tube. Because of the thin profile of the seatpost, an internal Di2 battery is not yet an option; the Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS battery mounts to tapped holes on the back of the seatpost.
The stem is the same width as the top tube and fits into a notch in the head tube to smooth airflow. The cables (and/or electric-shift wire) drop into the top tube in one of two options of smooth wire ports. The frame has complete wire guiding inside, so installing a cable is a snap; just push it in until it pops out at the back.
The bike comes stock with a UCI-compliant Oval 960 base bar. The Oval 970 base bar with split “Jetstream” technology has six percent lower drag than the 960 and is not UCI-compliant. The stem has a snap-on aerodynamic cover for the front cap.
The pointed nose on the head tube is hollow inside, allowing the front brake cable to run straight down through it. The cable then goes into an open and hollow fork crown and takes a 90-degree bend forward toward the brake. Fuji has come up with its own forged aluminum linkage to powerfully apply the aerodynamic TRP TTV front cantilever V-brake, which is hidden in a pocket behind the fork. The rear TRP TTV cantilever V-brake pivots on the chainstays and is concealed under and behind the BB86 bottom bracket by a screw-on plastic cover.
The Norcom Straight comes in five sizes: 49, 51, 53, 55, and 57cm. This did not seem like a lot of sizes or a wide range to me, and with my 6’5” height, I was having a hard time imagining myself fitting on the 57cm. However, I rode Matty Reed’s 57cm Campy electronic Fuji and found the fit to be perfect. Reed and I are virtually the same size, and I could just hop right on his bike and ride it as he had it set up. The smaller end is more of a challenge yet, but Fairchild claims that the fit small riders get on the Norcom Straight is superior to any other bike of similar aerodynamics. Coupled with Reed’s Dash Cycles Stage.9 saddle, this was the most comfortable ride on an aero bike I’ve maybe ever had.
Key to this fit is 135mm of cockpit height adjustability. The forged aluminum Oval 760 stem comes in six lengths, from 80mm to 130mm, and either 8- or 17-degree flipable rise. The 135mm height difference is from a -17-degree slammed stem to the stem flipped up to a +17-degree angle with 50mm of spacers under it (in which case the spacers, but no longer the stem, nestle into the cutout in the head tube.) The stem fits a standard 31.8mm handlebar diameter.
The saddle can move over a wide range, too, both up-down and fore-aft. There is a full 180mm of vertical seatpost adjustment on the 400mm-long aero seatpost. However, getting the lowest available positions in this 180mm range will require cutting up to 60mm off of the end of the seatpost, due to the curve in the seat tube around the rear wheel. There is a 70mm range of fore-aft adjustment on the seatpost as well, offering effective seat tube angles from 74 to 81 degrees (the frame’s seat tube angle is 78 degrees on all sizes).
The 42cm-wide carbon base bar, be it the 960 or the 970, offers three different width elbow-pad mounting positions. There are four riser heights from 5mm to 20mm and five elbow pad rotational positions. Three extension bends are available: ski, S, and straight; the extensions clamp into a forged aluminum clamp at the back of the base bar with a long split requiring low tightening torque to hold the extension in place.
The front end and the fork are each molded in a single “monocoque” piece, and both the down tube and the fork legs have an internal stiffening rib (a crosswise wall) running down the center of them. These ribs and oversized tube sections, along with the wider BB86 press-fit bottom bracket shell, result in a claimed increase in stiffness of 26 percent at the bottom bracket and 20 percent at the head tube relative to the D-6, while being 200 grams lighter and having better aerodynamics. The chainstays and seatstays are molded separately and are bonded to the front end and the dropouts.
The dropouts are vertical and slide back and forth to offer 9mm of fore-aft adjustability secured by a bolt. These vertical dropouts make wheel changes a snap — virtually the same as on a road bike, as opposed to the struggle one can encounter changing a wheel on the rear-entry dropouts so common on aero bikes.
The fork and rear end fit wheels with rim widths up to 28mm wide as well as the Zipp Sub-9 disc, which so famously was too wide to fit in the Cervelo P4 at its introduction at Interbike in 2008.
There are two frame models coming out of the same Norcom Straight molds, namely models that start with a “1” in the model number and which have higher-modulus carbon, and lower-modulus models whose model numbers begin with a “2.” The second number of the bike model designation indicates the components specifications. There are five total models, ranging from the $7500 Norcom Straight 1.1 with Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 11-speed and Oval 981 deep carbon clinchers, to the Norcom Straight 2.5 at $2300, featuring Shimano 105 rear/Tiagra front derailleurs and Oval 327 shallow-section aluminum clincher wheels.
The three years of sweat equity seem to have paid off. I was very impressed with the ride. It certainly felt fast in the aero bars on the flats, downhills and gradual climbs, and it was very stiff, even when sprinting up one of Boulder’s steeper hills. Regarding a bike switch from Kestrel to Fuji for this season, Dye said, “I had such a good season last year, I was reluctant to change anything. But this bike is way faster!”
Said Stephanie Genuardi, Fuji’s marketing communications manager: “This is one of the biggest projects ever for Fuji.” That’s a pretty strong statement for a company that has been around since 1899.