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First Ride: Ridley Fenix SL

Ridley blends improved aerodynamics with better comfort on the latest version of its Fenix frame, which offers versatility and performance

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BERINGEN, Belgium — Can anyone justify multiple road bikes? Aero road bikes, climbing bikes, endurance bikes — really?

The trend toward specialization is clearly an outgrowth of WorldTour racing, where microscopic differences are magnified by the pressure to perform and, more cynically, sell bikes.

However, Ridley’s new Fenix SL offers the kind of versatility that gives us hope for the bike industry.

Similar to the Trek Emonda, Velo’s 2014 Bike of the Year, the Ridley is capable of fitting wide, 30mm tires if you so desire. In fact, that’s just what the Lotto-Soudal team did when its riders rode the bike (discretely) in the spring classics before we had a chance to try it ahead of Liège-Bastogne- Liège in April.

Right off the bat, it was apparent that this is meant to be a race bike, and that comes as no surprise given Ridley’s pedigree and involvement with many teams along with Lotto.

The Fenix feels solid when you step on the gas. We tried fruitlessly to coax flex out of the frame on the steeps of the Cote de Stockeu and La Redoute.

The bike’s stiff manner also translates into precise handling on sweeping corners and descents. It retains a hint of nervousness, like most race bikes, but with a slightly more raked-out fork, it’s a bit more confident. Otherwise, the geometry is very similar to that of the previous-generation Fenix. The head tube is 3mm shorter, which we feel is an improvement; the wheelbase is 2mm longer, but overall the geometry is nearly identical between old and new (comparing medium-size frames -Ed.).

Additionally, the Fenix SL frame is 170g lighter with a 20g lighter fork relative to its predecessor, and it cuts a more aerodynamic profile. The fork is shaped and better-integrated with the front-end, similar to Ridley’s Noah aero road frame. Ridley claims the new frame is eight percent stiffer than the old Fenix, despite these updates.

It also claims that the Fenix SL is five percent more compliant, which is likely attributed to the 27.2mm seatpost, compared to the girthy 31.6mm post on the older generation. The new frame also employs slender seat stays, which are akin to those found on the Helium frame.

However, it would be a stretch to call the Fenix downright comfortable. Over the rough cobbles that follow the descent off the Stockeu in the village of Stavelot, Belgium, the Fenix SL’s stiff character was a bit jarring, especially with only 25mm tires.

We’d love to give the Fenix a chance with 28mm tires on some of those rough roads before passing judgment.

Tires often make the most noticeable difference in ride quality, so it stands to reason that a versatile, stiff frame like this would offer great versatility. Chuck on the 25mm tubulars at 100psi for the weekend crit or opt for 28mm rubber pumped to 80psi for adventures on dirt roads — and if you’re in Belgium, maybe sample some cobblestones.

Frame weight

Small: 1050 grams
Medium: 1060 grams
Large: 1070 grams

Fork: 370 grams

Sizes available: XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL