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When I spoke with Fuji reps at Interbike 2015 about the new SL 1.1, they were quick to tout the frame design — with internal spines, called RIB technology, in the fork blades for stiffness and a two-piece frame construction for a solid feel while pedaling — as well as the exceptionally light weight of the bike.
On both accounts, Fuji has succeeded in creating an incredibly light and stiff race bike, though that’s not the full story out on the tarmac. The SL 1.1 is a nervous ride, one that elite racers will revel in, while the rest of us need to pay closer attention to get the most out of this racy climber.
My first experience on the SL 1.1 was a climb up Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, Colorado, and it became quickly apparent that the ride would be vastly improved with a different set of wheels. The Reynolds RZR 46 carbon tubular wheels are frighteningly light, which is nice on the way up, but on the way down they were so flexy that I felt on the verge of control even at low speeds. I swapped them out for Zipp 404 Firecrests and the handling of the bike improved exponentially.
That’s not to say the twitchiness disappeared entirely. This is, after all, a race bike intended for quick steering and fast response. You’ll occasionally have to fight the front end — this was noticeable most often on high-speed descents and climbing out of the saddle, with my weight over the handlebars. A bit of twitchiness is to be expected with a 57.8mm trail figure (size 56), but the inherent nervousness of this light, long, and low race bike makes it a ride you really need to pay attention to, especially on high-speed descents. It’s not that you’ll need to muscle it in corners; you’ll just need to keep close track of where you’re pointing it.
With a bike this light, my expectations were low when it came to pedaling response — it’s not uncommon to cut weight by thinning out tubes, thereby increasing flex — but the SL 1.1 surprised me with its bottom bracket stiffness that led to some decent sprinting prowess. The relatively small PF30 bottom bracket boasts a mere .33mm of deflection. That’s better than Trek’s Madone (.41mm), Colnago’s CX Zero Evo (.41mm), and Ridley’s Noah SL (.38mm), some of the stiffest bikes we’ve tested in 2016. Where does all that stiffness come from? The SL 1.1 only has four bonded joints, two on the seat stays just below the crosspiece, and two on the chain stays not quite halfway down the stays. That means the front triangle, bottom bracket shell, and part of the seat stays and chain stays are all one piece. The rear triangle, including the dropouts, is also one piece. This design cuts down on weight, since less bonding translates into less material. It also improves stiffness where it matters most: at the bottom bracket and head tube.
For $9,999, the SL 1.1 is dressed in SRAM’s finest Red mechanical group, EE Cycleworks eebrakes, and Oval concepts cockpit and seatpost. At this price point, I would have preferred an electronic groupset, like Dura-Ace Di2 or SRAM eTap.
We’re seeing more and more light race bikes address the skittishness the category is known for — Bianchi’s Countervail technology is a good example — but Fuji has made an unapologetic racer’s machine with a surprising pedaling response, nervousness included. If you’re not confident on descents, the SL 1.1 won’t do you any favors. Still, this featherweight offers quick steering and peppy pedaling that racers will find familiar.