Hardtail Testing: The Fuji SLM 29 1.1
Using the symbol of Mount Fuji to exemplify its dedication to creating strong and dominating products, Fuji has been producing bicycles since 1899. Seeing the turn of two centuries, they’ve had quite some time to develop and refine quality bicycles that are often offered at a more affordable price than many of their competitors. Producing a bicycle as well built as the SLM (Super Light Mountain) 29 1.1 is nothing new for Fuji.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
Fuji’s SLM 29 1.1 is made for the rider who wants a cross-country machine that’s ready to race, right out of the box. It can be ridden directly from the shop to the podium of any local mountain bike race series. With a price tag that’s considerably lower than most bikes in its category, the SLM 29 1.1 is for those looking to get high performance, without a painful bank statement at the end of the month.
The SLM 29 1.1 is made entirely from Fuji’s c15 ultra-light high-modulus carbon. The sub-2.2 pound frame is over half a pound lighter that the 2013 model.
Its oversized and tapered head tube, paired with a shorter head tube height than the previous year, creates an aggressive cockpit while still producing an overall sleek and uniform appearance, including internally routed cables through the top tube and seat stays.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
The SLM 29 1.1 comes spec’d ready to race without holding anything back. Every component was chosen with weight in mind, which also led to an aesthetically pleasing streamlined look. Its Shimano XTR 2×10 drivetrain is smooth, quiet and consistent while complimenting the lightweight racing characteristics of the bike.
Decked out with about as much Oval Concepts componentry as one can get, the bike has a solid feel that doesn’t come at the cost of comfort. The carbon Oval M850 SL handlebar is lightweight and predictable and eliminates unnecessary vibration. Saving weight in the wrong places, however, is not a good idea. The Oval M800 saddle provides ample padding in a 6.5-ounce package.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving Out: The SLM 29 1.1 is one of those bikes that you go to pick up and accidentally lift a few inches higher than planned. Whether you’re getting home from work or just getting back from a previous ride, you’ll want to take it out for a spin as soon as your hands touch the grips. For the fast trail loops it was tested on, we flipped the stem for a 6-degree rise and it felt a lot more stable on steep, rocky descents.
Hammering: While we figured all that weight reduction over last year’s model would come at a compromise in frame rigidity, we were proved wrong after a few big-gear attacks. The SLM 29 1.1 feels stiff and responsive in all types of terrain.
Climbs: Whether it be true or not, the SLM 29 1.1 makes you feel like a hammer, regardless of a climb’s grade or duration. With each pedal rotation, it seems to move a few feet farther than the last bike you rode. The chainstays are asymmetrical, with the drive-side chainstay being oversized for increased rigidity and power transfer. When the going gets tough and out-of-the-saddle cranking is necessary, the 28-inch wide Oval bars give plenty of leverage to power through it. Additionally, the Oval crankset produces very little flex and provides a solid platform, whether you’re grunting it out on a climb or leaning the bike over for some added torque on the course’s quick uphill kicks.
Cornering: One of the major changes to the 2014 model is the shortening of its chainstays to an incredible 16.9 inches, which makes it amply responsive in both high-speed cornering and snappy switchbacks. It may have preferred the tighter switchbacks, but it was no slug in any corner.
Descending: While it’s still necessary to pick your line more carefully than you would on a full-suspension bike, the SLM 29 1.1 holds its own more than we expected from a cross-country race machine. When the stem is ridden at a 6-degree downward angle, the cockpit is pushed more over the bars, but the chatter-absorbing 29-inch wheels bring back some confidence as they roll with ease over most misguided line choices. The shortened chainstays also prevent the rear tire from bucking upwards when catching air over a high-speed roller as much as other hardtail 29-inch-wheeled bikes do. You may not lead your pack of buddies down the descent if they’re on trail bikes, but they also won’t have their bikes racked up by the time you get down.
Braking: This is one of the few areas in which the SLM 29 1.1 felt a little lacking. Regardless of the adjustments we made, the magnesium Shimano XTR M987 brakes never seemed to have the stopping power we were looking for. The levers are a bit soft, and although they seem to work fine at low speeds, they often needed a two-finger pull to stop as quickly as needed at high speeds. On extended descents, the brakes seemed to lose their braking force quicker than other Shimano XTR or XT brakes we’ve ridden.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The bike’s long, effective top-tube length, paired with a 73-degree seat tube angle, had our 6-foot crewers tightening the saddle down at the furthest forward point in its allowed range. This put us where we should be over the pedals but also forced a little less of a racing body position, creating a pick-your-battles situation. Riders will have to try on the different sized bikes to find the best fit.
The Nobby Nic tires that came on the bike did not pair up very well with the Black Flag Pro SL rims and would only seat properly when inflated to 70 psi with a floor pump. We would suggest getting a set of tires that match your local trail conditions and giving them a try with the rims. Of course, there’s always the option of utilizing the tubeless-ready setup and ridding yourself of those pesky trailside tube changes.
We suggest showing up at your local Fuji dealer in your racing attire and taking your new SLM 29 1.1 directly to the loops of the nearest cross-country race. Whether or not you are a racer, it’ll be ready to take on any grinder climb you throw at it. Fuji recognized the desire for a cross-country race bike that delivers high-quality performance without the high-end price tag. Trust us, they delivered.
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