Review: Fuji’s Elite XC Racer – The SLM 29 1.1
Since the 1970’s, Fuji has been a mainstay brand in the US cycling scene. The American owned, Japanese brand has impressed us with their Altamira SL. The release of their well designed Transonic aero road frame and Tri / TT Norcom Straight have shown the company is forging ahead with innovation and good design on the road.
Enough about the road though, we are here to talk about their latest endeavor on the dirt. The Fuji SLM 29 1.1 aims to be a podium topping XC race bike out of the box. The bike is adorn with XTR, a claimed 1000g carbon frame, tubeless ready wheels, carbon cockpit, and a Fox 32 Float 100mm fork. It sounds like a solid recipe, but you’ll have to make the jump to find out.
Speaking of specifications, lets get exact with what is on The 2014 SLM 29 1.1 build. The main frame is constructed of C15 ultra high modulus carbon fiber. It has internal cable routing, oversized tubes, tapered head tube, PF 30 BB, and 142x12mm spaced rear dropouts with a replaceable hanger. Through that headtube is the steerer of a Fox Float 32 29er Factory Fit fork with a Kashima coating, 15mm thru axle, and remote lockout.
The drivetrain is comprised of all things XTR, with the exception being the crankset. The rider is not short changed here either. The house brand Oval crankset (OE spec made by TURN), is of XT quality and weight, and uses a 35mm spindle. It’s outfitted with Praxis 38/26t chainrings, and it spins on a Praxis M35 BB.
The cockpit consists of top shelf carbon goodies from house brand Oval, including a long 110mm stem on our size medium tester. The SLM 29 1.1 rolls down the trail on Sun Ringle Black Flag Pro SL wheels wrapped in Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25” tires. The wheels use a Stan’s NOTUBES rim profile and come pre-taped with Stan’s tape for a quick and easy tubeless conversion (which we promptly did).
All this adds up to a complete bike (with Crankbrothers Candy 1 Pedals) that weighs in at a scant 22 lbs. 15 oz.
The fancy carbon frame on the 2014 SLM 29 1.1 is 300g lighter than its predecessor. With that in mind, our expectations for this bike were high. In short, it did not disappoint. Due to the very short stays, performance oriented 73 / 71 seattube / headtube angles, and a super stiff frame, this bike exhibits quick handling, stable descending, and climbs with ease.
When first transitioning to this bike I felt a bit stretched out due to the long stem and downward 6 degree angle of said stem. The bike certainly allows the rider to get into a very aggressive position. That’s a good thing, as this is intended to be a race winning XC hardtail. That position is eased a bit by the really well designed house brand Oval bar. At 710mm wide, with a 9 degree backward sweep, and a +/- 5mm rise, it inspires confidence when making tight turns and bombing down hill. The stock saddle on the other hand was taken off after the first ride and is not one I would recommend. For most, that is an easy change, and one that most of us make anyway on a bike such as this.
When pointing the bike downhill, I immediately noticed myself going faster than on other rides. The bike turns in with ease, allows you to exit a corner under power when needed, and is predictable, but borderline twitchy. This is largely due to the tight rear triangle that makes use of very short (430mm) chainstays, and a tight wheelbase of 1112.6mm. The bike has a snap to it that allows you to throw it into a corner knowing you are going to pop out the other side going even faster.
This already great riding machine shines even more when the downhill ends and the road points upwards. Climbing on the SLM 29 1.1 was a dream. I need all the help I can get when fighting gravity, and this bike felt like a secret weapon. The super stiff frame is exactly that, yielding to nothing I could throw at it. The asymmetrical chainstays, stiff crank, tapered headtube, and oversized frame tubing allow for maximum power transfer. Being fast downhill is fun. Beating your friends to the top of the hill is even more fun, and this is the ride that lets you do that. I have had no problems climbing steep sections seated or standing. I blame the traction oriented Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires. They have grip for days in a variety of riding conditions. For those of us that aren’t racing dry hardpack, it’s a smart choice, and one I am glad Fuji made.
The stiff frame on this MTB comes with a downside however. It will beat the snot out of you just as much as it will help you get the power down. It’s one of the most unforgiving, non-compliant bikes I have been on. Being that it is designed to be raced, that is a compromise I would expect form an elite level bike such as this. Enthusiasts looking for comfort need not apply. Racers looking to stand on the top step, look no further.
Finding anything wrong with this bike is not easy. Two minor things did stand out though. Odd noises coming from the front end had me concerned there was an issue with the headset. Further investigation revealed it was just the internally routed full housing cables rattling in the frame, which was both a relief and a bit annoying. It’s not a deal breaker by any means. The other issue comes down to the weight of the wheelset. At a claimed 1600g (closer to 1700g with tape) serious XC racers are going to want a lighter setup. The wheels performed just fine, especially set up tubeless. I would expect to find this bike in the wild with an upgraded wheelset.
The 2014 Fuji SLM 29 1.1 lives up to the expectation of being turn key race bike. There is very little to complain about and whole lot to love with this one. With that said, this is an elite level bike and the cost reflects that. The 1.1 spec has an MSRP of $5799 (street price of $5000 – $5500) it doesn’t come cheap.
For 2015, Fuji has carried over the SLM 29, and added in an SLM 27.5 option. The frame stays the same, and the specs get a minor change up. Fuji has moved the 1.1 build to a 1 x 11 XTR setup and retained the Oval crank with a single 32T Praxis chainring. The next welcome change is aesthetic. Fuji has thankfully ditched the black, red, and white color scheme for a much sexier black and neon yellow livery. The rubber has been changed up as well, to a more XC race oriented Schwalbe Thunder Burt 2.1” tire. Cost is down too, with an MSRP of $5249. No official comment on weight yet, but our educated guess is that it will be neigh the same, if not ever so slightly lighter.