Introduction by Francis Cebedo:
We wanted to do something a little special for our review of the Fuji SLM 29 bike so we asked four of our experienced 29er riders to evaluate this one. Marco Soldano, Isaias Job, Rafael Rius and Chris Sota are four of the most enthusiastic pedalers in Norcal and have tried over a dozen 29ers between them. Marco is the Leadville endurance rider, Isaias is the cross racer, Rafael is the craft beer drinker and Chris is the Cat 1 XC racer.
The consensus seems to be that this bike is a looker and the frame is top-notch. It is built well with excellent acceleration and stiffness but balanced with good, stable condfidence inspiring descending characteristics. The downside seems to be heavier component choices, particularly the wheels. Read on and find out if this bike is for you.
Rafael Rius Review:
Bike: Fuji SLM 1.0 Carbon 29er Hardtail
- Full XT drivetrain and Brakes (40/28 crankset with 11-36 (10 speed) cassette, 160mm rotors)
- WTB Laserdisc Trail wheels
- Oval Stem, Bar, Seatpost
In general, the drivetrain and brake (XT) components are about right for the price. However, the wheel selection and the bar/stem/seatpost combinations could have been better for a race-oriented hardtail with the MSRP in this range. For the wheels, an immediate change/upgrade is necessary if used as a race bike. A simple switch to WTB Laserdisc XC TCS rims would have suited the bike better. Similarly, the cockpit components (stem, handlebar, seat post) warrant an upgrade as well. For a race bike at this price, I’d like to keep more of the OEM components and not need to spend much more. First impression, the stock seatpost was well short of adequate, and I was fortunate to have a 410mm seatpost readily available.
Rides and Rider Profile
6’1”, 190lbs. Races Cat 2 XC, endurance, and gravity, Cat 4/5 for road. Primarily and endurance and XC rider that likes challenging technical trails on hardtails as well as full suspension trail bikes.
I was able to ride the Fuji on 5 rides, totaling about 75 miles and 16,000’ of climbing on varied terrain from fire roads to buff singletrack, as well as technical trails that I typically prefer to ride with a full suspension.
Similar bikes owned/ridden – Salsa Mamasita, Niner EMD9 One9, Retrotec custom
The Fuji SLM has a slightly slacker seat and head tube angle than other carbon, race oriented 29er hardtails. The effective top tube, head tube, and stays were comparable to other bikes in this class.
In general, the Fuji frame felt very responsive to out of saddle efforts and accelerating out of tight switchbacks and grade changes. The angles resulted in the bike not feeling quite “race-oriented” as I would have liked, but I lowered the stem stack height after the first couple rides and the climbing improved. The bike still did not feel like a dedicated XC race bike but the climbing positions were more than adequate for most trail conditions with the exception of pure non-technical XC race courses. The downtube, and seat stays are a bit beefier than other carbon 29er hardtails, and this added to the noticeable stiffness on hard climbing efforts. This was a plus that mostly compensated for the slacker angles.
By the 3rd ride, I realized that geometry of this bike was probably not intended to be a dedicated race bike (out of the box) and intended to accommodate most trail riding conditions. Although the bike felt very stiff, the carbon provided a very smooth ride that absorbed a lot of the trail chatter. I am used to riding a scandium bike and the feel was noticeably more comfortable. The slacker angles of the frame also started to make a lot more sense. This would be a great bike for the enthusiast who wants to stick to a hardtail, but still ride everything. I set several personal hardtail records on technical descents that I have ridden many, many times.
The Fuji SLM is very, very comfortable on the descents and I would consider this the highlight of the bike. It was very fun to ride and I actually look forward to riding this bike at Soquel Demonstration Forest, which is typically a “full suspension” place. While the geometry suited the descents more than the climbs (relatively for a hardtail 29er), the responsiveness while accelerating out of tight turns and climbing efforts was really good.
The hardest of my test rides was about 4 hours long and included over 6,000’ of climbing (and descending, duh). A really big plus was that toward the end of the ride, my body did not feel as sore and beat up as I often do coming off of my scandium bike.
The frame (shape) looks really good and the internal cable routing and color scheme/patterns were very nice and attractive.
One of the biggest weaknesses with the frame is only having one bottle cage mount. This would be fine on an all-mountain full suspension bike, but not for and XC oriented hardtail. This is likely due to space restrictions within the front triangle, which some of the oversized tubing and aesthetic curves contribute to, but a second bottle holder is something that should be provided on all XC hardtails.
The component specification at this price was questionable. The wheelset and cockpit setup requires an upgrade to be race ready, which shouldn’t be necessary for a $4300 price tag. The XT crankset includes 40/28 gears, which is good for most of the local XC racer courses, but does not work as well for endurance riding or the weekend trail rides. On my personal bikes, I like to stay in a 36 gearing for most of the ride, on both the climbing and descending portions, especially in the predominantly rolling terrain around my area. I am personally not strong enough to stay in a 40 tooth chainring, so unless the trail was predominantly flat or downhill, a lot my riding was done in the 28 tooth ring. This was fine for the climbs, but the constant switch to downhill resulted in a lot of chain-slap if I didn’t constantly change the front gearing every few hundred yards.
4 out of 5 Stars
Complete Bike (build and value):
3 out of 5 Stars
This bike was a lot of fun. Personally, I have several bikes and my 29er hardtail is typically set up as a dedicated race bike or for non-technical long distance endurance rides. Most of the endurance and XC racecourses in my area are not very technical so I typically set up my 29er hardtail to save the most time on the climbs, and I just suffer through the descents. On the fun, untimed all-mountain weekend rides, I generally prefer to take a full-suspension bike. Although the climbing on the Fuji didn’t feel as efficient, the geometry while descending felt really good, and I am likely to adjust my personal bike to a slightly slacker position based on riding the Fuji SLM.
The fact that the frame only has one bottle cage mount is an immediate deal killer for me, primarily because I ride endurance and XC, and more times than not, without a hydration pack. This may seem minor to many, but for an endurance/XC rider, it is a must.
I really enjoyed riding this bike, but I would probably recommend buying the same frame model with a lower component specification, and save some of the costs for upgrades that would be needed regardless. If I were to buy a hardtail for daily riding and not specifically for racing, the Fuji SLM would definitely be toward the top of consideration… if there were a 2nd bottle cage mount.