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Fuji SLM 29 1.3: Final Review- by Grannygear

We had the Fuji SLM 29 1.3 here, first in the Out Of The Box, then the First Impressions.  After Ed the Tall had the initial saddle time on the Fuji, I let Jeffj have a go at it.  So we will have his thoughts here first, then my impressions on this carbon framed race bike.

From jeffj’s time on the bike:

When I picked up the Fuji SLM 29 1.3 from Grannygear, the first thing that stood out on the bike was the relatively prodigious white stem. The trend in stem length has been getting shorter and shorter for the past several years. It’s been a while since I have seen a 120mm stem on a new 29″er that came that way from the manufacturer. My first thought was, “OK, I think I have something in the garage that will be a more suitable length.” And so it was that I had a 90mm stem installed before I even sampled dirt on the Fuji.

I was also a tad puzzled by the choice of Schwalbe Nobby Nics as the stock tires on a bike that is decidedly in the ‘XC race weapon’ genre. Seems that a Rocket Ron, or maybe a Racing Ralph would have been a more appropriate tire choice. Aside from that, the Fuji 1.3 has a nice, consistent parts spec for it’s intended purpose.

The SLM 29 1.3 has a nice, firm, but not harsh ride quality when climbing. Push the pedals, and it responds nicely. I only noticed that the inner chain ring was a 26t after the first couple rides, and had assumed that it was a 24t. I took that as a sign that this was indeed a lightweight, efficient climber. That point was driven home further when I clicked the shifter a few times and jumped up out of the saddle of the Fuji only to make relatively short work of a little slice of pain we like to call the ‘ugly sisters’. I like to do this with most of the bikes I get to test, and the Fuji was as good as any, and better than most in this regard.

So far, things were unfolding about as I had expected. Now it was time to observe the 1.3’s descending manners. The first quarter mile or so of the descent on our local loop gets rutted and has some diagonal water bars cut into the trail and you can tell very how stable a bike is by hitting this section at speed. The 1.3 with the 90mm stem was a bit of a handful when I hit this section wide open. I really had to concentrate to hold the lines and was never very confident when pushing the speed I am accustomed to on this trail.

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OK, some bikes just are not going to be my cup of tea, and I was thinking that the Fuji was going to be one of those bikes. I was ready to bail on this test, but got to thinking about the stem change and how it’s possible that I might like it more if I went a little longer on the stem. So, I put a 100mm stem on, and returned later in the week to see what the difference would be.

The bike was not significantly different on the climb, but improved noticeably on the descent. It was still not great, but it’s descending manners were much more acceptable for me. Upon returning home, I figured that maybe I should go ahead and give the 1.3 a whirl with that prodigious 120mm stem after all, and went ahead and put it back to the stock configuration. The improvement with the 120mm stem was even more significant than going from 90mm to 100mm.

I guess I have to concede that the 120mm stem makes good sense on this bike. It was still a touch on the nervous side for my preferences on the high speed descents we have, even more so with how damaged the trails currently are from lots of use and little to no healing rain making it’s way through our area this spring. In hindsight, I probably would have tried the shorter stems even if I had ridden it with the 120mm stem first.

My take on this bike is that it’s an XC race bike that is most at home where that tight steering can shine on relatively tighter, twistier XC trails and race courses.

Grannygear’s thoughts:

It is always interesting when others ride a review bike before I do and I talk to them about their impressions.  And re-reading Ed the Tall’s thoughts on the Fuji SLM 29 1.3, and adding in jeffj’s comments, mine will agree in some ways and differ in others.  Ok, to the task, then.

Setting up the “World’s fastest XC hard tail on the market” as a marker of performance is a bold and heady claim, marketing spam not withstanding.  What makes a bike fast?  Not much.  Rider’s are fast, bikes are not.  Bike’s need to be pedaled and pedaled hard and repeatedly to go fast.  But a bike that helps you do that; one that fits you well, that you trust and is competitively light and well spec’d can be the fastest bike…for you.  And so with that in mind, I pedaled out with some skepticism.  Part of that was my decision to leave the bike dead stock and that includes that big, ol’ tiller stem.  Looking down through the handlebar towards the ground while riding it, I bet the front axle was a foot behind the bar…well, maybe not, but it was dramatic in a world where, most of the time, the handle bar is in line with or very close to the front axle.  Now that does not really mean anything cosmic all on its own, that your bar should line up with the front axle when viewed from the cockpit, but it was almost comical to see the disparity.  Add in a steep head tube angle of 71° and a 430mm/16.9″ chain stay and it begins to look like a quick handling bike.  Then there was that beefy frame with tall chain stays and a 31.6mm carbon seat post topped with a pretty narrow Oval brand saddle.  I expected a nervous filly in the Fuji SLM 29 1.3 that would beat me down in exchange for requests for speed.

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And it was not.  Surprise!  But neither did it feel like the fastest XC hard tail either and I am still thinking that part over.  Most of my rides were on typical So Cal XC rides with a mix of long gradual climbs on dirt and pavement, steep, rocky and rutted pitches, faster fire roads covered in sand and gravel in spots, and double/single track passages.

The good:

  • The ride is actually quite good, not at all overly stiff and the wheels stay on the ground well, tracking the surface of the earth. Even the 31.6mm carbon seat post had enough compliance to be tolerable by me and I am old enough to be sensitive to too much impact up through my spine.
  • It really shined on fast fire road sweepers where the steep head angle and the long stem kept the front wheel weighted and turning on the path I chose.  It was  confidence inspiring, and I expected it to be a bit nervous here.
  • I too was surprised to find it was a 26T small ring on there as it pedaled well up steeper sections, turning efforts at the crank into forward motion with no drama.  I would have bet it was a 24T just like Jeffj.
  • The short chain stays, in this case right under 17″, can feel unbalanced on a bike with a steep front end.  Typically it is best to ‘push’ that front wheel out a bit to keep things right.  But I seldom got anything but good results from the 430mm long back end.  With all that forward weight transfer afforded by the long top tube and long stem, I barely had to shift to the nose of the saddle to climb very steep sections of trail and it steered dead straight ahead and up like a carbon fiber tractor.
  • It felt better the faster I pushed it, most of the time.  More on that below.  Race bike.  Not a trail bike.
  • The saddle was not all that bad, not that saddles make or break a bike, but there it is.

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The less than good:

  • In tight singletrack, especially rough ones, the short chain stays, stout chassis, and front end dynamic was a bit of handful.  The back end would pop around a bit and it would feel a bit iffy, but the solution was to keep pedaling hard and go faster.  Sounds counter intuitive, but it worked.
  • It is not a super stiff frame in that I can see some wrap-up in the rear of the bike as it is pedaled hard.  Ed the Tall noted this too.  Is that an issue?  I don’t think so.  But I noticed it when I looked for it.  Frame stiffness is over rated and one can go too far in chasing that.
  • Here is the thing that puzzles me the most:  It did not feel all that fast when pedaled hard.  Now that is a very, very, subjective comment, hence the word “feel”.  No Strava times to back it up, etc.  And there was that section(s) that the Fuji just walked up and fooled me into feeling like it had a lower gear than it has.  But when I jumped up and got on it hard, it just did not make me go “wow!”.  For instance, the last bike that came to mind in that regard was the Specialized Epic Marathon and that was a full suspension bike.  It just felt like it wanted to go faster and faster with your legs and lungs as the rev limiter.  Some of that lazy feeling in the Fuji could be the wheels and tires.  Nobby Nics are hardly XC racing tires for most folks.  They are a trail bike tire.  It also had tubes in there.  Just for fun, I grabbed the front wheel off another XC hard tail bike, a Mavic Cross Max with a Vredestein 2.2 front tire run tubeless and weighed it to compare to the front wheel on the Fuji.  It was 6oz lighter.  Nearly half a pound of rotating weight is quite a bit.  I have to think that some high-end racing level wheels and tires would wake this bike up in a big way.
  • The placement of the Fox fork remote lockout was horrible.  I could have moved it, but I did not.  It was always getting in the way of my right thumb when I unwrapped and tried too shift.  And the button was too easy to ‘release’ and sometimes I would just brush against it and unlock it without intending to.  Picking nits here, and I should have moved it on the bar, and I would forget about it in between rides, but the design of it was clunky anyway.  Why can’t Fox seem to build a great remote lever?

So here it is and here is where we leave it.  The Fuji SLM 29 1.3 is a worthy companion in any XC racing effort and is worth anyone’s consideration.  It might need a wheel or tire (or both) swap to really come alive, but the rest of the package will not get in the way.  Is it the fastest XC hard tail in the world?  That depends entirely on you.

Note: Fuji sent over the SLM 29 1.3 at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test/review. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.