This steady-handling race-worthy all-rounder is bike you can compete on at the weekend and belt to work on during the week. Its tyres are its only significant defect.
Fuji was one of Japan's most venerable bicycle makers, a name uttered in the same breath as Western legends like Schwinn, Raleigh, Peugeot and Gitane.
Throughout their 109 year history, Fuji's race-tested designs have benefited from technological advances in materials. They were often at the forefront of making these available to the wider public. Fuji was one of the first companies to use triple butted tubing, which has different wall thicknesses at the ends. They also had a reliable and properly performing titanium road frame in the eighties.
Fuji bikes were a big part of the US bike boom of the seventies, fuelled by the oil embargo and the wave of US awareness of the importance of fitness. The subsequent lull left Fuji to fight a protracted battle from the 80’s to the present against ambitious newcomers like Specialized and Trek.
Today's Fuji is based in the US and has production in Taiwan. They continue to produce designs that reflect their Japanese technological heritage, while drawing on the experience of extensive racing sponsorship. Their U.K. line-up consists primarily of straight-ahead road machines priced from £549 to £1999, with a couple of cool and very sought after track bikes to spice things up.
Ride & handling: think 'Nissan Skyline' at the races (and the office)'
First impressions confirmed my expectations: solidly reliable. The Roubaix RC keeps its poise and composure regardless of conditions.
My test loop incorporates all of the kinds of surfaces, topography and conditions you might expect in a challenging road race. The Fuji took everything I could throw at it.
As I fled the city through brisk traffic, the Roubaix RC was stable when having to brake and signal simultaneously, and re-launched with efficiency.
When I hitched a 33 mph draft behind a bus, it dealt equally well with potholes and damaged manhole covers by ploughing over them, or by bunny hopping them.
Once out of town, Belmont hill rears its lumpy head, and forces me to jam out of the saddle in order to claw myself over the opening switchbacks. Initially I feel a little hindered by a small amount of bottom bracket flex and the robust wheels.
As the gradient becomes more gradual and steady, the taller gearing from the 53/39 FSA crankset allows me to stay on top of my gears, right until the last couple of hundred meters.
A sharp left is followed by an equally sharp increase in percentage, then a false summit. Avoiding the strictly forbidden large sprocket/large chainring combo gives me just the right incentive to go from redline to “puke zone”.
This is where the steady and obedient-handling Fuji steps forward and takes care of itself, and you. The inevitable attack by an opponent at this point would mean that you’d given up caring for what you were doing to the bike, or yourself. You'd just want to hold on to a wheel, and the Roubaix RC would make sure you did.
With this little reenactment over, I take the tree-covered plunge down a rain and diesel slickened road. The Fuji is both stable and responsive at speed, although I hold back a bit out of self preservation. The stiff and unsure handling of the plain and rubbery Continental Ultra Sport tyres is also holding me back.
With two and a half hours gone, and my race simulation nearly over, I roll into town, and head straight for a series of streets near “The Dings”. This is a chance to play in the neglected home of some good stretches of slippery cobbles of all shapes and sizes. As I hammer over these vestiges of another era, the deep-rimmed wheels and hard tyres make their presence felt.
Nobody’s perfect, but you can sure try. And the Fuji does with fair success.
Epilogue: a week later I repeat the ride, but with some top dog rubber in the form of 23mm Michelin Pro Race tyres. Definitely better, and definitely worth considering from word go.
Frame: transformers go race!
The Roubaix RC's confident handling comes from its 73-degree frame angles, average trail and a little extra weight (8.8 kg/19.4 lbs). The geometry is a traditional squarish layout. The level top tube is decently long (55cm on a 54cm frame, 56cm on a 56cm frame) to provide a race-worthy position with the 11.5cm stem.
The main frame features custom butted Altair aluminium tubing shaped and chosen for maximum efficiency. The downtube employs what Fuji calls a 'power diamond' shape.
Clean, solid-looking welds of medium smoothness promise a lifetime of reliable use.
Curvy wishbone seatstays in high modulus carbon fiber are bonded into the rear triangle, with the hopes of taking the rough edges off of road vibrations.
Up front, a high modulus carbon bladed fork exhibits from impressive lateral and torsional rigidity. It's 4.5cm offset come from a very elegant curve that begins at the crown, and tapers beautifully down to aluminium fork tips.
A machined and shaped head tube employs a fully integrated Cane Creek cartridge aheadset.
A replaceable gear hanger keeps any right-side impacts from causing unnecessary financial hardship.
The whole package is enhanced by a complex pattern of overlapping panels of red, white, silver and clear. The prominent lettering draws on Japanese calligraphic and animé influences. Let’s go race!
Equipment: Sum of its parts
Interesting Fuji-badged finishing kit and other familiar brands bolster a tried and true core of Shimano Ultegra STI shifters, derailleurs and brakes.
Shifting and braking suffered a little from cable outer compression, but this should be a fixable problem. I’ve had flawless performance in the past from the same equipment on previous bikes. Set up is of crucial importance, and fortunately, on-the-fly adjustments were possible thanks to the well-positioned downtube adjusters.
The Fuji anatomic butted alloy bar and forged stem are perfect. I particularly liked the very square shape of the bar. They're a standard 42cm width (centre to centre) but the shape lets you grip the flats further out than normal. The round tubing provided a more confident grip than broadly ovalized tops, but didn’t make my palms fall asleep.
However, the carbon wrapped 27.2mm alloy seat post and steel-railed white and red colour-matched saddle, were less great. The overly thick wall of the post eliminated any useful flex. The saddle was actually well shaped and comfortable, but its aesthetics suffered as it quickly matched the colour of the tenacious winter road spray.
An FSA Gossamer forged crankset with 172.5 arms and 53/39 rings (huzzah!) efficiently convert circular motion into forward motion. I couldn't stop noticing their slightly wider q-factor of about 148mm, though.
Wheels: rolling thunder
The factory built Xero wheels are a well executed sample from the flood of different models available to both manufacturers and end-users.
Familiar looking forged and anodized hubs contain sealed cartridge bearings and chromoly axles. They proved to be smooth running and impervious to the almost daily soaking they were subjected to during their 21 day ordeal.
The well designed quick release levers were just that little bit longer, broader and more comfortable than most. A welcome design tweak on a cold, wet fingered day.
Flat stainless spokes with conventional elbows bridge the gap between flange and rim, where they attach with brass nipples. There are 20 spokes up front, arranged radially and 24 at the rear, laced three cross drive side and radial on the left.
The anodized and machined rims are Chicago-style deep, with heft and rigidity to match. A slightly ovalized leading edge, while possibly helpful aerodynamically, only served to heighten my mixed feelings about these hoops.
Although nicely made, and easy and affordable to service, their broad profile and lack of vertical compliance counteracts their more positive qualities.
Verdict: Weekend & week-day all-rounder
As an affordable all-rounder, the Fuji is a fun and racy-looking performer. Although they've chosen to name it Roubaix RC, I really want to re-name it Speed Racer, or Racer-X (maybe next year?).
Could you take it to the races? Certainly. With better tires (23mm Michelin Pro Races or Open Corsa CXs), or with race wheels, the Fuji Roubaix RC is more than capable of rubbing shoulders in close quarter combat. Criteriums and circuit road races on rolling courses would be the perfect environment.
Lighter wheels with a shallower rim profile would allow you to hit the cobbles on French or Belgian sportives and escape with your fillings intact. They'd make life easier on climbs during club rides and weekend road races too. With a pair of clip-on aero bars, it would even be at home on short and medium course duathlons and triathlons.
At £1199.00 it represents reasonable value against its rivals, bikes like the Trek 1.9 or the Felt Z65.
If you’re looking for a capable machine which you can race on a Sunday, and train or commute on Monday to Friday, the Roubaix RC is your ticket. But get your friendly Fuji dealer to throw in some better tyres before you ride off.