The Fenix SL is the evolution of the bike that Belgium’s Ridley designed to take on the cobbled classics of its homeland. As good as the Fenix was we never felt it quite hit the comfort mark as highly as some of its competitors. Perhaps Ridley’s hardened Belgian bike designers and testers are much more schooled in cobbles than their rivals from further flung shores.
The new SL version, however, gets a few updates to make it more cobble friendly, tyre clearances are up to 30mm (helped by the switch to a wider BB86 bottom bracket), and the seat post has slimmed to a more compliant 27.2mm.
The frame, with its SL moniker, is lighter than before and our complete bike tips the scales at 8.1kg, which is reasonably impressive especially considering it has fairly modest Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels.
Out on the road, the SL feels monumentally solid. You simply can’t detect even the slightest of flex under hard sprinting and all out attacks on climbs. It's no wonder that amongst the whole Ridley stable the Fenix SL is the one favored by the Gorilla himself Andrei Greipel — in 2015 he took stage 15 of the tour on board the Fenix and Ridley’s designers tell us it’s the bike Greipel chooses to use for most of his training miles. For someone of his stature and putting out the power he does you only need to ride the SL for a few hours to understand why.
If all this talk of solidity and stiffness puts you off, then don’t be because Ridley has pulled off a pretty masterly trick here. Yes, its all of the above, but this certainly isn’t at the detriment of comfort. Yes, you do get bounced a bit on rougher surfaces but there isn’t even a hint of tiring vibration making it through to your hands and hindquarters.
Stiff from front to back
The unerring stiffness from front to back does have an effect on the way the Fenix handles. Its default setting is to go straight-on, and straight-on with speed. It almost feels like the bike wants to tramline and you do have to muscle it a bit through tight corners and quick direction changes. It’s the polar opposite to a flighty, floaty lightweight race machine though its propensity for speed is there for all to witness. The 52/36, 11-28 gearing gives a low bottom end to encourage riders to hold a high pace through rolling terrain and at the other end of the spectrum the 36/28 gives plenty of potential to climb every mountain.
One criticism we’ve had of Ridley’s in the past is pricewise it hasn't been as competitive as some, and being a low-volume Belgian brand (albeit with a big reputation) we kind of expected that. For 2017, though, the brand has become much more competitive, offering full Ultegra with no omissions for a pound shy of £2,300 (about US$3,010). That's a rival to anyone in the value stakes.
Yes, the wheels are decidedly budget, but still one of the better brands and Fulcrum's Racing 7 has always impressed us as a low cost, high quality, hard wearing wheelset.
To extract the best out of the frame and fork you will want to upgrade at some point, but Racing’s 7s will last the distance and wear well meaning you’ll be upgrading on your own terms and not out of necessity.
The remainder of the components come straight from Ridley's component partner 4ZA, with a nicely shaped if unremarkable bar, a simple but solid stem and aluminium post.
The 4Za Stratos saddle isn’t a favourite amongst our testers but neither is it an uncomfortable place to be. The shape is good but the minimal padding still manages to feel somewhat squishy. Finishing things off is decent 25mm rubber from Continental and a nice bit of icing on the cake is the inclusion of two quality cages.
In all, the Fenix SL is a damn fine machine at a good price. Its purposeful ride rewards powerful riders and it's suited better to bigger stature pilots. The 396mm reach and 599mm stack combined with a steep 73.5 head angle and more standard 72.5 seat along with the 1010mm wheelbase suggest a more endurance biased ride position but the reality is of a fast and fluid bike built for speed and very capable over longer distances, too.