Fuji SL 1.5 2017 long-term review

How did Joe get on with his 5.3kg hill climb bike?

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If you read my last long-term column, you’ll know that I was well on my way to turning my 7kg Fuji SL 1.5 into a sub 5.5kg weapon for the British hill climb season. It’s been a couple of months since my last update, so did I make it and how did the hill climb season go?

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Joe talks us through building his 2017 hill climb bike

Dream wheels and tyres

The Schmolke wheels weighed just 940g for the pair
The Schmolke wheels weighed just 940g for the pair
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

If you want to make a lightweight bike, you’re going to need some incredibly light wheels. I’d been using some Flux hoops, which scored well in a BikeRadar review, and while they were fast, they weren’t super light, meaning it was time for an upgrade.

The Schmolke wheels were pretty special
The Schmolke wheels were pretty special
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

German brand Schmolke was an obvious choice. If you haven’t heard of the brand, it’s all about making no-compromise, super lightweight components. Its TLO 30 (the lightest one) tubular wheels weighed in at just 940g for the pair and came with silky smooth Extralite hubs from Italy.

You can go a fair bit lighter than 940g but this often comes at a trade off, mainly in the form of rider weight limits, rim width and stiffness. During the shorter hill climbs I’m often putting down 600+ watts for extended periods, so stiffness is vital and I prefer running wider tyres, so the rims needed a decent width too.

Coming with a 105kg rider weight limit and a relatively wide rim profile of 25.4mm, the TLO’s were perfect for smashing up short sharp hills.

Pro LTD Continental tyres were a real treat
Pro LTD Continental tyres were a real treat
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

Next up were tyres. Many hill climbers opt for paper thin/narrow tubular track tyres, and while they save some serious grams, you increase your puncture risk. As the old saying goes, if you want to finish first, first you have to finish, so I opted for something a bit tougher and much wider, sourcing some pro only Continental Podium TT tubulars in 25mm width. 

The pro only moniker denotes that they come with a latex tube instead of the standard butyl one, making them just a bit lighter. For 25mm tyres they role fast and still provide a degree of puncture protection. When combined with the Schmolke wheels, I saved a whole kilo of weight off the overall build.

Best of the rest

SRAM's Red groupset saved a few grams
SRAM’s Red groupset saved a few grams
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

SRAM Force is already fairly light for a second tier groupset, however in order to save every last gram I upgraded to SRAM Red. Most of the weight saving comes from the one-piece cassette, which is around 100g lighter than the Force model.

Deda’s Superleggera bars saved around 30g and although this was a small amount they felt much stiffer, meaning it was an upgrade worth making. The bar tape was also removed as it’s not needed when you’re flying uphill on the hoods.

Time pedals were less than half the weight of my old Shimano Dura Ace pedals
Time pedals were less than half the weight of my old Shimano Dura Ace pedals
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

I’ve been a big fan of Shimano pedals for years, so changing to a different system felt like a big ask, however Time’s flagship Expresso 15 pedal saved a good 100g compared to my Shimano Dura Ace pedals.

It took a while to get used to clipping in to a different system, but once up and pedalling, I couldn’t tell the difference.

I used a 40t Hope chainring
I used a 40t Hope chainring
Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media

Finally, I ditched the regular double chainrings and converted to a 1x drivetrain. This obviously saves a good chunk of weight, however it’s also useful for correct gearing. UK hill climb efforts are relatively short, with high power numbers, so a regular 36-39t inner chaniring is often too small, therefore I decided to run a 40t, but many riders run bigger. I also chose a narrow-wide chainring to provide some peace of mind against dropping the chain on a miss-shift.

All these mods combined to give the bike a final weight of 5.3kg, well under the 5.5kg target. There are lighter bikes out there, however I feel they often compromise on stiffness and performance. With the SL, I felt I had the right balance of weight weenie(ism) and durability/reliability.

The season

The UK hill climb season is a brutal proving ground for any bike

The hill climb season runs from September to October and I used the SL in its final spec for the last three weeks of the season. This was when my target events took place, culminating in the National Championships on the last weekend in October.