At first glance the Fuji Gran Fondo looks like yet another ‘on trend’ sportive machine; the sloping top tube, low slung seatstays and taller front end all signify just what a modern endurance bike has come to be.
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It’s beneath the understated flat grey skin where things get interesting. Fuji’s design team, led by senior road product manager Steve Fairchild, spent over a year investigating ways on reducing road vibrations both with design and materials. They in the end chose to use VRTech, a material that’s been used in carbon fibre construction before, though never in bicycle frames and forks.
VRTech material is used in the seat, chainstays and through the fork legs and the process uses a layer of Polyurethane (PU) material to improve the frameset's ability to absorb high frequency, low pitch vibrations.
The VRTech does add between 3–4g per layer, which amounts to around 24g per frameset, which is not exactly a big penalty to pay when Fuji has measured a 24.6 percent reduction over a non-VRTech frame.
The frame used on the 2.1 is Fuji’s C5 grade (one below the range topping C10). The higher grade 1 series tips the scales at 940g for a 56cm, with the fork adding a further 370g, but this second tier 2 series that uses C5 carbon has a frame weight of 1,070g and a fork of 410g. This is still impressive for a bike of this style equipped with thru-axles and gives plenty of potential for a very upgradeable bike.
Its not just the material that’s dealing with comfort issues, the frame design features ‘wave’ seatstays that (very much like the new BMC Roadmachine) are kinked at the brake bridge (or where a brake bridge would be, here it's just a mudguard mount).
This kink is there to disrupt the energy path of vibrations from the road getting to you, the rider. The longer path that vibrations have to take slows them down making less road noise reach you.
Fuji Gran Fondo 2.1 kit
Out of the box, the bike comes equipped with 28mm tyres, but the frame is designed to take 28s with a full mudguard, or you can go even bigger to a 30mm should you want the extra rubber-led comfort of bigger volume treads.
The disc specification means Shimano flat-mounts front and rear and 12mm thru-axles front and rear too (surely 12/12 is set to become the default for road bikes).
Interestingly the rear 12mm thru-axle is convertible, with the removal of a single 5mm nut and bolt on both rear dropouts you can remove the threaded thru-axle section and run a standard 135mm QR rear wheel, should you wish.
The back end is noticeably asymmetric at the chainstays, with the non-drive (disc) side significantly beefed up to balance braking forces from the flat mount rear caliper. The hidden mudguard mounts are supplied with stainless steel inserts, so add guards and the 2.1 can easily be put to use all year round whatever the weather.
The Gran Fondo design is also very size specific using what Fuji is calling ‘optimal range of trail’, which means the trail figures are size specific (to avoid any potential toe-overlap). So on the XXS bike that’s a trail of 61.7mm on a fork offset of 52mm, on the XXL its 58.7mm on a more standard 43mm offset.
Like all Fuji road machines the tubing diameters are also size specific to ensure parity in ride feel across the board, so the down tube diameter ranges from 52.3mm on the XXS to 57.2mm on the XXL.
The ride position is, as you’d expect taller at the front and shorter in reach, with my 58cm test bike having a 625mm stack and a 389mm reach. Thankfully due to the optimal trail design Fuji has been able to keep the steering sharp, in fact the steering geometry is the same as the race-bred Fuji SL.
Fuji Gran Fondo 2.1 ride impression
Out on the road I was expecting a smooth ride, especially when you consider that the Oval 327 wheels have a wider rim profile and the bike is running impressive 28mm Vittoria Pro Slick rubber. Run the pressures down and the 2.1 is truly buttery smooth over even the worst broken and scarred surfaces, though pump them up hard (at around 95psi) and it's still impressive with none of the occasionally sluggish feel you can get from softer tyres.
The taller than I usually ride position can feel a little pedestrian when you're just cruising along, but it does mean that getting into the drops for a faster, more aero position feels less of a stretch when holding longer efforts.
Get into a sustained climb however and the commanding position on the hoods really feels comfortable, so your less concerned with anything but concentrating on keeping the pedals spinning, with the wide gearing (50/34, 11-28) providing ample range for even the steepest and longest slopes.
Descending on a bike of this shape means in the drops the 2.1 really comes into its own, the sharp front end makes it feel much more nimble than you’d expect, while the extended wheelbase encourages speed thanks to great stability.
The RS685 brakes provide great all weather control (even if they do suffer from the occasional squeak) and the extra contact of the big rubber provides formidable grip through big angle leans on corners.
Ultegra in the past has been the default on bikes at this price, but with recent political events and exchange rate fluctuations it’s becoming rarer, and so it's now a highlight on great value bikes and that’s certainly true here. It performs as well as ever with smooth changes and trouble-free performance in the long term too.
The co-brand Oval components are decent enough, with the 310 bar being a nice mid-compact shape, and the 27.2 carbon post adds a bit more compliance. I wasn't the biggest fan of the slender 500 saddle, but it's not uncomfortable, it's well padded but the slick surface can get slicker and slippery when wet.
The 2.1 is an impressive machine. Fuji has managed to provide a classic shorter and taller endurance bike that doesn’t compromise handling. It's not the most glamorous or pulse racing design, but it's one that’ll get you through the biggest ride challenges by keeping you fresher and more comfortable than most while still giving you plenty of fun in the process.