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by Matt Wikstrom
June 20, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Fuji Bikes has a long history that goes all the way back to the turn of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the company has been keeping pace with modern trends, including the growing interest in aerodynamics for road use. The Transonic is Fuji’s first aero road bike, and in this review Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom reports on his experience with it.
Fuji Bikes was born in Japan in 1899. Originally named Nichibei Fuji, the company started out importing bikes from the U.S.A. but soon moved into manufacturing and was exporting its own bikes by the 1920s. After a strong period of growth, the brand suffered a significant downturn in sales during the post-WWII era, only to be reinvigorated in 1971 when the founder’s grandson established Fuji Cycle in the U.S.A.
According to the company’s account of its history, Fuji was able to outsell its Italian competitors in the U.S.A. on the basis of price and the quality of its engineering. The brand enjoyed a new phase of growth until it underestimated the mountain biking boom in the ‘80s, and went into decline as the market moved on without them.
Advanced Sports International (ASI) acquired Fuji in 1998 and set to work resurrecting the brand. The company quickly succeeded and Fuji has regained a firm foothold in the U.S. market in recent years. At the same time, ASI has managed to do the same for a few other dormant brands such as SE Bikes, Kestrel and Breezer.
Fuji’s current catalogue caters for a wide variety of disciplines. The road compartment comprises bikes for competition, endurance riding, triathlon, track, cyclocross and kids. The Altamira is one road model that may be familiar to some, as it was the bike that Juan Jose Cobo rode to victory in the 2011 edition of La Vuelta a España.
Two other bikes from Fuji’s road catalogue are worth mentioning, namely the Track Elite and the Norcom Straight, because the work that was done to improve the aerodynamic performance of those bikes for track and triathlon use, respectively, was critical for the design of the Transonic aero road bike.
According to Fuji’s marketing material, the aerodynamic performance of the Transonic can be attributed to the clean junction between the down tube and the fork, a seat tube that hugs the rear wheel with a sculpted junction at the seatstays, a foil-shaped seatpost with an integrated clamp, internally-routed cables, and direct mount brake calipers, front and rear. The end result is a bike that bested the Altamira by 55s over 40km at 300W in wind-tunnel testing.
There are seven bikes in the Transonic line-up: SL, 1.1, 1.3, 2.1, 2.3, 2.7 and 2.9. For this review, I spent a few weeks riding the Transonic 1.3 — a bike equipped with mechanical Dura-Ace that sells for AU$6,999/US$5,190 — courtesy of Fuji’s Australian distributor, Oceania Bicycles.
Any aerodynamic road bike design that is destined for competitive road use must satisfy the UCI’s regulations, which limits the size and shape of each frame member and excludes pronounced streamlining and structures that can act as a fairing for the wheels and crankset. Thus, any design can only go so far in improving the aerodynamic performance of the bike while remaining UCI-legal.
As a result, seemingly minor parts of the bike get a lot of attention that appears out of all proportion to the gains on offer, but it all seems to add up. In the case of the Transonic, Fuji’s engineers focussed on the junction that the forks make with the down tube along with the seat tube of the bike.
It is the latter that provides the bike with a most distinctive design feature. A seat tube that curves to hug the rear wheel is an old idea but it remains an effective strategy. What is more interesting is the way Fuji has managed to sculpt the junction of this tube with the seat stays to clean up the air flow for the rear brake calliper. In the eyes of the UCI, the structure is not considered a fairing since it remains well clear of the rear wheel.
The down tube is thick and foil-shaped while the top tube and stays are kept slender. The bottom bracket junction is massive, dwarfing the PF30 fitting. Likewise, the headset has an oversized 1.5-inch lower bearing that is swallowed up by the generous proportions of the head tube and fork legs.
The rear brake and derailleur cables are routed through the frame however Fuji has made no effort to integrate the brake callipers. Nevertheless, Shimano’s direct mount design is more aerodynamic than a conventional centre-mount calliper.
The top three models in the Transonic range (SL, 1.1, 1.3) make use of Fuji’s so-called C10 ultra-high modulus carbon fibre. By contrast, the remaining models use C5 high modulus carbon fibre, which is not as strong or stiff, hence the C5 frames are a little heavier and compliant.
The Transonic is offered in seven frame sizes, as shown in the chart below:
The geometry of the Transonic is race-oriented with a relatively short head tube at each frame size. Chainstay length (405mm) and bottom bracket drop (68mm) are uniform for all frame sizes. Fuji provides a fork with 50mm of rake for the three smallest frame sizes (XS-S/M) and 43mm of rake for the remainder. A detailed geometry chart can be found at Fuji Bikes.
The Transonic 1.3 has a satin carbon finish with blue highlights and pinstripes, a combination that immediately made me think of Tron’s light cycle. It’s a good association in my mind, and the flowing curves of the Transonic only add to the futuristic feel of the bike.
The Transonic 1.3 is specified with Shimano’s mechanical Dura-Ace groupset (52/36T crankset, 11-25T cassette) along with a suite of components (stem, bars, saddle, seatpost and wheels) from Oval Concepts (another brand that is owned by ASI). Praxis provides one of its reliable conversion bottom brackets so that the Dura-Ace cranks can be used with the PF30 bottom bracket, while Vittoria supplies its re-vamped Rubino Pro tyres for the wheels. Final weight for the size M sent for review was 7.40kg sans pedals and bottle cages.
The Transonic 1.3 has a recommended retail price of AU$6,999/US$5,190. The frameset is supplied with a lifetime warranty for buyers in the U.S.A. and five years elsewhere. For more information, visit Fuji Bikes and Oceania Bicycles.
The Transonic 1.3 was the kind of bike that didn’t make a strong initial impression, but my appreciation for it grew over the course of the review period. Ultimately, it was a bike that was very easy to ride and like.
There is a risk with any aero road design that the grab for free speed will come at the expense of the bike’s handling or ride quality. However, there is an extremely capable road bike at the heart of the Transonic that can handle the full spectrum of road conditions and terrain without placing unnecessary demands on the rider.
I was able to traverse dirt paths, rough chip-seal, and corrugated paving on the Transonic 1.3 with only a minor amount of road buzz and vibration. While the wide rims and 25mm tyres no doubt helped the comfort of the bike, I’d still rank the Transonic as a remarkably comfortable road bike. Indeed, I found it very easy to spend long periods of time aboard the bike and wouldn’t hesitate to use it for an all-day outing.
The Transonic is a sturdy bike that moves when required however the overall stiffness and responsiveness is quite modest. I’m suspicious about the importance of either trait to the performance of the bike — after all, there is no data that proves stiff bikes are any faster — but a stiff and responsive bike is always more exciting to ride when one is in an aggressive frame of mind.
Some of the dull responsiveness of the bike can be attributed to the wheelset. The hybrid alloy/carbon rims were heavy and suffered with inertia. As a consequence, the bike was sluggish from a standing start, out of corners, and up any incline. Swapping out the stock wheelset for Zipp’s Firecrest 404 clinchers or a lighter low-profile alloy wheelset improved the responsiveness of the bike to some degree, but the performance of the bike in this regard remained modest at best.
Once the bike was moving, it rolled reasonably well but I never had the sense that it was moving as easily as some other aero road bikes, such as Scott’s Foil or Canyon’s Aeroad. The difference may only be a matter of seconds, but for those riders looking to maximise their aerodynamic edge, it will be a deal-breaker.
The steering and handling of the Transonic was sure and steady, which really suited the easygoing nature of the bike. There was just enough hesitation in the steering to stop the bike from ever feeling jittery, yet not so much that I ever had to wrestle with it to hit my line through a corner. After a couple of weeks on the bike, I stopped paying attention of the steering and handling and simply enjoyed how easy it was to ride the bike.
The sluggish wheelset was an obvious handicap in the hills; so too was the bike’s lack of agility. Nevertheless, the bike was sturdy enough to resist violent efforts out of the saddle and I was able to find and maintain a steady rhythm without any trouble. For those riders that like to concentrate on riding up hills, there are far better choices, but for those that like to ride over hills, then the Transonic is a reasonably versatile bike.
While the Oval Concepts 950F wheelset was generally disappointing, there was one aspect that did impress me: the 50mm tall rim was essentially untroubled by crosswinds. Normally, a wheel with a 50mm rim is going to catch at least some wind, so I count this as a pretty remarkable achievement. When coupled with the all-weather reliability of the alloy brake track, these wheels have to be counted as a fine choice for everyday use, though they can’t be used to hang the bike up (the carbon faring will collapse).
I didn’t have any trouble with the other parts on the Transonic 1.3. Shimano’s Dura-Ace mechanical groupset was smooth and precise, the compact handlebars were easy to use (though I would have liked longer drops), and the seatpost held firm for the entire review period. I was a little dubious about the effectiveness of the built-in chain-catcher (it seemed very flexible) however I never dropped the chain.
The Transonic 1.3 offers a little bit of everything without shining in any regard. I count the comfort of the bike as its greatest strength and appeal, and while the wheels slow the bike down, they will serve as a good training tool. Buyers will probably be able to find other bikes that provide a greater edge in terms of aerodynamics, stiffness, or responsiveness but I expect each will come with its own compromise.
To summarise, the Transonic can be considered a pretty conventional road bike that can be ridden on any road surface and in any weather without concern or consideration. The only compromises worth mentioning are the wheels (see above) and the internally routed cables (that require extra effort to service). Otherwise, the asking price is fair and the styling keeps pace with modern trends, both in terms of form and function.