Fuji Jari Carbon 1.1 review: a fascinating fence-sitter
Fuji's range-topping Jari Carbon gravel bike sets out to cater for everyone.
Fuji's range-topping Jari Carbon gravel bike sets out to cater for everyone.
Fuji’s a brand with a long and sometimes turbulent past. First founded in Japan at the turn of the last century, the brand built a following at home by importing American goods, but by 1919 it had begun making bikes in Japan and exporting them across the Asian region, and eventually, back to America.
By the 1970s, Fuji was a global pioneer in road cycling – the first manufacturer to introduce Shimano Dura-Ace and the first to sell a 12-speed bike – with a nostalgia-fed place in the American cycling pantheon similar to Schwinn.
The good times didn’t last. By the 1980s, Fuji had missed the mountain bike boom, and by the 1990s, it had fallen on hard times. Just before its centenary, Fuji declared bankruptcy.
The brand has revisited this pattern over the past couple of decades, playing musical chairs among a number of different investment groups and conglomerates. But in 2019, Fuji and its stablemates – Kestrel, Breezer and SE – finally found stability under the Advanced Sports umbrella, itself owned by another international business group.
That year, Fuji released the Jari Carbon.
Now, with that origin story, you might be forgiven for thinking that Fuji’s designers might have had one foot out the door. Fuji is a brand rich on heritage but somewhat light on cachet, and the release of their flagship gravel bike could easily have been an afterthought.
What’s pleasantly surprising is how little that is the case.
The Jari range spans five aluminium models from US$849 – US$2,199, with two carbon fibre models from US$2,499. Reviewed here is the range-topping Fuji Jari Carbon 1.1, which comes in at US$2,899/AU$NA.
According to Fuji, the Jari Carbon is “optimised for both performance and utility, during racing, gravel riding and bikepacking.”
While that sounds like it might be a bit of a fence-sitter, there are some promising signs that it’s a bit sharper than you’d expect.
For example, the frame comes in at an impressive weight of less than 1,000 grams, and is constructed of Fuji’s ultra-high modulus C15 carbon fibre, the same used on the company’s top-tier road bikes.
Even more interestingly, the company makes a big noise about the Jari being the first ever monocoque carbon gravel frame – a process where the entire structure is constructed in a single piece. That’s distinct from the modular monocoque frames that are far more common, where the front triangle of the bike is constructed separately from the rear and then bonded together.
While that’s an eye-catching feature to be able to promote, the practical benefits of it are a little less immediately obvious. Fuji’s website doesn’t go into great detail about what implications this production breakthrough might have on the ride quality of the bike – although it can be assumed that there are weight savings and a boost in stiffness – and requests for more detail have as yet gone unanswered.
Regardless: at face value, we’re looking at light, stiff and apparently groundbreaking. But how does it measure up? Time to get out the ruler and protractor.
The Jari Carbon strikes a handsome, gently sloping profile, with a squared-off down tube and an ovalised top tube. The head tube is pretty meaty, housing a tapered 1 ¼” – 1 ⅛” steerer full carbon fork, constructed of a slightly lower-grade C10 carbon fibre.
The seatstays are quite slender with a gentle kink in them, which Fuji reckons gives 15 mm of vertical deflection, while the chainstays are flattened at the mid-point. My favourite-looking bit of the frame – and thank you for asking – is the junction of the seat tube and the top tube, which is exceptionally shapely. It’s all finished off in an appealing red and orange paint job, with the red having a slightly golden metallic fleck to it. I really dig it.
But looks are just one part of the equation, and in an increasingly diverse gravel category – which accommodates everything from super-slack shred-sleds to full-suspension bikes with dropper posts – it’s important to pin down who this bike is for.
The Jari is quite conservative in its angles alongside its more progressive kin. In the 56 cm (or, Large) size reviewed here – pictured with a 75 cm saddle height for a 180 cm tall rider – the dimensions are all quite road-like. There’s a 73º seat tube, a somewhat slack 72º head tube, and a middle-of-the-road 67 mm bottom bracket drop. The chainstays are 435 mm, while the trail on a 700×42 mm tyre is a road-like 64 mm.
Now, it’s worth noting that’s just the 56 cm size – and there are some oddities at the extremes. The reach of the smallest two frame sizes is actually longer than that of the Medium, only offset by a steeper seat tube angle that may not work for some. The stack, meanwhile, is fairly progressive through the size run.
All sizes share the same full-carbon fork with an offset of 48 mm, and 435 mm chainstay lengths. There is generous tyre clearance up to 700×47 mm or 650bx2.2”, and it’s supplied with 700×42 mm WTB Raddler TCS Light tyres.
Otherwise, there’s an eye toward practicality in the utilisation of a threaded bottom bracket, a simple external seatpost clamp on a round 27.2 mm seatpost, along with modular fittings for different groupset configurations and even a DI2 junction port.
We live in an age where gravel bike designers are tasked with fitting many mounting points onto their frames, and in this respect I can, without reservation, confirm that Fuji has risen to the task.
The Jari Carbon is the most accommodating gravel bike I’ve ever seen in this regard – there are no less than 27 M5 bolts across the frame, including fender and rack mounts, three bottle cage mounts in the main triangle, one on the down tube, three on each side of the fork, and top tube mounts (with a bag already fitted!).
Adding to this cornucopia of hardware are even more thoughtful inclusions, including internal routing inside the fork to the crown for a dynamo light, a chain suck guard, a built in chain-catcher, frame protection at the down tube, a Mylar wrap on the head tube to guard against handlebar-bag rub, and a silicone pad on the underside of the down tube for carrying the bike.
Fuji has also included a plastic blank to cover the front derailleur mounting holes, if you decide to set the bike up 1x, and there are neat aluminium bottle cage sliders that let you optimise your bottle placement if you’re using a frame bag.
Despite the fact that you’re given scope to carry just about, well, anything on this bike, it’s pleasantly surprising how clean it all looks. Fuji has clearly sweated the inclusions here in a way that puts most other bike companies to shame.
The Jari Carbon range houses two models: a Shimano GRX 1x model (the Jari Carbon 1.3) and, on the Jari Carbon 1.1, a Shimano GRX 810 2×11 offering. This is, as we’ve remarked previously, an excellent groupset that provides a broad gearing range with little compromise.
Fuji has kept the pricing quite sharp throughout the Jari range, but a closer look at the spec sheet reveals where some corners have been cut. The crankset is a non-Shimano model – FSA’s sub-compact Gossamer Pro – along with a KMC chain and a heavier Shimano 105 cassette.
The wheels are DT Swiss’ dependable G1800 Spline, wearing 700×42 mm WTB Raddler tyres. These are supplied tubed, but, because Fuji is nothing if not generous, they are also supplied with all the necessary parts to convert to tubeless. (Note: we swapped these out for a 700×40 mm Continental Terra Trail control tyre for the Field Test, which is what is pictured).
Contact points come from Fuji’s in-house brand Oval. There’s a basic-looking but functional two-bolt carbon seatpost with an aluminium head, an easy-to-torque stem, and a 25˚ flared handlebar, along with a saddle which was a bit narrow and flat for me but might work for you.
All told, the 56 cm Fuji Jari Carbon 1.1 weighed in at 9.69 kg without pedals and cages – a little on the chunky side, considering the claimed frame weight. But, of course, a number on a scale is just one part of the equation; it’s much more important how it rides.
So, in the beautiful surrounds of Victoria’s High Country, on the gravel roads and mountains and valleys of the region, we were more than happy to put the Jari to the test.
The middle-of-the-road geometry of the Fuji Jari seems purpose-built to dabble across a wide spectrum of surfaces – gravel, road and singletrack alike. But rather than shining in any one area, the Jari is more of a Swiss Army knife: useful in a pinch and handy to have it all in one utensil, but somewhat compromised compared to specialist tools.
The Jari’s handling feels familiar from the outset, drawing little attention to itself. In part, that’s a result of its conservative geometry – which, with a 72º head tube angle, 64 mm trail, and a 67 mm bottom bracket drop puts it closer to a road bike than many of the current crop of gravel bikes.
Both my colleague Andy van Bergen and I, in our testing, discovered that the Jari feels disproportionately larger than the measurements would suggest, and the slightly steeper head tube might have a part to play there.
But there’s a little more afoot. With its square geometry, the Jari’s top tube sits high – 824 mm, or within two milimetres of an equivalent-sized Giant TCX. That’s got obvious benefits when you’re carrying a load, opening up room in the front triangle for frame bags, but in more demanding terrain you’re risking some – ahem – genital trauma.
Likewise, the contact points don’t really do it for me, in particular the handlebar. Our sample bike arrived fresh from a Fuji photoshoot – it’s the exact bike you see on the website – so the positioning of the levers may well be different on a consumer build. Nonetheless, I found the levers didn’t integrate all that nicely with the shape of the handlebar, with either an awkwardly angled transition or an exaggeratedly long reach. I ended up opting for the former to get closer to my preferred position, but it wasn’t ever ideal.
I truly love the attention to detail that Fuji has used across the frame – all the little moments of surprise and delight that you get from finding a thoughtful addition like, say, the chain catcher. I wish more bike companies took Fuji’s lead on this – making bikes with a spirit of generosity rather than miserliness.
But how well that generosity is received depends on whether you’re inclined to approach all of these things as a happy bonus, or something that you’re paying for.
Case in point: the top tube bag. I’m not a fan of this bit of gear at the best of times, finding that they tend to get in the way when pedalling out of the saddle, but I’m perfectly happy to accept that’s a personal preference.
However, this particular top tube bag seems to have some unique compromises. It manages to be fairly limited in capacity, but also awkwardly tall for the volume – and while it looks like it should be weatherproof, the sides are actually open at the base. It’s made out of a grabby silicone material that clings at the inside of the leg, worsening the pedalling ergonomics, while also being long enough that it effectively increases the standover.
So: some people might like it, and it can easily be removed if you don’t, but if you’re going into this purchase expecting the bag to be a home run you may be disappointed.
The Jari’s ride quality – not unlike its handling – is a bit middle of the road. There’s a somewhat binary ride quality from front to rear, with more buzz transmitted at the front, but the micro-suspension in the rear seatstays isn’t tremendously plush.
At 15 mm of vertical compliance, it’s nice to have, but we’re also only really in the realm of a comfy seatpost here (for example Specialized’s Terra offers 18 mm of flex, and Canyon’s VCLS offers 20 mm).
Meanwhile, the pedalling performance of the platform gives a pretty big hint as to what part of the ‘gravel’ continuum Fuji has in mind. The Jari feels calibrated for long days on unpaved roads, less-rugged terrain and gravel races – it springs forward eagerly, has no discernible flex at the bottom bracket and enjoys being ridden aggressively (although it’s worth noting that there’s minor front brake rub when accelerating hard out of the saddle).
But the stiffness of the frame – and relative tautness of the ride – handicaps the Jari in more technical terrain, where you end up feeling bounced around, and the bike soon feels out of its depth on single track. The tall bottom bracket and somewhat tippy steering mean that it’s less intuitive in such conditions than most other gravel bikes I’ve recently ridden – while admittedly performing capably on paved (or road-adjacent) surfaces.
Gravel is a broad category and the riding conditions that meet me on my local trails may not be those that meet you, and a racey, road-like gravel bike with all the accoutrements may be exactly your cup of tea. If that’s the case, great – it’s a good frame, with a generous ethos behind it, but keep an eye on the touchpoints and the geometry to be sure that it’s for you.
The Fuji Jari is one of the most generously appointed gravel framesets on the market, with an eagerness to cater for as many different riders as possible. I truly appreciate what Fuji’s aiming for here, even if it’s not necessarily for me. But I do worry that in trying to be something for everyone, the Jari risks being nothing for nobody.
Learn more about this bike at Fuji.com