In addition to bikes like the Noah and the Helium, Ridley came to Press Camp with two new road models that fall comfortably outside the realm of race scalpels in their line-up. The Fenix SL is a complete revamp of the Fenix endurance road model to be faster, lighter, and more aero, but with an emphasis on increased compliance in the frameset and complete bike configuration. Then there is something Ridley is calling the “X-Project” – their multi-surface slayer yet to be officially named. (Note: It has since been named the X-Trail.) It has all the clearance and geometry allowances needed for big tires, but a wheelbase and bottom bracket placement very much in line with skinny road models. Just don’t call it a gravel bike, says Richard Wittenburg, Ridley’s Vice President of Operations…
The “X-Project” is designed to maintain stellar handling characteristics with a wide variety of tire widths from 25mm to 40mm to accommodate the whole “all-road” surface spectrum. Rather than stretching the wheelbase to fit the tire, Ridley designers offset the seat tube forward relative to the bottom bracket, which allowed them the ability to pull the rear axle forward and keep the back end geometry tight. They also utilized a BB86 bottom bracket standard, giving them the ability to position the chainstay junction at wide points on the bottom bracket shell, which improves stiffness in that region of the bike as well as increasing tire clearance.
The fork for this model is also newly designed and Wittenburg said we can expect to see it roll over to future models. This 15mm thru-axle, 1-1/8in to 1-1/2in tapered steerer fork features a polished metal guard on the inner blade to protect the carbon from the rotor and hidden mid-blade fender mounts. The lay-up of the carbon is asymmetrical from drive to non-drive side of the fork to provide greater structural support on the disc blade without adding unnecessary weight. Front and rear brake interface is the new Shimano Flat Mount standard, though we weren’t able to see Flat Mount brakes mounted as post mount adapters and standard brakes were used instead for Prest Camp. The form of the fork is designed to flow into the frame for better aerodynamics.
The rear end of the frame is 12mm x 142mm thru-axle compatible and, again, features an asymmetrical carbon lay-up for greater clearance around the brake caliper and structure for stresses due to the drivetrain. Fender mounts are minimal, close to the axle, and are located on the outside of the frame. Like many frames in the emerging all-road category, the carbon seatstays join neatly at the seat cluster rather than at a bridge or junction lower on the stays, likely for further damping qualities. Though, if you’re running fenders, there is removable seat stay bridge that comes on the bike.
First Ride Impressions: I tested the Small size of this bike with two tire extremes. It was initially outfitted with Continental Grand Prix 25mm tires and ridden on pavement. The same bike was outfitted with 38mm Challenge Gravel Grinder tires and ridden on dirt trails.
The danger in a lot of multi-functional models is that they tend not to do either riding case particularly well. This wasn’t the case with this model. It was super fun and fast on the trail, the short rear end was particularly apparent and appreciated in the quick handling. On the road, the geometry is stable without being slow, and the disc brakes were awesome in the steep descents. I did feel the fit effects of sitting more over my crank spindle due to the offset seat tube which, when paired with the aluminum handlebars, made it less comfortable on flats, but I could easily take steps to remedy that through personal spec on my own bike. Overall, though, I could see myself comfortably replacing several of my personal bikes with everything that this one is able to do.
On the Fenix side, Team Lotto Soudal wanted an improved endurance race bike that could handle the rough, cobbled terrain of the classics. Ridley responded with the Fenix SL, a lighter, stiffer, and more compliant version of their existing Fenix endurance road model. The new road bike offers better vibration damping over a variety of road conditions and provides a comfortable endurance riding experience.
The Fenix SL shares the riding position of the previous Fenix model as well as the impact resistant octagonal top tube profile. The wheelbase, however, is longer and the head tube angle is a little more slack for a less twitchy handling experience. Like the X-Project frame, the bottom bracket interface is now Pressfit BB86 to allow for wider chain stay contact points. The tire clearance has been increased from 25mm to 28mm to improve suspension without the use of what Ridley claims to be less effective additive technologies such as gel inserts to help the bike handle cobbles. The seat post diameter has been reduced to 27.2mm for further compliance.
Interestingly, this model has debuted with rim brakes only and quick release front and rear, putting it solidly with more classic road-style models. Similarly, it shares the minimal seat stay design of the Helium, along with the same asymmetrical layup on the back end.
The Fenix SL has a model-specific fork that is designed to accommodate the larger tire clearances and is aerodynamically blended into the frame. Cable routing is internal, entering in the front of the headtube to prevent frame damage and help with aerodynamics.
Retail is set at $2750 MSRP with a full Ultegra build. The model Ridley presented at Press Camp to test ride was full Dura Ace with full carbon 4AZ bars and seat post and Zipp Firecrest 303 wheels (the Dura Ace spec frame will come with 4ZA carbon wheelset).
First Ride Impressions: the relatively relaxed handling paired with the large tires, Firecrest rims, and carbon handlebars was cozy on flats, descents, and rough pavement. Though, on steeper, longer descents, I would have appreciated greater braking power- maybe a clincher wheel set with a better braking surface. The less aggressive geometry was noticeable, but still quick and nimble… more like a race geometry with the edge taken off rather than a more classic road geometry. Actual weight of the complete bike in this configuration was 15.7lb (7.12kg) for the Small size.