In a notable departure from the design of its D6, Fuji has signaled a clear commitment to the tri market with its impressive new Norcom Straight, writes Andrew Jones.
Fuji has been selling the D6 for a number of years now. It’s a good-looking bike and it went well despite a few drawbacks. The D6 geometry was heavily biased towards time trial with slack seat tube angles and very short head tubes that got progressively shorter in comparative terms as you moved up the size chart. The brake cable routing for both the front and rear brakes were very difficult to adjust when you changed over to your race wheels. Despite these eccentricities the D6 was a good chassis and was similar to many of the other TT biased offerings from other companies. Pricing was pretty sharp and this placed the D6 on a number of shopping lists. Fuji has stepped up with a completely new bike in the Norcom Straight. It’s not a development of the D6, it’s been rebuilt from the ground up. Fuji based the name on a stretch of road where they do a lot of their testing – in case you were wondering.
Is it a Tri bike or a TT bike?
The requirements of long course triathlon are quite different to the requirements of a short sharp time trial. The bikes look similar but the setups are very different. Over the last few years, bike companies have either developed two completely different bikes or they have got a lot better at making their bikes with the capability to adapt between tri and TT (the different front end of the BMC TM01 comes to mind). The Norcom is in the latter category and comes equipped with the adjustability to allow for this. The seat tube angle is listed at 78 degrees, which puts it firmly in the tri camp. In practice with the deep aero frame profiles it’s difficult to accurately measure this, but the Norcom fits into the steep end of the spectrum, which is great news for your bike fitter. Frame sizing has dropped from seven sizes for the D6 to five for the Norcom, but head tube sizes have increasedd – welcome news for those of us who hate spacers. The geometry of this bike is biased towards being much stronger in the triathlon space. The cable routing for the brakes is vastly simpler than before and while there will still be some fiddling when changing between training wheels and race wheels, this is a big improvement. The adjustable horizontal dropouts and wide wheel/frame clearance means you can run any deep and wide race wheel that you want without any compatibility issues. All things considered, we're calling the Norcom a tri bike.
Fuji reports the Norcom boasts an 18 per cent improvement in aerodynamics over the D6, which is a pretty impressive improvement. The bike will not ride itself, though, and the athlete will always make up the vast majority of the drag equation but its nice to see that Fuji took the time and spent the considerable amount of money required to chase the aero improvements. The cable routing – electric or mechanical – is very clean and the brake routing addresses the issues associated with the D6. The bike has not gone chasing infinite stiffness – Fuji says that the D6 was stiff enough – but they have introduced BB86 bottom brackets to improve the BB stiffness and internal ribbing in the down tube and fork, similar to Colnago's range topping C59, to ensure that no pedal power is lost through the frame. So, the bike is slippery through the wind, works with any wheel set, will accept any group set, and is cleverly thought out in terms of the little things. What about the front end? It comes courtesy of Oval Concepts and it’s a ripper. Oval gets triathlon and the need to be able to make a lot of adjustment. While any aerobar can be fitted, the Oval bar is highly adjustable in terms of both pad width, height and fore/aft. The bike comes standard with an integrated Oval stem but other stems can be fitted – although not all stems given the tight tolerance around the steerer tube fairing. Most importantly, it’s a really good-looking bike. Some of us choose a bike based on this, maybe that’s wrong, but that’s just how it is.
Your tri bike fitter will have a much easier time fitting the Norcom over the D6. Very briefly, the Norcom is steeper through the seat tube angle, shorter along the top tube and taller through the head tube than the bike it replaces. Why is this good? For most triathletes a seat tube angle of around 78 degrees helps open up the hip angle and rotate the rider over and onto the aerobar pads and encourages a skeletal support in this position that saves you some energy for that running bit that comes next. The slightly shorter top tubes avoid the uncomfortable superman position you see when an athlete cant get their weight over the top of the bars. Finally, and most importantly, the taller head tubes mean that more of us can ride this bike for long distances without the need for the tower of doom in terms of spacers. Have a look at the bikes you see in transition next time you rack yours. The number of front ends with excess of 30mm of spacers is a good indication that the head tubes on bikes have been too short for triathletes. The Norcom design team clearly thought about all this when they drew up the geometry chart. The aerobars will also make your bike fitter’s life a lot easier. It’s all about adjustment. We're not saying that the Norcom will be a perfect fit for everyone, but what we are saying is that the Norcom will be a much better fit for more people, and its great to see a bike company that has thought about the tri bike fit implications.
The Mechanic's Perspective
They fixed the weird brake cable routing! The D6 was not your mechanic's best friend when it came time to fit the race wheels and widen the brake calipers. The Norcom will work with any wheel of any depth, which is great news for those of us who run Zipps, Hed, Enve etc in the wide-wheel category. The adjustable dropouts are an exercise in simplicity and the cable routing is quick and easy to set up. Those of us who travel will appreciate this bike as being easy to disassemble and pack. You can take it to the mech tent for support prior to the race and the mechanics will be able to make adjustments without the need to pull the whole bike apart or consult the tech manual. Overall, the Norcom Straight gets a big tick from the wrench. Another up side is that you can replace items like stems and bars to suit yourself if you want to - you are not locked into the original specification.
Go and see one. Try and get a test ride. It’s a clever design and it should definitely go on your shopping list if you're in the market for a new tri bike. The geometry will give most people a good fit and there is enough adjustability in the front end to avoid the need for after market changes. There are only a few bike companies that understand the difference between time trial and triathlon – particularly the needs of your average age group athlete – and Fuji now ranks among this select group. It’s great to see a company produce triathlon specific product. It comes at four price points beginning at $3299 and continuing up to $8499.