Tested: Fuji Gran Fondo 1.1 Disc – Bike Magazine Australia

I was just four days into my two-week mission to ride the exact same climb every day when I began to fall for the Fuji Gran Fondo. The bike had already helped me crush two events, which wasn’t exactly breaking news considering the model’s name broadcasts that this is its optimal type of ride.

But while I already thought the bike was high-quality and reliable, it hadn’t yet dazzled me with thrill factor. Until I started riding the bike every day up a hill called Stonesthrow.

Stonesthrow – at 35km and 495m in total elevation gain, is the longest or the climbiest. But for some reason I found it to be the hardest. It ascends the same hill twice, from opposite directions, and there is just something about how steep the first ascent is, combined with how soon the second climb follows, that always feels to me like a sucker punch. (Plus, the fantasy-novel name “Stonesthrow” sounds like you have to summon a fellowship and fight a horde of Orcs just to get to it.)

Somehow I became convinced that if I could master Stonesthrow, I could stop getting dropped on all those ostensibly casual, no-drop rides. I also wanted to see what happens when you try the same dreaded climb every day for two weeks. Could I actually get faster at it in that amount of time? Would it start to feel easier, or would it become a spirit-crushing slog?

On each day’s ascent, the Fuji Gran Fondo’s lightweight carbon frame and smooth-shifting Dura-Ace drivetrain (with a spin-friendly 50/34 crankset and 11-28 cassette) seemed to almost welcome the climbing. On the descents, the Shimano RS805 hydraulic disc brakes encouraged me to bomb downhill at 80kmh, knowing even the fast-approaching stop sign at the bottom would be no issue.

On my fourth day riding Stonesthrow, conditions were sketchy thanks to a combination of foliage and drizzle that spackled the streets with wet leaves. When a hovering motorist forced me to take a choppy section of road for about 2km of the steep descent, the Gran Fondo exceeded my expectations. “Wave” seatstays and Fuji’s VRTech vibration reduction technology (polyurethane-treated natural fibres woven into the carbon layup), are designed to reduce road vibration (by 24.6 per cent over a non-VRTech frame, according to Fuji).

It soaked up all those little dings so that I felt jangled but in no danger of being thrown off my line or panicked into holding the handlebar in a death grip. The 28mm-wide Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres also gave me an added sense of connection to the road. The bike was stable and responsive at speed on this rough terrain, perhaps aided by the added stiffness of the front and rear thru-axles.

After back-to-back days of climbing, I felt tired but not sore—even as I braced daily for the brain-rattling miles of uneven roads leading up to the climb. To this I credit the compliance as well as the geometry that put me in an upright position, helping my shoulders and back stay loose and comfortable for 14 straight days in the saddle without a rest.

The more questionable conditions I tackled with the Gran Fondo, the more I started to appreciate that its reliable character made the ride more exhilarating – which is not that different from how I started to feel about the Stonesthrow route itself. I could always pinpoint the exact moment I’d need to rise out of the saddle. I could find that sudden dip in the descent that gives the sensation of bottoming out on a roller coaster. I knew where to look for all the cutest dogs along the route, and the best trees for a time-lapse of autumn’s progression. And the more I rode the Gran Fondo, the more its consistently top-notch ride dazzled me too.

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