Throw yourself to the ground.
We took the opportunity to review the Fuji Altimira CX 1.3 with every intention of playing hard. Cyclocross is a big deal to every member of the Localcycling.com staff. We are as eager to consume veldrijden gear as a Belgian Supporters Club member consumes 2 bon bier.
We've been watching the introduction of disc brake bikes since the UCI relented and said they were 'cool' to use. Despite a service course full of rim brake wheels, our test rider has been advocating that the revolution evolution is here. Now.
Bill Marshall of the KC based KCCX team provided a built and ready to roll M/L size from his inventory of test bikes. The geometry of the Altimira CX 1.3 was nearly spot on to our test rider's current crossfiets, and it took only a small amount of tweaking saddle height and shuffling stem spacers to get an identical set up.
This wasn't going to be a spin around the block and hand it back to Bill test.
The test bike spec is proven SRAM Force with Avid BB7 disc brakes. Oval branded wheels, seat post, saddle, bars and stem. All work horse stuff for the equipment battering CX season.
The frame looks serious. Big tubes, matte finish carbon. Shaped top tube for shouldering. In the old days bike geeks would step on a pedal and try to flex the bottom bracket to judge frame stiffness. With modern oversize bottom bracket and conjunctions that would be silly. Fuji uses BB86. It may seem obvious, but that beefy area around the crank means a lot when you stand up to pedal out of the myriad 180 degree corners in a 'cross race.
Getting familiar was first order. Yes, the cockpit and saddle height were dialed in, but it's still a different bike. Subtle differences (and those not so subtle) had to be explored. The first spin took in a couple of hours of first road (nice warm-up) then some tame backyard cuts and pocket parks and finished with some spindly, rocky single track. The fun part was (of course) the spindly rocky single track. The positive transfer of power from cranks to rear wheel on the climbs was excellent. The Fuji chainstay length keeps the rear wheel in a good place. Going downhill was the first indication of how important disc brakes are going to be in 'cross.
Riding a CX bike on real singletrack is a ton of fun, but can be tough. The challenge is braking. Many (not all) rim brakes can be set up to stop a rider just fine. But even with the best adjustments and cables, all that braking in a short period of time can take a toll and leave hands very tired. While the BB7 disc brakes don't have a lot more stopping power than the tester's own cantilevers, they sure take a lot less effort to use. After a cumulative 90 minutes of 'play', pulling on the brakes still felt like it did at the start of the ride, rather than the finish. Sweet! Being less tired anywhere at 2 laps to go is a definite advantage.
Ride Two. Race time.
With no weekend event on the calendar, the obvious choice was the midweek 'mock' race. The Altimira was going to get thrown around a bit. The tester got a good hour of warm-up and pre-ride on a 1.5KM course (at the same venue used for a couple of classic Kansas City races). The evening's set up included an uphill pavement start, some high speed corners, off camber grass, a number of 180's, a short uphill to punch (and a short, somewhat deadly downhill), one run-up and some power straight-aways. Pretty typical.
Twenty riders lined up for the start. Promising Juniors, experienced Masters, a few of those knocking on the door of really fast. A quick start (these races aren't really mock; they're real). The bike was easy to accelerate in big ring to the first corner, but the best part was the ability to brake late (yep, discs) and move up in the first few corners with little effort. In fact, the test pilot had jumped enough wheels by the above mentioned deadly downhill, that it was full on 'go' time.
As also mentioned above, we weren't going for an easy spin around the block.
There was a throw yourself to the ground moment. A bit too much ambition, combined with a slight difference in tires (more on that in a moment) put test rider and Altimira on their side at the bottom of a dusty descent. There was a moment of chaos as other riders steered around, a healthy amount of "are you OK?", a moment of "am I OK?" and then there was a friend straightening the handlebars and a bike ready for 5 and a half more laps. The tester jumped back on.
Back up to speed and into the twisty sections, the Fuji was mostly forgotten. That's actually very good. The finish played out, a few riders were passed back, and a good hard effort was completed. Steering, braking and jumping out of corners on a completely new bike, but now a bike that feels completely familiar. Fuji nailed the geometry. Second ride on disc brakes for CX and immediate adaption. Oh, and there is modulation on BB7's (plus pad adjustment on both sides).
After taking a couple of days off of any bike (yes, there are broken ribs from the 'practice' race) it was time to take the Altimira for a long day. The Localcycling crew needed some saddle time, so after a few cups of coffee at the local meet up, it was a roll out.
Three hours of urban road, mostly double pace line. Comfortable all day pace. These rides are conversational. Plenty of sit up no hands to stretch the back, occasional avoidance of urban road furniture and debris. By the end of the ride our tester had forgotten this wasn't the bike he'd been on all year. Nice.
All bikes need to be individualized. We rode this one 'out of the box'. What would we change? The most personal thing for most riders is the saddle. While our tester found the stock saddle adequate and decently comfortable on a multi hour ride, he'd probably replace it with a familiar favorite. The most common chainrings on CX bikes are the 46/36 combo. That's what the Altimira comes with. Our tester, a competitive Masters racer would drop the 46 to a 42, but for an Elite rider, that's likely not an issue. How about those tires? The stock tires are Challenge Grifo 60tpi vulcanized clinchers. We're big fans of Challenge product. This is not a bad tire BUT it is different than the high thread count 'open' or tubular versions of the Grifo. When thread counts drop, more rubber is in the casing and you lose the supple feel of the higher thread count tires. Prior to the above 'mock race' our test rider had commented on the different feel of the stock tires. At the same psi the tires still felt a bit too 'stiff'.
Will that throw you to the ground? Nope. Not if a rider takes that difference and adjusts accordingly. But, does this bike deserve better tires for race day? Yep. When you buy this level of bike, you're going to invest in a quiver of wheels and tires at some point. Save the stock tires for the long easy road rides and put some better rubber on for going fast.
Bottom line on the Altimira CX 1.3: Jump in. Disc brakes are now. The carbon fiber frame is light and stiff (and looks good) Great parts mix. Stock weight is good, add race wheels and tires and the weight drops to very good. Fuji offers this bike at MSRP $2979. That's a deal.