Just yesterday, Fuji announced the release of a new triathlon bike, set to replace the aging D-6. Our own Timothy Carlson was at the launch event to capture images and first details, which are available HERE.
Fuji has an interesting name for this new bike – the Norcom Straight. As you can guess, we had some questions about this name. What does it mean?
Norcom Road is an actual stretch of road very nearby the offices of Fuji parent company, Advanced Sports. Fuji representatives tell me that this road is very popular for lunch rides, and eventually became a popular Strava segment among locals (the segment is called the “Norcom Straight”). There you have it.
According to Fuji’s Road Category Manager, Steven Fairchild, the Norcom Straight was his most difficult project, which took place over a period of years, not months. Their motto for this bike is “Fit Comes First”. As we can gather from that phrase, they were targeting a bike with revised geometry and improved adjustability over the old D-6.
In addition to geometry changes, Fuji sought to improve the aerodynamics of the frame, to make fall in line with what we now call a “superbike”. Let’s break down the features and specifications of the new Norcom Straight.
One of my first questions for Fuji was, “Is this bike UCI-legal?” For those not in the know, the UCI is the governing body for professional road cycling. Their rules are much more stringent than the rules for triathlon, restricting bike geometry, tube shapes, and so on.
One of the key constraints is the use of a 3:1 maximum aspect ratio for frame tubes (the depth of the tube can’t be more than three times the width). The frame must be a ‘double diamond’ design – meaning you cannot omit a seat tube, chainstay, or other critical frame member.
Some suggest that eschewing UCI legality opens up new frontiers of aerodynamic possibility; some suggest that isn’t the case. When asked for detail, Fuji simply told us that their testing did not show unilateral non-UCI superiority, and that their frame is now among the fastest of the competition. They also intend to continue sponsoring UCI-constrained teams, which certainly makes their 3:1 choice a good one from a business standpoint. Unfortunately, they would not provide any competitive wind tunnel information of their bike against other brands, whether UCI-legal or not.
All of Fuji’s wind tunnel testing was done at the A2 tunnel in North Carolina. As we’ve seen from other manufacturers, Fuji made a mock-up frame with interchangeable parts. By swapping out different pieces for different test runs, they were able to find the right mix of spices in what would become the final sauce.
After all of the testing with the interchangeable Mr.-Potato-Head frame, they produced a more official-looking prototype:
We had all kinds of questions about their wind tunnel trips. Were they testing complete bikes? Frame only? Was there a pedaling rider? What yaw angles? In short:
-Frame, wheels and stem only on all bikes. They said that due to the various levels of integration with competitors (stems, bars, brakes, etc), they wanted a level playing field. For example, they would want to use the same bar on every bike, but some have their own integrated bar.
-Yaw angles from zero to 20, measured every 5, plus 7.5 and 12.5. All done at 30mph.
How did it pan out? This chart details the drag comparison of the Norcom Straight against the older D-6:
Fuji said that the 5 to 15 degree range is the most common in real-world conditions, so they designed the bike to perform best in that range.
The geometry and fit of the Norcom are quite a bit different than the D-6. They’re down from seven models to five, and now have a more integrated front end.
The stem is proprietary, along with the headset spacers. Fuji tells me that you could use a standard 1 1/8” headset spacer, but it won’t blend in with the rest of the frame as well (visually or aerodynamically). The top cap of the stem is designed to lay flat and offer a smooth transition to the top tube.
The stem does allow the use of any 31.8mm handlebar, but all of the stock bikes come with their house brand, Oval Concepts.
Fuji says that by using their headset spacers and both stem options (that can be flipped upside down), you have a total of 135mm of total vertical adjustment for the front of the bike. Keep in mind, if you do want the clean appearance of a flat stem and top tube junction, you must not use any headset spacers.
The D-6 was known for being a ‘tweener’ bike, featuring a 76 degree seat tube angle. How does the Norcom Straight stack up?
Fuji calls it “74 to 81” degree; settling on 78 degrees for their geometry chart. My interpretation is that they still clearly wanted to accommodate UCI regulations (and the 5mm saddle setback rule), while aiming the bike more at the triathlon market.
What about stack and reach? Now that we’re down to five sizes, where do they fit in compared to the D-6? Being the visual type, I created a comparison of the two bikes:
Here are my key observations in regards to stack and reach:
1. The Norcom is taller than the D-6. As you get to the larger bike sizes, this growth in height becomes more pronounced (so a bike for a six foot rider gained more head tube length than a bike for a 5’3” rider). If you compare a 57cm Norcom to a 58cm Cervelo P2, the Norcom has a 15mm higher stack.
2. Reach is the more pronounced change. Fuji essentially eliminated the two smallest size bikes; the Reach of the smallest Norcom is 1mm longer than the third smallest D-6. The rest of the Reach spectrum is more compact than the D-6.
3. In essence, the smallest bike got bigger (taller head tube and longer reach). The largest bike got taller in the head tube, but shorter in reach. In between, the rest of the bikes got closer together in size.
I was curious about the fit of Fuji-sponsored athlete, Matty Reed. At 6’5”, he is a big boy. What frame size and stem length did he ride in the past – and what does he ride now? Unfortunately, Fuji was not able to provide this information. We can assume that Matty now rides the 57cm Norcom Straight – and we have to guess he is on the 130mm stem option.
Here’s a look at the full Norcom Straight geometry chart:
My take is that the bike will likely better fit more medium-totall riders than the D-6. It is the short riders that might be out of luck. You can look at the seat tube angle of the Norcom and argue that – because it is steeper – riders have better “access” to that stack and reach. While the steeper seat tube angle does make the bikes somewhat shorter in a roundabout way, our savvy readers know that one does not push the saddle forward in order to reduce reach. Saddle position is saddle position (meaning it is its own static entity), and reach must be manipulated via top tube, stem, and extension length.
This also brings to light what I think is an unfortunate omission in stem sizes; there is no 70mm. That 70 length is a common one among shorter riders, and we feel absolutely critical for triathlon. There is a chance that you can use your own brand of 70mm stem on this bike, but depending on the design of the steerer tube clamp and bolts, it might not fit in the ‘stem pocket’ of the frame. We hope to see Oval Concepts offer this much-needed size option in the future.
The other important detail for small riders is that all sizes of the Norcom come with 700c wheels. Using our comparison bike of the Cervelo P2, the smallest size P2 has an almost identical reach as the smallest Norcom, but comes with 650c wheels. As a result, the P2 also has a substantially shorter stack – 27mm lower, to be exact. I think that – in general – it isn’t the reduction in stack that most riders need (I’ve often seen small Cervelos with large spacer stacks, mostly because many modern aerobars feature very low pads). Fuji has done a good job of making their 700c stack as low as possible on this small frame. The argument for 650c wheels in the smallest size frame has more to do with wheelbase, weight distribution, toe overlap, and general handling. Perhaps we will see Fuji open a mold for an extra-small frame size in the future, along with 650c wheels.
The Norcom Straight has a few unique mechanical details. For the rear dropouts, Fuji has taken a page from the mountain bike playbook – the sliding vertical dropout:
This allows the ability to easily change wheels, but also retain fore-aft adjustability.
Another unique feature is what Fuji calls “RIB Technology”. In essence, they’ve added a brace to the inside of the fork legs and downtube to increase stiffness. This technology carries over from their track frames, where high stiffness is a must:
With modern triathlon bikes, one of the first things I ask about is brake cable routing. Fuji uses a TRP v-brake, similar to what you see on the Cannondale Slice RS:
The D-6 was known for having very unique brake routing that actually goes through the fork steerer tube. The Norcom does something somewhat similar, but not identical – the brake cable goes in to the front of the head tube via a special port, and out between the fork legs. Timothy Carlson snapped these photos yesterday at the Norcom product launch:
While still not as simple as a standard road caliper, we see this as a big improvement over the D-6. Fuji tells us that the TRP brake accommodates all current selling rims, from 18mm to 28mm wide. Tire clearance is a very impressive 28mm.
The Norcom Straight accommodates all types of shifting – mechanical, Shimano Di2, and Campagnolo EPS. The frame does not differ for these systems; you only need to change out the cable routing plate:
We took a look at the bike of Fuji pro athlete, Cam Dye, to see how his cables were routed. Cam is sponsored by Shimano, and uses their PRO brand of bars.
In the above photo, you can see the front brake housing going in to the head tube. Also, due to the routing of the PRO bar, Cam’s rear housing must go under the stem before entering the frame:
While Fuji requested that we not divulge full 2014 components specifications, we will note important details.
Fuji will offer a full range of components, including, Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, with options for electronic and mechanical. Their naming scheme uses a two digit number system; the lower the number, the more expensive the bike. Higher numbers denote less-expensive bikes.
For example, the top-tier Norcom 1.1 comes with Shimano 9070 11-speed Di2, Oval Concepts carbon clincher wheels, and all of the top-end bits and pieces – all for $7,500. The lowest-end Norcom 2.5 Compact comes with a mix of Shimano Tiagra and 105 mechanical, and sells for $2,300. Between that, you have a mix of options. The cheapest entry in to electronic shifting is the Norcom 1.3 with Ultegra Di2, at $5,900.
All bikes come with the same TRP brakes, and all come with some iteration of Oval Concepts handlebars. While the Norcom frame is only available in a UCI-legal design, the newest Oval 960 bar is available in two designs. First, we have the UCI legal version:
The UCI legal bar (above) features a solid wing design and 3:1 aspect ratio. They also make a split wing non-UCI legal design, which is said to offer less aerodynamic drag:
Both bars allow the use of standard plug-in brake levers. Pads can be adjusted up and down via available spacers, but they are not adjustable fore and aft. There are three extension styles available; ski tip, s-bend, and straight. Stock bikes feature the s-bend extension.
The Norcom Straight uses a press-fit BB86 bottom bracket shell, which accommodates standard cranks with a ~24mm spindle (Shimano, SRAM GXP, Rotor, Campagnolo). Different bottom brackets must be used for different brands of crank, but they all press in to the same size hole in the frame. If you want to use a BB30 crank on this bike, you must use an adapter bottom bracket, such as the BB86-to-BB30 model from Rotor. You cannot use a threaded bottom bracket, such as ISIS, Octalink, or square taper.
The only beef I have with the components specification of the Norcom Straight is that it follows the curious trend of more-expensive models getting taller gearing. If you want the Norcom 1.1 or Matt Reed special edition, you better be prepared to push a 54/42 set of chainrings. Most of the mid-range bikes use 53/39 chainrings and 11-25 cassettes. The lowest-end bikes use a 50/34 compact crank and 11-25 cassette. This would suggest that budget correlates with power output. While a beginning triathlete likely doesn’t have a high FTP, that in no way assumes that their budget is small. In fact, my personal observation is that the highest power output tends to be among customers of mid-range bikes who put their saved money in to things like race entries and power meters.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution here, we generally support specifying a 52/36 mid-compact for the bulk of triathlon bikes (assuming 700c wheel size). There are certainly customers for 55/42, 53/39, 50/34, triple, and every other ring size out there, but the 52/36 and your choice of cassette option fit the bill nicely for many athletes.
What do you think? Does the new Norcom Straight offer the improvements in fit and technology that you hoped for as customers? If you currently own a D-6, is the Norcom on your list for an upgrade? As always, we would love to hear your thoughts.