Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Challenge Fujin SLII review

Before I start, a brief caveat: mine is over 4 years old, so there may be differences in spec now. The tiller is slightly newer, however, and was fitted for reasons that have nothing to do with this review…
I’m sure that your friendly, local Challenge dealer will be happy to advise you about current specs and older versions.

So, my SLII. Here’s the pic:

I think that this is one of the best looking recumbents out there. Challenge always design decent-looking bikes, however, this one goes a bit beyond. Most of us who ride recumbents have or have had something that looks a bit agricultural. This machine is quite happy sitting next to carbon road bikes, however, and really does attract attention.

Mine is specced with and 11-34t cassette and a 30-39-53t chainwheel. It has a 650c rear wheel and a 20”/406 ETRO front wheel. The rear wheel has 28 spokes. The front was rebuilt with 32 spokes in a cross 3 pattern due to me breaking quite a few of the original ones! It used to have Schwalbe Stelvio tyres on, but it now wears a 28mm Durano at the front and a 23mm Ultremo ZX at the back. I have noticed that Schwalbe have started making the Ultremo ZX in 406-23mm, but I have yet to get enough miles into this tyre combo to know whether the Ultremo is durable enough to trust on the front on Glasgow roads, but I will look to move in this direction if it is. The Ultremo/Durano tyre package is an improvement on the Stelvios, which I had no great love for. It’s not a night and day change, but the new tyres seem both more comfortable and faster.

I got my Fujin having had a Nazca Fuego for some time and having tried a variety of machines out. I wanted something very much the recumbent version of a road bike: speed being the main priority, with very few concessions made. The Fujin is very much in this mold: no racks, no mudguards, no suspension, no light mount and narrow tyres. I was both excited and anxious when I first rode it, since I had got used to some of these concessions and even got to like some of them (the Fuego was the first bike I ever owned with a rack, with tyres wider than 23mm, or with suspension: the rack and suspension were great and I was getting used to the wider tyres). Furthermore, I was worried how twitchy and difficult to handle it was going to be.

I picked my Fujin up in Edinburgh and went for a ride with David who had got the bike for me (& who had stayed polite through my endless queries about different bikes and different specs on these bikes). Our initial ride was to Cramond, then back into town so I could get the train home. I was quite looking forward to bike paths, since I was anticipating really struggling to control the bike at first. I really need not have worried. It is more twitchy than the Fuego, but not in an unpredictable way. It took me about 400m to get used to the differences in handling, so not that difficult. I find the handling quite difficult to describe: normally manoeuvrability comes from instability and most quick-turning bikes that I’ve ridden will give you a few scares until you are used to them. The Fujin turns very quickly & I knew immediately that it needed treated with respect, however, I can’t remember it giving many scares at all. It tells you quite quickly if you’re doing something wrong & you seem to have loads of time to correct it. Not at all like a road bike in that regard. Within a month of owning it, I had it going at 50+mph through a fairly gravelly turn without blinking. That isn’t a bike that’s hard to handle!
Saying that, I would not recommend it as a first recumbent necessarily, but with basic competence on a ‘bent, you’d probably be fine.

The other issue that a beginner would have on this bike is dealing with the speed. It is unbelievably fast. I have never ridden anything that even compares. Given that I’m rarely at full fitness, that it is immensely complimentary of its rider is very much appreciated. I still don’t like steep downhills on it since the speed racks up far too quickly for comfort, but on the flat getting up to 30mph isn’t too difficult and holding it for a few minutes is OK at a push too. There’s no fear in traffic when you can manage those speeds.
Speed on the hills is also good. Mine is about 8kg, so a wee bit above the UCI weight limit (it might fail UCI rules for other reasons though), but light enough to make big hills a lot more possible. Mine is fitted with a triple chainring & I have never used the granny ring. To be fair, I did need it once when I was blowing badly on a hill and a ramp topped 20%, but when I tried to get it, I found that the indexing was out & I couldn’t get onto the granny ring. I was fine to carry on in 39-34 on a 650c wheel, but had to grind a fair bit. I am not a climber (I’m far too big and heavy) and I stay somewhere with lots of big hills & I have only once needed the granny ring. That should really say everything you need to know about this bike’s climbing ability.

So, then, the bike is fast, it climbs well and handles brilliantly. Is there anything not to like? For me, no, but there are some wee niggles. For others these niggles would be deal breakers, but that’s probably taste.
Luggage capacity is useless. I use Radical Designs 2*7l bags & plan my days around not carrying much. I insist that all my bikes work as commuters & the Fujin only just qualifies on this count. Saying that, quite why you’d buy this bike to carry luggage on is a different question. &, if you really wanted to for some odd reason, you could always get a Novosport tailbox & get improved aerodynamics and c.40l luggage space.
The rear brake is pointless; I’d take mine off if it wasn’t a legal requirement. I really wouldn’t want a good back brake though (with the weight distribution, you’d lock the back wheel far too easily & I wouldn’t like to try power sliding this bike), it’s just that I object to carrying round a pointless brake. Even if I wouldn’t notice the difference if it were taken off. (The brake weighs nearly nothing). So there’s a rear brake that weighs almost nothing and doesn’t really work, but you wouldn’t want it to. Not really a huge problem….
Fragility. This is my summer bike & it rarely even take it out in the rain. This is partly because I’m scared that it’ll melt or dissolve and partly because I like to keep it shiny. To be fair, it is to be treated as you would treat a mid to high end road bike. It isn’t something you’d want to handle rough stuff on, but it will handle Glasgow roads fairly well & I’ve seen flatter mountain bike tracks than some of the local roads I commute on. I think it’s a lot more robust than I fear it might be, but really don’t want to find out.

I think that’s about it….

This bike does what it is designed to do incredibly well. It is quite a specialist tool, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Unless you want a generalist bike, of course. The final thing that should be considered is the thing that swung it for me: it is just so much fun to ride.  Folk who know me will know that I'm not the most demonstrative person.  I made a large whooping noise first time I accelerated this bike out of a corner.
Yep, it is that much fun to ride...


  1. So you think it's fragile... I might not be a heavy person, but I use my Fujin SL-I in less ideal conditions than you do. Including over 18.000 km of touring with camping gear and all. Of which was 6.000 km in Norway alone. And the difference between SL-I and SL-II is basically just the seat and fork.
    Yes, I did trash some components and replaced them with stronger ones. But the concept of the Fujin SL is indeed a lot more robust than you might expect. Only the very first generation SL has a small weakness.
    The rear brake will work much better if you use Jagwire cables and replace the adjustment nut at the brake by a flexipipe. Might need a little drilling out of the threaded hole in the caliper.

  2. Hi Walter! I don't think it's fragile: I worry that it's fragile. I thought that I was clear that I ride on some fairly rough roads quite a lot with it (Glasgow has some terrible roads) & it has managed quite well. I made a comparison with a mid to high end road bike: it probably won't break & is almost certainly less likely to than a cheaper bike; but you so don't want to find out what its limits are....

    That's some serious amount of touring: I'm very impressed!

  3. I understand your worries, have them myself too now and then.

    Touring with the Fujin SL is amazing. You can read about it here: http://www.fietsersafstappen.nl/reisverhalen/rondje-scandinavie/ and also on the Challenge website.

    Enjoy riding,


  4. That's a great write up of your travels. Thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Fujin SLI(I) or Nazca Fuego.

    I cannot choose. Fuego have rack and is suspended. Fujin is lighter. Which one you preffer and why?