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Tech-Redux: Fuji Altamira 2.0

From issue 7 (Dec 2011) • Words/images: Ben Edwards

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Do you remember the new bike Fuji launched in 2010? You would be forgiven if it slipped your mind. It was totally overshadowed by the terrible kits Footon/Servetto wore while riding it. Was that a silhouette of a giant foot? A nude color for the shorts? Really? What was truly unfortunate is the best bike Fuji has ever made was beneath those horrible kits. The SST 1.0 is a powerhouse. The rock-solid platform excels in tough one-day races, big bunch kicks and under anyone who can put out a lot of watts and loves aggressive performance.

The interesting thing about that was their teams have been known more for Grand Tour riders and climbers than for big sprinters or classics specialists. For 2011 this is true in spades. Now under the GEOX banner, the team boasts two of the strongest GC contenders on two wheels: Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. What these men needed was a bike designed for long days in the mountains, punishing attacks and three-week tours. Fuji delivered the Altamira.

The 2011 Vuelta and the diabolical Angliru climb provided the Altamira’s coming out party, but it wasn’t Sastre finding his GC form once again or Menchov securing a third Vuelta title that escorted the bike to the finish line; it was a Spanish veteran that had almost given cycling up a season ago, Juan José Cobo.

Sastre and Menchov played important roles on the day. Sastre went early on the climb, forcing a brisk pace out of the SKY riders behind, while Menchov sat in reserve and eventually stole precious third-place bonus seconds from the SKY riders. But it was Cobo that seemed to float over the 23% grades on his Altamira. While every other rider was in their death throes, wrestling their machines to the top, Cobo was tapping out a smooth rhythm, straight to a stage win and a leader’s jersey. He and the Altamira were in a class of their own that day.

Cobo carried that leader’s jersey all the way to Madrid, holding off a strong challenge from Froome of SKY and watching every other major contender fall farther and farther behind. The Altamira had succeeded in the exact territory it had been designed for: the high mountains of the Grand Tour. Mission accomplished.

Function, Form and the Long Haul
While the Altamira LTD is the bike Cobo won on, our test version was the mid-range Altamira 2.0 with Shimano Ultegra and in-house Oval branded components. The frame itself is out of the same mold, just a lower modulus carbon. While Fuji’s SL bikes used a carbon fiber mix designated as C-10, their naming convention has now changed. The Altamira LTD uses D-6 carbon, which is incidentally the same name as Fuji’s TT bike. The Altamira 2.0 uses D-4, still called high modulus, but not as high as the D-6, one would presume. Confused? The bottom line is the unidirectional carbon utilized on the Altamira 2.0 is going to be a more inexpensive mix than that on the LTD. Those cost savings can come at the expense of weight, stiffness and comfort—or a combination of all three.

Regardless of any of this, the Altamira is incredibly elegant to look at.

The combination of tube shapes, each very different from the next, work visually together very well. Their form also clearly indicates their function, a refreshing change from what we see in much of today’s bike design. A bike designed for Grand Tour success needs to deliver power over the long haul; that means a stiff platform that takes care of its motor: you.

The Altamira’s tapered head tube, robust fork crown, monstrous down tube and tall, stout chain stays indicate a very stiff pedaling and handling platform. Fuji also utilizes the BB86 press fit bottom bracket spec and our experience on the SST 1.0 is that the system is light and super stiff. The top half of the bike is a striking contrast. The chain stays are wispy ovals terminating in a delicate monostay while the top tube is slim and flat as it interfaces with the seat cluster— obviously designed to allow that seat cluster to flex vertically and deliver comfort to the rider. The top tube is where the two personalities of the bike merge as its diameter increases to flow into the deep-radius head tube. Fuji’s Altamira has done a better job of creating a traditional and elegant look out of these two performance goals than any other manufacturer.

A couple years back, ASI, Fuji’s parent company, picked up Oval Concepts, a company known for pushing the boundaries of aerodynamics with dual-blade forks and aggressively sculpted bars. The Altamira, and much of Fuji’s 2011 line, shows their intentions with Oval were to secure an in-house name with brand recognition for their bars, stems, brakes, wheels and seats. The Altamira gets an aluminum Oval cockpit finished in white, with 45 mm carbon/aluminum Oval clinchers. The components compliment the white and black frame nicely and left us wishing there was a SRAM Force option instead of Shimano Ultegra for the components.

As noted earlier, cost savings frequently come at the expense of other features, and in the case of the Altamira 2.0 it appears to be weight. Our 59-centimeter frame weighed 17.3 pounds with pedals and cages. That is a bit heavy for a bike named and designed for the mountains of Spain and costing $3,059. Most of that extra weight is associated with the wheels, not the frame or other components, and as you read on, you’ll see why we feel these are the wrong wheels for this bike.

Grand Tour Credentials and Choice Changes
The Altamira’s differences from the SST 1.0 are much more than skin deep. The moment you hop on the bike, the slightly taller head tube and more relaxed position put a little more weight in the saddle. The ride is noticeably softer, muting high-frequency vibration and big impacts alike. It is unquestionably a bike suited for long miles. The geometry lends itself to very stable and predictable handling, even at high speeds and on technical descents. What Fuji has done is create a bike with enormous stiffness through both axels, thanks to a great set of forks and all those big tube shapes on the lower half of the bike. It may not be quite as nimble as some bikes with a shorter wheelbase, but unless you are diving for tight gaps and bumping elbows in a bunch sprint, it is ready for anything.

While a price-point bike, the Altamira 2.0 frame itself does not appear to skimp on much performance at all. Sure, it’s a bit heavier than the 850-gram 1.0 version, but that does nothing to hamper the bike’s ability to accelerate. The stiffness, axel to axel, that makes the bike a great descender, flows right through the head tube, making the bike feel firmly planted—bars to pedals to wheels—as you sprint full gas, or attack a steep climb out of the saddle. There are better bikes for a dedicated sprinter, the Fuji SST 1.0 for instance, but on a climb, in the 15-25 mph range, the Altamira can keep up with any bike on the market. Keep in mind we rode the 2.0 version. The 1.0 must be extremely quick uphill. Just ask Juan José Cobo.

That is high praise, but now, the reality. All of this great performance is hampered a bit by the bike’s spec, particularly the wheels. A 45mm deep aero wheel rarely has a place on a climbing bike, and the Oval 745’s specifically are too heavy to do the Altamira justice. They mute sprints on the flats and dampen acceleration while climbing. The Oval brakes had a peculiar all or nothing feeling that did not provide the most confident descending partner. The bars, stem and seat post look great and performed very well, but the white finish could be scarred a bit too easily. Oval has some very exciting things up their sleeve in the near future, so we have respect and high hopes for the brand in general. On the Altamira 2.0 they are not at their best.

We don’t mean to rain on the Altamira’s parade. Fuji has produced a stunning Grand Tour caliber bike, a fact that cannot be disputed now thanks to JJ Cobo and the GEOX team. Even the price point focused Altamira 2.0 delivers performance in the mountains that is stunning and will impress even at the end of a very long day. It’s just much of that performance is a bit handicapped by the bike’s wheels and brakes. We would happily campaign the Altamira 2.0 and line it up against any bike on the market, at any price, as long as we could ride Shimano Ultegra brakes and perhaps a set of stiff aluminum clinchers.

The Rider
The Altamira 2.0 rider is looking for all-day performance and a frame that is born and bred for climbing. From a 6% big-ring climb to the 20% slopes of a Spanish Grand Tour, the Altamira 2.0 rider wants to make his riding buddies suffer. He’s also not afraid to tell his local bike shop he needs to make a few choice changes to the specification.

The Bottom Line
Price: $3,059
Size tested: 59cm
Group: Shimano Ultegra
Wheelset: Oval Concepts 745
Weight: 17.3lbs.

From issue 7. Buy it here.