Once upon a time, Nissans were called Datsuns, hipsters were called indie rockers and enduro was called all-mountain. The all-mountain class still exists, but these days, the 6- to 7-inch-travel category seems to be catering to riders who are increasingly willing, even eager, to compromise climbing comfort for descending ability. But the Fuji Auric aims to buck the trend. Rather than trying to be a mini-downhill bike, the Auric is out to be a well-rounded all-mountain machine. Its long travel paired with conservative geometry and efficient suspension design inspired us to take a new look at what this old brand has to offer.
The Auric features a curious linkage design that we've also seen on recent models from Breezer, which is owned by the same parent company as Fuji. Dubbed 'MLink' or 'Mid-link,' this design puts the chainstay pivot directly between where it would be on a Horst Link and where it would be on a VPP-style, or 'floating' pivot setup. The goal is to combine traits of both concepts. Just as in a floating-pivot design, the Auric's seat and chainstays are buttressed together, which makes for a rear triangle that is laterally stiffer than if it were to have a pivot at the dropout. But like a traditional Horst Link, nearly all of the motion of an MLink rotates around the one main pivot rather than two. The creators of the MLink claim that moving one of those pivots away from the bottom bracket lessens how much it rotates, thereby limiting its fatigue as well as some of the friction involved in actuating the suspension. They also claim that moving the pivot away from the tight space in front of the rear tire offers more room to shorten the chainstay, though the Auric's 438 millimeter (17.25-inch) rear end is slightly longer than that of its peers–even those with floating pivot designs.
The MLink does make good on its promise to be one of the most efficient pedaling platforms available. While testing the limits of the Auric's climbing ability, I stared down in disbelief as the rear suspension refused to flinch under pedaling load in any gear combination and at any depth of sag. On extremely steep climbs I would still opt for the Fox Float's firm setting to avoid sinking too far into the ample rear travel, but rough climbs and manic sprints were best executed with the Auric's suspension wide open.
The bike's unique geometry also played a role in its climbing aptitude. At 67 degrees, its head angle is slightly steeper than the average bike in the same travel range. Though enduro racing continues to exert a heavy influence on today's long-travel platforms, the Auric resists it. This bike carried me comfortably through more than a few full days of chasing faster riders, each of whom has a higher VO2 max and eats a more responsible diet than I do. And though a lighter-duty bike would have helped me keep up, the descents demanded every single one of the Auric's 160 millimeters of travel.
Despite its unorthodox linkage, the Auric's suspension feels simple and predictable. The ramp-up happens relatively late in the stroke, and is steep enough that I would rarely bottom it out. The early stroke is linear and offers decent medium-sized bump sensitivity, so I saw no reason to tinker. Those who want a firmer mid-stroke platform can easily tune the shock to their liking using air-volume spacers.
At the time I first hopped on the Auric, I was used to the long, slack front ends that dominate this category. They're ideal when most of your descent is spent at top speed and on the edge of control, but the technical feel of the Auric was a welcomed change. The relatively low bottom bracket (10-millimeter drop) offered a sort of high-speed stability, but with no compromise to mid-speed maneuverability. The medium wheelbase and moderately steep head angle made it easy to negotiate no-flow zones and a breeze to keep traction and speed through tight turns.
Easy, that is, once I switched out the stock Schwalbe Nobby Nics. Installing some meatier tires was well worth the weight penalty. The only other swap I made was for a longer-travel dropper post. The rest of the spec is pretty remarkable, especially considering the price. The 2×10 drivetrain makes sense on a bike in this category and at this cost, and the wheels are tubeless-ready. Perhaps most outstanding is the suspension spec. Fox's Fit 4 three-position levers are valuable assets on a bike with this much travel, as are the stiffness and durability of the 36 fork.
But let's ignore the price tag for a moment. The Auric has plenty going for it already. It's innovative, efficient and responsive. It's deliberately out of step with its classmates who tend to be exclusively preoccupied with downhill speed. But the Auric is an all-mountain bike in the truest sense of the word.
FUJI'S TWO CENTS | The Auric's MLink suspension allows for high levels of chain lengthening where you need it, but drops off quickly as you get deeper in the travel. When you combine this with a stiff, triangulated rear triangle that you typically only see on short-link four-bar systems and large pivot axles and bearings, you can quickly see how MLink helps to make a great pedaling bike. But those same features also help make it a great descender. Aided by a controlled and predictable shock rate, you get the same feel at the end stroke as you get earlier in the travel–even when you are loading the bike in corners, which makes it easier to ride hard and fast. While the Auric may not have the shortest rear triangle geometry or the slackest headtube angle currently available, the geometry and kinematics were concurrently developed to offer a balanced ride on any terrain. I'm glad you liked it. –Luke Beale, Level One Engineering