Weight:1,160 g (medium painted frame with hardware, claimed); 538 g (fork with hardware and uncut steerer, claimed); 8.77 kg (19.33 lb) without pedals or accessories, size small.
Price: US$4,600 as tested (roughly AU$6,300 / £3,360 / €3,925 at current exchange rates, without VAT).
Highs:Thoroughly progressive geometry and handling, good stiffness and ride quality, clean and elegant aesthetics, ample mounting options, superb value.
Lows:Minimal brand cachet, overly subdued color choices.
Redesigning the Shafer for the rigors of modern gravel riding
Direct-to-consumer brand Fezzari debuted its original Shafer gravel bike in 2016 in response to the then-nascent trend in drop-bar cycling. It could clear 700×40 mm tires, it sported a decent array of accessory mounts, and its carbon fiber frame was reasonably lightweight. But as was the case with many early gravel bikes, the geometry borrowed heavily from the road world with steep head tube angles, short front centers, and relatively long stems. Chainstays were long because that’s the only way most bicycle brands knew at the time how to get the tire and drivetrain clearances they wanted.
As a result, those earlier gravel bikes were a little twitchier and less stable up front than they should have been, but with back ends that sometimes lagged a bit behind, and with generous doses of toe overlap to add some excitement in low-speed handling.
Fezzari has clearly learned a lot since then.
This second-generation Shafer subscribes to the more progressive school of thought that’s steadily taking over the gravel world, with a much longer front end, a slacker head tube angle, shorter stems, lower bottom brackets, and more compact chainstays than before. Reach has grown by a whopping 13-20 mm — depending on size — chainstays have shrunk by 10 mm to a tidier 430 mm across the board, and head tube angles have slackened by about 2°, but seat tube angles have steepened slightly to better suit the more forward position that so many riders now seem to prefer.
When all of that is coupled with the shorter stems that Fezzari intends for most riders to use, that means rider weight bias has shifted rearward between the wheels, and the front tire’s contact patch has migrated much further forward, by as much as about 3 cm in the XL size. Trail figures have changed dramatically, too, from the mid-to-high 60s on the old Shafer to 85 mm for all sizes of the new one.
Down below, the new 77 mm bottom bracket drop is closer to the ground than before to add stability at higher speeds and more cornering prowess, while dramatically revamped stack heights no longer force shorter riders into sky-high handlebar positions, or taller riders to crouch down lower than they really want to.
Adding in the shorter seat tubes for all sizes, it’s clear that Fezzari has applied the longer-lower-slacker mentality to the new Shafer, but it’s also added more capability.
For one, there are threaded accessory mounts almost everywhere you look, including up to three bottle mounts inside the main triangle (and a fourth on the underside of the down tube), feed bag mounts on the top tube, multi-mounts on the fork blades, and front and rear fender mounts. The rack mounts on the previous Shafer were eliminated in favor of the dropped seatstays, which Fezzari says was a worthwhile tradeoff given the improvement in ride quality (plus the availability of racks that attach to dedicated thru-axles and seatposts). Despite the more compact rear end, Fezzari says the new Shafer will also accept 700×50 mm knobby tires — 10 mm more than before — with 1x or 2x drivetrains.
Even with all of those holes, the frame and fork are decidedly sleeker than they used to be. Tube shaping is more dramatic with a variety of creases, bulges, and flares. Both the seatstays and chainstays are dropped, and the fork blades have noticeably slimmer blades in search of a smoother ride. The seatpost is still round and 27.2 mm in diameter — hallelujah — but it’s clamped with an integrated wedge-style binder that lives inside the top tube, while the cabling is cleaned up thanks to FSA’s SRS internal routing headset, with lines that enter the frame right at the upper headset cover.
Interestingly, one of the most unique aspects of the Shafer is something you can’t even see.
The majority of carbon fiber road and gravel frames are built using modular monocoque construction, where the front triangle, chainstays, and seatstays are all molded separately. From there, the pieces are bonded together and the joints are overwrapped with additional strips of carbon to produce a smooth finish.
In contrast, the Shafer is a true monocoque, with the whole carbon fiber structure molded in one shot all at once in a process Fezzari calls MonoForm.
“This eliminates extra steps in manufacturing and allows us to use continuous carbon fiber from head tube to rear dropout without bonded joints found in more typical carbon frame construction,” explained Fezzari’s director of product development, Tyler Cloward. “This reduces weight, and allows us to better tune the frame characteristics for power transfer, comfort, and compliance.”
Fezzari says a medium Shafer frame comes in at a reasonable 1,160 g with paint and hardware, with the matching uncut fork tipping the scales at 538 g.
“We could have gone lighter on the frame, but we wanted to be sure this bike passed the XC bike testing standards, which are tougher compared to road standards that many gravel bikes are tested to,” Cloward said. “We also passed a rear impact falling test to be sure it can handle a huge amount of abuse. The rear impact test is not one required by ISO4210 to pass safety, but is one we do on our own.”
Have it your way
Fezzari offers the same Shafer frame in a choice of five build kits, starting at US$2,299 for the Shafer Comp with a Shimano GRX 400 mechanical groupset and Fulcrum Rapid Red 900 aluminum wheels, all the way up to the Shafer Pro for US$4,199, built with SRAM’s new Force AXS XPLR wireless electronic groupset and DT Swiss GR1600 aluminum wheels. Want a SRAM Apex 1 mechanical groupset, a SRAM Rival XPLR wireless electronic groupset, or Campagnolo’s Ekar 1×13 mechanical groupset instead? Fezzari has those, too. There’s even a bare frameset option for just US$1,699.
However, those five tiers don’t provide the full picture of how you can actually get a Shafer.
Zipp 303-S or Enve AG25 carbon wheels are available for upgrade should you wish, along with RockShox’s latest Rudy suspension fork or Reverb AXS XPLR dropper seatpost. Want a carbon bar? Just check that box during the ordering process. Fezzari even has options for things like stem length, bar width, crankarm length, and gearing, and you can even have them install protective vinyl tape on the frame for you at the factory.
Those options and upgrades are available at surprisingly reasonable costs in most cases, too, which is all the more impressive when you consider that most brands don’t allow for any changes from the stock configurations at all.
For this round of the CyclingTips Field Test, we brought in a midrange Fezzari Shafer Elite Race Rival AXS, complete with a SRAM Rival AXS XPLR wireless electronic groupset, Zipp 303-S carbon wheels, 700×45 mm Maxxis Rambler tubeless tires, and an FSA carbon fiber handlebar and stem, all for the relatively bargain price of US$4,599 (roughly AU$6,300 / £3,360 / €3,925 at current exchange rates, without VAT). Total weight for our small-sized sample was 8.77 kg (19.33 lb) without pedals or accessories.
Traditional performance metrics like stiffness and ride quality have outsized influence on how road bikes feel overall. Since there’s so little tire to cushion you from the ground, the frame and fork play a big part in isolating and tuning how much of that surface vibration makes its way up to your hands and rear end.
But those sorts of things don’t matter nearly as much on gravel bikes since so much is muted by those higher-volume tires and far lower inflation pressures. That’s not to say the frameset doesn’t matter at all — take the Evil Chamois Hagar, for example — but you can sure get away with a lot more on the dirt.
Instead, frame geometry becomes a far more important factor in performance, and Fezzari has made some excellent decisions here. To be clear, Fezzari hasn’t necessarily broken any new ground when it comes to the new Shafer’s handling, but the benefits are welcome nonetheless.
Just as with other gravel bikes with similarly modern dimensions, piloting the Shafer on loose and tricky terrain is an exercise in confidence. With the front wheel so much further ahead of you — and with the additional calming factor of that longer trail figure — you can push the front end harder through slippery corners without fear that the bike will just dump you right away. Instead, the front wheel might push and understeer some initially, but unless you’ve come into the corner way, way too hot, you can just keep holding on until the tire catches and pulls you through to the apex.
The longer front end also makes steeper descents less nerve wracking since your weight is so much further behind the pivot point. This makes it less likely you’ll go over the bars, and generally allows you to attack challenging downhills with more vigor than bikes where the front wheel is more tucked underneath you.
And yet despite all that extra confidence, the Shafer still doesn’t handle like a barge in most unpaved situations. You do have to lean the bike fairly aggressively to navigate tighter high-speed turns, but it’s mostly a matter of changing your technique, not an inherent downside, and it wasn’t long before I was attacking paved descents nearly as quickly as usual — arguably faster at times, in fact, given the lower center of gravity and more stable feel overall. Granted, the Shafer will never carve twisty tarmac downhills as adeptly as a proper road bike, but it’s a fair trade considering what it’s meant to do, and I can’t say it detracted much from the fun.
Slow-speed handling is another matter, however. The shorter stem requires less handlebar movement for the same amount of fork rotation as compared to a bike with more traditional geometry, but there are still situations where the long wheelbase, generous trail, and relatively long rear end are slow to come around. If you’ve ever wondered whether gravel bikes are really all that different from cyclocross bikes, the slow-speed handling is a prime example of how they’re very much not the same thing.
Stiffness and ride quality may not matter as much on dirt and gravel as they do on tarmac, but the Shafer nevertheless does pretty well there. The chassis feels plenty efficient under power — not lightning-quick with its responsiveness, but nowhere near a noodle, either — and ride quality is slightly more on the muted side of things, which is probably where most people will want it. One of my first rides on the Shafer was a 45 mile-long pre-event warm-up for SBT GRVL, and I can’t say I felt at all beat-up by the time I rolled back into town.
Keep in mind that all of these traits are with the stock 45 mm-wide Maxxis Ramblers in place. Maxing out the clearance with 50 mm rubber expands the bike’s capability window off-road even further, while downsizing to 30-32 mm slicks allows the Shafer to more convincingly play the part of a proper all-road bike.
I’ve already written at length about SRAM’s latest Rival AXS XPLR groupset, and everything I said before still applies here. The stuff shifts very well, the downsized levers feel great in your hands, the brakes have ample power and excellent control, and the new wide-range cassette provides the perfect spread for the vast majority of gravel riding situations. Yes, it’s heavy, but none of our testers ever complained about it, and mostly just enjoyed the excellent performance on offer. It’s just good stuff, plain and simple.
We also had plenty of praise for the optional Zipp 303-S carbon wheels. The 23 mm internal width provided good support for the stock 45 mm-wide Maxxis Rambler tires, and while we couldn’t say we noticed a whole lot of aero benefit to the 45 mm depth during most of our testing situations, the barely-1,500 g weight lops a hefty 400 g from the stock DT Swiss GR 1800 aluminum wheelset. There very well might be something to Zipp’s claims that the hookless format makes for better impact resistance, too, as repeated slams into the sharp-edged rocks that littered our testing grounds resulted in a whole lot of nothing.
We also had good feedback to share on the comfy Ergon saddle, while the two-bolt FSA KFX carbon fiber seatpost held tight and was easy to adjust. We’d pass on paying the US$300 upgrade for the FSA K-Wing AGX carbon fiber handlebar, though. Although the bend and flare of the drops felt fine to us, the goofy shape of the tops just seemed weird. Save your money and stick with a more conventional alloy model here instead.
It also would have been nice if Fezzari had bucked the trend of fully concealed cable routing. There’s no crazy one-piece bar-and-stem combo up front, of course, but the brake hoses (and derailleur housings, if applicable) still feed into the frame through the FSA SRS upper headset cover. This setup is a lot easier to live with when it comes to tweaking cockpit positions or even swapping handlebars or stems entirely (and works better with handlebar bags than exposed lines), but you still have to disconnect the brake hoses to change a headset bearing, and that big port in the upper headset cover makes for a big access point for dirt, debris, and water. If nothing else, FSA should include a rubber plug to fill in the space.
All in all, though, the complaints we have are pretty minor.
The undeniable appeal of value
If you’ve been paying attention to recent developments with carbon gravel bikes, you’ll likely notice that little of what we’ve said so far is inherently unique to the Shafer. Fezzari has done a great job of bringing the Shafer’s performance thoroughly up to date, but as I already mentioned, it’s hardly revolutionary stuff in terms of things like geometry, ride quality, and features. In fact, the Shafer reminded me a lot of the Devinci Hatchet Carbon I reviewed last year.
What makes the Shafer far more intriguing is the incredible value afforded by Fezzari’s direct-to-consumer business model.
Consider this: the Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon features a similar SRAM Rival AXS wireless groupset (albeit with a wider-range SRAM Eagle cassette and rear derailleur) and Roval Terra C wheels with similarly wide carbon wheels, but it sells for US$6,000 as compared to US$4,300 for the Shafer with the Zipp carbon wheel upgrade. Granted, that Diverge also includes Specialized’s rather effective FutureShock suspension cartridge up front, but you could easily add something like a Redshift ShockStop suspension stem and still have about US$1,500 left over.
Further widening the gap are the wealth of custom options I mentioned earlier. Sure, better shops will often be willing to work with buyers when it comes to changing things like handlebar widths, stem and crankarm lengths, and other tweaks, but it’s not always a guaranteed benefit — and certainly not always included in the purchase price. With the Fezzari, it’s far more efficient to make those changes before the bike is even assembled so you can get things the way you want them right from the get-go.
Plenty of buyers will have an issue with the Fezzari brand’s lack of cachet. The curiously Italian-sounding name supposedly means something like “in the moment”, but all of our testers admitted that it mostly just sounded a little cheesy. That said, US$1,700 is an awful lot of money to ignore, and I dare say more than a fair share of potential buyers would be ok with some other riders giving them some side-eye knowing they’ve got a fat wad of cash still sitting in their pockets. If you value function over form or prestige, there’s not a whole lot to argue about.
Perhaps it’d be better to just put it this way: were we in the market for a gravel bike like this, neither Mikey nor I would hesitate to own one of these ourselves, and you shouldn’t, either.
Our Field Test group bike tests are by no means paid events, but they’re still only possible with some outside support. CyclingTips would like to thank the following sponsors for this round of the Field Test: