Mountain-Bike Roots in a Do-Almost-Everything Gravel Racer
Consumer-direct Fezzari challenges the big brands with this mountain-bike-inspired gravel racer that’s best on rough roads and trails
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.
There’s a lot to like about Fezzari’s revamped Shafer gravel rig. Atop the list is the bike’s confidence-boosting stability on the toughest roads or trails. That solid feel springs from Shafer’s roots in mountain-bike geometry.
The 2022 Shafer marks a stark departure from the original 2016 model, which featured steeper angles and distinctly road-centric geometry. This new Shafer utilizes the tricks and knowledge that has driven Fezzari’s popularity within the mountain-bike world.
I rode the Shafer on a wide array of gravel roads, doubletrack, and singletrack, and the bike delivered the most distinct feel when the climbs were loose and steep and the descents were bumpy and tight.
The bike’s slack 68.9-degree headtube angle and 50-millimeter fork offset is a combination you might find on a mountain bike, where the end goal is to create a large contact between the front wheel and the ground. A 77-millimeter bottom-bracket drop lowers your center of gravity. The bike’s wide wheelbase (1,090-millimeter on the XL) also contributes to its rock-solid feel.
Then there’s the clearance for 50-millimeter (two-inch) tires. My test bike came with 45-millimeter tires, which simply added to the plush feel on the bumpy stuff.
Size Reviewed: XL
Weight: 18.4 pounds
Price: $4,999, with multiple build options at lower price points
Pros: Great value and availability. The bike I rode retails for $5,000 and came with all the racing bells and whistles, like carbon-fiber rims and a racing cockpit from components maker Enve. But Fezzari offers five different price points starting at $2,299. The bike also has a variety of accessory mounts on the frame to accommodate bags, fenders, and other bikepacking accoutrements. But the Shafer’s best qualities are in the stable ride on tough and punishing terrain.
Cons: The riding stability means the bike sacrifices some zippiness. This is a bike for racing on gravel and adventuring in the backcountry, but it’s not the best rig for road racing or cyclocross.
Final Thoughts: The Shafer is a legit race-ready gravel warhorse. If you want a stable and confident bike for racing, trail riding, and bikepacking, this is a worthy choice. The price tag, customization options, and availability are also qualities to love.
Slack angles and big clearance often doom a gravel bike to feeling sluggish and slow. And while the Shafer lacks the zip of a traditional cyclocross or road bike, its light weight—my size XL weighed 18.4 pounds—and stiff carbon layup helped the bike feel at home on long and sustained climbs.
In fact, I threw slick tires on the Shafer and rode several of my favorite 30-plus-minute road climbs, and my Strava times were in line with my times on my road bike. While I didn’t always feel as though I was accelerating at the same rate, my ability to cruise at top speed felt similar to my road bike.
Fezzari says the bike’s special sauce for weight and stiffness is found in its production method, a process the company calls MonoForm. Instead of bonding the front and rear triangles together in the monocoque method that many carbon manufacturers follow, Fezzari builds the entire Shafer frame as one piece, from headtube to chainstay. The company claims this method cuts weight and boosts power transfer.
Mounts and Customization
Bikepackers, rejoice: versatility is another important selling point with the Shafer, and Fezzari’s product managers built the bike to accommodate a wide array of bags, fenders, and other bikepacking stuff.
The frame contains a vast grouping of mounts for extra bottles, frame bags, panniers, and fenders. In all, I counted 20 mounts: seven on the down tube, three on each fork blade, two on each seatstay, two on the seat tube, and three on the top tube. The frame is also built to easily swap out suspension forks.
The final and perhaps most impressive of the Shafer’s qualities are its competitive price and customization options. Fezzari boasts five different build options for the Shafer, ranging from the $2,299 comp (Shimano GRX 400) to the Shafer Pro (SRAM Force AXS XPLR); however, the brand also allows customers to swap out various components, from wheels and handlebars to saddles and even the gruppo.
The bike I tested featured a SRAM Rival AXS XPLR group set; the usual build for this bike runs $3,299. But I added new Enve G23 carbon-fiber wheels and Enve’s carbon gravel handlebar, which placed my build’s MSRP at $4,999.
Some Kickass Rides
With its longer top tube, Fezzari ships the Shafer with shorter than normal stems. My test bike came with a 110-millimeter stem. After a few rides, I swapped it out for a 130-millimeter stem, and the change made the bike feel more like my road bike. I also swapped out the Ergon saddle for a Arione R3.
To test the Shafer’s versatility, I took it on as wide a variety of rides as I could imagine. I first rode the Shafer on the rocky local trails outside Boulder, Colorado, where its 45-millimeter rubber ate up the bumps and loose pea gravel. I also took it up those long and sustained road climbs, where it impressed.
I then hauled the bike on a road trip out to Santa Cruz, California, where I took it onto completely different terrain. I brought it on the weekly group road ride with a pair of 32-millimeter road tires; I also took it on rooted mountain-bike trails on the UC Santa Cruz campus. I even took the Shafer on a nighttime ride through Nisene Marks State Park and bombed down soft gravel roads under a canopy of redwood trees.
The Shafer survived the road ride—it lacked some zip to match the fastest accelerations on punchy climbs, yet it was a stable rig for the twisty, bumpy road descents. That was the only ride where the Shafer felt like a fish out of water.
It was on the mountain-bike trails where the Shafer really impressed. I carved through the pine needles and soft dirt on the UCSC campus as if I were aboard a mountain bike with 29-inch wheels. The Shafer handled tight, fast turns with confidence, and I had no problem rolling roots, rocks, and even a few scary drops. I cleaned trails with relative ease that I’d only ever ridden before on a mountain bike.
The crux of my bike test was racing the Shafer in the 87-mile “wafer” race at the Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City event, where the course included two sustained climbs and two rocky descents, plus miles of riding through moondust-like sections of deep sand. I traded the 45-millimeter tires for a set of 40-millimeter Maxxis Ramblers, hoping the deep sand wouldn’t spoil my decision.
Those long sandy sections proved to be an ideal proving ground for the Shafer’s front end. We hit these sections with speed, and I watched as several others in our group became squirrelly in the deep stuff and had to unclip, eventually losing touch with the front group.
I simply kept my weight back and my grip firm on the bars and easily powered through each sandpit with the leaders. At those moments in the race, I was happy I wasn’t on a cyclocross bike or some gravel bike with twitchy road geometry. I think I would have ended up flopping around in the sand. Instead, I came home with a top-10 finish. As it turns out, the guy who won the Wafer was also aboard a Shafer.