Consumer-direct company Fezzari challenges the big brands with this MTB-inspired gravel racer that is best with the road or trail is at its roughest.
Great value and availability;
freedom for custom builds;
stable handling in all terrain;
variety of accessory mounts
Great stability sacrifices zippiness—it’s a bike for gravel racing but not cyclocross
The Shafer is a legit race-ready gravel warhorse. If you want a stable and confident bike for racing, trail riding, and bikepacking, this one is a worthy choice—and the price tag, customization options, and availability are also qualities to love.
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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 Shafer model from 2016, 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 head-tube angle and 50mm 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 77mm bottom bracket drop brings your center of gravity down, and the bike’s wide wheelbase (1090 mm XL) also contributes to its rock-solid feel.
Then there’s the clearance for 50mm (2-inch) tires. My test bike came with 45mm tires, which simply added to the plush feel on the bumpy stuff.
Now, 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 was 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 minute-plus 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 that the bike’s special sauce for weight and stiffness is found in its production method, a process that the company calls “MonoForm.” Rather than bond 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 head tube to chainstay. The company claims the 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 bells and whistles.
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 downtube, three on each fork blade, two on each seatstay, two on the seat tube, and three atop the top tube. The frame is also built to easily swap out suspension forks.
The final and perhaps most impressive of Shafer’s qualities is its competitive price and customization options. Fezzari boasts five different build options for 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, and 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 110mm stem, and after a few rides I swapped it out for a 130mm stem, and the change made the bike feel more like my road bike. I also swapped the Ergon saddle out 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 45mm 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 onto the weekly group road ride with a pair of 32mm 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 bike ride — it lacked some zip to match the fastest accelerations on punchy climbs, yet it was a stable rig for the twisting and bumpy road descents. That was the only ride where the Shafer felt like it was 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 29-inch mountain bike. 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 that I’d only ever ridden before on a mountain bike, and I did so with relative ease.
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 moon dust-like sections of deep sand. I traded the 45mm tires for a set of 40mm Maxxis Ramblers, hoping that the deep sand wouldn’t spoil my decision.
Those long and 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 other in our group riders became squirrely in the deep stuff and had to unclip, eventually losing touch with the front group.
I simply kept my weight back and kept a firm grip on the bars, and I 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 aboard a Shafer, too.