Two gravel bikes that don’t break the bank but still deliver
When it comes to gravel bikes, there are a lot of marketing terms being tossed around these days, but one thing is clear—this new riding category is real, and it’s growing fast. Maybe it’s all the new route possibilities that open up, or maybe it’s the ability to minimize interactions with distracted drivers. No matter the reason, more people are adding a gravel bike to their stable.
Since most cyclists aren’t going to give their road bike the boot, we decided to compare two new gravel bikes that, while not inexpensive, won’t break the bank if you’re thinking about adding a dual-purpose bike to the fleet. The Fuji Jari and Fezzari Shafer take two different approaches to the market but have the same goal in mind—getting more people on bikes while expanding their possibilities.
The carbon Shafer is comprised of a full-carbon frame and fork with 12mm thru-axles and flat-mount disc brakes. The Shafer has a long wheelbase; our size medium is 103cm long with a 71.5-degree head tube that’s also tall at 15.5cm. The seat tube is short at only 52cm, delivering a frame that is compact in height, but with a virtual top tube of 55cm, it shows its length.
The frame features internal cable routing from front to back, but the cables are exposed for a short bit as they externally go around the bottom bracket. The frame has mounts for a rear rack, fenders and three water bottles. There is also clearance for up to 40mm tires front and rear. The top tube seems to seamlessly transition around the seat tube into a wishbone shape as it curves into the seatstays. The downtube is large with flat sides to help strengthen and stiffen the long chassis.
The Fuji Jari is an alloy frame with a carbon fork, flat-mount disc brakes and 12mm thru-axles. The geometry is definitely tipping towards the adventure side of the scale on our size 54 with its 15cm head tube at 71.5 degrees and a wheelbase of 102.7cm. The top tube has an effective length of 54.5cm, while the seat tube is 54cm. The cables are run internally on the downtube but are exposed as they exit just before the bottom bracket.
The rear seatstays have a slight bow to them but are still bridged together just below the seat tube junction. This bridge doubles as a fender mount. The frame also features eyelets to mount a rear rack and three bottle-cage mounts. For those long hauls, there’s also a top tube mount to secure a bento box in a convenient location for nutrition.
Fezzari has taken the route of a more traditional road setup with a full-Shimano Ultegra mechanical drivetrain but with hydraulic brakes. The 6800 GS long-cage rear derailleur is matched with an Ultegra 11-32 cassette and compact road chainrings (50/34). The carbon frame does use an English-threaded BB that, while not common on carbon bikes, is very nice to have and tends to have less creaking than the alternative Press-Fit options.
The Shafer is rolling on the Easton EA90 SL Disc wheelset that is tubeless-ready and has a set of the WTB Nano 40mm tubeless tires mounted. For the cockpit, Fezzari uses a self-branded alloy stem but has matched it with the Easton EC70 SL Carbon Compact bars. On the rear, Fezzari has another self-branded 27.2mm seatpost with their R1 saddle that has titanium rails.
Our Jari 1.1 test bike was set up with a SRAM 1x drivetrain using the Force 1 shifter and hydraulic brake levers matched to a Force 1 rear derailleur. The crank is a Quarq Prime Carbon 1X with a 42t ring, and the rear is the SRAM XD 10-42T cassette. The bike rolls on the popular Stan’s NoTubes Grail Team wheels mounted with Clement X’Plor MSO 700x36mm folding tires.
For the cockpit, Fuji has gone with their in-house Oval Concepts brand, opting for their aluminum stem and the wide, flared handlebar that has a 125mm drop, 25-degree flare and 4-degree sweep. For the throne they used the Oval 905 carbon seatpost with alloy clamp in 27.2mm and an Oval X38 saddle with a pressure-relief zone and chromoly rails.
When we ordered the bike from Fezzari, we went through their 23-point fit analysis, where we sent them a handful of measurements and they chose what they thought would be the best-size frame, matching component sizes of stem length, bar width and crankarm length. This paid off, as everything on the bike was nearly perfect for our range of test riders, with only a few wishing they had a longer stem. The first noteworthy thing that everyone mentioned was how comfortable the bike was no matter how rough the dirt roads got.
The performance was not lost, either, as the bike was still very responsive and stiff under heavy efforts. The wheelbase is long, and you can feel that when descending fast; the bike holds its line well even in soft or loose turns. Even with such a long wheelbase the handling response is still quick enough to dodge that stray stick or rock you might have missed while smiling too much as you race down the road. The 2x drivetrain is not as common on the gravel side of things, but with the larger cassette, we were able to muscle through the steep bits while having a much tighter gear range for the majority of our test rides. This makes the Shafer a viable option for the road as well.
The Jari fit our test riders nearly perfect out of the box. The tall head tube and geometry put us further back on the bike, allowing for a very comfortable and confident position. While the alloy frame is stiff and responsive, we found ourselves standing on the pedals during most dirt descents. This same stiffness also was being transferred to the riders when the route got bumpy. The Clement tires do a great job of adding some pneumatic relief, and the traction was great, but we were left wishing we had a slightly larger-sized tire on fast, rough sections of dirt.
When on the road or smooth fire roads, the Jari felt as if it accelerated with every pedal stroke. The carbon fork is stiff, and matched with the 12mm thru-axle eliminates any disc brake alignment problems and noise. The same is true for the rear 12mm thru-axle, and both use an adjustable alloy handle so no extra tools are needed to remove the wheels. The handling and responsiveness are spot-on—not too fast where you’re on edge the whole time, but still quick enough for us to maneuver around changing terrain as the riders in front of us unsettle rocks and other debris. The Oval bars with the 25-degree flare are simply amazing. Ours are 42cm wide at the hood and 52.5cm at the end of the drop, allowing for a very comfortable and confident position when in the drops, even on the most rough of dirt sections.
Overall, we could see ourselves putting long miles on the Shafer, as many of our roads are in less-than-ideal shape and the pavement ends early but the dirt extends far beyond. The combination of a full-carbon bike and the 40mm tires resulted in a supple but responsive ride in and out of the saddle. The cockpit was a bit cramped for many of the test riders, but a quick stem swap fixed the problem and kept everyone asking for more.
The parts choices are amazing, and Fezzari didn’t cut corners on the chain and cassette or the front derailleur like most would to hit a price point. The use of a carbon bar and seatpost for the main contact points also added to the overall ride quality. What you gain in bike and savings you lose in dealer support, as Fezzari is a consumer-direct company. This doesn’t mean you lose out; it just means the convenience of having a bike shop doing the dirty work for you is something you might have to pony up for out of your own pocket. But with that said, they do offer a limited lifetime warranty on the frame and fork with a crash-replacement program in place too. But, the icing on the cake is that Fezzari has a love-it-or-return-it program that allows you to purchase a bike and then gives you 30 days to fall in love with it or return it.
FEZZARI PUNCH LINES
- All-day comfort matched with performance
- Consumer-direct cuts the price
- Love it or return it
- Price: $3499
- Weight: 18.8 pounds
- Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
The Fuji Jari is a great bike, delivering many benefits like thru-axles, a 1x drivetrain and good gravel geometry. The added ability to add three water bottles, a direct-mount bento box, plus rack and fenders means long adventure rides are no problem. We were left wishing we had larger tires on the dirt, but the stock 36mm tires are perfect for multi-purpose riding. The frame fits up to a 700×42 or 650×2.0 tire, so there are plenty of options for nearly any application. When we look at the price and the component selection, this is a good option for the person looking to explore their less-traveled roads or the rider wanting to substitute a bit of dirt riding to their regular road routine.
FUJI PUNCH LINES
- Load it up with bottles and explore
- Choose 700×42 or 650×2.0 wheel options
- Stiff and responsive in the saddle
- Price: $2950
- Weight: 19.5 pounds
- Sizes: 46, 49, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58, 61cm
When it comes to a gravel or multi-surface ride, there are a lot of variables to think of when choosing a bike. The Fuji Jari is an adventure bike at heart with the capability to transition between many different styles. The 1x drivetrain offers a good range of gears no matter how much you load on it or how steep the terrain gets. The two nice surprises with the Fuji were the flared handlebars and the smaller weight gain than we expected over the carbon Fezzari.
The Fezzari Shafer has taken a position that makes it friendly as much on the road as it can be on gravel. It has less tire clearance than the Jari, but the full-carbon frame and fork well exceeded the pneumatic compliance a larger tire offers. While still offering clearance for 40mm tires, there is no shortage of rubber, just fewer options.
Both bikes are good, but with such a small price difference, we would opt for the carbon Fezzari. The gearing on the Shafer is a bit tall for many of our gravel rides, so we might look to modify the drivetrain for a bit larger range similar to what the Jari comes stock with.