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Smashing the $4,000 Build: Fezzari Empire SL

From Issue 90

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We like the premise of direct-to-consumer bikes. Cutting out the middleman saves money and, in theory, allows bikes to compete on performance with ones costing thousands more. When we found out about Fezzari’s latest road bike we were eager to put that theory to the test. Can a frame costing $2,000 compete with the big dogs?

PELOTON

THE DETAILS

The Empire SL aims to be a versatile ride for cyclists looking to not only do some racing but also throw on some wider tires and go exploring. By using a technique called Monoform, in which the carbon layup is molded all at once to eliminate bonding, Fezzari reduces the weight by over 150 grams compared to traditional carbon techniques. Fezzari says Monoform creates strong, lightweight frames: An Empire SL frame passes cross-country mountain bike impact standards and weighs just 815 grams (size medium). Monoform also creates a more compliant ride. Removing excess material where carbon tubes are usually bonded removes “dead spots” in the frame, allowing Fezzari to precisely tune each section—adding, for example, a continuous flex throughout the seatstays.

At 160mm (size medium), the head tube is a bit taller than many high-end, race-specific bikes. But this is on purpose, helping provide clearance for 32c tires and a bit more stability off-road. Impressively, even with short 410mm chainstays, this frame manages to squeeze in all that extra rubber. A beefy junction between the head tube and the down tube stiffens up the front end and is contrasted with a thin fork to increase compliance and balance out the ride. And the seat-tube angle has been steepened slightly to put riders in a comfortable position that rolls the hips forward and engages the core.

As a direct-to-consumer brand out of Utah, Fezzari is delivering a whole lot of bike for a lot less. The Empire SL frameset costs just $2,000; and, with Force eTAP AXS, builds start at $4,200. Fezzari isn’t skimping on the spec either, including a full Force build, an FSA cockpit and a comfortable, carbon-railed Ergon SR saddle. Our test bike came with Enve SES 3.4AR wheels, pushing the cost to $5,900, but was otherwise the same build as the $4,200 version. This mediumsized build tips the scales at a respectable 16.58 pounds (7.52 kilograms), without pedals or cages.

Fezzari includes two down-tube bottle-mount points, for a total of three possible mounts. While it allows you to carry three bottles (or two plus add extra storage on the down tube), we found that it made the down-tube bottle-cage placement either slightly too high or low. It’s a small detail, but we would prefer a standard down-tube bottle placement.

Where Fezzari stands apart from the competition is with its 23-point fit process. Take a few simple measurements and the company will figure out the best fit and components for you, so that your bike shows up dialed in and ready to go. Have fit questions? You can talk to a real person at any point along the process. (There’s also a 30-day return policy once you have the bike, so you can be certain you like it).

When the bike arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find it nearly ready to go out of the box. All we had to do was remove the protective shipping material, put on the wheels, attach the handlebar to the stem and insert the seat post: a process of no more than 20 minutes. Thanks to the extensive fitting process, everything—with the exception of saddle height—was already dialed in perfectly. All we had to do was ride.

THE RIDE

After a few minutes on this bike, you’ll be seeking out the most potholed, poorly maintained roads possible, just to see what this frame can eat up. It’s smooth enough that you’ll be bracing for phantom impacts that you know you should feel through your body, but never come. Paired with high-volume, tubeless tires (up to 32c), this thing takes on the worst of roads with ease. And the bike is quite stiff thanks in part to a robust front end. Put down power and it converts into speed that chews through flat terrain.

Any design choice brings tradeoffs, and no bike can do everything perfectly. The front end lacks the pep of the top superbikes and road racing machines. It’s no slouch, but choosing a taller head tube for all-road capability means the bike just doesn’t maneuver as effortlessly as the best frames. Likewise, while the low weight helps out on climbs, dancing out of the saddle doesn’t have the same feel as it does on the top lightweight climbers.

The Empire holds a line through a corner well. With 28mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires on Enve SES 3.4AR wheels, we felt confident to lean way into corners. But on extremely technical descents, with chicanes and constant jumping back and forth between left and right turns, the Empire lags behind ever so slightly.

Experienced racers looking for cost-is-no-option, uncompromised performance will be better suited by a purpose-built machine that doesn’t try to do everything. But this bike smashes the $4,000 price point. On a performanceper-dollar basis, with a frameset cost of $2,000 and Force eTAP builds starting at $4,200, you’re looking at a great ride that can more than hold its own in weekend races and club rides alike. If you do a little bit of racing and don’t have the budget to blow on big-name carbon, the Empire SL delivers. And if you want the versatility to race Saturday then explore some dirt roads Sunday, the Empire SL will leave you happily exploring for endless miles.

SPECIFICATION

$5,900 as tested; 16.58 lbs / 7.52kg (medium)

SRAM Force eTAP AXS (48/35 chainrings, 10–28 cassette); Enve SES 3.4AR wheels; FSA ACR handlebar and stem; Ergon SR Pro Comfort saddle

fezzari.com

This review originally appeared in issue 90.