It has been a pleasant sight over the past 2 seasons to see more road bikes become “Any-Road” bikes with a more upright fit, disc brakes and ability to take fatter tires. For many years I have been selling cyclocross bikes to normal everyday folks as a road bike because that style of bike offers more tire clearance and a less aggressive ride than a typical road bike from 5+ years ago. FitWell Bicycle Company’s version of this category is called the Fahrlander, pronounced far-lander with an accent that I can’t duplicate. In September I did a quick video preview for this bike, and also wrote a piece on how to fit and order a FitWell. Today we are going to dive a bit deeper into a full review including pros and cons, and who I believe this bike is suited for.
FITWELL FAHRLANDER II Details
MSRP: $1,310 (Currently <$800 online)
Key Specifications: Shimano 105 10 speed drivetrain, steel frame, Tektro Lyra mechanical disc brakes
Sizing: Currently only available in the Riley fit, which is rather upright. They are working on two other fit options.
Out of the Box Impression
Pulling the bike out of the box the first thing I noticed was the color. It has a great mix of a steel gray and a purple to add personality. If purple isn’t your thing they have a blue and orange version. The next thing that I noticed was the overdose of logo usage. You get used to it after a few rides but it reminded me of late 90’s Trek and Cannondale logo placement on every tube possible. The cockpit is made up of no-name handlebar, stem, and seatpost decorated with the FitWell logo. The handlebars for the medium sized bike seemed rather narrow at 40cm. Much like any major manufacturer, the bike came 90% pre-assembled where you need to install handlebar, front brake and tweak all of your gears. Everything went together fine, but the brakes were an extreme PITA to install as the pads didn’t seem to center no matter what trick and tool I threw at them.
The bike is a pleasure to ride as long as you don’t have in mind a typical twitchy road bike handling. It lends itself to more of a touring bike than cyclocross bike due to the front head tube angle BUT it has much shorter rear stays than most touring bikes so it does corner quickly and accelerate well with a tight (short) rear end. I also found it appealing that this small little company has unique tubing lengths for each size bike. Most manufactures will keep certain tubes the same length on all sizes to save on costs and headache. This is a great bike to put under someone that is unsteady or twitchy with little core muscles to keep them upright. The head tube (front end of the bike) is rather tall so I kept my stem flipped to the flat side and lowered down to keep a relatively 0″ drop from seat to handlebars. Out of the box with the stem flipped up and at it’s highest point the handlebars were 2-3″ above my seat which is great if you have super tight hamstrings, back problems or a lunch muscle in the way. As I mentioned, the front end steers more like a touring bike while the rear end skirts around very nicely. This leads to a great everyday bike especially on unsteady roads or loose gravel.
Whenever I see a bike that is significantly less money than competitors and sold mostly online I get concerned for safety and spec. Where did they cut corners? The frame and fork itself are of fine quality. You aren’t going to win any lightweight awards but it rides well and the steel tubing can take a beating. The drivetrain is mainly 10 speed Shimano 105 which is perfect for an adventure/touring bike because it won’t wear out quickly and it won’t be a huge price to replace parts as parts do wear out. The Novatec hub to Weinman rim wheelset is an above average wheel set for the price point. As an avid (abusive) gravel/sand and all weather rider if this was my goto bike for an entire season the wheels or bearings would need replaced before long as the hubs and bearings are already starting to show some signs of wear. If you are a fair weather rider these wheels will treat you perfectly fine. The Maxxis Columbiere tires were a pleasant surprise for me. They roll well and didn’t experience any punctures even when riding through goat head strewn paths. The brakes are a deal breaker for me and would be upgraded the same time I bought the bike. The pads never stayed centered and would alternate dragging from one side to the other on any given ride. The paint on the frame chipped in a few places from rocks hitting the down tube, but that isn’t uncommon on bikes that travel on gravel. Overall I think the build quality is strong and hopefully they will change the spec of the brakes for upcoming seasons.
There are a couple odd things I noticed on this bike that don’t really fit in any specific area of the review. They are more for your information if you buy the bike than a review of the actual bike.
- Bar tape is installed backwards from the typical technique. The bar wrap starts at the stem and goes to the end of the bar instead of reverse.
- The thread diameter for rack and fenders seems to be an M6, which is a bit odd as most rack hardware is an M5.
- I would recommend chasing all the threads on your bike as paint covered most of the eyelets and even the bottom bracket shell wasn’t faced as well as I would prefer.
- When I wore my clip-in shoes with worn out cleats that have a lot of play side to side I did experience excessive heal strike on the rear chainstays. I wear a size 43 and was riding a medium. Something to think about if you have big feet!
At $1,300 this bike will be difficult to match on price to spec. The company which is based out of Minnesota, FitWell Bicycle, saw an opportunity to make bikes around the fit and less about the object. If brand names matter to you, this company probably won’t be a good fit but if you are care about sizing and value than this is a bike I would tell you to look at. This bike would be someone’s first road bike, light touring or bike packing bike, an everyday commuter or for sand bike paths. You won’t buy this bike if you care about weight, stiffness or being aerodynamic. FitWell also offers two programs if you don’t feel comfortable building or fitting your bike that help pay for a shop to assemble the bike, and for a qualified shop to fit you on the bike. Information on these two programs can be found here. These are two unheard of offers from online retailers.
Personally, if I was looking for a daily do all commuter and a get out of town bike-packing bike this would be the first option I would look at.
Disclaimer: This bike was provided at no charge for review. We were not paid nor bribed in anyway for this review.