Pelago Stavanger Review: Finnish Understatement
Made for fast gravel riding, bikepacking, and long-distance randonneuring, the updated Pelago Stavanger promises the world of versatility with none of the compromises. Josh took it across all types of roads and trails throughout Europe this summer, testing its worth as a go-anywhere, do-anything drop-bar bikepacking rig. Find his detailed review here…
The idea that we need a dedicated bike for every purpose and surface is a relatively new invention of marketing. Look no further than the stoic pursuits of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship riders, who toured far and wide on their steel touring bikes loaded down with canvas bedrolls and tin teapots, all while rolling and pushing on “wide” 28mm tires. Almost always, this was their only steed, which they also commuted on back home. The modern all-steel, all-road bike—now benefiting from wider tires and lightweight bikepacking bags—can be seen as the spiritual successor to those versatile workhorses of yesteryear.
Since its initial release over a decade ago, the Pelago Stavanger has reliably propelled its riders to their destinations in much the same manner as other genre-defying classics such as the Surly Cross-Check and All-City Space Horse, the latter being my personal frame of reference for this review. Fast forward to 2022, the Stavanger has been completely revamped with bikepacking and gravel riding in mind. Far from just an update to current standards and more tire clearance, the new Stavanger is part of an exciting trend of small brands pushing the off-road limits of steel road bikes beyond what the mainstream currently offers.
In recent years, I’ve pressed my venerable All-City Space Horse Disc into service for everything from gravel events to brevets to months-long bikepacking tours across Europe. I see it a lot like constraining myself to a single prime lens in photography: you’re forced to adapt and get creative, and you learn a lot about your equipment as you push it into new roles. My ultimate all-terrain rando bike wish list grew longer the more miles I collected, and I had to accept that the Space Horse couldn’t match my perhaps unrealistic requirements. Could there even be one road bike that does it all? Of course, marketing for all-road bikes typically promises the moon in terms of versatility, so it was Pelago’s relative restraint in that regard coupled with the Stavanger’s extensive feature set that intrigued me. Could this be the one?
About Pelago Bicycles
Before I dive in, a few words to introduce Pelago Bicycles. Based in the cycling city of Helsinki, Finland, the brand’s small team of everyday riders designs reliable steel bicycles, useful accessories, and understated clothing that transition seamlessly between the urban environment and trips further afield. Pelago’s products focus on durability, functionality, and beauty, an ethos that echoes throughout the Stavanger’s design. A surprising number of our friends here in Berlin happily cruise around on the laid-back Hanko commuter, which could easily pull double-duty as a chill camping bike, and their sturdy Commuter Racks have carried many a Neapolitan pie on Pizza Gravel (@pizzagravel) rides too.
The Stavanger is Pelago’s most versatile design yet, capable of taking on “local trails to far-out backcountry bike camping trips to daily commuting and everything between,” as they put it. Having toured in the Finnish Archipelago last year, I can hardly imagine a better testing ground for a drop-bar bike intended to keep going over all surfaces and carry camping gear into remote areas. Pelago doesn’t get fancy inventing a new category for the Stavanger; they simply call it their all-road bike, which I’ll shorten to road bike in this review. In my mind, a road bike should be able to ride all roads, no need for an additional qualifier.
Putting it right up front, I found the Stavanger to be an unwavering rough-road rambler that’s surprisingly capable on all terrains where drop bars make sense. For those seeking one road bike to do it all, the Stavanger goes beyond Pelago’s touted versatility in ways I didn’t expect. More on that below.
From afar, the Stavanger’s sleek tubes and curved fork give it classic contours, but up close it becomes obvious that nearly every aspect is state of the art. The disc brakes have been updated to flat-mount standard, and it features 12mm thru-axles in the front and rear. External, full-length cable and hose routing as well as internal dynamo/Di2 wiring is ideal from an all-terrain, all-weather perspective.
The double-butted chromoly steel frame and Pelago’s proprietary lugged cargo fork are decked out with attachment points. It features the usual fender and rack mounts, three bottle cage mounts on the main triangle, and mounts for a bolt-on top tube bag. You’ll find triple mounts on the fork blades as well. Finally, the seat stays feature rarely seen mid-height bosses for Carradice-style bag supports, as well as M10 threaded holes near the dropout for pulling trailers. A first for Pelago, the Stavanger features a tapered headtube that takes a carbon fork. Personally, I’ll likely never swap out the stock steel fork, given how integral its unique 58mm rake is to the steering—not to mention the overall looks.
- Highlights (Size 54cm)
- Angles: 72.5° Headtube, 73° Seattube
- Reach/Stack: 401mm/586mm
- Bottom Bracket: 68mm BSA, 65mm drop
- Hub specs: 100 x 12mm (front), 148 x 12mm (rear)
- Seatpost Diameter: 30.9mm/27.2mm w/ shim
- Max Tire Size: 700C x 50mm or 650B x 57mm
- Price: €2,395 (€925 frameset)
The aggressively shaped chainstays mean the frame officially takes 57mm/2.25” tires running 650B wheels and 50mm/2.0” in 700C mode. Up front, a whopping 90mm separates the fork blades, leaving room for more rubber than you would likely ever want on this type of bike.
A surprising feature is the oversized, almost imperceptibly bent seat tube designed for 30.9mm zero-offset seatposts, i.e. dropper posts. Again, not something I’ll be taking advantage of, but it continues the theme of versatility, and the frame has the internal dropper routing to match.
The unusually large seat tube means the other tubes are oversized as well to keep the balances of stiffnesses right. This will necessarily impact the ride comfort, which we’ll get to later. And accordingly, the Stavanger also appears a bit chunky for steel, unsurprisingly coming in on the heftier side at 2.64 kilograms (5.82 pounds) for the frame and 12.12 kilograms (26.7 pounds) for the complete bike in size 54. My realistic build with the dynamo lighting, pedals, and bottle cages weighed 12.5kg (27.6 pounds).
Sealing it all up is a shimmering powder coat in a color called “lilametal” that reflects dark burgundy to purple, depending on the light. Powder coating is great to see on a bike meant for harsh conditions, as it resists abrasion better and doesn’t chip as easily as paint. Still, you’d be well-advised to cover bag contact areas. A number of navigation-themed decals can be found scattered across the frame. Fortunately for durability, and unfortunately for those who like clean looks, the decals are underneath the clear coat and thus cannot be removed.
Don’t trust the numbers
Moving on from the visual highlights, let’s dig into the geometry. Pelago sticks to road standard 72.5° head tube angle and 73° seat tube angles that keep the steering quick, with short 428mm chainstays (in the size tested) to match. The bike sits a bit higher than usual with a 65mm bottom bracket drop, making for extra pedal clearance and a slightly taller stance. Pelago actually varies the last two measurements by size, which they say is for optimal weight balance.
If the high bottom bracket turns you off for fear of an “unstable” ride—whatever that means—don’t worry, and keep reading. As Joe Cruz lays out in his Tanglefoot Moonshiner review (linked at the bottom of this post), a bicycle is a complex system, and trying to divine real-world handling from isolated geometry measurements is rarely fruitful. The Stavanger’s fantastic composure out on the road defies any attempt at armchair bike engineering.
Probably the biggest innovation over classic geometry is the lengthened top tube that pushes the headtube 10-20mm further out than average for a given frame size (see comparison with the Fairlight Faran 2.0 54R above). By now, there are a number of gravel bikes that draw inspiration from the longer/slacker trend in mountain bikes, but the Stavanger does so while staying true to precise road bike handling, eschewing the “progressive” slackening that usually accompanies MTB-inspired long-reach designs. And it maintains a reasonably level top, which is pleasing to my eye. Finally, the frame doesn’t skimp on stack height, matching my preference for bikepacking—bars level with the saddle, head up in the world.
Sizing and fit
But wait, doesn’t that mean I’ll be uncomfortably stretched out on the Stavanger? Most likely not, because Pelago specs a correspondingly shorter 80mm stem across the size range, putting the bars right where you’d expect them for a bike in this category.
From tall, long-legged folks—the archetypal bike reviewer seems to be a lanky 188cm/6’2” male—we hear the rightful clamoring for taller head tubes, i.e. more stack height, but riders on the other end of the spectrum, such as myself at 178cm/5’10” with short legs and long torso and arms, run into other issues. When I size up to get the reach I need, I end up sitting on the top tube of many road bikes. So, I’m often running a long stem on a smaller bike that wastes a bunch of space inside the triangle and negatively affects off-road steering.
The Stavanger solves all these issues for me. Size 54cm fit perfectly right out of the box, and a whopping eight sizes accommodate riders from 146cm/4’9” to 210cm/6’10” in height. The overall stack and reach to the bars is exactly what I’m used to from previous road bikes for touring, not too long or too low, with plenty of adjustment possible. So, unless you need short reach or prefer a very upright position, the Stavanger should fit you.
A good fit for more people is one reason for the relative lengthening of the Stavanger, but there have to be some functional advantages, right? Pelago mentions only the elimination of toe overlap across all frame sizes, which is indeed a big plus. Yet, this drastically undersells the multitude of benefits a longer triangle and shorter stem provide for bikepacking on the trails.
What’s in the box
The complete Stavager comes specced with a solid and sensible build kit that’s commensurate with its €2,395 price point. The bare frameset is available for €925, which seems to be the new norm for higher-end steel frames these days. The review bike I got to ride differed slightly from the stock build, though the complete Shimano GRX 600 1x groupset and the touchpoints are the same. Rolling on 700C wheels with 45mm WTB Riddlers, the stock configuration is a good entry point into gravel riding for those coming from the road, though it doesn’t come close to maxing out the frame’s off-road capabilities.
Functionally, there’s not much to say about Shimano GRX. The shifting is top-notch and never needs adjusting, and the hydraulic brakes stop the bike on a dime. The soft-touch coating on the STI levers could be more durable considering their gravel ambitions.
However, it’s disappointing how the major groupset manufacturers continue to fail many riders, at least on the drop-bar side of things. The low-end gearing provided by Shimano GRX 1×11 was okay for fast brevets through the hills on the German-Czech border, but loaded up with camping gear, I wouldn’t take it outside of flat Brandenburg. A double crankset just makes more sense for a bike meant to go anywhere. Since Pelago confirmed the frame to clear wider-chainline double cranksets like Shimano GRX and SRAM Force AXS Wide, their decision to go 1x is a miss in my books.
For bikepacking in the Alps and Carpathians, I relied on a Wolf Tooth Components 36T narrow-wide chainring for GRX and an 11-46T cassette to give me the range I need. Even this combo is still fairly steep, and I was working hard out of the saddle when the roads pitched above 12%. Another issue that could boil up in the mountains are the small 140mm Shimano IceTech brake rotors. As a lighter rider, I experienced no fading even on long alpine descents (they now have a cool patina), but heavier riders may want to retrofit more substantial 160mm rotors.
Driving home the “all roads, everywhere, all the time” nature of the Stavanger, Pelago sent a wheelset upgraded with a Shutter Precision dynamo hub, which came in handy for testing the Stavanger’s endurance riding through the night. I was also happy to receive their Commuter rack and a set of sleek Pelago 700C aluminum fenders, ideal additions to turn the Stavanger into an all-weather supercommuter. Though I removed both for bikepacking in summer, I’m already looking forward to remounting them for zipping around the city with dry toes once the damp winter hits Berlin.
Build Kit (as Ridden)
- Frame/Fork Pelago Stavanger 54cm
- Rims DT Swiss G 540 DB
- Hubs Shutter Precision dynamo (front) / DT Swiss 350 (rear)
- Tires WTB Venture 700 x 42mm or American Classic Wentworth
- Crankset Shimano GRX FC-RX600
- Chainring Wolf Tooth Components GRX 36T
- Rear Derailleur Shimano GRX RD-RX600
- Cassette Shimano Deore SLX, 11-42T
- Brake/Shift LeversShimano GRX RX600
- Seatpost Mounty Special 27.2mm (w/shim)
- Handlebar Ritchey Butano Comp 42cm or Ritchey VentureMax Comp V2 44cm
- Stem Kalloy 31.8, 80mm
- Headset Acros tapered, external cups
- Saddle Fabric Line
- Brakes Shimano GRX RX400
Geometry and ride impressions
Of course, the versatility of a bicycle can’t be measured simply by the number of M5 bosses on the frame or its tire clearance. The bike also needs to ride well in a variety of conditions. Pelago is pretty modest about it, simply noting the Stavanger’s “multipurpose geometry.” Taking the Stavanger across sand tracks in east Germany, broken tarmac in Poland, forest singletrack in the Carpathians, and the finest Dolomiti gravel, I found that to be another understatement from the Finns.
Mid-trail steering has been maligned in some circles, but now that I’ve experienced the magic on the Stavanger, I can see why it’s being favored by forward-looking brands such as Fairlight and Singular Cycles. A lower trail figure is associated with lighter steering and more accommodating of front loads, but too low is said to be unstable offroad. Thanks to its special 58mm rake steel fork, the Stavanger comes in at a goldilocks trail figure around the 50mm mark, depending on wheel and tire choice. Its trail is neither high nor low, effectively recreating the sporty handling of a road racing bike, just with wider tires.
It’s been a minute since I’ve found myself pulling turns in a pace line, but on a 600-kilometer brevet this summer, the Stavanger’s responsive steering and quick acceleration kept me flying with the group when my lumbering Space Horse would have had me fatigued both physically and mentally. The Stavanger carves with precision and grace loaded with a rando bag up front, returns to center after dodging potholes like they never happened, and the proverbial mid-turn line change is a joy to experience. Cruising around the city, the Stavanger doesn’t compel me to speed up unnecessarily, unlike some performance-first bikes I’ve ridden.
So far so good, but good manners on tarmac is a solved problem. We know mid-trail can be awesome off-road. Fairlight employed this approach with success in the Faran 2.0, which Logan and Lucas both praised for its quick yet stable handling, and I can only concur. The Stavanger is anything but unstable on loose surfaces, easily surfing over Brandenburg’s notorious sand pits. Yet, Pelago has evolved the mid-trail idea further by stretching the top tube and raising the bottom bracket, and the results are most obvious when the trail pitches down.
Running scant 42mm tires on a 10-day randopacking adventure in the Dolomites, I was able to keep up with my friends through the chunky gravel descents despite their far more reasonable 2.25” rubber. The benefits of sitting further back thanks to the long front-center should be well-known to mountain bikers—more time to react to the trail and less of the feeling of going over the front wheel. With my bodyweight shifted rearward and thus off the front, wiping out due to oversteering is much less of a concern, granting me confidence to make aggressive steering inputs to weave through obstacles courses. The high bottom bracket also seems to amplify body english. These factors together yield a nice steering balance: I can hop between lines at will, and I returned home from Italy with zero dents in the rims of the review bike.
Overbuilt like nearly all production frames, the Stavanger does not offer a smooth magic carpet ride. The oversized head tube and zero-offset seat post don’t do the rider any favors when it comes to comfort. The ride is direct and firm. The fork also barely flexes for a lugged design, so brake shudder is much reduced. It’s a missed opportunity to not have the adaptive geometry carry over to varying tubing thicknesses. The Stavanger trades exquisite ride comfort for a reinforced construction that can carry substantial loads and take a beating, so particularly as a lighter rider, suspension will have to come from the tires. Luckily, the Stavanger has tire clearance for days. A little bouncy when naked, the bike settles down with packed bags.
For another mixed-terrain tour down south and east to Budapest, I mounted shreddier American Classic Wentworth tires in 650B x 47mm, which is my minimum for bikepacking these days. Running the same tire size, the Stavanger is far more capable at navigating trails than my Space Horse, which always seems a bit out of its element when it gets steep. The Stavanger was cool, calm, and collected on the hardpack singletrack in the Little Carpathians, and mountain bikers were as surprised as I was when I popped out of the trail system by Bratislava, completely unscathed and wearing a wide grin.
Though I embraced the trend of wide drops for better off-road control, the Stavanger showed me how a smart geometry renders that unnecessary; I feel like I can dance on the edge of traction without losing control. I’m eager to see just where this bike can go when running something like 2.25” Vittoria Mezcals, and even the idea of a dropper post begins to make some sense to me. The versatility of the mid-trail, long and steep road geometry is impressive, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more brands and builders going down this route.
While Out Rough-Stuffing
My style of long-distance bikepacking in dense Central Europe takes me over lots of quiet backroads and dedicated cycle paths between stretches of dirt, so a versatile road bike with clearance for fast-rolling 2.25” tires such as the new Stavanger—similarly to the Fairlight Faran 2.0, Singular Peregrine Mk. 3, and Fearless Warlock—hits a sweet-spot for comfort over days and weeks and efficiency over most surfaces. Coming from the road with a bias for underbiking and hiking, the Stavanger with maxed-out tires would be my natural choice for alpine mixed-terrain routes such as the Veneto Divide or Torino-Nice Rally.
The Stavanger’s curved fork begs for a classy rando bag setup, and I mounted the sharp-looking Gramm Diamond Bag on top of the Allygn Diamond Rack for the review period. A niche benefit for randonneurs is the increased gap between a rando bag sitting on a front rack and the handlebars, thanks to the shorter stem, making it easier to open the top flap and get at the rear pockets. Typical handlebar bags and front rolls will also be that much closer to the steering axis, reducing their usual impact on steering.
The longer triangle takes bigger framebags, and my Outer Shell Half Framebag in size L fits almost like custom-made. And since the wheel is kicked out further in front, there’s clearance underneath the downtube for a large 750ml bottle or even a slim cargo cage with no chance of tire contact when the fork flexes under braking. On the other hand, the triple mounts are necessarily positioned above the bend on the fork blades, which limits the headroom for carrying taller drybags. I think of them as flexible provisions for a lightweight front rack plus bottle cages or a low-rider rack below.
While randonneuring and bikepacking is what the Stavanger is designed for, I can equally see crossing continents aboard this bike. Thanks to the sturdy frame with a world of attachment options, the Stavanger could take on the role of a light-duty dirt tourer with soft panniers up front and a lightweight rack in the rear, filled with all you need for life on the road. The Stavanger is the definition of versatile; with the right mindset, I suspect it can take you nearly anywhere.
- Model/Size Tested: 2022 Pelago Stavanger, Size 54cm
- Actual Weight (w/o pedals): 12.5kilograms (27.6 pounds)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: €2,395 complete (€925 frameset)
- Sizes Available: 42cm-63cm
- Manufacturer’s Details: PelagoBicycles.com
- Spritely road bike handling that’s shockingly capable on the trails
- Long frame in eight sizes fits most and brings benefits for bikepacking
- Generous tire clearance opens up rougher mixed-terrain routes
- Feature-packed frame and fork with great cable/hose/wire routing concept
- Full complement of mounting points for cargo cages, racks, fenders, and even trailers
- Compatible with carbon forks and dropper posts for ultimate versatility
- Stock 1x drivetrain and small brake rotors reach their limits in the mountains
- Stiff frame and fork mean comfort has to come from wider tires and suspension components
- Long frame isn’t suitable for folks looking for very short reach or a very upright position
- Personally, I would choose slender tubes over carbon fork and dropper compatibility
- Graphics on the seat tube are a bit much for some tastes
All modern fat-tired road bikes promise versatility, but only a few can match the sheer range of the Stavanger. A lively rando rig at heart, it navigates trails that would ordinarily be well outside of the envelope. The Stavanger is a joy to ride on overnighters and multi-day trips with a lighter bikepacking load but also doesn’t shy away from some heavy-duty lifting. Pelago did a great job innovating with restraint, building on a proven road blueprint without veering off into full-on mountain bike territory. Thus, the latest iteration of the Stavanger rolls right alongside the innovative bikes from brands like Fairlight and Singular Cycles.
For €2,395, you get a functional, durable, stylish all-road bicycle that packs in generous tire clearance, all the mounts, a refined geometry, and a no-nonsense build. The longish frame won’t fit everyone, but most folks will find something that works for them in the wide size range. The Stavanger is not perfect: the stock gearing is too steep and needs modification to unlock the bike’s full potential, and a few frame features like the oversized, straight seat tube seem like versatility for versatility’s sake. But considering how incredibly capable the Stavanger is at its core, I’m more than willing to work with these relatively minor issues.
The new Pelago Stavanger nails my preference for a road bike for bikepacking: nimble and comfortable over all roads for weeks at a time, yet also right at home in the rough stuff when called upon. It’s got what it takes to be one road bike that (almost) does it all, and I’d recommend it to just about anyone.
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