I stepped out of Rediscovered Books in downtown Boise the other night to discover a crowd around my brand spanking new REI Novara Transfer commuter bike. I had ridden it to the bookstore to attend a book talk by Rob Penn, author of It’s All About the Bike – a story about his love affair with bikes and his quest to find the perfect bike. It was a great talk and I was fascinated by his story – but I digress; this is a review of a bike, not a book. . .
When I arrived at the bookstore I was just a tad late and, given the nature of the book and talk, it was a real bikey-sort of crowd there. All the good bike parking spaces were filled, so I took my Transfer and hid it behind them all, locked it to a tree protector, and headed inside.
Hours later I emerged to discover a crowd oohing and ahhing over my bike. “This is exactly the bike I want to build for my wife,” one admirer said. “This looks exactly perfect.” I have to say I agree.
I’ve been riding this REI Novara Transfer bike for a week now and am just as in love with it as I was the very first mile. It’s a fantastic bike and more fun than I ever thought a bike could be. The funny thing is that I was convinced I would hate it – after 17,000 miles on my REI Randonee, I figured my body would have a hard time adapting to anything else. How wrong I was.
Things I Love
Internal Hub: I met many people riding with internal hubs in South America and was fascinated with the idea – but figured it wouldn’t make much difference. I mean – I never had a problem shifting with my good old-fashioned derailleur. I was wrong there too.
The best part about an internal hub is that you can shift anywhere, anytime. Unlike a derailleur that you can only shift while pedaling, this thing is only a flick of the wrist from being shifted – even if you’re stopped at a stop light. Rather than having to think ahead and make sure I’m in the right gear before I stop, now I can simply hit the brakes and size up the situation and decide which gear I need to be in when I take off while sitting at the light. Sweet!
The Transfer comes with a 7-speed hub, which is sufficient for bike rides around town. No – it doesn’t have the range to pedal a heavily-loaded bike up Andean mountainsides, but it was never designed for that. I’ve found I’ve used the entire range and it’s been great for commuting in town. If I wanted to go a bit faster or needed slightly lower gearing I would need to seek out other solutions – this bike has a good range for commuting, which is what it was designed for.
Lights: The Transfer comes complete with both headlights and taillights – a feature I found quite handy that night as I stayed later at the bookstore than I had anticipated. The rear light is a standard reflector/light which is functional, but nothing spectacular.
The headlight, however, is way cool. It is attached to a generator in the hub and has a sensor to detect when it needs to come on – how cool is that?! There is a switch to override it and turn it either on or off, but I quite like having it on auto-detect and my not having to think!
Chain Guard: So far I’ve only ridden my Transfer with capri pants, so haven’t needed this feature, but I’m sure I would love it in winter while wearing long pants – a chain guard to protect my pants from chain grease. It’s a simple thing, but one that makes this bike the perfect commuter – you can get on and ride wearing whatever clothes you happen to have on.
Step-through design: The design of the frame goes along with the chain guard – it encourages you to ride the bike in whatever clothes you’re wearing rather than having to change. As an avowed skirt-wearer, I’m thrilled with the step-through design of the frame so I don’t have to throw my leg up and over the seat. This would also help for those people with hip/back problems who have a hard time getting their leg that high.
Fenders: Another feature REI put on the Transfer to make it the perfect commuter bike is fenders – to prevent rain and road grime from splashing onto you. The fenders are the very full kind that nearly completely encase the wheels in order to minimize the amount of water that can escape.
Handlebars: I never thought I would find better handlebars than my butterfly bars, but I think I may have found their match. I have very definite hand problems and have to choose my handlebars carefully – it’s imperative that I have bars where I can hold my hands in a very ergonomically correct position. The outside of the butterfly bars did the trick – and so, too, do the bars they’ve put on the Transfer.
The fact that they’ve positioned the handlebars slightly higher than the seat allows you to sit in a more upright position so you can more easily watch for traffic.
Bell: The Transfer comes with a bell! *ring, ring* It’s just a tiny little bell mounted on the brake handle, but a great feature for when you’re riding along the bike path and you want to notify pedestrians ahead that you’re coming through.
Things I Don’t Love
Lack of Mirror: OK – I know some people prefer having a mirror on their helmet, but I hate those helmet-mounted things. How hard would it be for REI to put a snazzy mirror on this thing to make it easier for us to see what’s behind and safer to ride? A mirror is the first thing I would add to the bike.
Color: There is an understated dignity about the brown/tan color of the Transfer, but I think the color of a bike should reflect the inherent property of it. In this case – the most apparent characteristic is FUN! Maybe purple? Or yellow polka dots?
I’m sorry, REI, but this bike screams fun and needs purple streamers flowing from the handlebars. It needs some sort of rubber ducky proudly mounted on the stem to remind us all that we’re really just a kid on a bike. It doesn’t need “understated dignity” – it needs to shout, “I’m a kid on a bike and am having a blast!”
So – the big question is: would I recommend the REI Novara Transfer? You bet! A resounding YES! It’s fun, it’s functional, it’s a good solid all-around commuter bike.
In the interest of transparency, I need to let you know that REI lent the bike to me so I could ride it and provide a review. Now my job is to convince them to let me keep it…