REI Novara Transfer: A review

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.

REI NOvara Transfer

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!”

Bottom Line

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.

Would I take it into the Andes for fully-loaded touring?  Absolutely not – but that’s not what it was designed for.

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…

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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8 Responses to REI Novara Transfer: A review

  1. Janneke May 8, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Is’t funny to hear you revel about things that are so normal for us here in the Netherlands. Internal hubs, integrated dynamo, lights with sensors… We’ve all had those for years here.

  2. Ellen May 8, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    This bike sounds a lot like the bike I had as a teenager growing up in The Netherlands. And that was YEARS ago.

  3. Ellen May 8, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Wow, Janneke, I posted this at the very same time as you!

  4. Rain May 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Awesome! I hope you get to keep it. So, I’m a novice at cycling. I mean I can petal single spead and brake by pushing my pedals backwards, but that’s about it. I’ve been so inspired by you and would love to get my spinning legs again. But, have no clue about using gears and all that. It’s important I know because I live in Seattle (oy! the hills!). I’d also like to pull a trailer with a 50 pound kiddo in the back. Do you think this bike could handle that (I will, no doubt need lessons in gear usage, but figure Cascade Bicycle Club or some such organization could help me with that – although who will help be get into shape?? ;-).

  5. Rain May 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day!! Hope you are being pampered today!!

  6. nancy May 8, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    I had to laugh at the comments about the Dutch bikes – you are soooo far ahead of us! I love how you guys ride bikes everywhere. Maybe someday we’ll get there too…

    Rain – the only thing I’m not sure of with a trailer on this bike is it would depend on the how the trailer attaches. If it’s one of those trailers that attach to the seat post or something, it shouldn’t be a problem. Your local REI store should easily be able to get you set up with a commuter bike and a trailer. Yes – it’s totally doable!

  7. Bluegreen Kirk May 9, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Nice bike but I’m not a fan of the brownish color maybe if it was in black. The mirrors are really a big problem for me I can pick up some and put them on myself. What about the comfort of the bike would you say the set up fits the frame of a man or woman better?

  8. David August 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    Nancy: I have a Novara Transfer and love it. Sadly, someone stole the front headlight and I would like to replace it. Can you tell me anything about the make and model of the light on your bike? Thanks,

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