The Swobo Novak is a no-nonsense commuter bike. Swobo set out to create a high-quality bike with virtually everything you need and hardly anything you don’t, all at a reasonable price.
At the heart of the bike is a chromoly steel frame and fork. The downtube and top tube feature a teardrop profile which increases the frame stiffness—a nice bit of technology that’s trickled down from higher end bikes. The TIG welds are clean and the paint job is quite nice for a bike at this price point. The frame has rear rack and fender mounts, as well as bosses for two bottle cages.
The Novak’s most distinguishing feature is the Shimano 3-speed Nexus drivetrain. For quite a few urban cyclists, one speed is plenty. For others, myself included, gears are nice but simplicity is certainly appreciated.
The Nexus hub offers a 186% gear range. Second gear is one to one, so the 38 tooth chainring and 19 tooth cog result in 54 gear inches. In first gear you’ve got the equivalent of a 38 x 25 drivetrain (40 gear inches), and in third gear you have approximately 38 x 14 (73 gear inches).
In practice, the gearing has been awesome at times, somewhat disappointing at others. By that I mean when the gearing was appropriate, I was in seventh heaven. But while the low gear did allow me to stand and climb some mighty big hills, it’s not a true granny gear. Similarly, the high gear was great on long flats and for getting up to speed downhill, but you will spin out fairly quickly. Still, three speeds offer more options than just one. And I’ll say this much, after the initial setup was complete I never had to make a single adjustment.
Another nit to pick with the Nexus system is that I’m not a huge fan of the twist shift mechanism. I accidentally shifted gears a few times while climbing, and that’s no fun. Mechanically the system worked flawlessly throughout the test, though, which is admirable.
Many companies like to outfit their city bikes with disc brakes, and I’m not one to complain, but they come at a cost. The Novak’s Tektro caliper brakes do the job admirably, even in wet weather.
At first glance I thought that Swobo had taken the low road and set up the Novak with some imitation metal fenders, but no, they’re bona-fide aluminum.
Ordinarily, I don’t go in for chainguards, but the polished chainguard just seems right for the Novak. I kind of kept thinking, since I’ve got fenders and a chainguard, can I have a kickstand, too? Seriously, what would it hurt?
As you can imagine, the Novak is set up for an upright riding position—not great for racing, but perfect for spotting jaywalking pedestrians and other road hazards. And to be honest, riding a bike with fenders and a chainguard kind of put me in a different mindset… Dare I say, I felt a little more grown up. Or at least smart. I got passed by quite a few whippersnappers on my commute, but I passed a few fellow commuters as well. In general, though, I felt like taking my time on the Novak, even though it felt great on long descents.
The Novak weighs in at roughly 25 pounds, which is neither especially light nor heavy. It seems that when faced with a choice between light weight and durability, however, Swobo took the high road and accepted the weight penalty. Such is the case with the 36 spoke wheels. Even though I’m a relatively light rider who does a decent job of avoiding potholes, I can appreciate a durable wheelset. Remember, the more spokes that share the load, the less punishment each individual spoke endures. This means less wheel truing in your future.
Elsewhere on the bike you’ll find Swobo branded components of appropriate quality—bar, stem, grips, post and saddle. I do like the bolt-on bar end caps. The puncture resistant 700 x 28 Kenda Kwest tires did exactly what they’re supposed to. I didn’t get a single flat during the test period.
Aesthetically, I think the Novak is a pretty sharp looking bike. In my personal opinion, though, the Nexus crankset is a bit of an eyesore. Sure, the satin finish is complimented by the fenders, but for a second imagine how cool this bike would look with polished aluminum crankarms. Now swap those fenders for some shiny hammered ones and you’re almost at show bike status. But I digress.
The Novak retails for $789 and comes in sizes 48 (tested) through 60. Check out www.swobo.com
According to Fiona Ryan, designer at Fifo Cycle, “We wanted to stay true to the impact the Cinelli branding has had on cycling graphics and to harken back to their vintage design legacy. It has been an extremely exciting project for Fifo Cycle—just the kind of design challenge that gets us spinning in the studio! We used transparent water based inks on natural fabrics to give the hat a vintage feel and an Oxford stripe on the reverse side to keep it dapper and fresh!”
Check out www.fifocycle.com
From People For Bikes:
Our goal is to unite one million voices by December 2013 to improve the future of bicycling in America for all ages, all abilities and all disciplines of biking.
To grow a strong enough voice to make a difference, we could really use your support! Signing the pledge only takes about 30 seconds.
From The Economist:
Traditionally, business associates would get to know each other over a round of golf. But road cycling is fast catching up as the preferred way of networking for the modern professional. A growing number of corporate-sponsored charity bike rides and city cycle clubs are providing an ideal opportunity to talk shop with like-minded colleagues and clients while discussing different bike frames and tricky headwinds. Many believe cycling is better than golf for building lasting working relationships, or landing a new job, because it is less competitive.
HALO is also from the City by the Bay. Their first product, a fiber optic LED belt, was especially well suited for urban cyclists. The HALO ZERO pairs a custom HALO LED optic strip with Rickshaw’s medium size Zero Messenger bag.
The Zero Messenger is an exercise in simplicity. The bag is made from Classic Cordura fabric with no additional liner. This mean’s the bag is light, albeit not waterproof. The bag has just two front pockets and the main compartment—no secret compartments or anything of the sort. In fact, the bag comes with neither a strap pad nor a cross strap—it doesn’t even have closure buckles on the flap. You do, of course, have the option of adding these things and more. But it’s kind of interesting to strip a bag down to its bare essentials and see how well it performs.
And the bag does perform pretty well. At about 11″ high and more than 18″ wide, it holds a decent amount of cargo for a smaller sized messenger bag. Its light and flexible nature allows it to easily conform to your body, making it stay in place relatively well under most circumstances. I do personally like the added stability of a cross strap, but I’ve begrudgingly made due without one. You can order one separately that attaches to the bag’s existing D-rings. I also kind of like having buckle closures, but they can be purchased separately at the time of order. Additionally, an optional padded laptop compartment can be conveniently attached to the existing Velcro strip inside the main compartment. It’s all very well thought out. I do rather wish that the bag came with larger Velcro strips, though.
The HALO component attaches via Velcro to the outside of the bag. The illuminated portion is about .5″ tall and 12″ wide, and is covered by a translucent fabric so that it’s essentially impossible to tell that it’s a light when not in use. It’s also removable, should you desire. The unit is powered by two standard CR2025 batteries which should last between 20 and 75 hours, depending on whether you use ride in solid, strobe or flashing mode.
Unfortunately, my one big nit to pick with this bag is that the light just isn’t very bright. Most high visibility rear lights will temporarily blind you if you stare right at them. This is not the case with the HALO light. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice addition to an existing nighttime safety system, but unfortunately I don’t feel as thought it’s bright enough to rely on by itself.
The bag is available in black with red, yellow, green or blue accents, and the HALO strip shines in the corresponding color. The HALO ZERO retails for $150 and comes with a lifetime warranty. Check out www.rickshawbags.com