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
There was a time when Timbuk2 was the only brand of messenger bags you would see on a daily basis. But times have changed and there are more bag manufacturers than you can count. Hence, the old dog has had to learn some new tricks, so to speak. In order to stay competitive in today’s market they’ve had to innovate with design, materials and customer service. With the Especial series Timbuk2 set out to showcase their best materials and workmanship, and the Especial Messenger bag may very well be the best bag they’ve ever created.
As you might imagine, Timbuk2 went with tried and true Cordura ripstop nylon construction. They also made significant use of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane laminate) inside and out. The result of the black on black fabrics is both subtle and striking at the same time. What’s more, the entire bag is highlighted with black reflective trim.
The Especial Messenger is available in two sizes, and I had a chance to try out both the small and the medium (pictured). The small bag measures just under 14 x 16 inches, and is a great size for a laptop bag, airline travel, etc. It will work as a commuter bag, but I definitely prefer a bit more cargo capacity. At 18.5 x 16.1, the medium bag suits my needs pretty much perfectly. I can fit a change of clothes, shoes, tools, spares, etc. It’s big enough to do handle light grocery shopping, and yes, it can hold a case of beer (cans).
I think I’m still discovering all of the pockets on the Especial Messenger. Suffice it to say there are a number of external pockets with waterproof zippers, a handful of internal organization pockets and a padded laptop compartment.
The Especial Messenger is loaded with features, so many that I’m bound to forget one or two. The most obvious are the magnetic buckles on the flap. They aren’t as big of an improvement as they are when used on a bike helmet, but they’re pretty cool. On the more elemental side, the flap has nice gussets and the main compartment is topped with a unique stiffener that helps make the closure extra water resistant. Like most good bags, the liner is fully floating, so you can ride in the rain with confidence.
The main strap is completely reversible (for left or right shoulder) as is the removable stabilizer strap. The main strap features an awesome pad that extends well beyond the upper connection for superior comfort. You can also adjust the angle of the strap thanks to some slick use of Velcro on the back of the bag. And Timbuk2 took pains to provide various clips and such to keep the excess straps from flapping around erratically.
The back panel of the bag features molded pads that both cushion the bag against your back and provide some air flow. And while I don’t often need them, the Especial Messenger has three handles.
My only real criticism is actually more of a suggestion: There should be a size large, and maybe an extra large. No professional bike messenger (that I know, at least) would use a small or medium sized bag. And if I could only own one bag, I would want one that’s just a hair bigger for true grocery shopping and such. But as I said earlier, for daily use, the medium size suits my needs just fine.
The medium sized Especial Messenger retails for $199, the small for $179. All Timbuk2 products carry a lifetime warranty. Check out www.timbuk2.com
Turns out every lane really is a bike lane. Some of us knew this already, but now L.A. Metro is spreading the word, with a new bold campaign which clearly states just that.
The campaign features messages including “Every Lane is a Bike Lane;” “Bicyclists may need a full lane;” and “Please share the road” in bright yellow lettering on the back of 75 Metro buses and on 135 billboards. Radio spots on 21 local radio stations throughout the region also share the straight-to-the-point PSAs. The campaign will run through May, leading up to Bike Week, May 13-17.
“It has been really surprising over the past 3 to 5 years to see the cities like L.A. that are coming on board in a very strong way,” said Carolyn Szczepanski, director of communications for the League of American Bicyclists. Recently Los Angeles received a bronze award from the League’s Bike Friendly America program, which designates bicycle friendly communities. “Cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville—these are cities that we wouldn’t have thought of as particularly progressive—they’re not Boulder; they’re not Portland … but they are coming around.”
Read more →
Contents Include: I Love Riding in the City, Product Spotlight Abus, Track of Ages, Roland Burns, NAHBS 2013 Gallery, Alexander Montsenigos and the Unwinnable Argument, Building Bike-Friendly Cities of the Future, Product Reviews, Ramps and Pins, and Monster Track 14.http://www.urbanvelo.org/issue36
In January there was a week of bitter cold weather. The wind chill was amplified by being on the bike. I had been reading all about the cold weather from friends across North America on social media. I avoided these silly discussions. Every year that I can remember since childhood, it has always been cold at some point between September and March. Making a fuss about the annual occurrence seemed a waste of time.
Although I usually won’t complain about the conditions, I have the good sense to know when it’s time to come inside from the cold. I had been riding daily for Elite Couriers as the cold began punishing those in the north. My training rides went from several hours to a one mile jaunt to the gym where the steam room was utilized for thawing purposes.
My friend Ethan posted a message on Facebook about needing a mechanic for a new bike shop. As the manager, it was his responsibility to find someone capable of assembling or repairing bikes and had the ability to build wheels. Having all those talents and living nearby, I knew I could be indoors during working hours. I took a temporary position to give Ethan extra time to find a permanent wrench. I would escape the clutches of Old Man Winter.
On Monday morning I awoke to falling snow outside of my window. Success! I had beaten the system. I could still earn income without suffering in the muck. I assembled new bikes with the comfort of music playing.
The next day as I left the house, the temperatures had risen. It was balmy, almost like a spring morning when one would expect to see tulips blooming or buds sprouting from the trees. Inhale. Exhale. Aah. It was a great day for a bike ride. I thought of two long rides I wanted to do, but was sadly headed indoors to wrench on bikes.
Wednesday morning the weather was beautiful. The day’s high was warm like those mid spring days when the cherry blossoms send petals cascading downward mimicking snow. Damn. I really wanted to be outside on my bike. I could see several of my friends rolling past the shop enjoying the day. My plan was to spare myself the brutal commute and working in the cold. Mother Nature played a cruel trick. After agreeing to working indoors, the temperatures were mild and pleasant.
Thursday was to be my last day in the shop as the Ultra Orthodox Jewish owners have half day hours on Friday and Saturday completely off. As I organized the order of bikes on the showroom floor, a rep from cycling company visited to present apparel available for sale to customers. It was quite interesting watching the rep discuss women’s jerseys “in a variety of colorways” to a man whose community strictly adheres to a dress code of all black everything except white blouses and shirts. The irony was that a few years earlier, the Hasidic Community fiercely lobbied Mayor Bloomberg to remove existing bike lanes due to “scantily clad” women rolling through South Williamsburg Brooklyn. Their wardrobe would inspire immoral behavior among members of their pious sect.
Building and repairing bikes I can do. Bridging the divide between religious doctrine heavily ingrained into the Hasidic community and the fast paced lifestyle of New York cyclists I cannot on my own. It will take years. While I wish them every success with the new shop promoting cycling, I had to return to the road. I love riding.
At the end of the week as the Hasidim prepared for the sabbath, I returned to the chaotic messenger scramble in Manhattan. The weather, almost as if scheduled, resumed its punishing cold. I rode through another day of heavy winds and snow. I had been reminded that life as a messenger in the winter is brutal and relentless.