Why can’t we have practical bikes?

On Wednesday I came across a Novara Transfer in the wild. For those of you outside of the US, Novara is the house bike/bike accessory brand of REI, our big outdoor co-op chain, analogous to MEC in Canada. I really liked this bike as it was a fully loaded (as sold) commuter:

  • Nexus 7 speed internally geared hub
  • Novatech dynamo hub
  • AXA/Basta head and tail lamps
  • chainguard
  • rear rack
  • fenders
  • chromoly frame and fork

You could have had this bike for about $700 with all those features included! But note I said “could have”. Because the Novara Transfer was too damn practical, of course REI discontinued it. Now they have nothing similar. Sure, you can get something in that price range that has front and rear rack/basket, but it has derailleurs and no lights. Or you can get the Gotham that has a Nuvinci hub and belt drive, but it’s aluminum, has only battery lights, and is $1500, though you can get last year’s model for $900. (Oh yeah, it also has hydraulic disc brakes, which may be good or bad depending on your preferences.)

It’s one of the few modern bikes that I’ve seen that are similar to a Raleigh Superbe in all its features, and adjusting for inflation, it’s probably about as much as a Superbe cost back in the day. And we need more modern bikes that are like old Raleigh Superbes. Now there are the Civias and Linuses out there, and they are all fine. But none of those come with dynamo lighting included. Breezers are the only ones that come to mind with all those features (like the Uptown 8) but they don’t seem to be as popular any more. And they are aluminum, which isn’t a deal breaker for some folks, but we all know how I like the steel.

And yeah, you can go the full Dutch route, but those bikes (at least the ones available here in the US) are more expensive, and tend to be a lot heavier. I always see one or two Workcycles on the local Craigslist, and they always want a lot. I think people buy them because they look cool and have all the features, but then realize how heavy they are for riding, even here in not-that-hilly Portland.

In any case, I may be preaching to the converted, but it would be nice to see more fully equipped utility bikes out there, and at a price point that people can afford.

Back to the Transfer: I realize that none of the components are particularly “high end” but it’s still a good deal for what it is. When they were discounting the remaining Transfers a couple years ago, I almost thought about grabbing one, but didn’t have the available cash. It’d be cool to grab one if it came up for a good price on Craigslist…


16 thoughts on “Why can’t we have practical bikes?

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  1. True. I’m still a bit sad that Globe went away. My Daily 3 has held up well, and I’ve even toured on it. I hate the “bike as toy” crown is winning out over the “bike as transit” crowd.

  2. The Scott Evo series bikes are nicely outfitted examples of practical bikes. Scott has rather low key marketing, so they aren’t in your face and you have to make an effort to find them in local bike shops. A friend of my daughter bought one before they did a 350 mile trip on Vancouver Island and I was impressed with how universal it was. Just hop on and do urban commutes, gravel trails and treks.

  3. I totally am with you on this one. If there were more affordable, practical machines out there than I believe more folks would ride bikes for transportation. Period. I have followed the Breezer line for years just because of their transportation ethos. Breezer gets it, even if their bikes are aluminum, which for me would not be a deal breaker, especially for around town transportation.

    1. Yeah, the Breezers are different. My old roommate had one of the “first generation” ones. I appreciated the supreme utility of them, never could get excited about the look. The newer Breezer Uptown with full chaincase looks really nice, very English/Dutch roadster, even though it is aluminum!

  4. Agreed! That’s an ideal urban setup. Perhaps too ideal. If you get a bike like that, why purchase any accessories?

    As mentioned below, the Globe was another that I admired as a perfect multipurpose bike.

    Appreciate the Breezers, but Scott’s are most common around here in Connecticut. I’ll check out that Evo line. Often get questions on what to get for urban, no-mod, turnkey bike transit. And just started a community bike shop. Want to carry one all purpose city bike to complement our used bike offerings. Good info here. REI is probably our most commuter serving shop nearby. Would like to differentiate, but won’t be able to compete on price.

  5. My local bike shop is a breezer dealer. The breezers that sell well are the under $500 dollar models, they fit the bill for folks looking for a MUT ride or to take on vacation etc. the shop brought in a Beltway with all the bells and whistles, hydro disks, Gen hub lights, belt drive…
    The bike has sat on the sales floor for 2 seasons now, I think that it is priced too high for the MUT crowd and too fancy to leave locked to a pole in the city.
    I think the shop would sell it at cost now…sadly it is a large…and the last thing I need is another bike.
    I had a couple in that are living here for a year and teaching at Bard, they are from Netherlands, they were astonished that we Americans don’t have fenders and baskets on our bikes…

    1. That Breezer Beltway looks nice, similar to the Novara Gotham. But it is definitely the “uber commuter” and casual folks are not going to plunk down that kind of coin for that. Which brings me back to the Transfer: At $700, it would be on the “high end” for the casual folks, but still attainable for those who wanted to buy a new bike and start commuting. We won’t sell more $2000 bikes until we get those “interested” folks on a lower priced bike first.

  6. I bought the Breezer Uptown Infinity (NuVinci hub) in 2012 while living in Washington, DC, and I really love it. Now that I am retired I use it mostly for riding on urban trails in Brampton, ON, just to exercise my arthritic knees; cycling allows me to flex the joints without loading them with weight. The weight of the bike and the slight extra resistance of the hub are irrelevant when riding for exercise — it just means I exert a bit more effort and get a better workout. I really like the smoothness of the transmission and the capability to make fine adjustments for subtle changes in grade, wind, etc. I estimate that I don’t travel 100 m without some small tweak of the drive ratio. It’s too bad that Breezer no longer build bikes with the NuVinci hub. I have now added a Maya Cycle bike trailer to help me bring home the groceries. All I can say is “Fantastic Combination!!”

  7. One of these (a 2006 model) has been on my local Craigslist for a while. Seems to be original equipment; it’s missing the headlight and taillight but has a basket. I didn’t notice many signs of wear on the bike, so I bet the previous owner (not the guy selling it) bought it and it sat for a while. What would be the ‘market’ price for one of these bikes? I’m trying to ascertain if it’s good value or not. Thanks in advance!

        1. That looks like a lot different Transfer than the one I posted. Not really into aluminum bikes, so couldn’t say if that’s “fair” or not. And it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the bike I wrote about. You could probably find a Linus or Public for less used.

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