By Justin Steiner
The Gotham sits atop Novara’s lineup of bicycles designed for utilitarian urban cycling. For those not familiar, Novara is the house bicycle brand of outdoor equipment retailer and co-op REI. I’ve been pedaling the Gotham back and forth to work and around town for a couple of months now, and thought I’d weigh in with some initial impressions.
This city bike comes equipped with all the features you’d need to get from point A to point B, including full coverage fenders, a generator powered headlight and battery powered tail light, as well as a nice burly rear rack to haul your goods. The cable-actuated disc brakes are a welcome addition, both for their wet weather performance and the minimal maintenance needed to keep them stopping smooth.
Novara has spec’d some interesting drivetrain parts on this bike. NuVinci’s N360 hub is a continuously variable planetary hub offering infinite gear ratio adjustability within its 360% ratio range. Essentially, the hub offers a wide range of gear ratios without the concrete ratio steps of a traditional drivetrain, just twist the shifter to increase resistance, twist back for an easier ratio. Though this sounds almost too good to be true, I’ve enjoyed my time aboard the N360 and have found it to work flawlessly. Perhaps one of the best attributes of the N360 is the complete lack of maintenance requird for the life of the hub.
Novara continued the Gotham’s minimal maintenance theme by outfitting a Gates Carbon Drive Belt instead of a chain. These belts require no lubrication throughout their lifespan, and are said to outlast a traditional chain by a significant margin. The only tricky aspect of the Gates system is ensuring proper belt tension. Various folks around the office have had issues with broken or slipping belts, but mostly on more aggressive singlespeed setups, both on and off road. However, I’ve ridden a couple of city/commuting bikes equipped with a Gates Carbon Drive belt with satisfactory results and zero issues. In many ways, this seems like the perfect application for a belt.
All of these design and spec decisions yield a bike that’s extremely easy to hop on and ride to work, or to simply run an errand with the addition of some sort of bag or basket system to haul your goods. The riding position is upright and comfortable with a nice supportive saddle that’s comfortable with or without cycling shorts.
Underway, the Gotham rides with a quietness and fluidity that can only be achieved on a belt drive bike with a NuVinci hub as far as I’ve experienced. Granted, a portion of this smoothness is provided by the Vittoria Randonneur 35mm-wide tires, but the refined feeling provided by the super smooth belt system and the buttery shifting of the N360 add a certain level of refinement.
Handling-wise, the Gotham is spot on for its intended use with a confident stability that’s great for a mindless ride home from work, without handling slow and dull. Speaking of slow, it’s worth mentioning this bike isn’t a rocket ship. Simply put, there’s no getting around this bike’s 38+ lbs weight. This slow and steady demeanor isn’t terribly noticeable around town, but will make itself known on longer or sportier rides.
I’ve enjoyed my time aboard the Gotham. Thus far along in the review, it strikes me as a nice bike for a decent price. The real icing on this cake is the durability and relatively maintenance-free components for those in wet and snowy climates.
Look for the full review in Issue #17 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe now to have that issue delivered to your door.