Review: Novara Gotham

Words and photos by Justin Steiner.

The $1,300 Gotham sits atop Novara’s line of Urban bikes designed to travel shorter distances in comfort and style. For those unfamiliar, Novara is the house bike brand of outdoor retailer REI. The Gotham’s burly unisex steel frame is available in three sizes to fit those from roughly 5’ 3” to 6’3”.

Thanks to a host of parts selected for their foul-weather performance, this bike is particularly well-suited to year-round commuting. Front and rear Shimano cable-actuated disc brakes stop firmly and positively in all conditions, while the Gates Carbon Drive belt requires no maintenance, aside from ensuring it’s properly tensioned. The star of this show, however, is NuVinci’s continuously variable N360 hub, offering a broad range of gears and requiring no maintenance throughout its lifecycle.

This bike’s full-coverage, polished aluminum fenders and included rear rack add a lot of commuting utility. Combined with the generator-drive front light and battery-powered rear light, it’s nearly commuting-ready right out of the box. I added another rear blinky and a supplementary headlight for good measure—you can never be too visible.

The Gotham’s riding position is decidedly relaxed, perfect for cruising around town. The comfortable and controlled stance afforded by the swept-back handlebar felt great while pedaling seated, and was equally comfortable while standing to hammer uphill. Once underway, the Gotham’s ride is smooth and stable. This bike’s relaxed steering geometry and long-ish wheelbase provides a predictable ride requiring little thought or attention. I found the handling to be very intuitive and natural, even relaxing.

Much of the smoothness comes from the tag-team combo of the Gates Carbon Drive belt and the N360 hub. Both of these items are very quiet and fluid in practice. I’ve ridden quite a few commuting bikes with the Gates belt, and have been stoked with their cleanliness and hassle-free nature.

This was, however, my first experience aboard the N360 hub and I’m impressed. Shifting is seamless and smooth, whether stopped at a light or mashing hard on the pedals—it never missed a beat. The gearing range is broad: low enough to pedal up the steep hills in my home terrain, yet tall enough to pedal my heart out on the downhill home from work.

For those keeping score, the overall gearing range varies 360% from easiest to hardest, greater than the 308% offered by Shimano’s Alfine 8, but less than the 409% spread of the Alfine 11 hub. The key difference, however, is the continuous variability. There are no “steps” between gears, so you’re able to dial in just the right amount of resistance for any situation. (Click here to learn how the N360 hub works.)

As with most great things, there are downsides. The Gotham’s one detraction is weight—let’s face it, 38.75lbs. is no joke. That’ll only be an issue of you’re regularly lugging it up and down flights of stairs or pedaling up significant hills.

As an out-the-door commuting package, it’s hard to argue with the value presented by the Gotham. There’s a lot of utility here for the asking price. I see this bike being perfect for folks commuting less than ten miles one way, who prioritize a bomb-proof, maintenance-free ride over outright speed and efficiency.

Tester stats

  • Age: 29
  • Height: 5’7”
  • Weight: 165lbs.
  • Inseam: 31-inches

Bike stats

  • Country of Origin: China
  • Price: $1,300
  • Weight: 38.8lbs.
  • Sizes Available: XS/S, S/M (tested), L/XL

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