Tester: Jon Pratt
Weight: 26.6 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
More info: Novara Mazama
For those who aren’t familiar with Novara, it’s the in-house bike line of outdoor mega-retailer REI, and features everything from kids’ to mountain to road bikes. Novara already had successful road and off-road touring bikes in the Randonee and Safari models, but the Mazama splits the difference between those two. It’s designed to handle not just the smooth surfaces around town, but also the gravel and dirt routes that a lot of us dream of while sitting at our desks or leafing through the pages of our favorite cycling magazine.
Personally, bikes like the Mazama are exactly what I envision when I’m thinking of the bike that can get me to and from work, haul my beer, grind out miles on the crushed gravel and dirt paths of my local parks, and guide me through a self-supported bikepacking excursion into the wilderness.
What makes the Mazama lust-worthy—for lack of a better term? For me it’s pretty simple actually. It’s all price to performance ratio. There are lots of bikes out there that can take us from the store to the woods and back. Some of them are really expensive—some not-so-much. The Mazama is definitely in the later category. Yes, I know we all have different ideas of inexpensive, but at around a grand I think it’s fair to say the Mazama fits the bill.
But just hitting a price point isn’t enough. The bike needs to get us out and back safely, comfortably, and provide a platform to attach all our gadgets and gear for our adventures. Besides attaching a water bottle or two and some lights to your bike to get back and forth from work, you might find the need to haul a bit more. Novara designed the Mazama to adapt to those situations as well. There are front and rear bosses that will handle almost any configuration of fenders and racks. There are three bottle cage mounts, with one on the bottom of the down tube.
Do you need another clue that the Mazama was purposefully designed? There’s a guide on the right front fork leg so you can cleanly attach the wire from a dynamo hub. Sure it doesn’t come with one, but at least Novara’s team knows it might be a future upgrade you’d consider.
Now that we’ve got all your hauling needs covered, there’s the task of keeping you and that gear in control on varied surfaces. That’s where a good wheelset and brakes come into play. Novara opted for tubeless ready AT470s rims from Alex rims matched up with Clement X’Plor MSO 40c tires. The rim selection is a bit puzzling—17 mm wide rims seem a bit too narrow for a multi-surface touring bike, especially when it is loaded. While not the fastest tires on smooth, hard surfaces, the Clements do a fantastic job of transitioning between the multitude of surfaces you’ll encounter on tour or on your daily commute. Off road they are pretty awesome.
Of course when you go fast you’ll need to stop fast too. The Mazama relies on TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes matched with 160 mm rotors to bring you safely back from the brink. They are not the most powerful mechanical discs I’ve used, but they do perform well. I could see an upgrade here if you needed a bit more umph. There aren’t any significant bends in the brake line so compression-less housing might help increase the power.
Let’s not forget that handlebar selection is an important consideration for any bike, especially one that you may spend days on end riding in a touring situation. The Mazama’s flared drops provide a comfortable position while descending or just when I needed to mix things up a bit. Unfortunately, the positioning of the hoods down and off the front of the bars just felt awkward. I like the hoods to be positioned so that there is a flat surface beginning on the tops of the bars and continuing to the upturn in the hoods. With the Mazama’s stock hood position I felt halfway in-between where the hoods “should be” and the drops.
Novara chose to spec Microshift BS-M10 bar-end shifters because they are compatible with the Deore rear mountain bike derailleur. It is one of few derailleurs that are capable of handling all the chain needed to wrap around the 48 tooth front ring and 34 rear cog. This allows for a rear mountain bike cassette and 48/36/26 triple chainrings to produce a good range of gears, including a great low end which is well-suited for touring. I also found the frame to be stiff enough and provide plenty of carrying space for all the gear I need for multi-day adventures packed into handlebar, frame and seatpost bags.
The last thing worth a shout-out is the turn limiter that’s built into the FSA headset. There’s an extra bit to this headset you don’t normally see, and its purpose is to stop you from banging the handlebars into the top tube and saving the bar-end shifters in a crash. The bars are in no way hard to steer, but it’s just enough to protect your bike. It seems like a simple idea that I expect to start showing up a bit more in other bikes. We’ve already seen a similar version of it in one of the mountain bikes we’re currently testing in our other publication, Dirt Rag.
No matter if loaded, unloaded, on road or off, there was no unexpected or unwanted feedback from the Mazama. It felt ready to keep trucking along for as long as my legs could pedal. Novara has done a great job putting together a bike that I consider to be a good value and worthy of serious consideration if you are in the market for something that will perform well in a wide range of situations.