As I wrap up my review of the Novara Randonee, I’m reminded that riding is a lot easier than writing. If you think that reviewing a bicycle is all fun and games, then chances are you haven’t had to try and condense three months of riding and stacks of technical specifications into 1,200 words or less, with a deadline hanging over your head. Yes, I met my deadline and filed my Novara Randonee review, which will appear in the soon-to-be-published issue #3 of Bicycle Times. No, I’m not going to spill the beans on my print review here. But I am going to use this space to talk about the Novara backstory, which I didn’t have the space to cover in my "1,200 words or less" exercise in reportage efficiency.
Novara is the "house brand" of bicycle for REI, an outdoor gear retailer that is the nation’s largest consumer cooperative with more than three million active members. As I began this bicycle review, I wondered how a big retailer like REI approached their bicycle brand. Were they simply applying stickers to generic bikes ordered from some Taiwanese catalog, or were they more like an independent bicycle company? Time for a phone call.
Greg Golding Novara’s bicycle product manager was more than happy to spend time answering my questions. It turns out that REI has internal bike team that is responsible for designing and spec’ing each of the 45 bikes in the Novara lineup (including kids bikes). Greg is a bicycle industry veteran, as are Novara bicycles’ brand manager and sourcing manager. In addition to relying on the experience of their in-house talent, Novara works with an outside consultant (who is an expert in bike fit) to help develop the sizing on their models. Greg told me that over the years he has developed a clear concept of what works (and what doesn’t) in mountain and road bike geometries, and that he applies his personal insight to the design process. No cookie cutter bikes here. It also became apparent to me, as I discussed the component spec on the Randonee with Greg, that he and his team put a lot of energy into making sure the end product was a tight total package that performed reliably.
For frame production, Novara turns to Farily Bicycle Manufacturing in Taiwan, a major player in the bike business that produces bikes for a number of "bike shop" brands. I was surprised to learn that Novara has been offering bikes for over 20 years. I didn’t realize they had been at it that long. And in one of those "small world" coincidences, a couple of current Bicycle Times employees spent prior gigs working at the REI bike shop in Pittsburgh before joining the magazine.
I’d also like to mention REI’s Bike Your Drive website that offers several resources for bicyclists including: how-to tips on gear, repair and commuting; an interactive bike part glossary; information on bike classes at REI stores; videos; articles; and more.
For more complete specifications, geometry, photos and additional information on my Novara Randonee test bike, check out my previous post.