First Impression: Novara Mazama

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Every day is a good day for an adventure bike! This one comes to us by way of REI. Say hello to the steel Novara Mazama, designed for bikepacking, grinding gravel and all of your off-the-beaten-path adventures. It seems to work well on the plain-old road too, just in case you were wondering.

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At first blush, this is a pretty great bike. It’s got most of the things I’m looking for in a commuter/hauler/adventure buddy: 40c tires, three bottle cage mounts, a comfortable saddle, lots of gears (30 if you’re counting), mounts for fenders and racks and disc brakes.

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It does have some slightly odd handlebars, though. Not quite sure how I feel about them yet. Right now I can’t get into a super comfortable position with them, but time will tell.

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The Mazama does have bar-end shifters, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. You are, aren’t you?

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Another cool feature with the Mazama is the Head Block turn limiter. Basically it limits the turning radius of the stem so that your bars don’t come in contact with the frame.

It will be interesting to see how functional it is in real world use, or if it’s just a pain in the long run. So far, it makes a lot of sense.

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Among other thoughtful component choices, Novara went with TRP Spyre mechanical discs matched up to 160 mm rotors. TRP designs the Spyres so that both pads are brought into contact with the rotor with the same force, allowing for more even wear. The pads are pretty easy to adjust as well. They have provided ample braking force on a few commutes and an excursion along the singletrack near my house.

I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time in the saddle and reporting back in a future issue of Bicycle Times how it all went. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it, or all the other great content we’ve got lined up!

 

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First Impression: Lauf Grit fork

I think it’s safe to say the Lauf fork design has become iconic. Now in its third gestation, the leaf spring suspension design has expanded to cover nearly every type of off-road bicycle.

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After an original model was designed for mountain bikes dubbed Trail Racer, Lauf expanded into fat bikes with the Carbonara. Now it’s gone a bit skinnier with the Grit fork for gravel and adventure bikes.

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If you’re familiar with the design, there isn’t actually much new here. It is essentially a scaled-down and re-tuned version of the Icelandic brand’s other forks. In this case, the 12 fiberglass springs provide 30 mm of travel and are actually stiffer than the other models. These aren’t fiberglass like a boat; they are extremely strong composite materials that give just the right amount of flex.

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After a few rides on the Grit I’d have to say it is the most transparent of the three variations I’ve sampled. The original mountain bike version took some re-calibrating of your brain, while the fat bike version is more subdued. This gravel version is almost hard to notice until you start getting into the rough stuff.

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It can fit a 700 x 42 tire or a 27.5 x 2.1. Pictured below is a 35 mm tire for some sense of scale. In keeping with the ever-evolving “standards,” it will be available with either a 15 mm or 12 mm thru axle when it goes on sale in August. (Also worth admitting is that my brake housing is too short. Swapping in the Lauf required a longer cable and housing so I cheated and skipped one of the routing points.)

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We’ll be putting it through its paces this summer and following up with a long-term review in an upcoming issue. Why not subscribe now and help support your independent cycling media?

 

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First Impressions: Faraday Porteur

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The Faraday is a sophisticated city bike with the classic posture of an English 3-speed blended with the modernist design of the Dutch Vanmoof. With its Gates Carbon Belt Drive and Shimano Alfine 8 internally geared hub, it is a super low maintenance machine designed to get you from A to B in style.

Oh, and it has a motor.

Yes, the Faraday is an e-bike, though you might not notice at first glance. Born here in Portland from a team of industrial designers who wanted to make the ultimate city bike, Faraday first enlisted the help of master framebuilder Paul Sadoff, better known as the guy behind Rock Lobster Cycles. The prototype was entered in the 2011 edition of the Oregon Manifest challenge where it collected the People’s Choice award. The team wanted to give the people what they wanted, so they launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 that was fully funded within a week and went on to nearly double its initial target.

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That capital led to the bike you see here. Available in three sizes, it sells for $3,499 as pictured, with accessories like a frame-mounted basket, a rear rack, secure axle nuts and more extras (each sold separately). You can custom spec a Faraday just as you’d like it on the Faraday website, then have it delivered ready-to-ride to your nearest dealer.

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The steel frame houses a 250Wh lithium-ion battery inside the downtube, though it was originally designed to fit inside the second top tube. The motor is a 250 watt unit at the front hub, which allows the rest of the bike to use conventional, off-the-shelf parts.

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The battery is not designed to be removed, though it can be if it needs servicing. This means you don’t have the ability to take the battery with you to charge it while the bike is parked somewhere else. A full charge takes approximately three hours. The charger attaches to the gray box at the rear of the bike, which houses the “brain” of the system. Holding down the button turns the bike on, and powers the full-time LED headlight and taillight.

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The thumb switch controls the power boost, with three settings: off / low / high. Next to the thumb switch is the LED battery indicator light, which is fairly difficult to see (and photograph) during the day and impossible to see at night.

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At 42 pounds, the Faraday isn’t the massive tank that many other e-bikes can be. In fact, I’ve been riding it quite a bit with everything turned off and it gets along just fine. On terrain that is flat or even remotely downhill, I switch off the motor to conserve the battery.

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This is my first time commuting on an e-bike and I am completely smitten by the Faraday’s ability to get me where I want to go with minimal fuss. I think I’m going to have a hard time returning it when I must.

Keep an eye out for the full, long-term review in a future issue of Bicycle Times. If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, order a subscription today.

 

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First Impressions: Bianchi Volpe Disc

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For 2015 Bianchi took the venerable Volpe, introduced in the mid-80’s, and widened the rear stays so it could accommodate disc brakes and a larger tire. Tire width on the stock build jumped from 28 mm to a 35 mm—a 25-percent increase. Toss on a set of Hayes CX disc brakes and now you have got yourself a modern gravel / street / utility bike.

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The only other notable changes on the Volpe Disc is a 50/34 compact crank replacing the old triple, and Bianchi hubs which were once Shimanos. The rest of the bike is essentially the same; a steel frame with sizes from 46-61. Geometry carries over from previous Volpe models.

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Thus far, I’ve been using the Volpe Disc as an all-around urban bike, with some gravel mixed in for fun. The wider tires and disc brakes are a welcomed upgrade when traveling on the less urbanized surfaces I tend to seek. The double chainring matched to the 10-speed 12-30 rear cassette has also be more than adequate for the hills around town.

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Look for a future full review to see if the changes Bianchi made translate into significant differences in the usefulness and adaptability of the Volpe Disc.

Vital Stats

Sizes: 46, 49, 51, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61

MSRP: $1,499.99

Online: bianchiusa.com

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First Impression: Salsa Powderkeg Tandem

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My girlfriend Emily and I have always viewed tandems with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. The former inspired by the ability to intimately share a cooperative experience with someone special, and the latter a result of the seemingly patriarchal examples we often see out in the world. With this in mind, Emily and I jumped at the opportunity to review Salsa’s Powderkeg for the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times, and to write a story about our experience touring dirt roads in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest.

Our relationship with any test bike begins when each bike arrives at the doorstep of the Bicycle Times World Headquarters. This giant bike  arrived with more than the usual cursing from our friendly UPS driver due to the sheer size of the box.

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Once assembled, we were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable 42 pound weight of the Powderkeg, despite the burly Cobra Kai CroMoly tubing Salsa custom-drawn for the Powderkeg’s frame and fork. This weight allowed us to utilize any of the portable repair stands we have here at the office without any tipovers.

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The second feature that impressed us is the number of braze-ons for water bottle mounts and Salsa’s slick Three-Pack mounts for its Anything Cages. We also really appreciated the robust simplicity of Salsa’s Alternator Rack 135, which mounts directly to the upper bolt of the Alternator swinging dropout. This genius system utilizes the upper brake adapter bolt to secure both the dropout and the rear rack.

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The Powderkeg is a true workhorse with more than enough mounting options for an extended tour. If you max out gear storage on the Powderkeg, you should probably consider paring down.

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With the bike assembled, the next challenge was transportation. Fortunately, the Powderkeg fit inside our Honda Element with the front wheel off, handlebars turned 180 degrees and the rear wheel rolled almost all the way up to the center console. But, if your tandem doesn’t fit inside your vehicle, there are quite a few car-mounted tandem racks options on the market.

From our very limited previous experience aboard tandems—a few minutes here and there—we knew we needed to work together to get the most out of this experience. Fortunately, the Powderkeg made getting in the groove extremely easy. From the very first ride, we clicked with this bike and our excitement swelled as we look forward to our touring adventure.

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Look for out touring story and the complete review of the Powderkeg in issue #37 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by August 17 to have the issue delivered to your door. To read more about the development of the Powderkeg, check out the Salsa blog here.

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First impressions: Traitor Cycles Slot

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The Slot from Traitor Cycles was born from the idea of a bike that could get you to the trailhead, carve some singletrack, then stop on the way home for groceries. Of course there’s the old adage “Jack of all trades, master of none,” so I am interested how well this bike will fulfill all its varied roles.

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Built from steel, the Slot is fully rigid 29er and features mounts for racks and fenders fore and aft, and of course a couple of bottle cages. There’s a mix of Shimano and SRAM drivetrain components, Avid BB5s and an attractive leather touring saddle from Gyes all riding atop a set of Kenda 2.1-inch Small Block Eight tires. Those tires would need to be swapped out for 45 mm tires if fenders are installed though. Overall a pretty respectable build for a moderately priced rig.

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My first ride on the Slot included as many surfaces as I could find and the bike performed well. I have always been impressed with how well the Small Block Eight tires handled a wide range of terrains. Once again, they didn’t disappoint. The tread pattern works well on gravel and smoother surface roads , but also hold up decently on dirt… as long as it’s not too wet.

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I’m looking forward to throwing some weight on the bike and taking it out on some longer mixed surface excursions. Watch out for a full write up in Bicycle Times Issue #37 and find out how well one bike can do it all. It will be hitting subscribers’ mailboxes and digital devices around September 10th and showing up on the newsstands a few weeks later.

Vital stats

  • Price: $1,399
  • Weight: 29.78 lbs.
  • Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
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First Impression: Framed Minnesota 2.0 Fat Bike

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Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.


I’m pretty stoked to be testing the Minnesota 2.0 fat bike from Framed Bikes this winter. I have ridden a few fat bikes, and a bunch of my riding buddies rock them throughout the year, but I haven’t had the chance to really get into the whole scene until now.

The Minnesota 2.0 features an aluminum frame and fork, big 26×4 120 tpi tires, 2×9 SRAM drivetrain, and Avid BB5s among other bits and pieces. Retailing for $900, it’s really targeted towards the price-conscious fat biker.

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Taking the bike out for its maiden voyage, the first thing that was most apparent was the tight cockpit. Framed chose to go with an effective top tube that is noticeably shorter than other similarly sized fat bikes. The 18-inch Minnesota 2.0’s top tube has an effective length of 22.5 inches.

Framed is trying to create a bike that rides smaller than it is and provides a more aggressive feel on the trail. It also places more of the rider’s weight in the rear center, allowing for better rear wheel traction. Initially the “short” top tube felt really odd to me, but about halfway into my first ride the bike did start to give me a bit of a playful vibe.

At around 34.5lbs the bike isn’t light by any measure, but does fall in line with similarly spec’d models around the industry. Coming off a light mountain bike, there is definitely a bit more umph required to get through some of the more techy uphill sections and rolling around familiar trails feels a bit more arduous.

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With on-trail tire pressure adjustments made in accordance with some more seasoned fat bike riders’ suggestions, things felt a bit better. A lot of the small, harsh trail features seemed less apparent when rolled over with so much squishy rubber.

So far my take away is it rolls over stuff, it’s fun, and I can’t wait to ride it some more. Check back to see how things progressed and my thoughts on this fat bike thing.

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Keep reading

You can see all the bikes in the Bicycle Times $1,000 group test here.

Watch for my long-term review in Bicycle Times Issue #33, due on newsstands and in mailboxes in early February.

 

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First Impression: Marin Lombard

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Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.


Marin describes the Lombard as having been “Birthed from cyclocross and touring parents…” and “Part adventure bike, and part urban warrior.” Those descriptions certainly had me sold from the get-go, this is my kind of bike: versatile.

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We’ve had a lot of conversation around the office lately about just how good bikes around and under the $1,000 price point are these days. Assembling the Lombard further cemented that point in my mind. On initial impression, this bike is very well built and spec’d at the price point.

Let’s take a walk around the bike.

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Due to the subtle matte grey and black palette, the Lombard’s gum-wall Schwalbe Road Cruiser tires draw your attention. These 35mm-wide tires seem like an awesome choice for a bike that will see terrain that varies from dirt to street.

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The second thing to strike me were the Lombard’s subtle reflective graphics. Not only is the branding minimal and tasteful, it also adds an element of visibility after dark.

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Promax Render R cable actuated disc brakes promise all-weather stopping power front and rear. Note the Lombard’s dual eyelets for both a rack and fenders. By mounting the brake inside the rear triangle, Marin greatly simplified rack and fender installation.

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Check out that headbadge and ample tire clearance in the fork with the stock 35mm tires. Looks to me like a 40mm would fit no problem. Might even be able to squeeze a 45mm in there.

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Rear tire clearance is generous at the seatstays, but a little less forgiving at the chainstays. Anything much bigger than a 40mm tire looks to be a tight fit.

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The Lombard’s 9-speed Sora drivetrain with the 50/39/30 triple chainring offers a wide range of gearing. Let me tell you, this Sora group operates more like an Ultegra group from the 9-speed era than an entry level drivetrain. It really is that good.

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Marin’s house-brand cockpit rounds out the build. All of these bits are functionally perfect and the fit is spot on for me.

Look for the full Lombard review in Issue #33 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe to the magazine or our eNews to have more of this great content delivered directly to your inbox.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the brand of brake calipers.

 

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First Impression: Breezer Downtown 5

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The Downtown 5 from Breezer is a fun little townie bike with lots of included features for not a ton of dough.

My typical ride involves riding to the grocery store, about a mile away. This is the perfect type of trip for the $550 Downtown 5, as the upright riding position and easy turning give you good line of sight and maneuverability in places like full parking lots. With an easy twist shift and five gears to choose from on the Shimano Nexus 5 speed internal hub, there is just enough gearing to make things easy and not so many shifting options to make it confusing.

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Full front and rear fenders grace this sweet, teal blue beauty and there is even a full, retro-styled chain guard to keep you trousers clean. Touch points like grips, saddle and pedals are all of nice quality and have a refined, retro feel that’s is aesthetically pleasing to me. Even the Breezer brake levers, with rubber finger pads, feel nice when engaging the linear pull brakes. The Downtown 5 also comes with a bell, kickstand and rear rack, making this stylish and comfy bike quite utilitarian to boot!

All in all, I’m really pleased with my time aboard the Breezer Downtown 5. Look for my full review in Issue #27 of Bicycle Times.

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First Impression: Fyxation Quiver

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Fyxation is a Milwaukee based company founded in 2009. Its first product was the robust Session 700 tire, the tall, high volume rubber you see here. Fast-forward a few years and the company now has a complete line of components and frames focused on urban riding.

The Quiver is a 4130 cro-moly frame with rear facing, horizontal dropouts. The company’s proprietary derailleur hanger allows the frame to be offered as a single-speed for $800, or with 1×10 gearing for $1,200, and 2×10 gearing for $1,390. I’m testing the 1×10 equipped with Sram’s Apex drivetrain and rear shifter.

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