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.
Tester: Emily Walley
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL
This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.
What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.
Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.
The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.
On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.
While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.
The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.
For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”
For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.
The steel Space Horse has long been All-City’s most popular and versatile model, ridden by commuters, tourers and gravel grinders alike. It features the geometry of a road-meets-touring bike, room for wider tires, a bottom bracket that’s lower than a standard road bike and stability when loaded down. Now it features disc brakes, a new parts spec and a wider size range.
The Space Horse Disc will be offered in seven sizes: 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, 58 and 61 cm. The 49-61 cm fit a 700c x 42 tire while the 43 and 46 cm bikes will take a 650b x 45. The 43 cm bike has a 495 mm top tube length to fit riders in the five-foot range and the 46 cm has a top tube length of 515 mm, which is a half centimeter shorter than the cantilever Space Horse version.
Other updates include a new vertical dropout with a replaceable derailleur hanger and a 2×11 Shimano 105 parts spec. You still get an E.D. coated frame (protects against rust), internal cable routing, a lugged crown fork and hidden fender mounts. The Space Horse Disc will be priced at $1800 and will hit dealers in mid-August.
Photos from All-City don’t accurately reflect the stock build that will be offered. See the Space Horse Disc page for complete information.
Jamis announced its early-release 2017 bicycle—the Nova Cyclocross Series and Renegade Adventure Series—due to be available in stores as early as late July, with the rest of the Jamis bike line revealed in September.
The Jamis Renegade line of adventure/gravel/all-road bikes was refreshed with two carbon, two steel (Reynolds 631 and 520) and one aluminum frames. Complete bikes range in price from $3,900 (full carbon, Shimano Ultegra, 19 pounds) to $800 (full aluminum, Shimano Claris, 24 pounds).
The Renegades feature disc brakes, front and rear thru axles (on most models), room for 700×40 mm tires and carbon forks on all but the base aluminum model. The wheels feature tubeless-ready mountain rims that are 23-24 mm wide. The full-carbon bikes have internal cable routing and are ready to accept an internally-routed dropper post (seat post size is still 27.2 mm, but there are more and more options now available in that size).
The Renegade frame geometry is “long and tall,” with three different fork offsets, bottom bracket drops and rear-center measurements available so that bike fits are consistent and appropriate across sizes 48 to 61 cm.
With a wide collection of fork and frame mounts, you can mount fenders, a rear rack, a low-rider front rack (or two fork cages for water bottles/storage) and three front triangle bottle cages.
The Jamis Nova Cyclocross Series features two carbon models and one aluminum, ranging in price from $4,000 down to $1,900.
All three models of the Nova have been updated to includes 142×12 mm thru axles in the rear. A unique carbon molding process for the top two models purports to be lighter and stiffer while being less harsh. The frames use size-specific tubing, in which top and down tubes get smaller as the frame size gets smaller, which is intended to keep performance characteristics consistent across the line. The carbon models also get a 15 mm thru-axle fork, internal cable routing and Di2 compatibility.
We just returned from a week at Press Camp in Park City, Utah, where several companies announced new stuff for model year 2017. Cannondale, GT, Blue, Ridley and component maker 3T all trotted out fresh bikes at the event for industry journalists to check out.
Full disclosure, Press Camp is not a standard bike industry event, which often involves camping or at least staying in a sub-par hotel with questionable sheets and discolored bath water. Press Camp is held at a swanky ski resort with very crisp white sheets and fabulous meals. But that won’t stop me from saying I think some of these bikes are more technical exercise and designer fantasy than anything else. Some are very practical while others are just plain neat-o.
Stay tuned for coverage of new soft goods, gear and gadgets that we also saw at Press Camp.
3T Exploro Aero Gravel
The 3T Exploro Aero Gravel bike was one of the most talked-about bikes at Press Camp, partly because it’s 3T’s first foray into frame design and partly because it looks wild with square carbon tubes and mountain tires. In a nutshell, it’s a bike with road-ish geometry and clearance for 27.5 knobbies. Or, as I kept thinking, a hardcore roadie’s gravel grinder. Or a serious gravel racer for contenders. Or an n+1 for people with equal (significant) amounts of money and curiosity.
3T emphasized that the geometry of this bike means it will ride almost the same with 700 x 28 mm tires as it will with 27.5 x 2.1-inch tires. It has a 415 mm chainstay, 50 mm rake, 70 mm bottom bracket drop, 72.5 mm seatube angle and, depending on size (small through extra-large) a headtube angle of 69.5 mm to 72.5 mm and a headtube length of 100.6 mm to 180 mm.
The company actually put this thing in a wind tunnel with two water bottles and a coating of fake, 3D-printed mud. The fan was set to 20 mph for more realistic conditions (rather than the standard 30 mph), and what resulted was a frame claimed to go faster with 40 mm knobby tires than will a round-tubed frame with 28 mm road slicks. And that’s why it’s called an “aero gravel bike.”
The Exploro will be sold at two levels as a frameset, only. The Limited (pictured) frame weighs 950 grams and retails for a whopping $4,200, while a white and red “Team” frame will sell for $3,000. Does this bike solve a non-existent problem, or is it the natural evolution of frame technology and the ever-expansion of bicycle versatility? That’s up to you, consumer.
On the other end of the spectrum we have the far-less-expensive Cannondale Quick, a line of practical commuter bikes that will be updated for 2017. With its Quick, the company is seeking to target a younger demographic of riders that is mostly focused on fitness and outings such as weekend bike path rides.
The new Quick bikes will each feature a 55 mm fork offset, more upright position and a slacker head angle than previous models for a more stable ride. Quicks will come with rack and fender mounts, reflective graphics, the same road vibration-absorbing rear triangle design as Cannondale’s high-end road bikes, puncture-resistant tires and the option for an integrated kickstand ($30).
Eight Quick models for women and eight for men will be available, including three in each line with disc brakes. Prices will range from $400-$1,300.
Cannondale is adding a new Slate to its lineup of quirky 650b gravel bikes: two models with rigid forks and Apex one-by build kits (one for men and one for women; women’s model is pictured). The Solo Rigid fork allows the price of this Slate to drop below $2,000 while keeping the same geometry and road-chatter-absorbing rear triangle design.
The rigid Lefty-like fork makes this much more of a traditional gravel bike, just one that is designed around 650b x 42 mm tires. This women’s version is no different other than a brown-and-pink paint job and different “touch points” more specific to some women—saddle, bar width and the like. It will come in two sizes (small and medium).
To answer the question some have asked: this bike does not have front fender/rack mounts.
Blue Prosecco PRO EX and AL
Blue Bicycles, formerly based in Georgia and now in California, struggled for a few years despite the success of its triathlon and cyclocross bikes. Now, the company is spooling up again and significantly expanding its line, adding mountain bikes and gravel bikes for 2017.
At the top of its new gravel line sits the Prosecco PRO EX, a $2,700 carbon bike with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and room for up to 700 x 42 mm tires. Yes, that sub-$3,000 MSRP is accurate.
The frame is Blue’s own design. The company was striving for comfort with an adventure/trekking perspective. The bike has seastays designed for damping, a tall headtube, bento box mounts, thru axles front and rear, house-built wheels and internal cable routing.
The Prosecco AL aluminum version (pictured above) with a slightly less fancy frame design, Shimano 105 components and mechanical disc brakes will retail for $1,090. A carbon model with non-electronic Ultegra will be available between the two price points.
Ridley Helium SLA
Ridley bikes is better known as a performance brand and, true to style, did not have a new gravel grinder or touring bike on display at Press Camp. I almost didn’t go check them out but was drawn in by its new road bike, the Helium SLA, the company’s first new aluminum frame in five years.
The Helium SLA comes with a carbon fork and Shimano Ultegra for $1,900. The bike pictured is an extra-extra small and weighs about 17 pounds. A Shimano 105 model will weigh one pound more and retail for $1,500. All frames feature smoother, double-pass welding and internal cable routing. Sizes will range from XXS to XL.
This bike has nothing to do with anything other than it’s rad. The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 22.4 pounds
Sizes: 43, 45, 51, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 61
More info: Felt Bicycles V85
Felt makes a lot of drop-bar bikes: race, endurance, aero, cyclocross, track and women’s. This V85 is the middle child of the adventure branch of the Felt drop-bar family. What makes this bike adventurous? “With a slightly longer wheelbase, rugged components and wheels, the V is the perfect bike for anyone searching for an exciting new experience. Be it an epic tour or simply continuing to ride beyond the road’s end, the V is made to last,” Felt says.
To tackle adventure, Felt starts with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, disc brakes and tire clearance for up to 38 mm tires. Shimano’s excellent 105 group provides the shifters, 50/34 crankset, derailleurs and 11-32 cassette. Discs are de rigueur for adventure, and TRP’s Spyres take care of stopping duties with 160/140 mm rotors. All good stuff.
I took a particular shine to a few items. The tubeless rims are a nice touch for future tire upgrades, but even with tubes, the stock Challenge Strada Bianca 33 mm tires provide a stellar ride. I wasn’t a fan of the big, gel-padded Selle Royal Look In saddle—it seems out of place on an otherwise sporty bike.
Overall it is a nice group of parts for the money, but how does it ride? In a word, refined.
Taking the best of cyclocross and endurance road DNA, the V85 goes down the road with more panache than the average aluminum-framed road bike. Some of the credit for that goes the those Challange tires. This isn’t my first time on these tires, and every time I get back on them I’m reminded they are some of the finest clinchers I’ve ever ridden. For a bigger tire they never felt slow and took the edge off harsh roads and off-road shenanigans.
Handling was not razor sharp, but it is a very sporty feeling bike. While it handles itself well when the pavement turns to dirt, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a true rough-and-tumble adventure bike like a Specialized AWOL or Trek 920. The V85 likes to get dirty, but starts to feel out of its element on anything that starts to look mountain-bikey.
As a tool for fun and fitness, the V85 should keep a lot of people very happy. Fast enough for group rides and sturdy enough for dirt road exploring, the V85 also has rack and fender mounts. This could also make it great for long-distance commutes, or even short tours. The easily adjustable stem makes it simple to change handlebar height for a more comfortable or more sporty position on the bike, so going from weekday commuter to weekend speedster is easy.
With some sturdier tires this could make for a solid gravel race bike. It handles all types of unpaved roads and responds well to aggressive riding, both sprinting up hills and attacking the corners on the way down. A little more tire clearance would help, as some of the rougher courses would be better suited to 40 mm tires.
Felt is known as a racing company, and that racing spirit was always in the back of my mind while riding this bike. The V85 is a versatile drop-bar bike that took me all over on all kinds of adventures: five hour rainy slogs to my parents for Thanksgiving, back road exploring, fumbly attempts at “training” rides and plenty of off-road detours.
Not much to complain about here, Felt did a great job creating what I would call an “adventure-lite” bike for riders looking for plenty of on-road speed with some dirt aptitude.
What the heck is this thing?
It seems completely out of left field. It’s a mountain bike with drop bars, right? Not even close. So it’s an adventuremobile gravel grinder? Wrong again. Cannondale labels the new Slate as a “new road” bike, and I’d say it leans heavily toward just that: roads. Dirt roads sure, but if you were expecting an all-terrain monstercross machine, this isn’t it.
At its introduction the engineers explained that the very reason the bike was built with 650b wheels was that the smaller wheels with larger tires kept the overall circumference of a 700c race tire. Despite the added height of the suspension fork they were able to maintain the stack height they wanted and the 405 mm chainstays. The bike’s fit falls somewhere between the Supersix EVO race bike and the Synapse endurance bike. The Slate does have a longer front center and slacker head tube, though.
So, it’s a road bike with suspension? It’s not a new idea. RockShox was building a road bike fork in the early 1990s and it had success in pro races across the brutal Belgian cobblestones. Cannondale was also making versions of its road and cyclocross bikes with a Headshok a decade ago.
This time around the Slate uses a completely new version of Cannondale’s unique Lefty suspension fork that has a dedicated following in the mountain bike world. (Nerd alert: It’s technically not a fork at all, but a strut.) Known as Oliver, it has 30 mm of travel controlled through an air spring and has adjustable rebound damping via a knob on the top and a lockout button labeled “Push to climb.” With a completely new damper designed just for the Slate, it has a high compression threshold and limited sag so it doesn’t bob into the mid-stroke while you’re riding.
What you’re really buying here is a very high-end fork with a frame attached to it. In this case it uses Cannondale’s classic aluminum construction with more compliance built in than any previous model. The seatstays and chainstays use radically shaped tubing to allow the frame to match the comfort of the fork. Err, strut. Cannondale could have used the 25.4 mm seatpost of its Synapse line for even more compliance, but instead it opted for 27.2 mm so it can accommodate a dropper seatpost. Drop bars and dropper posts will be the story of 2016. You read it here first.
The Slate we tested was the middle of three build kit offerings, with an 11-speed Shimano Ultegra drivetrain running through Cannondale’s own Hollowgram Si crankset with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette. The shifting works well, but the feel of the cable release lever is still a bit vague for my liking.
The frame has eyelets at the rear dropouts to attach fenders or a minimal rack, but without eyelets at the top you’re going to have to get creative. A front fender is a DIY-only affair at this point. I learned the hard way that because there is no fork crown, if you ride on wet roads a plume of water shoots directly up in the air off the front wheel, subsequently spraying you in the face.
All in all, the Slate rides like, well, a road bike. The posture is classic skinny-tire aggressive, but unless you look down you might not even notice the larger rubber. The 42 mm tires themselves, made by Panaracer for Cannondale, are amazingly light and supple with a faint file tread. Both the wheels and the tires are tubeless compatible, but the Slate doesn’t ship with them set up as such.
I’ll admit, when I first caught wind of this bike I expected something more akin to a “gravel” bike or monstercross. Now that I’ve met the design team and ridden the bike, I can say that isn’t what we have here. There isn’t much room in the frame for more rubber or a knobby tread, so forget about putting mountain bike tires on it. I think it falls much closer to the “road” end of the spectrum than it might seem at first glance. As such, it has absolutely no problems holding its own in a paceline or in a group ride. It has all the responsiveness of a traditional road bike, albeit an outrageously comfortable one.
Here in Oregon, we have endless dirt roads through the misty coastal mountains, and this is where I had the most fun on the Slate. The fat tires neutralize high speed vibrations from the ground while the Lefty Oliver eats potholes for breakfast. While the lockout button is within easy reach, I felt fine leaving the compression open all the time, and the Oliver was only absorbing bumps and not watts. I took the Slate through all kinds of pavement, gravel, dirt, mud, roots and rocks and it really is a versatile machine.
Yes, a more aggressive tire would have been appreciated when I started venturing into some singletrack, but that’s really at the very edge of this bike’s intended use. What is the intended use? The Slate is for anyone who wants a really, really comfortable road bike. With the current state of American roads and infrastructure, perhaps that isn’t a bad idea. Here at Bicycle Times, we’re big fans of pushing boundaries in terms of where you can take your bike. Maybe it’s a new road, after all.
- Price: $3,520
- Weight: 20.9 pounds
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (tested)
- More info: Cannondale Slate
Fuji released its newest road bike this week, the Gran Fondo. The bike’s primary selling point is that is was designed to significantly reduce road vibrations for those who love long rides.
The Gran Fondo is made with Fuji’s VRTech (Vibration Reduction Technology), a Polyurethane-treated natural fiber strategically placed within the frame’s high-modulus carbon layup that dissipates high-frequency vibrations. The carbon layups are tailored to the bike’s size, as a rider on a 46 cm frame does not need the same stiffness that a rider on a 61 cm frame does.
The Gran Fondo was designed with “endurance geometry.” A taller head tube puts the rider in a more upright position, easing lower back fatigue. The bike also features longer chainstays and a longer wheelbase for increased compliance and stability.
The Gran Fondo features flat-mount disc brakes, PF30 bottom bracket, integrated chain watcher, room for 700 x 30c tires and 12 mm front and rear thru axles. A convertible axle system means you can swap out a few bits and still use your old, favorite quick-release wheels.
The non-Di2 top-of-the-line Gran Fondo 1.1 retails for $4,110 and weighs 16.4 pounds. The bike features an 11-speed Shimano Dura Ace groupset, Shimano hydraulic brakes with 160 mm rotors, Oval Concepts stem/bars/seatpost/saddle/wheels and Vittoria Open Corsa 700 x 28c tires. The Shimano Ultegra Di2 Gran Fondo is a mere $50 more, retailing at $4,160.
There are five total models in the lineup, with the least expensive—the Gran Fondo 2.5—set to retail for $1,940. The 2.5, still with a carbon frame and VRTech fibers, will feature 11-speed Shimano 105 components and weighs 19.7 pounds.
Each bike will be available in seven sizes from 46 cm to 61 cm. The bike will be available in April. Two flat-bar models will be added to the lineup at a later date.
Images provided by Fuji