Test: Retro Steel Road Bike

By T.C. WORLEY

Though heavier than aluminum, carbon and titanium, good ole’ chromoly steel continues to maintain a firm foothold in the bike industry. The material gets high praise for its strong yet slightly flexible characteristics. Ask any bicycle-touring nut and they’ll tell you it’s hard to beat a steel frame for all-day comfort.

Novara, REI’s house-brand bicycle, has joined the steel brigade with an affordable entry named the Verita. It sells for $1,099, and it comes with a Reynold’s 520 chromoly frame with butted tubing and paired with a steel fork. Novara then peppers in a host of alloy parts — bars, seatpost, wheels — to help keep the weight down on this retro-style bike. A size medium Verita weighs about 24 pounds.

Novara_Verita_2.jpg

Novara Verita steel-frame road bicycle

For the last month, I’ve packed the miles onto the Verita on paved, gravel and dirt two-track roads. It has performed well in every condition so far, but overall it is no race bike. For slow-paced touring, commuting, and weekend sightseeing rides this bike won’t disappoint.

Leather-wrapped bars and a matching leather seat, combined with silver components, give the bike a handsome curb appeal. With its throwback styling and genteel looks, in my use the Verita has attracted the attention of several of my bike-loving friends.

Components on the bike are mid-level but solid. I give SRAM’s new Apex shifters and derailleurs high praise for their flawless shifting for the entire test period. Shimano’s BR-R450 brakes hauled the Verita to a stop better than expected, and the lightly-treaded 28c Vittoria’s Randonneur tires, though heavy, are tough, puncture resistant, and long wearing — a good choice for this bike. Rack bosses on both the fork and seat-stays invite users to bolt on racks, pack the panniers, and hit the open road for adventure.

Cyclists looking to go fast should investigate elsewhere. Entry-level Weinmann wheels and the aforementioned heavy Vitorria tires give the bike a very slow roll-up to cruising speed. Geometry of the frame is also set up more for “easy does it” than spirited training rides.

Novara_Verita_1.jpg

The Verita offers a retro look with modern-day components

With its steel frame and 28c tires, I expected the Verita to be a little more comfortable than I found it to be on the road. Swapping my own seat, wheels and tires onto the bike helped, but that would be an expensive upgrade. Some will like the bike’s flat, ergo-bars, but I did not find them comfortable myself. Also, the cheap headset looks period correct, but I’d maybe recommend a replacement in the name of longevity.

My only significant gripe about this bicycle is the Chinese-made frame. Chunky welds and cost-cutting construction methods will disappoint those wanting to relive the glory days of beautiful, lugged road frames. Corners had to be cut, I guess, to keep this bike affordable, and in these subtle areas this is where it happened.

The “cost cutting” I note is in the chainstays section of the frame. The tubing, instead of bending to align with the axle drop-outs, is cut, and a small section is welded on at an angle. It looks like an afterthought, but it isn’t. Bending tubing costs money, and this bike’s framemaker apparently skipped that part of the process to make it work in a more crude way.

Admittedly, my complaints fall in the realm of the bike geek. They don’t really affect performance or durability, and most riders will not look at lugs and welds too hard. But if you do have this attention to detail like me and you’re willing to spend just another $100 or so, competing brands like Salsa and Surly offer Taiwanese frames that show a higher attention to detail.

In the end, the Verita is guaranteed to shift smoother and pedal more efficiently than a true vintage bike. It is upgradeable thanks to modern frame specs, and the bike is built from made-to-last materials. If you’ve been pining for a classy-looking road bike and like to ride at the speed of enjoyment (not “race pace”), Novara has a solid option with the Verita. But to reiterate, the bike is slow. I would not even use it for a training day with buddies unless my goal was to work way harder than them, thus getting more training in — though perhaps looking classier while I am at it.

T.C. Worley is an amateur bike racer and a professional photographer.

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Posted by Alecia - 07/05/2011 04:43 PM

Over 1k is affordable?

Posted by gnarlydog - 07/05/2011 07:43 PM

It’s because of reviews like this one that I keep on coming back to read GearJunkie.
An honest approach to the true analyses of the product that you review gives great credibility to your articles.
I know that there is some vested interest but at least you guys just don’t praise to heaven high anything that passes through your fingers.
I respect that.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 07/06/2011 10:41 AM

Alicia, yes, for better or worse this is considered a low price point for a bike these days. However, this bike is well made enough to last a long time. WAY better than a department store bike. It falls in the lower end of really nice bikes.

Gnarly – thanks :)

Posted by jpea - 07/06/2011 11:39 AM

To a certain price point, it’s definitely a “you get what you pay for” industry. As a manufacturer, the only details you really have control over is the frame since the rest is off the shelf components from a small handful of companies. And if you’re shortcutting the frame, it’s those details that set you apart from the other companies…

Posted by Lauren - 07/07/2011 05:49 AM

“gentile looks”? I think you must have been looking for “genteel”, unless you really do feel that how this bike looks somehow gives you a clue as to its religious beliefs.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 07/07/2011 08:38 AM

Lauren, nice catch – thanks. And for the record, this bike claims no particular religious affiliation.

Posted by Claytons - 08/12/2011 07:26 PM

24 lbs. isn’t too bad for most people wanting to race. Anyone seriously competitive should likely be looking to high end carbon bikes, but those people likely have sponsors and get serious discounts and free equipment, anyway. While it’s certainly not going to be a great hill climber, on the flats of many amateur races, something like this ride would be serviceable.

If I had a nickel for every cyclist whose gear exceeded their abilities…

Posted by dynaryder - 08/18/2011 10:42 AM

Had one of these. The Apex groupo is excellent;Doubletap shifters with a nice wide gear range. The tires/wheels are heavy,but combined with the steel frame they float over crappy city streets. I really wanted to love this bike,but alas I had to return it. The oval bar does suck,and the brifter/hood shape wasn’t comfortable to me. Despite the comfy ride my carpel tunnel was flairing,so it had to go back. Of course,that’s a bonus with REI bikes,they can be returned.

A better cockpit and this would have been a sweet city ride.

Posted by Johannes Bollmann - 04/02/2012 12:28 PM

I just bouht this bike, and am gonna take it back home to Denmark. This review seems very accurate to me. I am gonna use it on an everyday basis as a city bike, so I needed a sturdy bike, that can deal with some amount of “rough handling”, so the steel frame is ideal for me. I love the old school looks and I (as a normal biker, not nerdy) don´t care about little flaws in the welding.

Posted by Joe Ramey - 05/16/2013 01:26 PM

Previous Novara bikes that I have seen have had huge Q factor, or the distance between pedals. Big Q doesn’t bother everyone, but is a show stopper for some. More to the point, this bike has an unusual head angle of 70 degrees. With a fork rake of 51mm it produces trail at 69mm. That is wacky road steering more like a mountain bike. This review misses these important points on this bike.

Posted by martin - 05/21/2013 09:14 AM

very helpful review, and at $799 for a 12 model, i feel i got a good deal. i’ll wait to spend $$$ for a lighter, faster bike, and enjoy life in the slower, more genteel lane this summer. me, genteel, whodathunkit?

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