Test: REI Novara Buzz One


REI bills its Novara Buzz One bike as “alternative transportation in a low-maintenance, single-speed design.” We tested the bike this spring and found it to be not the most sexy of urban cycles, nor is it a speed demon on city streets. After riding it for a few weeks, I have found that it shines in a “suburban” sort of a way.

That is to say the Buzz One feels like a track-inspired, single-speed bike, though toned down and made gentler for an average rider. It takes cues from a cruiser bike, too, and the amalgamated result is a bike that’s sportier than a typical city “grocery getter.”

novara buzz one bike.jpg

REI Novara Buzz One

The Buzz One comes with a skinny seat and baby-blue Weinmann rims. It has cruiser-style mustache handlebars with big comfy grips and a relaxed geometry for its steel frame. You sit very upright on the bike and cannot get a ton of power while pedaling. (It feels like you’re pedaling “downward” on this frame.)

Gearing ratio on the bike is smart. The crankset sports a 42-tooth chainring paired with a 16-tooth cog in back. This gearing is noticeably different from other cruiser bikes I’ve tested. The Buzz One is speedy enough for the city yet it can handle medium hills — up and down — with ease.

Another plus: The bike costs just $399 complete, making it a steal for anyone wanting a simple, city-oriented single speed.

novara buzz one.jpg

profile shot of Buzz One

One thing on this bike that perplexed was its flip-flop rear hub. You can ride it as a normal freewheel or a fixed-gear bike. This is a common feature on single-speeds, though it seemed out of place on the Buzz One. I found the frame geometry just didn’t lend itself to a fixed-gear. Maybe it’s just me.

Otherwise, as it comes stock, the Buzz One is equipped pretty well for urban riding. It has Kenda 700×40c tires, which were perfect for “pothole season” this spring in Minneapolis. Other nice touches include eyelets for fenders and a rear rack, plus a low-profile chain guard (to keep grease off your pant leg). The steel frame rode smooth over bumps, too.

One red flag: This is no where near a lightweight bike. REI quotes 29.2 pounds for its complete build weight, which is easily 10 pounds heavier than other single-speeds in the category.

But at $399, the Buzz One is a good value. The simple components are solid, the ride is comfy, and the bike feels decently fast considering its relaxed geometry and heavy build.

It’s not a bike that most people will love for trips over 10 miles — it’s just not fast enough. But overall, the Buzz One is a good deal and a solid ride for anyone commuting on city bikes lanes or in an urban core.

—John Peacock is assistant editor, tech lead, and a founding partner with GearJunkie.com

Posted by Plinko - 05/31/2011 07:44 PM

Before you buy from REI

If anything goes wrong with this bike, REI will claim zero responsibility and not even give you a refund (claiming that they’re only the seller, not the manufacturer and thereby dismissing any liability).

The case involved Monika Johnson, who (now deceased) purchased a REI/Novara branded carbon fiber front fork that failed catastrophically, resulting in significant personal injury, and permanent disability. REI issued a recall of the questionable units (using Monika Johnson’s photograph and never accrediting photo rights of compensation for such). Despite the recall, no liability was ever assumed, nor apology offered. She suffered damages which medical insurance would not cover, e.g., deductible, lost wages, loss associated with residual brain injury, dental and facial reconstructive surgery. ALL these costs were born by Monika Johnson individually. No disability was paid her.

This is absolutely disgusting. REI is showing itself to be a corporation that doesn’t care about the individual. If the same thing happened to REI’s CEO or one of her family members, I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t have been any appeals.

I just can’t get over the irony, that REI— the company that preaches 100% satisfaction guaranteed— left Monika high and dry. REI is all about branding to its members, creating that strong sense of value, community and reliability in their products. But when push comes to shove, when a member is seriously hurt through no fault of her own, this is their response. Shameful.

I’ve been an REI member for over 40 years.

Until this is resolved in a positive outcome, I will be proactively steering all business, mine and that of my friends, relatives, coworkers, and more to other more conscionable retailers.

Posted by Editor - 06/01/2011 08:10 AM

Sad story all around. Monika Johnson died in a skiing accident near Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., this winter. If you want more info on the story here’s a Seattle Times article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014158615_bikesuit08m.html.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 06/01/2011 03:43 PM

That powerless seating position is because the Gluteus Maximus (also known as “Wattage Cottage”) is not engaged – just the quads. This bike was intended to cruise, not fly for sure. Great bike for a college student, I’d think?

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