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Test: REI Novara Buzz One

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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.”

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.

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

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