Thursday, October 15, 2009

New dedicated commuter: Review of 2009 Novara Fusion

Woo hoo! Got a new ride! Found this at REI and the folks there let me apply a coupon. MSRP is $899, but I paid a little over $700 with tax. I think this is going to be my modus operandi: buy a new bike at a significant discount, ride it awhile, then sell it for what you paid for it or make a little profit(!). Lather, rinse and repeat. Ride a new bike for free or get paid for doing it! Anyway, on to the review…

This bike is like a tricked out Mercedes Benz. It’s got little accoutrements (big word, huh?) that make it stand out from other Internally Geared Hub (IGH) or city commuting bikes. A MBenz has things like heated seats, wipers on the headlights, air conditioned glove boxes, etc. Same with the Fusion. This bike has things like a bell in the brake levers, leather wrapped grips, dynamo power light...I like the color of this bike, which REI calls “Espresso”.

THE RIDE: Even though the bike is heavy (mine weighs 33 lbs), it can really roll fast. This may have to do with the 700x32 Vittoria Randonneur thin tires. You give it one pedal stroke and off you go. The drawback to the speed is that the ride is kinda rough. You’re better off sticking to pavement primarily. I am a fan of front suspensions because I do a lot of curb jumping, cutting through parking lots, and basically encountering many potholes or dips in city asphalt. I may have to ride this bike when I’m fairly sure I’ll be sticking to city streets and more “traditional” commutes.

To improve the harshness of the ride I will swap out the very nice leather saddle, which my sit bones do not agree with. And, look into Ergo or other ergonomic grips that will allow me to absorb the bumps from the front. The leather grips that come with this bike sure look nice, but don’t provide any padding at all. I would do padded gloves but, 1) I’m always in a hurry and can’t find them quickly enough and 2) I’m not sure there are any full finger padded gloves for cold weather riding.

SHIMANO NEXUS 8 HUB: My Fuji Kyoto had the Nexus 7, which was a great introduction to IGHs. When you compare the Nexus 8 to the Nexus 7, the 8 is quieter and allows you to shift when pedaling. When you shifted the 7, you pretty much had to be not pedaling or stopped. If you didn’t, you would be greeted with a significant clunking noise. This Nexus 8 is much smoother. Of course you get 1 extra gear, which increases the range. This bike comes with trigger rapidfire shifters, which psychologically may suggest that the shifting is more precise than the 7 on the Kyoto, which uses twist shifters. The 46T front crankset with the 20T rear cog gives this bike very good granny gearage for my area, which is hilly. As I’ve mentioned before, IGHs are great for city riding because they allow you to shift while stopping.

DISC BRAKES: I am anxious to try these brakes on a rainy commute. Rim brakes work good in most situations, but rain and other noxious weather is where disc brakes shine. I googled another review of the Fusion and there was a concern that some water/ice could pool in the cable housing below the bottom bracket (where the rear brake cable runs) in subfreezing commutes. This could cause the rear brakes to not engage. I don’t think I’ll have a problem with this since I usually tend to favor the front brake when stopping. And, the weather here is not so bad that it freezes AND precipitates. This only happens a few times per year. We’re such wimps in cold weather here that I think that all schools and employees are usually given the day off in such conditions. Still, this could be a mass tort lawsuit waiting to happen for REI.

LIGHTS: The front Basta Pilot halogen light is powered by a dynamo hub in the front. When rolling, the the top light illuminates and there is a circular ring of leds that flash on/off. Very nice. Again, the light is meant more for cars to see you rather than to fully light your way forward. If you do a lot of night riding, I would invest in a good LED setup to supplement this Basta light. The bottom part of this light seems to be a reflector only. There are 3 positions for the switch in this light. 1=off 2=on and 3=on. There is no difference between positions 2 and 3. I’ve tried them both and the light output and flashing seem the same. Anyone out there have the same experience?

The rear fender has a light sensitive blinkie that comes on in low light conditions. It is battery powered. It works! The flashing is not that bright, but should give you some visibility to cars and such. I will also supplement a good Planet Bike blinkie so that cars are sure to see you.

SUMMARY: This is a fine, dedicated commuter that is outfitted very nicely. Time will tell how it holds up as I pile on the miles.

PROS: Speediness, IGH, Fenders, Dynamo Powered light, Stock Blinkie light, Disc brakes, Bell, Color scheme

CONS: Weight, Stiff ride, No Chainguard, Stock Saddle