Beautiful (Budget) Bicycles: REI Novara Transfer and Fusion

The other day while at REI with my friend L., I spotted a couple of intriguing Novara commuter bikes in the clearance section, but didn’t have time for a test ride. The Transfer has won Bicycling Magazine‘s editor choice award for the past two years, so I was eager to give it a shot. After our slightly disappointing Electra test ride Dottie and I decided it was a good time to head to Brentwood and check them out. The models we tried were the Novara Fusion and the Novara Transfer.  Overall we found the REI Novara Transfer to be a good value for money, especially when on clearance. (What can I say, I love a good sale!)  The higher-priced Fusion with upgraded components is nice, but not as budget-conscious.

Dottie on the Fusion

Dottie on the Fusion

Trisha on the Transfer

Trisha on the Transfer

Though we both found the sportier riding position a bit different from what we were used to, the Novara models performed admirably on our short ride. The frames are aluminum. They come in a wide range of sizes, from XS to XL, and the models we rode were complete with fenders, racks, internal hubs and generator lights, which is very unusual in this price range–cheap bikes aren’t always cheap once you add in the costs of purchasing these amenities separately! The Transfer, at just over $400 on clearance, was especially affordable. It had 7 gears in the internal hub, Vittoria tires and Nexus brakes. The XS frame felt about right for me, especially with the high top tube–it’s about the only diamond-frame bike that I haven’t had to heave my leg over. Still prefer a step-through, though . . .

Front dynamo headlight and reflector

Front dynamo headlight and reflector

The much pricier Fusion, which was about $900 (not on clearance), had more upscale components: an 8-speed Alfine hub with thumb shifters, disc brakes, and a brown-and-green color scheme that included custom seat and bar grips, along with the same tires and frame. Dottie felt the medium frame was too small for her.

DSCF3103DSCF3102

Dottie inspects the Fusion

Dottie inspects the Fusion

Overall, we agreed that while the extras on the Fusion were nice, they didn’t quite justify the $400-odd price gap between the two models–but the Fusion does have a step-through option.

We didn’t take a picture of this, unfortunately, but the most unique feature on these bicycles were the bells. They were placed between the handlebars and the brakes, so they didn’t take up any room on the bars themselves. (Luckily another blogger has captured this.) Neat idea. It’s hard to tell during a brief test ride how a bike will hold up to everyday use, but these models are definitely worth a look if you want something sporty, yet practical.

Oh, and for anyone wondering how the service was at REI after our experience with the Electras — it was excellent. Nary a word about our dresses and (in my case) heels; the guys just gave us the bikes and a brief explanation of the features that respected our intelligence and let us ride. Refreshing.

Anyone out there had experience with the Transfer or Fusion?

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19 thoughts on “Beautiful (Budget) Bicycles: REI Novara Transfer and Fusion

  1. Eliot says:

    Do you think there’d be any trouble with grease & dirt from the chain? Something that always surprises me about all the American commuter bikes is the lack of chain guard. That’s a standard component on all Dutch commuter bikes.

    • dottie says:

      Yes, that’s always a concern for bikes without chain cases (i.e. almost all in the U.S.).

    • Trisha says:

      Weird thing is, my Peugeot doesn’t have a chain guard and I have never really gotten my legs/pants dirty. It is, however, completely possible that my chain needs more frequent maintenance! I prefer a chain guard just so you don’t have to worry but it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me.

      • I am pretty sure your Peugeot has a guard around the chainring itself, as does my Motobecane. It goes around the ring, but does not extend further. Have a look and you’ll see what I mean.

        • Trisha says:

          Yes, it does. I was thinking of the more traditional idea of a chain guard, one that extends over the top of the chain as well. Of course, anything that protects you from the chain qualifies, as you mentioned! That slightly larger surface does offer some protection from the grease/grime of the chain.

          Still, my old Schwinn MTB-turned-commuter had an almost non-existent chain guard like the ones on the Transfer, and it didn’t cause any problems for me. I’m sure wearing dresses a lot helped!

          • Last week we rented a tandem with no chainguard, and my legs were covered in grease stains in no time, so it’s amazing what even the thingie that goes around the ring can do!

            • dottie says:

              Yes, Betty Foy has not “thingie” and I’m often getting grease on my leg when I forget not to lean her against me. I ordered one from Velo Orange that is the right size but for some reason the holes don’t line up. My old Jamis had one, and although it did not prevent the chain from eating my cuff, it did keep me pretty grease-free.

            • Trisha says:

              That sounds fun (well, except for the grease). Hope you got pictures!

  2. Johnny says:

    Awesome review! I almost bought a Transfer this spring, but I was wary of the IGH (I’m heavy and was afraid I’d strip it, and Baltimore is hilly!). That’s a sweet deal, though. Hmm, wondering how mad my wife would get if I brought another bike home….
    :^)

  3. Kudos for reviewing “work” bikes that everyone can afford and use.

  4. Those are handsome bikes, with an old-school mountain bike look to them. The sloping top tube makes the frames almost unisex.

  5. [...] Beautiful (Budget) Bicycles: REI Novara Transfer and Fusion … [...]

  6. you have such a fun biking blog :)
    i’m so glad you visited today…i do love that bike photo….
    we are busy planning our weekend around the us pro cycling championships that are in our city this weekend….it will be all cycling all the time :)
    michelle

  7. [...] Beautiful (Budget) Bicycles: REI Novara Transfer and Fusion … [...]

  8. cratedigger says:

    Cool reviews. I bought a Raleigh One Way from REI earlier this year, but also wondered how their own brand bikes were.

    BTW, I think I spotted Betty Foy (or a relative) on Randolph today around 1PM.

  9. cratedigger says:

    I am glad to hear that you ate something better than the hot dog stand where betty was parked…

  10. G.E. says:

    Well, I know this is an older review, but for some reason, I just spotted it, and thought since I actually owned a Transfer, I’d throw in my two cents (for what it’s worth). I had a similar experience on my short test ride. It seemed as though it was going to work well. The bicycle shifts incredibly smoothly, rides well, and the features are nice for a commuter bike. I will say this though, if anyone out there has hand and/or wrist issues, this may not be the bicycle to buy. The first time I made a 15 mile round trip ride, I came home with numb hands. It’s something about the set up on this bicycle for my body that just didn’t work. On the up side, REI is AMAZING with their return policy. Even though I had ridden the Transfer for a month, they took it back and completely refunded my money! Crazy. Something that is rarely experienced at stores these days. I know a lot of people do like this bicycle though, so I think if you don’t have the hand issues, it may be a good option.

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