Awesome bike, shoddy assembly
I just bought a 2012 Novara Safari. It will be my ultimate all-day comfort all-terrain bike. I'll also take it on overnight and multi-day tours; maybe cross-country or cross-continent years from now when I have the time. I wanted a bike that is capable of single-track loaded touring while still being as efficient (fast) as possible unloaded on the road, and everything in between, at the least expense. In that regard the bike is perfect.
The good: Frame design and component selection are impeccable.
• Four water bottle mounts rock! I love being able to ride all day without having to worry about where to fill bottles.
• Great wheels: high-strength touring rims, 36 quality 2mm spokes, laced to quality mtb hubs with great seals and ubiquitous cup and cone bearings.
• Great tire choice – 42mm is enough for most single tracks but is still fast on pavement and is awesomely comfortable.
• Super stable no-hands riding
• High-quality, durable, inexpensive brakes, brake leavers, shifters, derailleurs, bottom bracket, and crank set. Everything here is quality. No down specs. My one component semi-complaint would be the saddle. I think REI spec'ed it to keep the price down and appeal to soft-tushed commuters, knowing that touring riders would replace it with a leather saddle – which costs substantially more. Honestly the saddle was a smart move on their part and no big deal to me since I knew what I was getting into.
• The rear rack is expedition-sturdy and aluminum-light. From what I know of the rack market commuter grade aluminum racks and heavy tubular steel touring racks are readily available but touring-strength aluminum (light) racks are unusual.
• The frame, rack, hubs, and even brake leavers are all set for the switch to disc brakes, which shows substantial forethought.
The bad: Assembly quality is poor
• My front wheel was out of dish by 3mm and ~40 kgf under-tensioned. In my opinion the assembly mechanic at REI should have caught this and fixed it. Not a big deal if you can fix it yourself but well beyond the capacity of the average buyer. Thankfully the rear wheel was dished and tensioned properly.
• The rivets that attach the toe straps to the buckles were not closed. They came apart mid-way through the second ride. Weird, like someone forgot that step at the factory. Luckily I had a spare pair in my parts bin so I didn't have to go back to REI for replacements.
• The bar tape, while perfectly neat, needs to be wrapped much more tightly near the shifters. You're going to end up putting rotational force on the tape when shifting, especially on rough terrain. My tape came loose halfway through the second ride.
• My seat post binder clamp was a royal pain. I was still tinkering with seat height +/- a couple of mm and noticed the post was slipping. I went incrementally tighter to try to stop the slip, then POP, the threads came out of the nut. My maiden voyage aborted, I return home standing the entire way. The nut felt like a good steel unit and I did not put that much force on it (more on this later). I also had a replacement nut and bolt in my parts bin that just happened to fit the original clamp. I was still tinkering with seat height and being super-careful not to over torque the bolt. The nut from my parts bin is a lightweight aluminum unit. When I finally got the post to stop sliding I got out my torque wrench and measured 100 in-lb, 20 more than Park Tool recommends for that fastener. I figure I must have a seat post on the small side of the tolerance and a seat tube on the large side, which explains the need for a high clamping force. My bike was on the sales floor when I bought it. I'm guessing that an REI mechanic or some other test rider over tensioned the bolt and weakened the original threads to keep the post from slipping. Again, no big deal except that it truncated my maiden voyage and would have sent me back to REI had the part not been in my bin.
The bike is a blast to ride. I love being able to leave from my door and go anywhere I want to go, pavement, gravel, single-track, and just go all day in as much comfort as can be had on a bicycle. It's opened up dozens of new routes in my area and really reinvigorated my passion for riding. I can't wait to get out on tour.
I expect to get many years of trouble free service from this bicycle and even to forget about the minor issues in this review; however, I do have to give only four out of five stars because any of these problems could cause a significant issue for a non-mechanical person or someone out on tour far from a bike shop.
two-year update to previous review
This is an update to the review I wrote in October of 2011 titled: Awesome Bike, Shoddy Assembly. I stand by that assessment and you should read that review first; this one picks up where that one left off.
I've taken the bike on a bunch of overnight and three-day trips and week-long fully-loaded camping tours twice, a significant portion of which have been off-road. I've ridden skyline drive in Shenandoah National Park end-to-end. I just finished DC-Pittsburgh-DC via the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegany Passage trail.
I re-wrapped the bars tightly and the tape is holding up well. I eventually ended up putting in a beer can shim to stop the seat post from sliding. It's worked great for nearly two years. I even kept it when I replaced the seat post to get slightly more setback (nothing wrong with the original, Brooks saddles have notoriously short rails).
I added a Surly Nice Rack up front and fenders. I replaced the front wheel to add a generator (nothing wrong with the original, it just does not have a dynamo) and front and rear lights. I upgraded to Avid BB7 disk brakes after wearing completely through a set of v-brake pads in a single rainy descent off Skyline drive. I've got more braking power, better modulation, and the wheels should last indefinitely without rim wear. If it's in your budget I highly recommend the upgrade.
After I wrote my first review one of the rear rack mounting bolts rattled out on a ride. I replaced it with an M5 bolt and used blue lock-tight on all the rack and fender fasteners. My M5 bolt sheared halfway to Pittsburgh. I carry a light load on the rear but ride rough terrain. I was able to hold the rack firmly to the drop-out with zip ties. I stopped by REI in Pittsburgh. They did not have a replacement bolt in stock but they ordered one to be shipped back to my house. I bought an automotive hose clamp to buttress the zip ties for the ride home; the C&O can deliver some big hits. I made it home just fine and I'm sure the bolt will arrive in the mail any day now.
One thing I had not counted on when on I bought the bike was REI's retail network. If I had bought some other bike at an LBS I doubt I could have walked in to a bike store in Pittsburgh and gotten the same level of service I got for a Novara bike in an REI shop. The REI shop mechanic was taking detail measurements for my bolt while I was refilling water bottles at the drinking fountain. He even adjusted my brakes for free. I'm an REI member, so he looked up my address and said he'd bill the dollar or two plus shipping for the bolt against my dividend. Nobody gave me strange looks for showing up in an urban retail store with three days of river-bathing trail-stink on me. I really felt the value of membership that day.
I love this bike and will continue riding to all places far and near for many years to come. It's about 20% slower than my road-race bike. I had hoped it would be a smaller gap but that's the price you pay for heavy hauling, off road capacity. With lights and fenders it's my go-to ride all winter long and any time it rains. I put more miles on this bike than any of my other, more expensive bikes.
Long story short – if you are considering this bike for adventure cycling or touring, just go for it.
I Stand Corrected
I originally wrote a review of the 2011 model prior to taking it on tour. After logging 600 miles of pre-tour riding, I toured from New York City to the Oregon coast fully loaded with panniers on front and back. While I did make some alterations to the bike (Tubus rear rack; Jandd front rack; clipless pedals) the bike would have performed just fine without them.
Some of the best features of this bike are the grip shifting, wide tires, and trekking handlebar. The shifting is precise and allows you to run through a range of gears quickly and accurately. The tires can go up to a 45mm and at one point on tour I replaced one of them with a 42mm. This allows for a nice smooth ride at the cost of some speed (touring is slow anyway) and for a guy my size (240lbs prior to trip) having a sturdy tire under a heavy load was important. The tires it comes with are nothing special. I would ride them until they start producing flats but then replace them with Schwalbe or Vittoria tires for less fuss.
The handlebars are great because they do allow for a multitude of different hand positions which is crucial when you're on the bike for hours each day. As with any bike, much is personal preference so upon purchasing this product, give yourself some time to tinker with the saddle height, saddle tilt, and handlebar tilt to dial it in just right.
I will also note that under heavy load this bike is a tank, and not in a bad way. While it was difficult to get up hills, the gearing is enough to allow you to gear down into a manageable gearing that enables you to keep pedaling while the bike is moving slowly. Once you get the bike moving it likes to stay very steady and can be a joy to ride on the flats once you pick up some momentum, yet this bike is very responsive when you want it to be and still very reliable while flying down steep hills (reached upwards of 45mph).
All in all this bike is a dream and I must change from my original 4-star review simply because for the price this bike does everything you would hope it would do. Even though those I rode with were on more expensive bikes (Surly LHT and Fuji Touring) I felt my bike was better for me personally than their models. Consider this bike a dark horse and give it a test ride.
More and Less Than Expected
I'm an avid bicycle tourist, and decided to upgrade to a newer model bicycle after doing a 2,000 mile ride last year with a group of men that had more modern bikes/components. Being on a tight budget, I waited for the 20% sale and took a chance on the Safari. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the components and the many braze-ons. I thought the rear rack was too wide, until I upgraded to discs (Avid BB7s, all mounting points are there) and saw the necessity for the design. The bottom of the rack has to be pretty wide to clear the brake calipers. I also had to replace two of the mounting screws for the rack, which weren't stainless steel. The bike is heavier than I expected, but the long wheelbase and steel tubing make for a comfortable ride. As you might expect, the seat and pedals need to be replaced. I installed a Selle Anatomica Titanico seat right away, but I was going to use the included pedals until I could afford a set of clipless ones. Unfortunately, the pedals seemed to be binding heavily. I dismantled one and found it filled with a very heavy and sticky grease. I tried adjusting the tension, but it wouldn't spin freely until I completely cleaned out and replaced the old lubricant with automotive bearing grease. This was a pain since the pedals use lose bearings. I had to remove and clean each tiny bearing. It was worth it though, as they are now spin as they should. For those interested in a front rack, Old Man Mountain Sherpa works well. The handle bars are strange, but work well, allowing for variable hand positions. Finding a mirror that works on these bars is not easy. I'm still trying to find one that works and doesn't get in the way. The tires are holding up to heavy urban use so far. One comment on the paint; it's nice looking, but somewhat fragile, especially around bolts/connecting points. It has a tendency to chip off at these points. It also had a couple of scratches when I picked it up (the tech said this was "a blem, and to be expected" which didn't make me happy) so I'm wondering how it will hold up over time. I'm searching for a bottle of touch up paint now. I'll be doing a ride across Iowa in July (RAGBRAI), so I'll give an update when I return.
REI hit a home run on this bike!!!
I have been a member to REI for about 20+years and have enjoyed name brand gear purchased from here. I have never really liked thier own labeled gear.
So I was a little hesitant in buying the Novara Safari 2012 XL model, since when I was younger I used to race on Colnago's/Pinnarelo's(Columbus steel tubing).
I normally buy only name brand gear since the R&D behind the product is what I am after.
However REI has hit a home run with this bike, Reynolds 520 is responsive and strong.
I would compare this bicycle with any of the top bike brands.
The welds are nice and even the finish is perfect.
Considering 97% of all bikes are now made in China, the price at which this bike comes in at allowed me to upgrade to Avid BB7 disc brakes, I added the Delta stem riser, a new saddle and four water bottle cages.
All of this came in under $1200.00 after tax.
Heavy is a relative term, compared to other similar bicyles equiped similarily the weight is about the same, is it heavier than a race bike oh yeah, riding the bike I really do not notice it to much, but lifting it to put on a bike rack you will notice it.
My last 4 bicycles that I have purchased over the years have had terrible saddles/and pedals, and these items are easily changed out.
The frame geometry is relaxed just enough to allow for long haul touring, yet is almost as responsive as any of my racing bikes.
I really like the mustache bars that come with this bike it allows for a lot of different hand positions, far and above a drop or flat handlebar.
The only issue I have had is that the handlebar tape has come undone, pretty easy fix.
The only thing that REI could improve on this bike would be to have a choice for the paint scheme, the retro-ish grafics are nice, but the mocha puke brown, yeah not my favorite color.
green or blue a real dark chocolate would really be good choice for such a awesome bike.
But alas, I bought the 2012 Safari for what it offers, full on touring, great features, fantastic price, and superb riding and handling.
Does the job well!!
Prior to my trip I used this bike as my commuting bike...getting me from A to Z without a problem.
I then took it this summer/fall, (which was the main purpose I bought this bike), on a solo coast to coast tour through the Northern states of U.S. and parts of Canada. WIth panniers loaded on racks in both front and back, and with a handlebar bag, the bike was easy to handle through rain, snow, dirt roads, shoulders, bike paths/trails.
I'm a 5'7" female, and the Medium size fit well.
I commuted on the saddle that comes with the bike, which was comfortable and no irritation. I began with it on the tour, but ended up swapping it with a Brooks 3/4 into the trip because of on-going discomfort. I dont know if the added gear weight, long mountain climbs, longer hours etc induced the discomfort.
The handlebar wrap did start to unravel during trip... approx. after 3000 miles of use.
The toe cages broke during the trip... approx. after 5000 miles of use. (reminder for both wrap and clips : there was a lot of shifting and standing up through the mountains and hills.)
There are 4 areas for water bottle holders. 3 work well, 1 is a very tight fit for many bottles...but could hold bear sprays or fuel cannister or pump.
I did get a flat from an abnormally sharp rock, 10miles into the very first ride after purchasing the bike. So I question the puncture protection claim on the tires... although, after patching the tube, they lasted me around 1500 miles of commuting. I should have put new tires on at the beginning of the trip, but decided to continue riding on them... the first 500 miles I changed 5 flats. Keep an eye on the tread. I wasn't able to find anywhere that would ship that same style, whether it was discontinued or I was calling the wrong places.
Rear rack is sturdy. I added front rack.
I did swap the rim breaks to disc breaks.
Twist shifters were easy to use, and responsive.
Handle bars comfortable and offer many hand positions.
The bike is great. And worth the pennies.
Couldn't Ask for Better
To start, the price did not kill my budget before my tour. I took this bike from Florida all the way to Maine and faced almost no problems with it. I went about 1,400 miles before I got my first flat. So, the Continental Town Ride tires lived up to their puncture protection claim. However these tires seem to be discontinued, therefore you have to look for a different type when changing them out (Tour Ride tires seem to be the next best bet).
The bike has four water bottle mounts, and I used all of them, except one was for my hand pump. The rear rack was super sturdy, but you need to check an make sure that your screws are snug otherwise they will come out on you :(. It is compatible with front racks and it also can be converted to disk brakes (neither of which I did). In addition the WTB Pure V Race saddle was super comfy. The rest of my team would talk about having sore rear ends and I barely felt a thing. Oh, and the funky "moustache" handle bars were actually really comfortable. It was nice to change up my hand positions throughout the ride and the positioning can be tweaked for your specific comfort needs.
The specs say that the bike is 29.89 pounds, but I guess that's to be expected with a Chromoly steel bike. I thought I was going to have to be waited on with most of the rest of my team riding on aluminum frames, but the Safari proved capable. It seemed like hills were just as easy to climb as with the other bikes, and the bike sped past the others on downhills. Oh, and if you get hit by a car door in New Hampshire, your frame and fork will stand strong. My wheel was bent up, but that was easily fixed at the next bike shop down the road.
Overall I think I barely did justice for this bike, but I don't want to spend any more time writing to strangers.
i love it!
Got this bike with the 20% off coupon last year. At that price its a steal, but there's some simple improvements you should make before taking it on a long trip. First saddle and pedals. I feel like any real bike tourist will have these items on hand and ready to transfer. I prefer my brooks and shimano spds. Second lock tite the rack. My rack fell off 100 miles into a tour and I broke a jar of peanut butter and shredded my ortlieb pannier. This is something to be done to all racks for long haul touring. Third add handlebar grips to your butterfly bars and wrap the rest with better bar tape. Grip shifts twist against the bar tape and cause it to unravel. The stock tape is pretty rough and hard. I use ergons I cut in half and lizard skin bar tape. Its super comfy and doesn't fall apart. Butterfly bars are great though. Fourth change the tires. I use shwalbe marathons. The city rides are very low end and are maybe fine for commuting, but its no fun patching tubes in the middle of nowhere. These adjustments are normal comfort adjustments anyone should make on any new bike in my opinion. Other than that the bike is great and the componetry is adequite.
I have rode this bike for a year. I think its very comfortable and fun to ride. Its great for climbing and bombing hills. I threw on some mountain bike tires for grins and its great on trail as well. The bike is ideal for any kind of touring and doesn't trade off too much in any direction. I have rode it all over the place and highly enjoy this bike. Its better than any other touring bike I have ridden. I hope you enjoy this bike as much as I have. Quick warning for sizing they run kind of small. I should fit a large but I ride an xl and its perfect. Go to your store and fit it properly.
Good, Solid Touring Bike
I bought my bike in the late summer of 2008 as a replacement for an aged 1988 Ralaigh touring bicycle that I'd upgraded over the years. What a paradigm shift.
I have the medium sized frame and have had no problems with frame or running gear beyond the odd tweak. I'm glad I got the older model with the additional water bottle braze-ons. I've installed SPD pedals, fenders, a B-17 saddle and an extension to raise the handlebars (I suffer from neck spasms). I'm still running stock tires and have not changed the drive train in any way. With ample time to make the necessary fitment adjustments it is by far the most comfortable long-haul bike I've ridden.
Its got the geometry, stiffness and running gear to get you up the mountains with ample gear inches (without inducing stress fractures). Its enough frame rigidity and braking power to haul you back down safely. Try a mountain descent on a 20 year old touring bike with 45 pounds of gear - its exciting! You'll feel like a perfectly blended martini. But this is a practical bike, and overbuilt - so what if its a little heavy.
I would encourage potential riders to remember when reading some reviews: speed and specifications oriented cyclists absolutely fixate on weight. This is touring. I routinely carry a gallon of water @ nearly 8 pounds. Am I worried about an ounce here or there? Its about the ride.
The journey can be the whole point and this bike won't get in the way of a solid experience. Its a bike that will work with you and should not let you down with a minimum amount of time and effort spent on maintenance.
A couple years ago I removed the fenders and installed studded mountain bike tires and rode around the Tony Knowles trail in Anchorage in the winter. The bike handled it without a hitch and I'm sure the moose were not used to seeing cyclists in the winter.
I've put over 7000km (5000 miles) on my Safari in two years. Most notably was riding from Barcelona Spain down to Banjul in The Gambia. Thousands of miles, few if any bike shops and remotness meant i had to put a lot of faith into this bike. It did the job. After 5000 miles i've had nothing but normal maintenance on the bike. The wheels are amazing, still as true as the day i bought the bike. Most recently i did a 6 day tour in Canada involving 280 miles of logging roads, much of them unmaintained. I rattled over a million bumps without any problems. The handle bars are awesome, and the only way to go IMO. Some upgrades are highly recommended, however. The tires are not good enough for long tours, you should upgrade to Schwalbe Marathons or something similar. The seat is best replaced with a Brooks saddle, and the rear rack with something more durable if heavily loaded on a long tour. We also upgraded the crankset to an LX mountain bike set with 22-32-44 gearing to make hills easier under load and for a more durable bottom bracket. We didn't upgrade the headset, but a sealed headset is nice if you don't like rebuilding it every 1000 miles or so. The bar tape is annoying as it is bad combination with the twist shifters. We wrapped the bars in electrical tape near the shifters to keep it in place. If you wear gloves, you won't notice it. All in it's a few hundred bucks extra to make this a world tour ready rig. Given the cost of some 'world tour ready' bikes (like the Thorn Raven or Koga Miyata) this one is a bargain and up to the task. Highly recommended.