Urban Velo Novak Review

Swobo Novak Review


Swobo Novak

The Swobo Novak is a no-nonsense commuter bike. Swobo set out to create a high-quality bike with virtually everything you need and hardly anything you don’t, all at a reasonable price.

At the heart of the bike is a chromoly steel frame and fork. The downtube and top tube feature a teardrop profile which increases the frame stiffness—a nice bit of technology that’s trickled down from higher end bikes. The TIG welds are clean and the paint job is quite nice for a bike at this price point. The frame has rear rack and fender mounts, as well as bosses for two bottle cages.

The Novak’s most distinguishing feature is the Shimano 3-speed Nexus drivetrain. For quite a few urban cyclists, one speed is plenty. For others, myself included, gears are nice but simplicity is certainly appreciated.

The Nexus hub offers a 186% gear range. Second gear is one to one, so the 38 tooth chainring and 19 tooth cog result in 54 gear inches. In first gear you’ve got the equivalent of a 38 x 25 drivetrain (40 gear inches), and in third gear you have approximately 38 x 14 (73 gear inches).

In practice, the gearing has been awesome at times, somewhat disappointing at others. By that I mean when the gearing was appropriate, I was in seventh heaven. But while the low gear did allow me to stand and climb some mighty big hills, it’s not a true granny gear. Similarly, the high gear was great on long flats and for getting up to speed downhill, but you will spin out fairly quickly. Still, three speeds offer more options than just one. And I’ll say this much, after the initial setup was complete I never had to make a single adjustment.

Another nit to pick with the Nexus system is that I’m not a huge fan of the twist shift mechanism. I accidentally shifted gears a few times while climbing, and that’s no fun. Mechanically the system worked flawlessly throughout the test, though, which is admirable.

Many companies like to outfit their city bikes with disc brakes, and I’m not one to complain, but they come at a cost. The Novak’s Tektro caliper brakes do the job admirably, even in wet weather.

At first glance I thought that Swobo had taken the low road and set up the Novak with some imitation metal fenders, but no, they’re bona-fide aluminum.

Ordinarily, I don’t go in for chainguards, but the polished chainguard just seems right for the Novak. I kind of kept thinking, since I’ve got fenders and a chainguard, can I have a kickstand, too? Seriously, what would it hurt?

As you can imagine, the Novak is set up for an upright riding position—not great for racing, but perfect for spotting jaywalking pedestrians and other road hazards. And to be honest, riding a bike with fenders and a chainguard kind of put me in a different mindset… Dare I say, I felt a little more grown up. Or at least smart. I got passed by quite a few whippersnappers on my commute, but I passed a few fellow commuters as well. In general, though, I felt like taking my time on the Novak, even though it felt great on long descents.

The Novak weighs in at roughly 25 pounds, which is neither especially light nor heavy. It seems that when faced with a choice between light weight and durability, however, Swobo took the high road and accepted the weight penalty. Such is the case with the 36 spoke wheels. Even though I’m a relatively light rider who does a decent job of avoiding potholes, I can appreciate a durable wheelset. Remember, the more spokes that share the load, the less punishment each individual spoke endures. This means less wheel truing in your future.

Elsewhere on the bike you’ll find Swobo branded components of appropriate quality—bar, stem, grips, post and saddle. I do like the bolt-on bar end caps. The puncture resistant 700 x 28 Kenda Kwest tires did exactly what they’re supposed to. I didn’t get a single flat during the test period.

Aesthetically, I think the Novak is a pretty sharp looking bike. In my personal opinion, though, the Nexus crankset is a bit of an eyesore. Sure, the satin finish is complimented by the fenders, but for a second imagine how cool this bike would look with polished aluminum crankarms. Now swap those fenders for some shiny hammered ones and you’re almost at show bike status. But I digress.

The Novak retails for $789 and comes in sizes 48 (tested) through 60.