I have not see a lot about the 2011 Novara Buzz One, so I thought I would post a review for those who might have seen this in their local REI store or on their website as well as those who might enjoy a comfy, upright SS/FG townie. I've put around 50 miles on mine, so I wanted to post an initial review of the bike.
This model is part of Novara's Mainline series of bikes which focuses on the commuter/urban rider. They have everything from this single speed to 24/27 speed derailleur bikes all the way to 7 and 8 speed internal hub bikes. The Buzz One is the least expensive of all the models at a retail price of $399 and seems to be well equipped for this price when compared against other bikes on the market.
I was looking for a fun, simple bike to "buzz" around town or maybe ride to work every once in a while. At first, I wanted something with a 1x7 or 1x8 drivetrain and was looking at some of the inexpensive hybrid bikes sold at Performance as well as the Giant Via 2 which is pretty cool with its twin top tube frame. Because I already have a Marin Muirwoods 29, it seemed a little pointless to buy another bike that was so similar. I then started recalling how much fun I had on an old SS MTB I had back in college that saw exclusive duty on the street. I decided I needed a single speed.
Because I tend to visit my local REI pretty often, I had seen the Buzz One and so it was in the back of my mind in my evoked set of possible new bikes. At first, I was considering the Giant Via 3 which is probably the closest in overall form and function to the Buzz, but just don't like the cheap spiderless crankset and single-wall rims. It wasn't checked off my list at the time, but after I started comparing prices, it was the first to leave my short list. The other bike I was really interested in was the Trek Earl. It had a similar twin top tube frame as the Giant, but had a bit more attitude. I knew I wasn't going to like the narrow bars, but that is easy enough to switch out. The $460 price tag wasn't out of my range, but it eventually disqualified the bike from my selection given that I knew I was going to have to plunk down another $30 for handlebars and who knows what else I ended up not liking (saddle, grips, pedals). The last bike that I really liked was the Masi Soulville SS, but at $700, it was simply too much for not a lot more bike.
So, that brings me to my selection of the Buzz One. The $399 price tag was on the bottom end of all the bikes I had considered and that is before the 20% off coupon that REI currently has which is good on Novara bikes. So, for $337 including tax and less my $8 dividend I earned, the Buzz came home to my garage. It was my intention to leave this as stock as possible and I think this may be one of the few bikes I've bought that is going to stay mostly true to that. Here it is off the showroom floor:
What do you get for under $400? The frame and fork are plain gauge cromoly steel. The frame looks like it is made from drawn tubing rather than seamed tubing. Since it is a clear powder coated finish, you can see the actual steel tubes and there are no seams.
The fork is painted, so I have no idea on that, but it is a nice straight blade fork. Both frame and fork are made to accept fenders or a rack. The chain guard is a really nice touch both because it is very low-profile, but it it can be removed without leaving any welded tabs on the frame.
The components do seem to defy the bike's price tag. Everything is aluminum from the classy high-flange hubs to the oversized handlebar/stem. I also give props to the two-bolt seatpost which is much nicer than the single-bolt seatposts you see on a lot of bikes and far and away greater than the two-piece steel posts on yet other bikes. The polished SR Suntour crankset isn't quite up to spec when compared to a Sugino unit, but still looks very nice. The deep section Weinmann rims aren't as nice as DP18s, but still look substantial enough to hold up to some abuse. They are significantly wider than your typical deep-v rim. The saddle is also really cool looking in while with sharp graphics. Time will tell if this thing will keep from looking too dirty (if my hind side decides it likes riding on it).
There are a few nitpicks I have about this bike. The first thing I changed were the pedals. What comes stock are your typical BMX style platform pedals. They have an aluminum body with cast traction pins. For my size 14s, not enough room and not enough grip. I bought a set of inexpensive Wellgo caged pedals that look like the old Suntour XCII pedals from the early days of mountain bikes. The size of the cage is much bigger and provides better traction, though my shins are keeping a constant look-out for these guys. I think those buying the smaller size bikes or those with smaller feet may find the stock pedals fine for just cruising around town, expecially if you pair them with some velcro foot straps.
Also, the stock brake levers are a funny shape, but I don't mean the lever. The have a bump in them that would typically interface with a grip-shifter. When you put these on a bike without shifters, that bump intrudes a bit on the hands. I usually move my brake levers in-board a half and inch, so that helps, but I still feel that bump occassionally. With gloves, it isn't so bothersome and I doubt I will spend the money on different levers. Otherwise, they have decent feel to them.
The other thing I did was switch out the stock brake pads. They worked fine, but I felt like the braking could be better and I knew that Avid brake pads had a thinner profile that would allow the brake arms to swing further out of the way for wheel removal. The stock tires are 700x40c monsters and clearance was a bit tight on both ends. I am running Continental Townrides which came stock on my Marin and they are the same size as the stock tires. The stock Kendas are nice looking tires, but my Contis were still brand new and weighed a bit less, so I switched them.
I also changed the freewheel out to gain a little lower gear ratio. Stock gearing is 42/16 which would work fine for most, but I wanted to have a little snappier bottom end and be able to cope with the breezy conditions I often encounter. I bought a Shimano 18 tooth freewheel and now it is perfect. I do spin out a bit on the flats when I am not fighting the wind, but I am satisfied with my top speed and the low-end I gain is much more desireable.
The only problem I have found with the bike was with the stock headset. I was getting a little knock from it when I would apply the front brake. I tried to adjust the bearing preload to no avail. I suspected that the stem top cap might be bottoming out on the fork steerer tube. I pulled the cap and sure enough, the steerer was right at the top of the stem and the top cap was bottoming out. I would imagine if I had taken the bike back to REI, they would have taken care of it, but I just pulled a headset spacer from my parts bin and took care of the issue myself.
My last nitpick is on the stock chain ring. I am surprised that both it and the chain guard (the one on the crank) are aluminum, but the chain ring is not single speed specific. The teeth profile varies in height, so this is obviously one intended for derailleur equipped bikes. Even if they had to spec a steel ring instead of alloy, I'd rather have a SS specific ring for longer life.
All in all it is a great bike for the money, especially when paired with the current 20% promotion. Here is how it looks with some of the minor changes made. Not shown is the 2nd white bottle cage and Ergon grips I just installed. For those looking for a comfy, upright bike, this is worth a look, especially if you like something with a little bit of flash.