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Novara Zealo - 500 mile review

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Novara Zealo - 500 mile review

Old 10-30-14, 11:41 AM
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SpeedyStein
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Novara Zealo - 500 mile review

Hey folks, just want to provide some input for folks thinking about taking the $598 plunge on this bike. I bought mine about 2 months ago, when it was $698, and am still happy with the price, even though it is now $100 cheaper.

The bike: Alloy frame and fork, Tiagra 10 speed group with FSA Vero compact crank, BB7 discs, stout Weinmann wheels, FSA wing compact drop bars, and fairly nice Novara branded saddle, seatpost, and stem. Nothing super fancy, but all very reliable pieces at a great price. So far, the only item I have changed is the pedals - I added some Shimano M530 pedals to use my SPD shoes.

The ride: Some people here will probably disagree with me, but I actually prefer a well-built alloy frame to steel. I love the stiffness, and have no gripes with the "harshness" or "buzz" that an alloy frame can allow. I find that the 700x28 Schwalbe Marathons smooth most surfaces very well.

I should also mention that I am not yet 30 (but close!), around 200 lbs, and 5'11". I am pretty fit, flexible, and in perfect health. This I suppose puts me nearly into "Clyde" territory, where my weight and strength will probably induce a little more flex in most frames than a lot of other riders experience.

The frame/fork: I got a Large - recommended for up to 5'11" - and the fit is just right for the type of riding I do most - commuting. The geometry is pretty playful (I can bunny hop it over curbs!) and it makes for a fun ride to work. Nimble, but not what I think of as twitchy. Easy to ride no hands. Most of my miles are on my commute - 4 mile sprints, train ride, 4 mile sprint again - but I frequently take the long ride home - anywhere between 12 and 30 miles. I would say that I have 200 of my miles on rides longer than 15 miles. So far, I have been very comfortable.

I have also taken it on a few gravel roads/fire trails, and found it to handle those surfaces very well. I am going to purchase some 35c cross tires to improve traction on loose surfaces, and then probably ride the local fire roads regularly.

I had a set of Planet Bike Hardcore hybrid fenders (45mm) hanging out, and they were relatively easy to mount. I had to bend the rear upper stay to clear the disc, but that only took a few minutes to get an acceptable fit. The chainstay bridge was too narrow for the clip at the end of the fender, but it has a threaded m5 hole, so I simply removed the fender clip and bolted it to the frame. The front fender created a little toe-overlap when turning, which almost caused me to crash cause it caught me off guard. I am thinking about mounting to the front of the fork rather than behind, to move it up a little to see it that helps. Otherwise, I thought about trimming the fender a little, or maybe finding a set of shorter clip on fenders.

I also mounted a standard Transit basic rack - the cheap one from Performance Bike - that I had laying around. I had to spread the rack stays a little and get some spacers and long bolts from the hardware store to clear the brake caliper, but I got it mount up. The brake cable routing rubbed the upper rack stay, and I didn’t like the stay being that far away from the threaded hole on the frame, so I removed the rack. I ordered an Axiom streamliner disc rack, which arrives any day now. Hopefully that will be a better solution. I knew that the seat-stay mounted caliper was going to cause some fitment issues for a rack/fenders, but I wasn’t that worried about it because there are a ton of disc-specific racks out there. I like the Axiom because it is narrower than most others, which is nice for folks carrying light loads in a small pannier.

All in all, this is probably the best bike I could have bought, it fits my needs very well, and it fit my budget when I bought it. I was looking specifically for an alloy disc brake bike with brifters, rack and fender mounts, and somewhat endurance oriented geometry. I had considered the Diamondback Haanjo Comp (found a great deal online, but couldn’t find one in person to test-ride), Specialized Tri-Cross disc (just out of my budget), and a couple of BD bikes (again, couldn’t test ride any). Other considerations were the Raleigh Roper, Surly Straggler, Fuji cross bike (don’t remember the exact model name), and Cannondale CAADX, but those were all just not quite right for some reason or another. I am very happy with my choice, and I hope I can make the choice easier for someone else!


I think my next bike will be a single speed - something along the lines of a Surly Karate Monkey or Singular Gryphon. I am looking for a sturdy, dirt drop bar appropriate, disc brake, single speed, steel frame, commute capable (rack mounts), big tire fitting monster. Looking for suggestions!
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Old 10-30-14, 12:19 PM
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Pics or it never happened.

Nice review.
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Old 10-30-14, 11:49 PM
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Wow. That's a nicely speced bike for the money. I see, it's a 2014 model on sale and limited selection. Thanks for the review. Novara bikes might not win any races, but they aren't junk, either. There are a few of them at work and the owners are happy with them.
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Old 11-02-14, 01:10 AM
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Originally Posted by AlTheKiller View Post
Pics or it never happened.

Nice review.
Thanks! Here's a shot at top of the new bay bridge... They still haven't finished the bike path all the way across yet.
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Old 11-02-14, 01:18 AM
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Yeah, I am very happy with it. I wasn't looking for a race bike, but rather something versatile and comfortable for less than $1000. This bike fits that perfectly for me. I just wanted to let folks know this is a great bike at a great price!
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Old 11-02-14, 08:17 AM
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Yes, nice review!

I have an old Novara Big Buzz, and it has been a great commuter/utility bike for me; fun to ride, solid, well-spec'd, and the price was right. Novara doesn't get much attention, but REI must sell a good number of them, so they've got their fan base, apparently.
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Old 11-02-14, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Novara doesn't get much attention, but REI must sell a good number of them, so they've got their fan base, apparently.
I had one as a teenager and it was fine. I think compared to most bike-store brands they seem plain and derivative and they usually aren't high-spec. But they're built of well chosen parts which makes them solid, and you don't see many on Craigslist.
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Old 11-02-14, 10:33 AM
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I was talking to the bike mechanic at REI, and he said that they actually haven't sold that many Zealos... I'm guessing that folks in that budget range are mostly looking for either race training bikes or club ride bikes, not commuter/gravel/cross bikes.
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Old 11-02-14, 05:49 PM
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Originally Posted by SpeedyStein View Post
I was talking to the bike mechanic at REI, and he said that they actually haven't sold that many Zealos...
I had the original version,the Road Buzz. Returned it because the ride was so bad my CT acted up of I rode it more than 3 days in a row. Not impressed with the new version. Still has the straight blade alloy fork,and less tire clearance. I was running 42's on my RB with room to spare. I think if they'd have gone with the original design and a better fork,they would've sold better. I see alot of Big Buzz's sitting around on clearance as well. Same thing,more clearance and better fork and I think they'd sell better.
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Old 11-03-14, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
I had the original version,the Road Buzz. Returned it because the ride was so bad my CT acted up of I rode it more than 3 days in a row. Not impressed with the new version. Still has the straight blade alloy fork,and less tire clearance. I was running 42's on my RB with room to spare. I think if they'd have gone with the original design and a better fork,they would've sold better. I see alot of Big Buzz's sitting around on clearance as well. Same thing,more clearance and better fork and I think they'd sell better.
Perhaps, but you are gonna have a hard time finding a bike with Tiagra and disc brakes under $700, carbon fork or not. It's unfortunate that your Road Buzz inflamed your carpal tunnel; I guess everyone has different requirements for fit and comfort on their bike. I've owned several steel road bikes, and the Zealo is just as comfortable for me as most of my previous bikes - positioning on the bike and fit are the key factors there for me. I don't see how a different fork would impact the ride quality that much, assuming no change in geometry.

I should mention that I am under 30, have no health problems, and am very fit/flexible. I can certainly understand how any type of medical condition would drastically reduce my comfort on any bike.

Also, I am 5'11" and 200 lbs - I can get any frame to flex, material and construction aside. Perhaps my heftiness helps the ride quality? Think about a one-ton truck... most ride like a hay wagon until you get about 700lbs of stuff in the bed... then it loads the springs, and softens the ride considerably. Maybe I weigh just enough to flex the tubes into compliance...
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Old 11-03-14, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by SpeedyStein View Post
Also, I am 5'11" and 200 lbs - I can get any frame to flex, material and construction aside.
Uh, with respect, I don't think you've ridden enough bikes. I hit the saddle anywhere from 215 to 230lb, and ride aggressively. I have ridden frames of steel, carbon, and aluminum that do not flex at all. I have also ridden plenty of flexible frames, so it's not that I'm inattentive to flex. There are many types of bike frames out there, and much to influence ride qualities.
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Old 11-04-14, 01:08 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Uh, with respect, I don't think you've ridden enough bikes. I hit the saddle anywhere from 215 to 230lb, and ride aggressively. I have ridden frames of steel, carbon, and aluminum that do not flex at all. I have also ridden plenty of flexible frames, so it's not that I'm inattentive to flex. There are many types of bike frames out there, and much to influence ride qualities.
I suppose I was a bit over-reaching with that statement... Just trying to make light of the fact that heavier riders like us are probably going to get a different ride quality out of same frame than someone tipping in at 150...
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Old 11-04-14, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by SpeedyStein View Post
I don't see how a different fork would impact the ride quality that much, assuming no change in geometry.
No offense,but your lack of experience is showing. I swapped an alloy fork for a CF,owned the same model of bike with both steel and alloy forks,and had a CF fork swapped for a steel one for a recall. Noticed a difference each time,and a world of difference between the CF and alloy fork.

Aluminum does not dampen vibration as well as steel or carbon. The fork makes the biggest difference because it's going to absorb more of the shock that goes to your hands than the rest of the frame. Ride a bike with a good CF fork back-to-back with yours over the same surfaces and you'll notice a difference.
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Old 11-05-14, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
No offense,but your lack of experience is showing. I swapped an alloy fork for a CF,owned the same model of bike with both steel and alloy forks,and had a CF fork swapped for a steel one for a recall. Noticed a difference each time,and a world of difference between the CF and alloy fork.

Aluminum does not dampen vibration as well as steel or carbon. The fork makes the biggest difference because it's going to absorb more of the shock that goes to your hands than the rest of the frame. Ride a bike with a good CF fork back-to-back with yours over the same surfaces and you'll notice a difference.
I was referring to your statement about the alloy fork.

Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
Still has the straight blade alloy fork,and less tire clearance.
No, its not the same fork that you had, but yes, it is still alloy. My comment was that the new alloy fork probably does not ride much better or worse. But, since you said carbon, I doubt that a carbon fork that comes on a $700 bike would ride significantly better than an alloy fork on the same bike at the same price. I understand the material engineering just fine, but you said it yourself:

Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
Ride a bike with a good CF fork back-to-back with yours over the same surfaces and you'll notice a difference.
I did ride a few bikes with carbon forks while searching for the Zealo, and yeah, they were different. Better? Meh. Carbon fiber does not automatically indicate quality, and different is not always better.

Also, isn't ride quality a bit of personal preference anyway? Pretty sure we already established that everyone will have a different experience, even if they ride the same bike.

My whole argument here, that you missed the first time, is that at $700, I didn't expect a perfect bike. I didn't expect a 13lb, race ready, touring specific, gravel grinding, ride like a Caddy type bike. I know that the Zealo isn't for everyone, and that's OK. It works fine for me. It fits me well, and I find it very comfortable. I am happy with my purchase, and still consider it a good value.
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