At a glance, the Novara Gotham looks like any other blacked out, straight-barred commuter. It has city conveniences (front and rear fenders; pedal-powered lights; pannier rack) mixed nicely with standard performance – namely, a light, stiff 6061 aluminum frame and fork that goes easy on the chatter, hydraulic disc brakes that stop quickly. There are hundreds with similar specs. But what sets this urban rider apart is its drivetrain.
A nearly maintenance-free Gates Carbon belt drive (instead of a chain) powers the NuVinci N360 rear hub – the continuous variable transmission of bike gearing. Turn the grip-mounted shifter and the gears seamlessly and progressively get easier or harder. When cranking up a hill there was no clunk as we shifted, no need to pause awkwardly to let the gear catch. Instead, we could pedal continuously and dial in just the right amount of resistance. At a red light we could shift into an easy gear without pedaling. The hardest thing about transitioning to the system? Going back to our old bike once our testing period ended. It’s an incredibly potent addition that not only rids standard commuter headaches, but also makes casual riding that much more fun. [$1400; rei.com]
Days Tested: 5
Area Tested: The streets, sidewalks, and bike paths
Conditions Encountered: dry, wet roads.