Novara Portal 2011 Mountain Bike

fully loaded bike

This was the first bike I bought. Since it had been over 30 years since I last owned or rode a bike, and all the bikes I used when younger were single-speed coaster-brake bikes, I didn't really know what to look for in a new bike. I thought of buying a cheap used bike and using it as a learning tool, before buying a new bike, but then decided it was simpler just to buy a new bike from the start:

I tried several styles of bikes at the bike store (REI) and concluded the mountain bike style would be most appropriate. Touring bikes had me way too high in the air for the kinds of dirt roads I anticipate riding. All the mountain bikes in stock had front suspension and most had rear suspension as well. I see suspension as needless complexity. Bikes didn't have it when I was growing up and we rode on very rough surfaces then.

Anyway, I finally settled on the simplest mountain bike in stock, the Novara Portal 2011 edition. List price was $399, but I was able to use the 20% discount sale coupon and also get 10% back as my REI dividend, so the effective price was under $300. The bike has the following specs according to the REI website:

Frame
6061 aluminum
Fork
RST Gila T8, 100mm travel, springs
Crankset
Truvativ X-Flow, 42-32-22
Bottom bracket
Truvativ PowerSpline
Shifters
SRAM Trigger
Front derailleur
SRAM 3.0
Rear derailleur
SRAM X3
Rear cogs
SRAM PG-830, 11-12-14-16-18-21-26-32, 8-speed
Number of gears
24
Brakes
Tektro linear-pull rim brakes
Brake levers
Tektro
Rims
Weinmann ZAC 19
Hubs
Aluminum disc, 32h
Spokes
260mm x 2mm drive side, 262mm x 2mm non-drive side, all with 3.23mm wide nipples
Tires
Kenda K920 combo, 26x1.95 (50-559)
Handlebar
Aluminum riser
Stem
Aluminum threadless
Headset
Integrated threadless
Seat post
Aluminum microadjustable
Saddle
WTB Comfort V Comp
Pedals
Resin platform
Chain
KMC HG40
Size
Large (rider height range 5'9" to 6'0")
Seat Tube Center-Center   
19" (483mm)
Effective Top Tube
23.5" (597mm)
Standover
31.5" (800mm)
Chain stay length
17" (432mm)
Wheelbase
43" (1092mm)
Fork Offset
1.6" (41mm)
Head Tube Angle
70°
Seat Tube Angle
72.5°

So far, I've modified the bike as follows:

Weights:

Bike and accessories worked very well on a month-long, 850 mile bike tour of the Mojave desert, traveling mostly on dirt road (described here). Only problems were with the front derailleurs, which sometimes wouldn't shift to the smaller chainring due to grit clogging the mechanism. The plastic pedals broke in several places, but were still functional. Upon completing this tour, it occurred to me that this bike would become increasingly unreliable as time went on, unless I was scrupulous about replacing parts as soon as they showed any signs of wear. The cost of such maintenance makes it worthwhile to consider a better bike, namely the Thorn Nomad MK2. In addition to reduced maintenance, the Nomad has an internal hub, which will eliminate problems with the derailleurs getting clogged by grit. This internal hub also means no dishing of the rear wheel, which makes for both a stronger wheel to start with (less likelihood of breaking spokes or getting out of true) and easier truing of the wheel in the field if that is necessary. (The Novara has a dished front wheel as well, since other models based on the same frame are sold with front disk brakes.) The Nomad replaces the suspension fork of the Novara with a rigid fork with more rake, and has a longer wheelbase. These changes are improvements for loaded touring on dirt roads, in my opinion, where the bike should ride like a supertanker: plenty of forward inertia to keep from bogging down in sand, resistant to turning, easy to keep in a straight line. On the others hand, the Nomad is a far more expensive bike than the Novara.

All in all, I was satisfied with the Novara and the other accessories described above, and would recommend the same setup to anyone wanting an entry-level expedition (mix of paved and rugged dirt roads) touring bike. At only about $300 for the bike alone, assuming you buy on sale and count your REI member's discount, the Novara is a far better deal than the $100 bikes at Walmart, whether or not you plan to go on an expedition like me or merely use the bike around town.

Afterword: I sold the Novara after returning from my first tour on the Nomad, consignment sale via the Reno Bike Project.