grand canyon

My favorite touring bicycles, part 1: the Novara Safari (now ADV 2.1)

It’s hard to argue that the most important piece of gear you bring with you on tour is your bicycle. Sure we talk a lot about tents, cooking gear, toolkits, panniers and other things that make life easier on the road, but it’s the bike that gets us there. When I was looking to upgrade from my heavily modified (non-touring) bike1 to something more built for the road, I spent weeks analyzing, hand-wringing and studying feature lists. The next few posts will feature my three favorite touring bikes.2 This time, it’s my pride and joy Sequoia sempervirens… the Novara Safari.

Quick sidebar/updates

2015 safari

The news from 2016 Interbike was a gut punch for fans of the Safari… with the end of the Novara line of bicycles, the Safari did not survive the purge as-is. REI’s new line of bikes, called Co-Op (see what they did there?) did include touring bikes, and the great news is the new ADV 2.1 is pretty much an evolution of my beloved Safari. I’ll be doing a complete revamp of the reviews here since the ADV 2.1 is by all accounts the natural successor. Here’s a video from REI with the details:

Prior to the rebrand, the Safari was last redesigned in 2016. The stock model now comes standard with disc brakes and thumb shifters as opposed to the rim brakes and grip shifters of the one I ride. The tires are also now Vittoria rather than Continental. It seems like the new Safari is being targeted to touring that includes trails and gravel in addition to road work, which I think is a great space for it to reside amongst the REI bikes since the Novara Randonee occupies the classic drop-bar road touring slot. I’ll update the review when I get an opportunity to ride the new version. Onto the review of the 2014 model, which you may be finding more of on the secondary markets…

Great specs + bang for the buck

 

The Safari has a great set of specs, comes in a little cheaper than some of the other top bikes out there, and has the added bonus of being from REI if you are a member (that dividend covers some pretty sweet gear when it rolls in). Novara Safari

Favorite features

The first thing you notice with the Safari is the stock moustache handlebars. They’re distinctive, and maybe a little controversial. I strongly prefer them over traditional drop bars because of the variety of hand positions you can achieve with subtle shifts while riding. When I’m riding other bikes for more than a few miles, I tend to miss my moustache bars. They’re great for touring.

Another nice feature for the Safari is the very nice rear rack that comes standard. Is it a little heavier than other options out there? Sure. But it’s very sturdy and can handle a rough tour with few complaints.

Like many good touring bikes, the Safari has a steel frame, which makes it ideal for the rigors of travel. The components are solid, and with a few exceptions I’ll get to in a moment, I’ve ridden most of my tours on the stock parts.

While tour-ready once you roll it out of the store, he Safari is also highly customizable. There are brazons all over the frame for fenders, water bottles, pumps, and more. I even attached a rear rack modified as a front rack using some old water bottle cages and two hose clamps. It’s probably my favorite part of the bike.

A few downsides

While the components are excellent3 I strongly recommend you break out the loktite before any tour and secure the threads on everything. It seems to be a problem for the Safari, and I definitely lost a few bolts in my first season.

The stock tires are Continentals. Decent tires. However… well, we all know what happened to mine. I moved up to a burlier tire.4

I promise I will not bore you to death by nerding out on gear ratios. There are way better sites for that. That said, the crankset that comes standard on the Safari is adequate, but not ideal for climbing hills. I found my ride down the Pacific Coast in 2014 to be substantially better when I swapped out the standard 48/36/26 triple for a 44/32/22 crankset. I love having that extra climbing ring, and the magic of physics kicks in with the smaller set. Bottom line: better climbing.

A minor quibble, and it’s more about personal preference: I don’t like to clip or strap in while touring. The Safari stock pedals have straps and I swapped those out after the first year. Like any strapped pedal, they flip over if you eschew their use and that can cause the foot holster to drag on the ground occasionally. I changed to an inexpensive platform pedal.

Bottom line

Ok, ok I’m biased. I love this bike. I ride this bike. Every once in a while I’ll see someone else riding one “in the wild” and I feel like a Mac user from the early 1990s who wants to connect with the other fan of a great, but lesser-used product.

Next time… the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Want more?

There’s a whole series on my favorite touring bikes that I already mentioned, but you might also be interested in listening to The Pedalshift Project bike touring podcast. If you’re really into bike touring (new or not!) consider signing up for the free Pedalshift monthly newsletter for even more bike touring goodness.


  1. for the record, a Marin mountain bike… with front suspension. Not recommended once you decide to make the leap, by the way.

  2. Be sure also to check out reviews of the Surly Long Haul Trucker, hacking your own ride, and the Dahon Vitesse

  3. three seasons of reasonably decent touring, approximately 3000 miles, and I am just now replacing the original shift cables

  4. The Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 28.0 x 2.0 tires fits the 700c wheels of the Safari. Highly recommended.

22 comments

  1. JohnnyK says:

    +1 for the Safari… I bought this bike at the begining of 2014 and just love it. I too looked and checked out a bunch of other bikes online but when it came down to it what sold me was the fact that it’s a complete bike and made for one purpose. Well since I was riding a hybird (whatever that means) city bike to work everyday going to the Safari is a major upgrade for me. I didn’t make as many changes as you have. All I changed was the tires. I to went with Schwalbe tires but I choose the Marathon Plus Tour in the 700x40c. This tire gives me plenty of surfaces I can travel over. Also Fat guy Fat Tire. What can I say they fit. I like your idea of upgrading the chainrings to get better climbing. Not much call for heavy climbing here in Florida but there are some overpasses and bridges that can be a pain. Another thing I want to change is the saddle. I would like to get a Brooks saddle. The only other thing I want is a dynamo hub. Anyway I love this bike. It has a nice comfortable ride and yes the handlebars are wonderful. I’ve always called them treking bars though. Also I have always ridden with toe clips(straps) but I would like to upgrade to the MKS Sylvan touring pedals. This is a sweet bike and you’re right best bang for the buck.

    • Tim Mooney says:

      I stuck with the stock saddle, but I haven’t ridden on a Brooks (I worry my tastes run expensive!). I have a dynohub on the front wheel and it’s stood up nicely to loaded touring. Schwalbe tires are simply amazing… I got turned on to the fat Marathon Supremes by Mysterious James, and I have to say they roll amazingly. I expected more road resistance but since the Supremes are less knobby than the Plus line, they actually roll better on pavement, yet are wide enough to handle gravel and dirt like a champ.

      Big fan of the Safari – looking forward to chatting about the Surly LHT next post!

  2. Andy Brunner says:

    Hi Tim, I’m listening to your older Sprocket Podcast Show with Aaron and was turned onto your podcast and site. Looking forward to checking it all out asap
    But I also Have a Safari that’s now 3 years old. I’m still making changes to it, only about 1200 miles so far but I love it. It’s my first touring bike and I’ll be using it for bike camping, touring and pulling my dog along as well in her trailer.
    If you’re ever in Sac Ca area, yell at us.

    • Tim Mooney says:

      Thanks Andy – hope you enjoy the other episodes! My Safari is probably assembly line cousins with yours… it’s 3 as well. One thing I didn’t mention (mainly because I don’t want to get too caught up in my personal experience with that particular bike) is that the original components lasted a REALLY long time. I’m finally replacing the rear cassette after about 3500 miles and 3 chains and I was rolling with original cables the whole time too. I’ve done more tinkering on things like fenders and a front rack than I have with the “business” side of the bike. It’ll probably feel like lightning when I get it back next week! 😉

      Thanks for listening – and I’ll take you up on the Sacto invite next time I’m that direction!

  3. Cameron Lien says:

    Just noticed that there was a major update to the Safari this year. Looks like they have added disk brakes and changed out the shifters. This weekend has a 20% of sale and I have $500 in credit… hmmm….

  4. Tim Polnow says:

    I’m a local long distance rider and I have a 2014 Nova Safari and I LOVE IT!! A good ride for me would be my 44 mile round trip to work. Is there a reason the 2015 changed to a thumb shifters? My only dilemma is that the lower part of my thumb will blister up (even when wearing gloves) when I put in a couple trips a week and so I’m thinking maybe I should change out to thumb shifters. Do other riders have this problem with twist shifters? or should I switch to Trigger Shifters?

    • Tim Mooney says:

      Not sure why the change other than guesses… The new Safari feels even more suited for multimodal touring (a little gravel, a little asphalt, etc.). Anecdotally, bike mechanics I chat with find the twist shifters tricky to maintain. I think your thumb might callus up a bit, but switching the shifters would eliminate that if course! I’m tempted to sell my current bike and upgrade to the 2015 model, but I’m also pretty attached to Sequoia… Let me know what you end up doing!

  5. Rick E says:

    Hey Tim,

    Like you, I really like the look of the new Safari. I only have one issue that is keeping from pulling the trigger. After looking at the specs online it states, “Please note: gear load recommended not to exceed 250 lbs”. Well I exceed that by 35 lbs just by myself. What do you think of this? That can’t be right could it?

      • Rick E says:

        Tim,
        It looks like the 2016 Safari’s have made it into a few stores and they didn’t change a thing from 2015. Did you find out anything regarding the 250 lb weight limit? I asked both my local stores and they said, “You should be fine.” Of course they’re going to say that, they want to sell me a bike. Will they honor the warranty when/if something goes bad? Hmm.

        • Tim Mooney says:

          Good question. REI historically is great on returns, but your base question is something a lot of people want an answer to. I tend to agree that you should be fine… My guess is these bikes are built to handle a lot more than 250, but operate best under that load. Spokes would be the first thing to think about as weak points under load. In my experience the Safari wheels are super sturdy… I’ve ridden thousands of miles on mine and haven’t had a failure yet. An option you may want to consider to lighten your on-bike load is to go with a trailer rather than panniers. That might be the best option but obviously has extra costs (monetary and otherwise)!

    • Tim Mooney says:

      I only have experience with the Sanyo dynohub I purchased from Intelligent Design Cycles that I liked a lot. Here’s the thing… I have V brakes and the new Safari has disc brakes. I assume the disc brake version works just as well, but I don’t have personal experience with it. The SON dynohubs are insanely expensive but the word on them is they’re top notch. Personally, I’m moving away from dynohubs and towards bringing higher capacity batteries to charge and carry. On a more expedition style trek it’d be different, but for a tour where I would be able to do an extended charge of a few batteries overnight? The simplicity wins for me.

  6. Quinn Lunde says:

    Which fenders work best for these huge stock tires 700x48c on the 2016 Safari? I live in the wettest part of WA and my REI didn’t have the right size in stock (go figure). Any recommendations aside from Planet Bike? OR would those be the best route?

    • Tim Mooney says:

      I still roll on older models of the Safari, so we may need to open this up to Internet hive mind or ask someone at your favorite local bike shop (LBS). I have used (and purchased for others as gifts) Planet Bike Cascadia fenders and found them to be totally adequate. I know there are other brands, and even some drool-worthy options (hammered steel!) but I like the PB ones for their combo of weight and durability. I don’t think about them very often, which is a good sign I think. Be very sure you’re getting the ones that are 60mm wide and sized for the 700c tires. Enjoy that Safari!

  7. Garden Freeman says:

    Just bought this bike last night and taking it out first time today I’m truly amazed and horrified at the same time. Amazed at how strong if feels and how smoothe it moves over the ground!! Horrified at how, as soon as I release the handlebar, it goes into a ever-increasing, entire bike shaking, fishtail oscillation, which if I had not recovered immediately would have be catastrophic. This happened two more times, and it’s not my 61 year-old butt doing it.!!!!…it’s the BIKE!!! It will not track and it came from the store this way, I have not altered anything!! HELP How do I get this fixed or do I take it back to REI tonight???

    • Tim Mooney says:

      If any bike is not behaving as you expect, particularly if you feel unsafe, absolutely bring it back immediately. REI has an excellent return policy. That said, they may also be able to help adjust the bike if an adjustment will help.

  8. thomas benenati says:

    I’m hoping you get a chance to ride and review the Co-op ADV 2.1 or 3.1. These are two candidates for my wife and I to begin touring this spring. Also, thanks for the great podcast.

What do you think?