The Nashbar FB-1 is the best buy for the bike you really want
Jun 15, 2011 (Updated May 9, 2012)
Review by David Burckhard
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Value expressed in frame quality, component selection. Nothing about the bike looks bargain. Nice surprises.
Cons:Untrue wheels. Determining fit and assembly may be daunting for the uninitiated.
The Bottom Line:
This value-packed, smartly designed and spec'd bike should satisfy all but the harder core enthusiast.
Recommend this product?
Clearly, the Nashbar FB-1 is all about value without scrimping or sacrificing in areas that are important. It is a bike to be used when it's less about the bike and bicycling and more about sightseeing, commuting, doing errands and knocking around. It serves the wants and needs of most Americans who want to ride a bicycle but satisfies those who expect a little more.
New adult riders and those returning to bicycling usually have little to guide them when selecting a bike to purchase. Unfortunately, even well-meaning friends who ride regularly misguide them into starting a search leading to an inappropriate bicycle purchase with the bike getting little use. The fact that the average bicycle bought in America is ridden less than 100 miles supports that. Thankfully, however, a class of bicycles has fully emerged that offers performance, ease of operation, comfort and, best of all, affordability for the type of bicycling in which most Americans engage. Sadly, the class is mostly unknown and unrecognized because the bike industry, to their fault, has not given it a common and "hip" name. Still, whether it's called "Fitness Road," "Fitness Recreational," "Comfort Bike" or a dozen equally inane titles, the bikes in this league, nevertheless, are value packed, smartly designed and priced to sell. The Nashbar FB-1 shines brightly as it represents this category of bicycles.
Bicycles in the category have aluminum frames and flat handlebars with a geometry that places the rider in a less aggressive (read: uncomfortable and awkward for the less-than-committed distant rider or racer) than that of a road bike with drop style handlebars but not as upright as a cruiser style bicycle (which some believe are comfortable but aren't). Supplied road-style tires (700mm rather than 26-inch) are narrow but mountain-bike "V-brakes," wide uni-crown forks and chain stays allow wider tires. A wide 24- or 27-speed gear range controlled by thumb shifters allow riders to manage steep climbs but let fly when tailwinds blow. Pedals are typically platform style. Appropriately, the frames are usually designed with eyelets near the rear dropouts (the part of the frame at the rear wheel hub) to which a rack can be fitted making the bike an excellent commuter. Lower end models may include an adjustable handlebar stem. In essence, riders of the bikes in this category have the advantage of a road bike's light weight but the more upright position of a mountain bike.
Every bicycle maker offers at least one bicycle in this category with Specialized, Trek, GT, Cannondale and others offering a line of these bikes. In each case, geometry and fit may be identical with higher priced models offering higher-end components, wheels, and even carbon frames. The Nashbar FB-1 competes with the lower-end models from other companies in price. Examples of the competition include the Trek 7.1 FX, Specialized Sirrus, GT Tachyon 3.0 and the Cannondale Quick. What may be the Nashbar FB-1 bicycle's closest competition comes from national retailer Performance Bicycle. Its bike brand, Scattante, offers the FR-330 which those in the market will find appealing. Please read my take on the Scattante here:
Prospective buyers should consider and test ride a representative set before purchasing any. I would suggest prospective buyers strongly consider the Scattante FR-330 if they can not or will not want to final assemble a bike. More on this later.
What is the Nashbar FB-1
The Nasbar FB-1 holds its own well among competitors at its price point. An apparently competent, TIG-welded 6061 frame is par for the course. A shaped down tube (the part of the frame from the head set to the bottom bracket) suggests an "aero" profile which has little benefit for this type of bike but does add in-line strength to the frame. There are braze-ons for mounting two water bottle cages. Shimano Sora derailleurs and "Rapid Fire" thumb shifters and Tektro brakes are a smart selection that offers name-brand performance albeit at the low-end of those maker's product lines. The V-brakes not only allow a wide selection of tire widths but are far easier to adjust and maintain than are disk brakes that, at this price level, offer no advantage. The wheelset is composed of Alex rims and Formula hubs - not unknown makes to be sure and adequate for the price. The quick-release seatpost and handlebar are generic alloy models that, again, save cost yet are up to the task for which they were designed. The sculpted Prologo Phorma saddle comes from a known company that doesn't list the Phorma on its Web site. Presumably, this model may be a one-off for Nashbar and similar companies who sell bikes built on specifications. Printed saliently in the saddle hole is "Perineal Area Support" because, I guess, you might wonder. An adjustable handlebar stem positions the bar for exact fit. It also allows quick fit adjustments with the turn of an Allen wrench. This is a big deal for new riders who always desire a more upright position followed by a more aggressive position, down and forward, as they progress.
The 700 X 23mm tires, by Vittoria, are capable of a surprisingly high 145 PSI suggesting strong construction. Other owners of the FB-1 report they have fitted tires as wide as 32mm which would be a smart choice for those riding unpaved trails and off-road regularly. Advantages on the FB-1 is the sporty-looking fork with carbon blades in place of a metal fork as found on the competition. Nice surprises are the Cane Creek headset and SPD equipped, metal platform pedals. Also thoughtful is Nashbar's inclusion of a spare rear derailleur hanger. The hanger connects the derailleur to the frame and is intended to sacrifice itself by breaking away in a crash saving both the frame and the derailleur itself.
The bike comes in five sizes, 48cm, 51cm, 54 cm, 57cm, and 60cm. Many competitors offer only three sizes - small, medium and large. The advantage of a larger size selection is the ability to better fit a bike to the rider. Only one finish is offered: a glossy, neutral cream paint that contrasts nicely with the unfinished metal and black parts. Adding to the minimalist appeal of the bike is that no branding shows anywhere with but a small sticker indicating frame size on the seat tube and a sticker on the top tube to otherwise blemish a blank canvas. The sticker warns to inspect and tighten the quick-release hub skewer (that holds the wheels to the fork and frame). Stickers can be removed by peeling off and cleaning with a product such as Goof-Off or Goo-Gone. If you must, you can apply the supplied Nashbar logo sticker to the head set.
Fit and adjustability
I was satisfied with the FB-1's large degree of adjustability for fit. I assembled both a 51cm (my wife's) and 54cm version and found there was enough latitude in adjustment in both to fit my 5'- 8", 31" inseam body. With the bike's sloping top tube (the part of the frame spanning the head set and the seat tube) and supplied long seat post (that connects the saddle with the seat tube and determines saddle height) plus the adjustable handlebar stem, I suspect I could even get the 57cm version to fit me as well. I'm sure that this bike will see a lot of lending to out-of-town friends who visit and want to join in on a bike ride.
Reasons to like this bike
The high degree of adjustability makes for easy swapping between riders so that family members and friends can use it. The small but smart touches like the rear rack eyelets allow the bike to serve a wide range of uses. Even the straight, albeit slightly sloped, top bar allows mounting on standard, hanging style car racks without resorting to making homemade modifications or buying a separate car rack system. The market has too many gimmicky, curved and steeply sloping top tubes that do no more than give an impression of style or function without delivering on either. The no-frills, basic design, blank frame and lack of branding adds to rather than subtracts from the visual aesthetic.
What I didn't like
Of the two FB-1 bicycles I assembled, only one wheel of four was in acceptable trueness (radially and laterally) for me. A true wheel is a sign of competent wheel building. A true wheel rides better, brakes better, and lasts longer. The degree of out-of-trueness was mitigated with some work with a spoke wrench into acceptable levels. To be fair, the wheels are in far better trueness than those on bikes I've seen costing hundreds of dollars more. Regardless, owners of even the most expensive wheelsets (oh yeah, you can spend a thousand dollars for a bike wheel alone) own and know how to use a spoke wrench. Additionally, the lack of assembly instructions, even if generic, turns a mild chore for a regular cyclist into a daunting and even scary task for a novice rider who is probably better off having a qualified bike mechanic do the work. It's a nit but I would have liked to have seen upper eyelets in addition to the included lower eyelets for a rack so that extra adaptive mounting hardware isn't needed.
How to buy this bike from Nashbar
Determine which one of the five sizes is correct. Nashbar offers an online fit guide that is fairly easy to follow. Next, get on the Nashbar mailing list. Ignore the "Compare At: $999.99" statement. The bike retails for $450. Don't pay that. Nashbar sends a near weekly email special. Your best deal will be the "20% off selected bikes" when, of course, the FB-1 is listed. That brings the price to $360. Add in your tax, if applicable and cost of shipping.
Where's the catch?
Because Nashbar is a catalog, mail-order house, obviously you can't test ride the bike. Furthermore, the bike requires a final assembly. What you lack in in-store service and fitting you more than gain in price benefit. Unfortunately, the assembly requirement may be too daunting for novices or even for those who ride regularly. During assembly, the user is expected to: 1) attach the handlebar stem to the headset, 2) rotate the handlebar forward, 3) connect the front brake cable to the brake caliber, 4) insert the seat post into the seat tube, 5) attach the front tire, 6) attach the pedals, 7) adjust for fit, 8) adjust brakes and shifting. A local bike shop can assemble and adjust the bike for a fee that the prospective buyer will have to consider in making a final buying decision. A handyman who has the tools (a set of metric allen wrenches and adjustable wrench) can figure out most of the assembly.
I suggest going to the Cane Creek Web site and watching the last part of the video on installing the headset: http://www.canecreek.com/tech-headsets?view=video&video=HS%20Threadless%20Adjustment2.flv. (You can skip the part of prepping the fork and cups and fitting the cups as they are already in place. Then you should watch the video on adjusting the headset: http://www.canecreek.com/tech-headsets?view=video&video=HS%20Threadless%20Adjustment2.flv. There is nothing particularly complicated about modern headset adjustment. I'm of the type where I enjoy bonding with my equipment by building and tinkering. Admittedly, I'm the rare guy who prefers to assemble a gas grill even when the store offers free assembly.
On the bike
As with several other bikes I've ridden in the class, the FB-1 delivers a similar ride - that is, an experience that belies the bike's low cost. The first impression is that of smooth comfort. Those who are used to riding mountain bikes will find the handling refreshingly responsive - far more nimble than turning a bulky, heavy and squishy shock-fitted fork on mountain bikes costing less than $1000. Too many folks have been duped into believing they would prefer a mountain bike as their primary bike because of the upright riding position. That's not a bad criterium but mountain bikes, especially at the price range most riders purchase them, are overbuilt, unnecessarily heavy, include high maintenance parts like shocks and disk brakes that don't benefit riders on their typical rides and handle like trucks. Those who are used to traditional road bikes with drop handlebars will sit taller but always have access to brake levers - a real benefit when riding on trails shared with other, mostly distracted, users and their pets and children who wander into your path. The slightly higher stance also allows a surprising gain in visibility helping you to sightsee with the advantage of allowing motorists and pedestrians to see you better as well. Nice is the fact that on both FB-1 bicycles I've ridden, the click-click-clicking from the freewheel pawls while coasting was nearly silent. Regardless of how this is accomplished (I suspect grease rather than oil is used to lube the innards), it's a welcome relief from the racket of some freewheels.
The bike's moderately light weight allowed me to get to speed quickly. Having road rather than heavier, chunky mountain wheels and tires appreciably improves acceleration. A slightly forward position on the saddle keeps weight off the gluteal muscles and improves comfort, performance and endurance. The bike's geometry encourages out-of-the-seat cranking when instant power is needed as when crossing a busy intersection or when on a steep ascent. The lowest gears helps maintain a decent spin when that climb stretches for miles.
As I compared the ride to another bike in the class, a Cannondale Quick 3, I found the bottom bracket higher on the Nashbar FB-1. The bottom bracket is where the cranks rotate in the frame. This allowed slightly more clearance when coming off a curb. The higher bottom bracket also allows more lean while banking in turns without the pedal striking the pavement. Like the Quick 3 and the Scattante FR-330 I've ridden, The short wheel base, steeply raked front end geometry and moderately short trail (the distance from the point where the front tire meets the ground and the intersection of a line through the center of the headset and the ground) give the bike extreme maneuverability at slow speeds. However, this comes at the expense of possible interference between the rider's shoe and front tire in a sharp turn. Despite these attributes, the bike remains hands-off stable at higher speeds.
The handlebar was of perfect width. A too short bar restricts breathing, puts undo pressure on the wrists, and encourages a poor riding position. A too long bar can strike objects the rider is passing and cause a crash.
Saddle comfort was fine for me but every hind-end is different. With any new saddle, the rider should allow at least 50 miles for both the saddle and the anatomy to mate comfortably before resorting to buying a new saddle or, always a bad idea, buying a "comfort" saddle cover regardless of claims or high-tech gel construction. No one ever keeps one and using one only lengthens the break-in period.
Shifting was positive and will surely improve once the parts are broken in and the cables have stopped stretching. Obviously and thankfully, the shifters are already adjusted in the factory before shipping to the customer. Braking was slightly mushy. Still, once the pads engaged with the rims, I could confidently modulate speed and stop. Eventually, pads will seat and braking performance will improve. Again, cable stretch on a new bike needs to settle down after a hundred miles or so to make final judgement.
Servicing and maintanence tips
As a tip for those doing their own wrenching, to avoid "frozen" fastener hardware, apply waterproof grease to bolt threads before tightening. Apply a light coat to the inside of the seat tube before inserting the seat stem. Note: The left pedal, as are all bicycle left pedals, is tightened by turning the fastener bolt counter-clockwise. As with any bike and as I've mentioned after the first 50 miles, the brakes, shifter system, handlebar, stem, crank, bottom bracket, and chainring bolts should be inspected, adjusted or tightened. A bike shop can perform this for a fee.
The Nashbar FB-1 is the type of bike that fulfills the real needs of the typical American bicycle rider. Fun and spirited to ride, practical, affordable and not bad to look at are positive attributes. The added effort in assembling the bike doesn't offset the benefits of its low cost. The FB-1 is thankfully free of gimmicks and puts the buyer's money to use on the parts that matter. A selection of sizes, lots of adjustability, and ability to easily add a rack allows for several users for several uses. Buyers will be hard-pressed to find a more useful, more fun, and more affordable new bike than the Nashbar FB-1.
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