Here at Bikerumor we often showcase highend carbon race machines. These $10,000 plus rides from the likes of Trek, Bianchi, and Cervelo are always eye catching as well as lust worthy. But for many of us, myself included, they are not only out of control spendy, but very impractical for daily use (unless you are a pro racer). That is not to say they aren’t amazing bikes to ride, but for most, a bicycle that that can be used on a daily basis for commuting, running errands, as well as fitness rides, light touring, and even on a rainy day is a better option. That type of swiss army bike is exactly what Co-Motion produce in their Nor’ Wester.
I have had the pleasure of riding a Nor’ Wester for the past few months. Beyond the break you’ll find the full review of this do-it-all steel ride.
For the past 24 years Co-Motion has been cranking out the metal in one form or another. Their line up covers everything from a 24 pound aluminum racing tandem, to an off road touring bike. They are fans of belt drives and Rohloff hubs. And you will find that they make everything in house whenever possible, induing doing all of their own paint work. This is a company staffed by hard workers, who turn out a high quality product made here in the USA.
When it comes to the Nor’ Wester, it uses a semi-compact geometry frame designed to put the rider in a bit more upright position, yet still managing a fast ride. You get fender and rear rack mounts, long reach brakes, and it utilizes the Co-Motion InterChange dropouts for either single speed or geared builds. The tubeset is oversized Reynolds 853 air hardened steel, with Co-Motion’s own carbon fork up front (a steel fork can be had for an additional $100).
If you opt for Co-Motion’s complete build, you will end up with a Shimano Ultegra drive train using a compact crank, Shimano R600 long reach brakes, Thompson Post topped with a Selle Italia Nekkar Flow saddle, Chris King headset, FSA stem and bars, and Rolf Prima Aspin wheels wrapped with Continental Grand Prix 4000 700 x 25 rubber. A very solid build that will rob your bank account of $4095. Have your own ideas on what parts to use? $1745 and you can have just the frameset.
That all being said, it should be noted that Co-Motion is a custom shop, and builds all bikes to order. Need custom frame geometry? Want S & S couplers? Or a fancy paint job? If you don’t mind the up charge, they don’t mind doing the work. Also, as they do build bikes to order, Co-Motion doesn’t typically have inventory laying around to hand out for a review. Therefore, it should be noted that the Nor’ Wester I have currently is a show bike from a couple of years ago. Since then, the frame has been switched to a semi-sloping top tube for better fit options, and the rear dropouts have been replaced with their house made InterChange convertible dropouts. I was assured that the differences between the bike I have versus the current model are minimal however, when it comes to handling and ride quality. The test bike I have is built up with an Ultegra 6600 triple drive train. Oh, and as for weight, my Nor’ Wester with pedals, two bottle cages, fenders, and a computer comes in at just over 22 pounds. Strip off everything but the pedals and it comes in at 19 pounds and 13 ounces.
With that background covered, lets get to the meat. Is the Nor’ Wester really a do-it-all bike, or does it try too hard to be everything to everyone? In short, yes…the Nor’ Wester does it all and it does it well. But you didn’t come here to read the short version right?
My personal riding experience has found me atop high end carbon, low end steel, mixed material frames, and aluminum race bikes. This however, is the first time I have experience a true high end steel frame. And while I hate hearing (or reading) the phrase, “Steel is real,” I can defiantly say I understand that view more now. The ride quality of this Reynolds 853 frame is superb. It has enough give to be comfortable on all day rides, but is still stiff enough to feel fast. At nearly 22 lbs built up, I am not setting any personal bests on the bike, but it never feels slow or clunky like other lower end steel frames I have been on.
The first thing you notice on this bike, and pretty much every other Co-Motion I have seen, is the quality of the paint work. Their in house painters know how to get the job done. They make good use of their two in house down daft paint booths, with a mixing station nestled in between, and they even have a sandblasting table. Not to mention, these guys are the masters of the fade! The only down side to the paint is that it’s covering beautiful welds.
The bike’s handling is very predictable, and not once has it ever felt unstable or twitchy. On descents, line corrections are done with ease, and when just cruising, holding a straight line is done without thought. The carbon fork holding that front wheel is designed by Co-Motion, and manufactured over seas. It’s plenty stiff, and tracks well. The vibration damping is welcome. That said, if this were my personal bike I would go for the in house manufactured steel fork. If for no other reason than to maintain a more classic look.
When pointing the bike up hill, it felt lighter than 22 lbs, in part due to the triple cranks. I never had a problem staying seated and spinning up steep inclines.
Overall comfort has always been high when riding the Nor’ Wester. The riding position (with the stem a bit more upright and using a few spacers) never left my neck stiff or my back sore. The slightly more relaxed geometry and fairly stiff steel frame allow for good power transfer. It’s not a race bike, and not one for a sprint finish. But for everyday use, it is more than adequate.
The only real nit I have to pick with the Nor’ Wester is the use of long reach brakes. It’s lovely that the frame can accommodate fenders (especially here in the Pacific Northwest) over a 25c tire, but the long reach calipers feel spongy. Personally, I would consider an upgrade to Paul Components Racer Mediums for a bit more stopping power. The stock saddle is rather uncomfortable as well. But saddle preference is such a personal thing, and I don’t remember the last time I didn’t change out the saddle on a review bike.
Co-Motion has designed and executed a fantastic all-rounder ride in the Nor’ Wester. This is a bike that can be used for daily commuting thanks to the rack and fender mounts. It’s an excellent choice for a supported tour, or even credit card touring. Centuries? No sweat if your legs are up to it. And opting for a S & S coupler upgrade nets you one of the best travel bikes you will find.
In my position here at Bikerumor I am often afforded the opportunity to ride quality gear and bikes on a regular basis. When new bikes come in, and old ones go out the door, I usually don’t mind so much. It’s a fun cycle. With the Nor’ Wester however, I have formed a bond with the bike. I could see myself ending up with one in my personal collection and growing with the bike over the years. This is the type of bike you get and hold on to. Like a family heirloom.