One Week on the Navigator – A Review

It is really amazing how fast the week has gone by. Between the daily grind and a weekend back home in Mumbai, I have not had the time to ride on my new bicycle at all. All I do is use it for my regular commute, albeit with a lot more style.

During the past year I had cycled enough to know exactly what kind of cycling interested me the most – a comfortable commute and some medium distance touring. After tons of research on different bicycle websites and forums, I had more or less decided on the following specifications.

  • Traditional geometry frame
  • Multiple gears
  • Drop bars
  • Large wheelbase
  • Narrow tires
  • Light weight
  • Mudguards and rear rack (those could be added as accessories to
    any bike)
  • Ability to handle the occasional untarred road

Most dealers kept pushing mountain bikes or road bikes upon me. That is until I came upon the Navigator in one of the stores at Nana Peth. It seemed like a well-designed bike, although I was not sure yet if this would be the perfect one for me. For one, it was built around a compact geometry, with a sloping top tube. But given
that I would be riding it mostly on my daily commute rather than touring around the country, I was willing to compromise on that point. The second drawback of the Navigator was that it had riser bars rather than the drop bars I was more interested in having.

After dilly-dallying for almost two months, I finally compromised and picked up the Navigator because it met most other requirements, while fitting in nicely within my budget.

Looks That Kill

The LA Sovereign Navigator looks good. Its silver body with black graphics makes it a sure-shot eye-catcher. I have had motorcyclists and rickshaw drivers slow down alongside with approving nods, pedestrians turn heads as I race past and
colleagues congregate around it during lunch to discuss its features. In fact, it looks so pretty that it is sure to be a thief magnet. That is not to say that I have experimented with this quality of the bike. But I need to stop tempting fate and get a good U-lock for it soon. The complimentary cable lock is too short and too flimsy to hold off a determined crook.

Up to Task

The daily commute is not a race and the potholed roads are far from a racetrack. Although I did not realize this at first, the ideal bicycle for such conditions would let me ride with an almost upright posture, while propelling me fast enough with little
effort. The Navigator meets all these requirements and more.

The riser bar is easy to reach, but because it only gives one grip position, I am not sure how well my hands will do on a long ride. The seat was too low during my first ride and did not allow my leg to be completely extended. Not to mention that I looked like a dork. I have now lifted the seat post up to its minimum insertion mark and it seems much better.

The frame is very light and easily goes several hundred metres with a single turn of the pedal once it picks up speed. In fact, it is so light that the first time I rode it, I was afraid that putting too much load in one spot would break something. I am also able to lift it up two floors to our apartment every evening without any trouble.

The tyres are narrow, with a patterned tread that provides good traction on all kinds of asphalt and tar surfaces. The V-brakes provide sufficient stopping power to halt those wheels in their tracks, although I have not had any need to test their full
potential as yet.

The Shimano Tourney gears are sufficient for my purpose, although I am yet to make them go through their test of mettle. There are some adjustment problems with the gears, but because of my limited exposure to them I have deferred fiddling with them for the store mechanics instead.

Finishing Touches

It also comes with front and rear mudguards that run close to the wheel and cover a large arc – the best types. I have ridden in some light to medium rain and have not had any problem with the slush hitting my back. There are some dents on the front mudguard which I brought to the notice of the dealer and the customer service folks at LA Sovereign. Both have promised a replacement shortly. I might remove the mudguards after the monsoons are over to give the cycle a sleeker look as well as make it lighter.

The rear rack is useless as it does not have a spring clamp to hold things. I will need to carry some nylon ropes or a bungee cord, which becomes a hassle to tie and untie. The backpack is a more practical option for my short, daily ride. But I will need to consider an alternative when I go for a longer spin. Again, since I do not use it much, I have an option of removing it completely.

A quainter feature is the bell, not seen on most high-end bikes these days, making them dangerous while travelling amongst jaywalking pedestrians. The cycle itself barely makes a whisper. It certainly is nice to have something to draw the attention of people who inadvertently step into my path rather than slamming the brakes every few metres.

The most eye-catching feature of the Navigator is the dynamo-driven headlight. It is a low-powered affair, enough only to make me visible at night or in the rain. But given the frequent load shedding in Pune, any illumination is most welcome.

And Finally

LA Sovereign seems to have a policy to sell an experience rather than bicycles. Their customer service department has been consistently responsive, polite and honest. Even before I had finalized on which brand I would go for, their customer service team gave me honest replies about their product range, highlighting features and drawbacks of the bicycles I had short-listed.

Surendar Cycles, the dealer from Pune from whom I made the purchase, follows a similar philosophy. I had already done my homework so he did not have to go through a sales pitch with me. But he was the only dealer I visited who dissuaded me from converting the riser bars into drop bars, which I was rather keen
upon earlier.