First Look: REI Co-op Cycles

bluebells
The bluebells of Texas.

Last week, I flew to Austin, Texas in order to check out REI’s new line of Co-op Cycles. REI did a complete overhaul of their bike business at the end of last year, replacing the Novara brand with a totally new line of bikes built from the ground up. Designed for those who like to adventure on two wheels, Co-Op Cycles offer both performance and fun.

Taking a ‘trail-first’ approach, the Co-op Cycles collection includes a line of mountain bikes (DRT) and all-road or gravel bikes (ARD). For those that like bike touring, you can choose from a line of adventure bikes (ADV) and road bikes (CTY). Co-op Cycles also caters to the young shredder in your family with a set of youth bikes (REV). The goal is for REI to be able to offer everything you need to go out and have an adventure on two wheels — bikes, apparel, bags, food, and adventure-ready camping gear. After all, over 70% of active REI members ride bikes, so this move makes complete sense.

While riding in Texas, we got to spend some time with REI’s Steve Gluckman, the Director of Product Design for Co-op Cycles. With decades of experience in the bike industry and taking advantage of REI’s direct connection to factories, Gluckman was determined not to compromise on quality and serviceability. You can see this in the brand’s commitment to using disc brakes throughout the line (hydraulic on some bikes), Shimano drivetrains, thru axles, tubeless-ready wheelsets, with design details such as rack and fender mounts and internal routing capabilities for dropper posts or electronic shifting.

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The Co-Op Cycles ARD 1.2

Photo Courtesy of REI

Each individual bike line is sequentially numbered to indicate not only a progression but also a natural progression for someone looking for their first bike to the more advanced rider. The first number in the two-number nomenclature indicates style. So instead of having to mix and match frames and components on your own (you can of course swap out or upgrade components after the fact), REI makes it easy for you to choose a bike based on your level and type of riding.

Instead of selling the bikes based on frame size, each Co-op Cycles style is segmented into 4 sizes — small through extra-large (extra-small through large for women’s specific) that represent effective top tube lengths of 525 mm to 580 mm (510 mm to 545 mm on the women’s specific models). At 5’9″, I rode a large ARD 1.2 Women’s frame and was impressed with the comfortable fit basically out of the box.

Built for gravel adventures, the ARD 1.2 is pretty much the exact same bike as the ARD 1.4 but with an alloy instead of carbon frame, mechanical in place of hydraulic disc brakes, and a different wheelset. The bike is spec’d with a Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain, 28c road tires — for Texas gravel these were swapped out for 35c knobby —  front thru-axle (you get front and rear thru-axles in the 1.3 and 1.4 models), and disc brakes. Fully loaded, the ARD 1.4 carbon model weighs just over 19 pounds — that’s a couple of pounds less than my Diamondback Haanjo Trail Carbon adventure bike, for comparison. The alloy version is only 22 pounds. You get a wide gear range with 50x34T upfront and 11-32 on the rear cassette — this gave us plenty of options for the rolling hills of West Texas.

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Rolling along the white gravel roads of Texas.

Photo Courtesy of REI

As we hit the bluebell-lined white gravel roads surrounding Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park, the ARD 1.2 felt super efficient while climbing, powerful on the flats, and stable bombing down loose terrain despite the relatively steep 72.5-degree head tube angle. I threw a fully loaded Ortlieb Seat Pack on my bike to see how it performed —  let’s just say I can’t wait to get myself a full set of Ortlieb bikepacking bags for some adventures this summer.

The Co-op Cycles collection also includes a line of bike apparel — stay tuned for reviews on that as well as on the bikepacking-friendly REI camping kit we had the opportunity to test.

The full collection of Co-op Cycles is available now online and should be completely stocked in your local REI store soon if not already.

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