Montague Navigator folding bicycle review

Brandy’s bike, as of October 2014.

A review of the Montague Navigator 2013 model

Current model’s webpage

The good: Nifty folding feature, folds along the seat tube by quick release. After removing the front wheel, it fits neatly into a Montague carrying bag you can purchase for $100, or a massage table bag for half the price (more on that later!). Designed as a commuter road bike with 700c wheels, it is a fast and smooth ride. The frame is made of aircraft grade aluminum and seems strong. You have the ability to raise the handlebars easily, though not as easily while riding, as the unique octagonal design was intended. Most of the components are standard and changeable, and an allen wrench adjusts most everything. It is not too heavy, especially compared to steel framed traditional tourers. Attractive and unique frame design, great color!

The less-than-good: Not all components are of the highest quality for the price of the bike… you are paying for the unique design and the folding feature. But they are certainly satisfactory. Also, customer service is not easy to reach; it seems they prefer you communicate with the dealer from which you purchased the bike. Nor are they very responsive. It took several emails and over a month to get a reply on an issue I was having.  Other nuisances are simply based on the fact that I have converted this bike into a tourer, and it was not designed as such. I will get to that discussion later. Montague, please design a true touring bike and allow me to test it for you!

My experience: I love this bike. I really enjoy riding it, and it has stood up to some heavy touring so far, both on pavement, dirt, and gravel. As of this posting, I have had it for almost two years and perhaps 2000 miles, probably more. I have used it as a fair-weather commuter in NYC, and have taken it on several short but moderately loaded tours, before I started living on it. When I purchased it from a local bike shop in Manhattan, I had the wheels, tires, and back rack changed immediately, so I cannot comment on the quality of these original items.

The real selling point is the folding feature, which does not affect the strength or the ride of the bike. Lewis and I both have a Montague, and the ability to fold them has really come in handy. We have been able to take them on buses easily, even those with strict no-bike policies. We just pack them into massage table bags and refer to them as “our equipment” when questioned. We have been able to carry them onto Amtrak many times, which usually requires bikes to be boxed and checked.  We have been able to pack them inside of most cars, even with all our gear and our bodies.  It is not always easy, but it has never yet been impossible. We were even able to hitch hike when we found the roads of Virginia Beach too dangerous to ride… true, it was a minivan, but it was already full with two adults and an infant, and an unbelieveable amount of stuff. We would have never been able to take that ride if the bikes didn’t fold.

To address the customer service issue, here is the story. My seat was stolen, and I bought another seat post based on the website listed post size, which turned out to be incorrectly listed so the new post didn’t fit. After much searching of the website, I finally found a way to contact Montague and sent them a message alerting them to this. After receiving no response, I sent it again. In their defense, my email was rather long, but it was full of praise for the bike and a mention of how I plan to tour with it, etc. After  a few weeks and still no reply, I sent another more brief message about the seat post issue, and also mentioned the lack of customer service I had experienced previously. To this I finally did get a response. The agent was very polite, addressed the discrepancy on the website, and sent me a free factory seat post.

Now I will discuss the issues that have come up because of converting this commuter into a tourer. The original tire width was 26mm. I wanted to change that to 34 or 36mm, so that I could go off pavement when necessary, or hell, just for fun. However, due to frame and brake restrictions, the largest tire width that can fit is 32mm, and that is cutting it close. The brakes are not designed to really fit with even a 32, so the tire has to be deflated every time I want to remove the wheel. I was concerned at first that 32mm would be too small, as less than 36mm has been heavily advised against in many cycle forums for touring off pavement, but so far I really have not had too much difficulty riding on all but the worst terrain. This could of course change once we leave the US. I have also gotten used to the deflation and re-inflation, and I don’t really need to remove the wheel all that often anyway. Additionally, the factory rack is not supported in any way and just sticks straight out from the seat stem (I am assuming it is so that it does not inhibit the folding feature), therefore it is not strong enough to carry any real weight. Luckily, a normal back rack does not affect the folding of the bike all that much. The additional front rack does create some difficulty when trying to fit the bike into the bag, but this is remedied by removing the handlebars (allen wrench easy) and/or removing the entire rack (though this is not totally necessary, it is better if you have the time).

Changed components:

This is a list of the changed components, and why the change was made. I will add the details of the exact component make and model at a future date, and will review some of them separately as well.

  • Wheels were changed to double walled touring wheels, 32 spokes in the front & 36 in the back. The back wheel is a second change, since the first 32 spoke back touring wheel was bent in an earlier tour. It was straightened out, but the spoke tensions were uneven and I was concerned that the strength was compromised.
  • Tires were changed to 32mm puncture proof Armadillos. Only two puncture flats since I got the bike!
  • Back rack changed to a supported rack, and a front rack added.
  • Saddle changed to a leather Brooks knock-off, which is much more comfortable for longer rides.
  • Cassette changed for more mountain worthy gears.
  • Rear derailleur and chain had to be changed to accommodate the new cassette.
  • Pedals changed to simple metal mountain bike pedals with cleat attachment on one side and platform on the other, so that I can ride with any kind of shoe.
  • Brake shoes/pads changed after the factory pads wore down significantly. The new pads are supposed to last longer and be more effective.
  • Kick stand changed to a two-leg center stand that can support a fully loaded bike.

24 Comments

  1. Steve
    October 21, 2015

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    Hello I was pleased to find your article as I have just bought a second hand Navigator… AND intend to turn it into a tourer too!
    I was wondering about changing to disc brakes and then there might be more space in the forks for a larger Tyre I also have the crazy idea about fitting a Barfang mid Edrive also… some time later… Your ideas of massage table carry bags was interesting Though many seem to lack sufficient depth and the one you link to is now unavailable … many thanks for you words.. Steve

    • Lewis
      October 21, 2015

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      Hi Steve,

      I’m glad you found the post useful. I wish we’d thought of changing to disc brakes for the larger tire, although I’m not sure how much more that would give because of the clearance with the frame. It’s too bad the bag we have isn’t available anymore, it’s a good one, but I’m sure there are others around with the same dimensions. Good luck with that search!

      Where are you thinking of taking the Navigator once you have it fitted? We’re in the Huasteca region of Mexico right now. Brandy is happy that she changed her front gears down a few teeth right before we got into the mountains.

  2. Marty
    January 5, 2016

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    Nice write-up. I too have emailed a couple of times with no response. I love their frame but am so dissapointed with the specs. I think I will buy the low end bike and upgrade wheels and drivetrain.
    Tailwinds,

    • Lewis
      January 5, 2016

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      Yeah, I am also disappointed with the disk brakes on my Paratrooper. They were cheap plastic ones. I had a cable snap on a downhill after <1,000 miles and found that the brake had split, abrading the cable, so I upgraded to Avid BB5s. So far so good with them.

  3. Kevin Burrett
    February 26, 2016

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    The 2016 Navigator looks far more serious than the one I bought 5 yrs ago. Better components, bigger better wheels, discs etc. Haven’t heard of anyone with one, or seen one yet, but they look good for the price. You seen anything of them ?

    • Lewis
      March 6, 2016

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      We’ve seen them online and they do indeed look far superior, at least on paper. We haven’t seen one in person though. We’re still in Mexico where these bikes are quite the novelty. Actually, a lot of people think they are e-bikes. Grr!

  4. Lawrence
    March 23, 2016

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    I enjoyed your article! My 2016 Navigator was just delivered and waiting to be unboxed. I intend to [initially] use it for commuting, but maybe one day for longer excursions. I’d be happy to provide wheel clearance measurements or photos for closer inspection. Let me know!

    • Lewis
      March 30, 2016

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      Awesome! I hope it serves you well. Let us know how you like it. If you end up doing the measurements, let us know what you get, but don’t go out of your way on our account. We hopefully won’t be in the market for a new one anytime soon :)

      • Lawrence
        March 31, 2016

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        I took some photos/measurements. At the front fork, I’d estimate a 50 cm wide tire should fit, even with the curvature on the inside of the fork (55 cm might touch).
        Things are tighter at back. 40 cm wide tire should fit. 45 cm might fit, but could hit the arch where a fender attaches (unused on the stock 2016 Navigator with the convertible rack). If anyone wants to see the photos, leave a comment and I’ll upload somewhere.

        • Lewis
          April 2, 2016

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          Hey Lawrence,

          Brandy says, “amazing! I’m jealous.”
          If you send me a couple photos to my email, which is the website URL @gmail.com I can upload them to this page whenever I get a chance. I’d like to see how the new model looks in real use.

          Right now we’re about to go kayaking around Lake Atitlan.

  5. Lawrence
    March 31, 2016

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    Ha ha, obviously I meant: 50 mm at front, and 40 mm at back. These are 700c wheels. Smaller wheels would give you more space at the back.

    • Dominique
      July 2, 2016

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      How is the ride with the 2016 Navigator? I’m trying desperately to get one here in China.

  6. Dennis
    July 25, 2016

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    Yes I would like to see.the photos. On the new 2016 Navigator the shift levers are different, do you have a comment on them?

  7. Brian Tyhy
    September 11, 2016

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    Great blog. Thanks for the info. I was thinking of purchasing the change bike from Taiwan but I am not getting the information I need back from the supplier so I thinking of purchase the navigator from Montague.

    I am wondering if anyone has installed a dynohub on the navigator and what the clearance dimension are for the distance between the forks. I need 110mm for a Shimano dynohub?

  8. Kevin Burrett
    December 2, 2016

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    Brian, I’ve got the earlier Navigator, not the new model. Overall I like it ok but a couple of points to consider. Firstly the Shimano Sora won’t cut it if you intend to do some touring in varying terrain…not anywhere near enough low gears. I’m surprised that the new model Navigator still has Sora. Secondly, the head stem adjustment is a pain…instead of simply tightening it up with a bolt, you have to put pressure on it and tighten as you do. I’ve never managed to get it completely right, despit a couple of emails to Montague, who are slow to get back to you btw. Thirdly, crap componentry. I’ve replaced most bearings, replaced the bottom bracket shaft (and the one that came out was an el cheapo) and every nut and bolt and spoke is rusty…and this is a bike that gets looked after, cleaned, lubed and in the shed when not on the road. I think they’re priced right, but Montague could spend a little more money to get a much better product. Having said all that, I ride mine for the whole day once a week and it runs well.

  9. Jan
    December 16, 2016

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    You have provided very useful information. My husband and I have just bought two Navigators to take on a cycling trip to Cuba. We would love find a massage table carrying case that fits these bikes. Can you tell us what model you used and if you can get this model on line.
    Thanks,
    Jan

  10. Jan Lindsay
    December 21, 2016

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    Thanks so much for the information about the massage bag Lewis. We will check out the one you mention. Also thanks for the link to your practical guide for cycling in Cuba. This is VERY useful information.
    Jan

    • Lewis
      December 23, 2016

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      Great! I hope it works out for you as well as it did for us.

  11. Graeme
    March 28, 2017

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    Hopefully this is thread is still active.
    I am getting ready to purchase a 2016 Navigator and I am very excited!! I intend to tour across much of Europe with it starting in Spain or Portugal and would love to chat sometime to get tips and advice.
    I will be travelling with minimal gear and was wondering if 2 rear panniers would be sufficient. Also, on the new model is that rack in the back ok for handling mid to large sized panniers?

    • Lewis
      March 28, 2017

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      Hi Graeme,

      The Navigator is a good pavement bike and can handle a good bit of unpaved, but if you’re going to be doing any heavy climbing on rough roads, Brandy found it a bit top heavy and also it couldn’t fit anything wider than a 32 tire, so we couldn’t get as rough as we’d have wanted. However, it looks like the 2016 comes with 35s, which should make you good to go on most terrain, but maybe you can even go bigger if you’d like. Also, she might have gotten one that was a bit big for her. Brandy thinks that all of the improvements they’ve made are very enticing. I love having disc brakes on my Paratrooper, so that’s a nice improvement, although I’d check the quality. The stock ones I had were plastic and they broke after a few hundred miles, which caused a couple of scary brake cable failures while descending before I realized what the problem was. I upgraded to Avid BB5, which have been pretty decent, although I might go even better next time. Another thing I have to mention is that my folding quick release just broke on me, which could have been catastrophic if it was on a descent. That’s after 2.5 years of touring, but less than 12,000 km. Keep in mind that I beat the heck out of mine and am carrying a ton of weight. I’d suggest asking Montague if they can include a spare and then just check for rust every few hundred km. Brandy didn’t have any problems with hers like that though and she’s overall satisfied, even if she did replace it with a mountain bike to tackle the Colombian back roads.

      Unfortunately we don’t know anything about the rack because we bought our own (which was crappy anyway). The rack looks like it’ll handle what you’re going to do with it. I really like how it’s designed to fold with the bike and act as a stand, which is AWESOME. I suggest just using it and if it breaks at least you’ll be in Europe where you can replace it easily.

      As for the two panniers, that should be enough if you’re planning on going light. It all depends on you. That certainly wouldn’t be enough for us right now, but we’re carrying way too much! If you find yourself getting packed heavy back there you might want to consider a front rack just to be more balanced.

      • Graeme
        March 30, 2017

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        Thanks Lewis! I ordered yesterday and it should be here in the next couple of weeks. I will come back on and give a run down on the 2016 so everyone has more info.

        I am indeed planning on lighter the better motto. I mean really minimal. I am super minimalist as it is so living that way for months (or maybe years!!) on this bike will be no problem. However, I am thinking about getting a front rack, just to balance load and have extra room in case I want to get some luxuries along the way haha! I am thinking of taking my backpack as well just for if I want to lock up and backpack or something so having extra panniers to stow it might be good.

        I am really happy they upgraded the tire size too. Glad I am getting in on this model with it’s improvements. I am trying to find the load weight for that rack.

        I have a billion questions. Maybe we could chat somehow, sometime? But, for now a few questions:
        Any good suggestions on a front rack and mid to large inexpensive panniers for rear and/or front? I would really love to get a list of what you think are bare, I mean really bare essentials such as tool kit, pump, etc.
        Right now I have a hammock/rainfly set up but I am also going to get a sleeping pad and light one person tent. I plan on lots of outdoor camping.

  12. Kevin Burrett
    March 28, 2017

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    Hi Graeme…the latest model looks a bit more serious than the previous Navigator that’s for sure. My 2001 model will take a couple of light panniers for trips of a week or so. Check the components because I think Montague skimp on the quality…pity. If you’re going to be in Europe then no probs…everything can be replaced easily. Why did you choose a Navigator btw ? Have a good trip, Kevin.

    • Graeme
      March 30, 2017

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      Kevin out of the few foldy bikes I checked out this one just seems the most versatile from city to country. I wanted to be able to have that range of option and it seems like this one can do it! And of course the ease that it seems to fold being able to fly and train with it etc.

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