A review of the Montague Navigator 2013 model
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).
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.
So, we have a patchwork quilt variety of gear for our upcoming trip… not one of those nice quilts from the home deco store, or the one an artisan makes with materials fresh from the fabric warehouse. This is more like the quilt your great grandma started 60 years ago from scraps and worn out clothing, that was never quite finished and passed down and added to through the generations. It will do the job but needs some work, with some patches needing repair and others replacing, and some are missing all together.
We have bikes that match in brand, but not in style, which both need a little more work to make them better tourers (especially mine!). We have only one set of matching panniers, which need new rain covers (the ones that came with are not nearly big enough). I have a good sleeping bag but Lewis’s is pretty worn out, and neither of us have camping pads that are small/light enough (well, I have one but it has a leak which I need to find). We have two good but cheap hammocks with bug netting attached, but no rain protection, nor bug protection from the bottom. Stove – check. Tent – check. Hiking packs – check (but again, no rain cover). Etc etc etc.
I would like to fill in as many of the missing links as is reasonable by making them myself. I originally wanted to make almost everything possible, including the panniers. In the end I decided that would take far too much time, and potentially my first-time DIY gear might not be durable or functional enough to pass the test… the test being maybe 2 years on the road, where failure would be a huge pain in the ass. I would just have to leave some things to the experts. Besides, my time is better used towards other preparations, and simply enjoying the last few months in NYC.
But, there are some things I can make pretty easily, while having fun designing and problem-solving, and saving money too. Here I will list the things I plan to make, with the basic materials and ideas. As I start each project, I will document the progress, show the end result, and make performance updates from the road.
1) Rain fly for hammocks. I was debating with over the size and shape of the rain flys, and the multi-functionality potential (because I love things that have more than one use). I have decided that I will make one rather large rain fly that can cover both hammocks at once, because we will most often bunk the hammocks, string them side by side, or in a “V” shape. With one fly, we only have deal with one set of attachments and only have to hang the one additional thing. It will also be useful for extra warmth to have our hammocks bunked or near each other (something I had not even though of until I was brainstorming about making the flys). The single fly will be long enough to reach near the ground when pitched at a sharp angle, and can be used also as a large basic rain shelter for setting up the tent, hammocks, or when we just want to cook or hang outside of the tent, and it can be used to protect the bikes.
2) Rain cap for hammocks/hiking packs. I haven’t quite worked it out just yet, but I am thinking of a rectangular shaped sack that can cap off the ends of the hammocks to add extra rain and wind protection, and can also be used as extra storage, keeping some things off the ground, but outside of the hammocks. I would like to make them also function as a rain cover for the hiking packs. I am thinking a basic rectangular shape that is long enough to cover both hammock ends when they are bunked, with a hole in the top and the middle to run the hammock ends through. There would be shock drawcord with a tightening toggle around the outer edge, to tighten if needed. This would also act as a tightener for applying the sack to the hiking packs. We would place the sacks on the packs upside down, so that the holes are at the middle and bottom, instead of top and bottom. I am still brainstorming ideas for keeping these holes neat, strong, functional and not too leaky.
3) Rain covers for panniers. This will be fairly easy. They will be bright yellow to add extra visibility on the road.
4) Front panniers. We are not sure yet if we will have front racks, but I would like too… at least by the time we are leaving the US and have less need to fold the bikes for transport, which often requires removing the front wheel. I would like to make a basic set of panniers… since these will be smaller and lighter, and visible while riding, I don’t feel as concerned about them falling off or breaking, like I was when I was considering making the rear panniers.
5) Rain socks to cover our shoes when biking in the rain. They will be bottomless (the bottoms would get torn up on the pedals anyway) and close-fitting, with elastic around the base. There will be a strap under the toe to keep the fronts from flying up.
6) Waterproof & warm mittens that can fit over our regular biking gloves for winter or wet riding.
7) Mosquito protection. A head net to fit over our sunhats/helmets. And a rather large sort of shelter to fit over the hammocks that can double up as protection over the bed in a shitty hotel that doesn’t already have coverage.
8) Silk sleeping bag liners. These will add extra warmth to the sleeping bags, and keep the sleeping bags cleaner. I would like to make them expandable so they can act as sheets for warm weather camping, and bed protection in grimy hotels.
9) An assortment of bags and stuff sacks that we can use to keep our things organized.
As you can see, it is mostly rain protection. This stuff ready-made tends to be bulky and expensive, or light-weight and really expensive. And mostly it is uncomplicated in design. I have already acquired many of the materials, some of which I already had laying around the house. Now it is time to get designing!
Updates to follow!