Foffa Urban 7 Speed Nexus bike  £499.99

8/10

Splendid, practical & charming urban bike, despite a few niggles

Weight 13160g   Contact  foffabikes.com

by John Stevenson   August 3, 2014  

East London bike maker Foffa is best known for creatively-finished, colourful singlespeed bikes. Eponymous designer Dani Foffa turns the whole idea on its head with the Urban, a carefree round-towner in none-more black with a seven-speed hub gear for hill-friendliness and versatility. It's practical, and its a lot a lot of fun.

<script async charset="utf-8" src="//cdn.thinglink.me/jse/embed.js"></script>

Here are eight things you need to know about the Foffa Urban

1 Despite its weight, it's surprisingly nippy

The Foffa Urban weighs a bit over 13kg, or about 29lb in old money. You can't help but notice that when you pick it up and all that mass makes itself felt on climbs, but when you use the Urban for its intended purpose, you really don't notice it. It rides lighter than the scales suggest.

Of course that could be because round town you're worrying far more about dodging potholes, buses, and cabbies in the permanent state of road rage they've all suffered since Uber came to town. But whatever the reason, it's perfectly pleasant for short-to-medium-range blatting around.

In fact, it's more than pleasant, it's lots of fun. The bars are narrow enough for traffic gap-storming without crossing into knuckles-against-the stem fixie hipster territory and the handling is steady and forgiving without being dull.

 

It also looks striking, in a stealth, none-more-black way, and it got compliments on its appearance when I parked it outside my barber's the other day, which is surely a good sign.

The Urban's been my main round-town ride for the last couple of months and it's been a reliable and trustworthy companion.

All that said, lugging it up to a second-floor flat would get old really quickly. Foffa says his 2015 version is going on a diet, with lighter wheels to save a bunch of weight.

2 Hub gears are grrrrrr-eat!

For a round-town bike hub gears have so much going for them, it's a mystery anyone would use derailleurs. Click, shift and away you go with no need to worry about a fragile dangling gear change mechanism getting covered in road grime. That'll be especially nice in the winter.

You can't feel the claimed inefficiency of the hub gear either. In theory hub gears waste some of your power in the effort needed to turn all those internal cogs and wheels against each other. In practice you can't tell. You could probably measure a few seconds' difference in the office run under identical conditions but with traffic and red lights, when's that going to happen? Better to forget the engineering and enjoy the convenience.

The Shimano Nexus 7 hub gear has a range of 244 percent. The trade-off for its simplicity and ease of use is that you don't get the gear range of a typical double-chainset system, which is more like 340 percent. But in practice all that means is that you have to choose the gear range you'll use most.

For the flatlands of Cambridge, I spent most of my time in the middling gears, never used the top ratio and hardly ever the second-from-top. If I lived somewhere hillier, I'd fit a bigger sprocket to drop the whole range and enjoy gravity's free ride on the descents.

It took me a while to realise why the shifting direction felt odd though. Turning the twist-grip shifter towards yourself puts you in a higher gear. The last twist-grip I used extensively was a SRAM Grip-Shift in the 90s, and that worked the other way. Nothing wrong with the way the Shimano shifter operates, but the 20-year persistence of muscle memory is a bit startling. Or I'm just an old fart who's set in his ways.

Aren't you proud of me for getting through a whole section about a gear system called Nexus 7 without making a single Blade Runner reference?

3 Chain guards FTW

It has a chain guard. Not a huge one, just a simple extra hoop of metal on the outside of the chainring, but it's enough that you can hop on in normal trousers and the chain won't eat the hem.

In other concessions to practicality, the fork and rear dropouts have mudguard eyes and there are rack mounts on the seatstays, so you can carry stuff and keep your bum dry. The eagle-eyed among you will notice there are no mudguard eyes on the dropouts of our bike. That's glitch with our early sample, and Foffa assures us they are present on production bikes.

4 The contact points are comfy

The Foffa-branded saddle is a perfectly acceptable place to park your bum, and the ergonomic grips covered in faux-leather are comfortably shaped and padded. Whack into a pothole and your hands don't get too badly jarred, which is nice.

By the way, the brake levers shown above are not final spec. We complained that they gave the Urban's braking a hard feel because they are intended for V-brakes not calipers, and to our relief Foffa told us he's already realised that and changed them for levers with higher mechanical advantage.

5 Fixing a puncture is a pain

One situation where the hub gear falls down is when you get a rear puncture. The rear-opening dropouts and gear cable attached directly to the hub make the process of getting the wheel out fiddly. Taking your time in a nice warm workshop, it's not a bother, but if you were sitting in a rainy East London gutter at 8pm in December, you'd be grateful the DLR takes bikes now.

Fortunately the Foffa comes with puncture-resistant Kenda tyres. My only flat during the test period occurred because I rode up a kerb with all the elegance of a three-legged hippo on bad acid, and pinch-flatted. Don't ride like a sack of spanners and you should be fine.

6 The riding position's short

The Urban's fairly short stem had me wishing for a bit more room. I wanted to be able to lean into the bike a bit more. It's fine if you like a very upright riding position, but even on flat-bar bikes I like to stretch out. Which brings me to...

7 We stopped using quill stems for a reason

If you want to change the riding position of the Foffa substantially, you're going to have to swap out the single-bolt quill stem. Aheadset-type stems are now so dominant that quills are not easy to find in a range of lengths, and inexpensive ones over 100mm don't seem to exist at all.

They also force you to use a fiddly-to-adjust threaded headset and they benefit from being loosened and regreased periodically to stop them seizing in the steerer, whereas Aheadset stems just need a couple of Allen keys to adjust. Quills may be hip and retro, but there's no practical excuse for them in this day and age.

8 On the whole, though, it's a gas

The best thing about the Foffa Urban is its grab-and-ride appeal. Wheel it out on the street and you're away, with no need for fancy shoes, Lycra or any of the other paraphernalia we convince ourselves we need. Sling a lock in a shoulder bag and you're set, and because the wheels are bolt-on you don't even need to faff about half-dismantling the bike to park it.

The Foffa Urban has a carefree charm that's a refreshing change from the complexity and paranoia-inducing cost of more 'serious' drop-bar urban bikes. This is a bike for street clothes, for riding to the office, the shops or coffee bar, and for pootling to a nice riverside gastropub for Sunday lunch. If you don't have something like it in your fleet, you're missing out.

Verdict

Splendid, practical & charming urban bike, despite a few niggles

road.cc test report

Make and model: Foffa Urban 7 Speed Nexus

Size tested: 59, Black

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

- FRAMESET - A lightweight Chromoly 4130 steel for extra flexibility

and a fairly compact geometry for additional comfort and responsiveness

It has eyelets to fit a rear rack and mudguards as well as a set of

bottle cage bosses to make it a fully functional machine.

- WHEELSET - 40mm triple wall Foffa alloy rims for a robust feel and

700 x 28c puncture protection tyres for smooth rides on most terrains.

- GROUPSET - 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub to make it ideal for any hilly ride

and a Revo Shifter for low effort rotational twist shifting and comfortable handling.

- OTHER FEATURES - a Lasco 46T alloy crankset with chain guard, a city saddle

ergo grips for extra comfort and a quill stem for extra adjustability and a classic look.

Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

Foffa says:

The 'Urban' has been designed to be the ultimate multi-purpose geared bicycle,

perfect for leisurely rides as well as fast and long commutes around the city.

I can't argue with that.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
7/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

Well-executed, if a shade on the heavy side, but you don't get a featherweight frame in a £500 bike.

Riding the bike

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
8/10

Love the lack of fuss of a hub gear. Everyone should have a hubbie in their stable.

Wheels and tyres

Controls

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.

Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, or something along similar lines.

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
7/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
7/10

Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?

While the stem/headset combination marks the Urban down a bit, I could live with them. They don't detract from this being a fun round-town runabout with some terrific practical touches.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 5ft 11in  Weight: 85kg

I usually ride: Scapin Style  My best bike is: Scapin Style

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding,

 

21 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

We're really interested to know what people think of the bike shot up top, with its annotations that tell you more about the bike. Let us know here in the comments.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1058 posts]
3rd August 2014 - 11:16

16 Likes

Do you mean the photo with the javascript below it?
</p> <script async charset="utf-8" src="//cdn.thinglink.me/jse/embed.js"></script><p>

(incidentally, that is enclosed with BBCode code tags, but BBCode doesn't seem to work always, and HTML p tags have crept in)

roadcc_code.PNG roadcc_foffa.PNG

posted by truffy [308 posts]
3rd August 2014 - 16:35

23 Likes

Hi Truffy - yep, that's the one. Seems to be working now.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1058 posts]
3rd August 2014 - 19:50

12 Likes

I have a Nexus eqquipped bike and I have to disagree about fixing puntures being a pain. Remove the tyre from the rim, locate the hole, patch it and refit and inflate, there is no need to remove the wheel from the frame and the whole process usually takes around 3-5 minutes.

Nowt wrong with quill stems either, you really don't need to worry too much about stem length on a town bike and this way is easier to move it up and down.

posted by drfabulous0 [337 posts]
3rd August 2014 - 20:27

15 Likes

Maybe just me but I don't think the handlebar grips match the rest of the bike. Apart from that though.......

posted by njmoffat [21 posts]
3rd August 2014 - 21:16

17 Likes

What's the deal with the braking surface on the front but not the back? Also, 40mm rims will be a bit of a pain to get tubes for if you're stuck out with an unrepairable puncture... Very pretty though.

J Montaño's picture

posted by J Montaño [10 posts]
4th August 2014 - 1:45

15 Likes

Yeah well spotted - I can only think that maybe you if you would want to remove the rear brake before you used the bike so you could have a nice non-braking surface rear wheel? Maybe?

I'm pretty certain it takes standard 700c inner tubes - the 40mm refers to the depth of the rim - right?

posted by njmoffat [21 posts]
4th August 2014 - 2:37

10 Likes

yeah just if you didn't have a long valve tube available you might struggle a bit, no big deal but I think 30mm is about the limit before you need to be careful about your replacement tubes.. not a big deal but if the extra deep rim are there just to be pretty then why bother? see what I'm saying?

J Montaño's picture

posted by J Montaño [10 posts]
4th August 2014 - 2:42

11 Likes

Good comments about the rims - Foffa is using shallower rims in 2015, mostly to save weight, but it'll solve that problem too. It's not like longer-valve tubes are terribly hard to find though.

drfabulous0 - if repairing tubes in the field works for you, then fair enough. I prefer to change a tube so I'm certain the fix works, especially if it's wet.

John Stevenson's picture

posted by John Stevenson [1058 posts]
4th August 2014 - 7:55

14 Likes

Rack & 'guard capability normally means double eyelets at the rear dropout - I can't see any in the dropout photo above.

posted by Alb [81 posts]
4th August 2014 - 8:53

11 Likes

Quote:
The eagle-eyed among you will notice there are no mudguard eyes on the dropouts of our bike. That's glitch with our early sample, and Foffa assures us they are present on production bikes.

posted by truffy [308 posts]
4th August 2014 - 10:56

9 Likes

truffy wrote:
Quote:
The eagle-eyed among you will notice there are no mudguard eyes on the dropouts of our bike. That's glitch with our early sample, and Foffa assures us they are present on production bikes.

Doh! Apoloigies

posted by Alb [81 posts]
4th August 2014 - 13:23

11 Likes

If you really don't want to patch, carry one of those puncture foam canisters that'll get you home.

Ready-adhesive patches rarely fail and anyway replacing the tube is no guarantee the fix works: the sharp may have gone inside the tyre and you miss it.

About the gear cable: doesn't it just unscrew? As long as you remember, it's not hard.

Oh and I can see the script tags under the photo too.

posted by a.jumper [699 posts]
4th August 2014 - 22:42

7 Likes

This looks very much like the original Charge Mixer. The rear wheel was very easy to remove on this bike because of the cleverly designed vertical drop outs and eccentric bottom bracket. This is half the price though! ...and some of us never understood the demise of the quill stem, much easier to adjust height, and how often dothey need greasing, once every five or ten years? and if you think they're not widely available I don't think you're looking very hard! Wink

posted by n1cko [3 posts]
5th August 2014 - 19:58

11 Likes

I guess I could understand using a Nexus 7 instead of the much better Nexus 8 (for the looks?), but actually *manufacturing* a track end frame for such a bike (instead of a proper horizontal dropout) doesn't seem to make any sense. Unless you're really desperate to make it look like a fixie even close-up, of course.

posted by kibber [1 posts]
5th August 2014 - 20:58

7 Likes

As a Nexus owner I'm unconvinced about the durability.

A derailleur system is easy to clean and service, they are inexpensive and damage to gears is pretty rare. The arguments for hub gears are pretty much all strawmen.

On the other hand the Nexus lets in water and grime especially in poor climates like in the UK and is a pain to clean and lubricate and if it goes wrong is virtually unservicable and may require a wheel rebuild. About the only two arguments for are gear changes when stopped and it looks cool.

posted by vadido [8 posts]
7th August 2014 - 13:26

4 Likes

vadido wrote:
About the only two arguments for are gear changes when stopped and it looks cool.

They're not the only two: it keeps the chain up away from the muck, it uses a thicker chain and doesn't bend it like a derailer (all of which means it should wear less quickly) and it feels different in a way that some people may prefer.

I ride a different brand of hub gear but so far, so good. A wheel rebuild won't be ruinous. Maybe it'll be hard to service, but there are manuals and I'll give it a go. If I have to buy a new hub, it'll probably be after I would have had to buy a lot of chains, cassettes and probably chainrings and mechs too, so maybe I will have saved the money.

Bottom line: there are a lot of rather old gear hubs still running, whereas you rarely see an old derailer or cassette.

posted by a.jumper [699 posts]
7th August 2014 - 17:04

2 Likes

A lot of the old hub gears are sturmey archers with the oil port - now that would have been an idea for Shimano. D Oh

As I said, I have the Nexus 8 speed myself but I don't have any great feeling of superiority.

posted by vadido [8 posts]
7th August 2014 - 21:23

3 Likes

Utterly baffled as to the bile spilt against the slim, beautiful, adjustable, simple, quill stem. Just what is the deal with the scaffolding at the front of bikes these days?

posted by sidesaddle [70 posts]
9th August 2014 - 20:09

3 Likes

How possible is it to raise the bars (if at all) with this sort of quill stem? My Dad is looking or a new flat-barred bike that's relatively maintenance free and not a complete pig to slog around. This looks like an interesting option.

I'm worried about the front end though... Can it be made any more 'stately'?

posted by Quince [145 posts]
13th August 2014 - 17:26

3 Likes

Quince wrote:
I'm worried about the front end though... Can it be made any more 'stately'?

http://www.dutchbikebits.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=37_56&...

If "stately" is a euphemism for that old-fashioned, more upright position seen on 1960s Raleigh three-speeds, this handlebar will sort you out.

This bar shape is still massively popular in the country that is the world capital of urban cycling, the Netherlands. The reason for this is that it works, and is very comfortable. The Dutch would not have their bars so low compared to saddle height, mind.

To solve this, you could change the stem. I don't know why John Stevenson (for whose opinions I have great respect) imagines that it is difficult to find a wide variety of quill-type stems. My local bike shop don't have many in stock, but the first mail-order website I went to seems to have lots. Imagine what might have happened if I had actually used a search engine.

http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/stems-1-(222mm)-quill-threaded-dept277_pg1/

I am hoping that we can agree that the inevitable trade-off, where more "stately" equals less "trendy", is not necessarily a disadvantage.

posted by severs1966 [84 posts]
17th August 2014 - 21:43

2 Likes

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