Today I went out in search of a Swobo dealer to test drive the Swobo Otis, Novak, and Dixon. I found one local Swobo dealer, and they only carried one of the three bikes I was hoping to test drive: the Swobo Novak. A Swobo Rep happened to be on-site today - which turned out to be rather frustrating as I was just handed over for indoctrination rather than the slightly less biased pitches of the shop sales people. But, on to the reviews. Let me preface by saying I was annoyed with the rep and was still a little saddle sore from my time on the Sohos, so my reviews are sure to be slightly less positive than yesterday's.
The Novak is a pretty basic machine: steel frame, caliper brakes, and an SRAM iMotion 3 speed internal geared hub with a grib shifter. The Novak rode much like the Trek Soho S, although it felt a little taller and maybe not quite as nimble. I really liked the grip shifter. With just a soft rubber extension of the grip to rotate, there are no thumb buttons to confuse which is higher and lower. I just gripped the shifter and rotated forward or back. With just 3 gears, you don't spend any time fussing over which granny gear to use on the hill, just drop into "lo" and go. In that sense it's a lot like the single speed Soho S where you free your mind from the mechanics of shifting and enjoy the ride. The iMotion hub was noisier than the Shimano Nexus on the Soho. As for the ride, it fel pretty stiff to me. The 700x28c tires might have something to do with that. I have to confess that, while this really should _not_ matter, it isn't much to look at, and compared to the Soho S, it's down right dull. All in all, a very practical, no-nonsense commuter.
Since I was there, I also took a ride on the Swobo Baxter, even though it wasn't previously on my list to ride. The Baxter is $400 jump over the Novak. It boasts front and rear disc brakes and an 8 speed Shimano Alfine internal geared hub. It has a nicely sculpted aluminum frame and matching carbon fiber fork. This bike looks racy, but the Hoopty handlebar has a very school-girl look to it, and I confess to being a little self-conscious holding on to it, but was amazed and what a relaxed ride the more upright position provided. Between the carbon fiber fork and the slightly wider tires, the Baxter was a smoother ride than either the Novak or the Trek Soho S. Since Swobo elected to use the Shimano Alfine internal geared hub instead of the SRAM, the shifter is two button rapidfire job like the Trek Soho - which I really don't care for. I found myself having to really focus to find the levers and to press the right one. I prefer the simplicity of the 3 speed and the grip shifters. A nice ride, but for the money I think I can find a better match.
I would still really like to ride an Otis and a Dixon... but I might be out of luck there as I have no local dealers.