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Review: Breezer Uptown 8

As promised a couple of weeks ago, here’s the full review of the Breezer Uptown 8 bike that the folks at Breezer (thanks Paul and JT!) were gracious enough to let me borrow for a few months.

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Here’s a good look at the specs from Breezer’s website:

SPECIFICATIONS

Sizes: (17.5″), M (19.5″), L (21.5″), XL (23.5″) Low-Step: XS (15″), S (17″), M (19″), L (21″)
Color(s): Black Satin/Mineral Brown, L.S.: Black Satin/Cobalt Blue
Main frame: Breezer Custom Aluminum, Single Water Bottle Mount
Rear triangle : Breezer Custom-Tapered Aluminum, Horiz-In Dropouts
Fork: Breezer CrMo w/ CrMo steerer, V-Brake Mounts
Crankset: Shimano Nexus FC-NX75, 38T
Bottom bracket: VP-BC73C Cartridge Style
Pedals : Wellgo CO21 Aluminum Body w/Kraton top and CrMo Spindle
Front derailleur NA
Rear derailleur NA
Shifters: Shimano Nexus Revo, 8-speed
Cassette: Shimano, 18T
Chain: KMC Z-51
Wheelset: Shimano Dynamo 3N20 6V-3W Front Hub, Shimano Nexus 8 Premium Rear Hub, Alex DH19 36H Rims
Tires: WTB Freedom Cruz Elite w/Reflex, 26×1.5″
Brake set: Tektro 857AL V-Brake
Brake levers: Tektro CL530
Headset: VP-H692W
Handlebar: Breezer Aluminum, 26mm Rise
Stem Breezer Aluminum, Quill Style
Tape/grip: Breezer Open End Ergonomic Kraton rubber
Saddle: Breezer Comfort Saddle
Seat post: Breezer Suspension Aluminum 40mm Travel, 350×27.2mm
Fenders: Polycarbonate w/Integrated Lighting Conductors
Headlight: Busch & Muller Lumotec Fly LED w/Standlight Feature
Taillight: Basta Riff Steady LED w/Standlight Feature
Rear Carrier: Breezer Tubular Aluminum w/Spring Clip
Other: Axa Solid Ring Lock, YWS Chime Bell w/Black Anodized Chime

Breezer packs a lot of features into a bike set at an MSRP of $999.00 — everything a dedicated commuter could possibly want. This is truly a turn-key commuter bike…no scrambling to purchase and install needed accessories because it comes stock with ALL OF IT!

The frame is configured in step-through fashion (the Uptown 8 also comes in a more traditional top tube model). I chose the step-through to test because I haven’t spent any time aboard one since my wife’s Biria was stolen lo those many years ago. I wanted to a) try a little something different and b) see if I noticed any flex or unusual handling without a top tube. With the stout aluminum frame and reinforcing crossbar down at the bottom of the step-through, I noticed nothing untoward in the handling behavior of the bike. Nor did the bike feel chattery or dead as many aluminum frames can. I attribute this to the fairly wide tires that come stock on the bike. Breezer thankfully avoided putting a suspension fork on this model, bucking the unfortunate trend of other manufacturers adding in the unneeded complexity and substantial weight of a “boingy” fork.

Breezer does include a suspension seatpost, but frankly I didn’t notice anything positive or negative about it. It sure didn’t “travel” under my skinny hindquarters, even with the notoriously rough roads of Tampa’s urban corridor. The stock saddle has enough cushion to absorb road chatter. Breezer could consider skipping this seatpost in future models — saving a few ounces along the way.

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The wheelset was nothing fancy — perfectly serviceable Alex rims and high-count spokes, just the way a commuter bike should come. No silly paired spokes or low-counts here…the Breezer wheels are designed to take the punishments typical of urban commuting, and they did so without a whimper. Obviously, the hubs are rather special: a Shimano 3N20 dynohub up front and a Nexus Red-Band “Premium” 8-speed rear. We’ve discussed the Nexus hub at length in other bike reviews here and they’re a familiar sight to many commuters…it’s just about a foolproof system and doesn’t require a lot of fiddling to perform flawlessly. The front hub is Shimano’s basement-level dynohub, and it shows in that it feels “draggy”, even with the lights switched off. A smoother, less drag-prone dynohub is a lot more expensive, though, so Breezer chose this one to keep the final price out of the clouds. Despite the drag, it was easy to set up and it worked without any hiccups — pumping six volts (or three watts? I’m no electrical engineer) to the included head- and taillights every time I turned the pedals.

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The braking comes courtesy of some Tektro V-brake arms. One might wonder, “why wouldn’t Breezer spec disc brakes on an all-conditions commuter like this?” and the answer would be “price point”. A disc-compatible dynohub is a pricey thing indeed…and the only disc-ready IGH is the substantially more expensive Alfine. I’m willing to sacrifice the benefits of disc brakes in trade for avoiding sticker shock, and I think many commuters would agree. Besides, disc brakes might be overkill in some conditions. Take a look at our friend Doug’s well-reasoned argument against discs in the following article on MN Bicycle Commuter.

The lights that come with the Uptown 8 are bright and stable — both with “standlight” feature that keeps them illuminated for a couple of minutes once they’ve built up a bit of a charge. That’s a great feature. Breezer didn’t skimp on the lights — sure, there are stronger dyno powered lights on the market, but we’re talking about urban commuting where there is usually some additional lighting available to the rider (in the form of streetlights and the like). The Busch & Muller headlight neatly split the difference between “to see” and “to be seen” lights — I could negotiate my route at a reasonable pace with the illumination provided. Both front and rear lights had built-in reflectors, too, which is a nice touch. Gotta stay legal!

Did I mention the chaincase? This thing is n-i-c-e. Breezer brand manager JT Burke told me that he hasn’t had to service his bike’s chain in over three years because the chaincase deflects crud like a champ. It’s sealed on both sides, with a small removeable “window” at the back to allow simple adjustments of the Nexus hub. I dig this chaincase — no greasy pant legs or silly trouser clips when riding this bike.

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One other really cool feature about the setup on the Breezer was its conductive fender arrangement. Rather than a continuous wire running from the front hub to the taillight, the Breezer’s rear fender serves as the conductive path. Two buttons at the front of the fender and two buttons at the rear clip to wire ends and the aluminum stiffener inside the fender itself carries the electricity. Neat!

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The bike’s handling is stable and upright — perhaps a little too upright for my personal taste (decades of riding road bikes builds in a lot of muscle memory that is difficult to overcome). You’re not going anywhere fast with this bike…but as I mentioned in our first impression of the Uptown 8: this bike isn’t designed for speed or serious distance. It’s a point a to point b bike, predominantly for short-haul urban commuters. Have a long distance to travel and a limited time to do so? This probably shouldn’t be on your short list of bikes to consider. Do you want a bike you really don’t have to think about — simply get on and ride around town to errands, the workplace or social events? Then the Uptown 8 might be right up your alley.

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Overall, the Uptown 8 provides a ton of commuter-friendly options at a reasonable price point. If you’re the kind of rider who lives in an urban area and you’re looking for an all-conditions machine to serve you, this is a great choice. If it were up to me, I’d be willing to pay a bit more for a less-draggy front hub, but that’s the only real gripe I have with the Breezer. Breezer successfully avoided my other “commuter bike pet peeves” — eliminating the gimmicky and questionable add-ons and specifying this bike with pretty much everything an urban commuter could ever want. Bravo, Breezer!

Now, would you please consider developing a “go-fast” version with many of the same features — something with drop bars and a more aerodynamic stance but with the cargo-hauling and low-maintenance attributes some of us crave? I’ll be first in line if you do.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Breezer Uptown 8 — First Impressions

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we took delivery of a Breezer Uptown 8 for testing. The folks at Breezer were kind enough to let us hang onto the bike for a couple months so we could really get a good feel for it. I’m not quite ready for the full review (that should appear here in a couple weeks), but I wanted to share some of my first impressions with you.

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Overwhelmingly at the top of my list is that despite the Breezer’s complexity — it is absolutely loaded down with every bell and whistle a commuter could possibly ask for — riding it is utter simplicity.

Say what? Look, it’s like this: this is a bike you simply jump on and go…no checking whether lights were installed or left on the kitchen counter at home, no running out of battery power midway through a ride, no rolling up pants legs or using one of those trouser clips, no funny “clickety-clack” shoes, no chain maintenance and no worrying about the delicate shifter parts getting gummed up or knocked out of place. Simply step through the frame, flip the switch to activate the generator-powered lights and off you ride! This is INCREDIBLY liberating…what was once a task of a few minutes getting any of my other bikes ready to go (lights, batteries, tires, lube, pants/cuff/shoes) has been whittled down to, “got enough pressure in the tires? Good enough.” I am sold on the concept of hub generators and since I started riding the Breezer, I’ve been fantasizing about equipping all my other commuter bikes with them.

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We’ve tested a number of bikes with internally-geared hubs on Bikecommuters.com in the past, so there’s nothing new to report with the Breezer and its Nexus Premium 8-speed rear hub. It works nearly flawlessly, can be shifted at a standstill or under load and allows Breezer to spec a full chaincase — not just a chainguard — to seal the chain away from the elements. I’ve heard tales of Breezer owners going for several years without ever servicing their chains.

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Riding the Breezer is comfortable and stable, with the upright stance typical of this class of city bike. Everything fits and feels just right. You won’t be setting any speed records aboard the Uptown 8, but then again it wasn’t designed for such riding. Things are looking good for the long term!

Please stay tuned for the full-scale review, which should be along shortly. In the meantime, check out Breezer’s urban lineup by visiting their website.

An Interview with Joe Breeze of Breezer Bicycles

Editor’s note: We were happy to meet Joe Breeze on the show floor at Interbike 2010. We had already spoken with him via email about doing an “e-interview” for Bikecommuters.com, and he was very receptive to the idea. Despite a very crowded and active display booth at Interbike, Joe was gracious enough to spend about 45 minutes chatting with us…he is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the bicycles he develops and rides and was a pleasure to spend time with. Special thanks go to Paul Tolmé, public relations guru at TRUE Communications for help introducing us to Joe and helping us prepare some worthwhile interview questions. Let’s kick this baby off:

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It is no overstatement to say that Joe Breeze is one of the most influential bicyclists of the modern era. In the 1970s he and a group of buddies including Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchie and other icons of the sport took to the hills of Marin County, California, and began racing so-called clunkers—heavy Schwinn paperboy bikes that they beefed up and retrofitted with motorcycle parts and junk shop finds. In 1977, Breeze built what is recognized to be the first brand new mountain bike. Others soon followed, and a new sport was born that has spread to all corners of the globe. While modern mountain bikes look nothing like modern transportation bikes, the early mountain bikes gained popularity partly because they were far more practical and comfortable to ride than the ubiquitous 10-speed racers of the era. And those early mountain bikes introduced a new generation to the joys of bike riding. A decade ago, after 20 years of building mountain bikes, Breeze stunned his industry colleagues by deciding to focus his attention on building the best American commuter bikes. This seems an obvious choice today due to the recent explosion in popularity of transportation bikes, but a decade ago it was a bold and forward-thinking move that cemented Breeze’s reputation as one of the fathers of the American commuter bike movement.

Today, Breezers are recognized as among the best American commuter bikes, having won Bicycling Magazine’s Editor’s Choice award for best commuter bike three years running. Breeze still lives in the Bay Area’s Marin County, near his boyhood home in Mill Valley. He now lives in neighboring Fairfax, where he works from a shop in his home and still gets out to ride the trails around Mt Tamalpais where he and a rowdy bunch of bicycle enthusiasts forever changed the sport of cycling.

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(Joe “killin’ it” at Repack back in the dawn of mountain biking)

1. Please give us a little background on your history, particularly your involvement with transportation-oriented bicycle development.

I’ve been an intercity bike traveler since 1965 when as a fifth grader I rode with neighborhood friends to the local bowling alley, 14 miles round trip. It was with a great sense of accomplishment that we crested the 300-foot hill along the way and made it home under our own power. By 14 and 15 years old I was going on rides of over a hundred miles, to get to places like Lake Tahoe and the southern Sierra Nevada. In 1971 I took a ride through Europe with a dozen friends. Before leaving I perused my library’s phonebooks for my European cycling heroes so I could seek them out. I was fortunate enough to meet Cino Cinelli at his factory in Milan. In the Netherlands I had my eyes opened wide by the practical bicycle infrastructure. Seeing cycling there, how intrinsic it was to everyday life for people of all ages, was a lifelong inspiration. Short of hope for immediate success of the same in America, I buried myself in road racing, which I saw as a first step in getting out the secret of cycling: that right here in America bikes can provide joy and travel in our everyday living. I also started building custom-built road-racing frames in 1974. The foray my friends and I took into what became known as mountain biking was at first just an off-season diversion from road racing. In 1977 I built what is recognized as the first successful all-new mountain bike. For the next twenty years I focused on my Breezer mountain bikes.
Mountain biking got a lot more Americans onto bikes, and many of these new cyclists realized that bikes could be used for more than just fun in the woods. In the latter part of the 1990s and early 2000s I worked with our local bike coalition to make Marin County a model for bicycle transportation for adults and school children. I knew that good infrastructure was key to transforming transportation choices here, but at the same time I saw that the US was sorely lacking in bikes equipped for everyday life. In 2002, I re-formed Breezer as a company focused entirely on transportation bikes. I designed a line of fully equipped bikes and went out to convince the industry that transportation bikes were the future. At first, many people thought I was crazy to turn away from a successful career designing recreational bikes, but I felt that transportation bikes were vital to this country’s health.

2. Our readers are well familiar with the benefits of transportation bicycling for healthier communities, healthier lives and affordable, sustainable transportation. Tell us how you incorporate transportation cycling into your life in Marin, California.

I do not have my own car, so I use a bike to get most places I go locally. Actually I did that for most of my life even when I did own a car. (I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 25.) It wasn’t until the 1990s that I had a bike that was fully equipped with rack, fenders, lights, etc. and I realized how easy that made it to ride still more and drive still less. My wife has a car and I do drive it sometimes. My own car eventually started mulching in the front yard; a few years back we realized we might as well get rid of it.

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3. In 2008 you sold Breezer Bicycles to Advanced Sports International, which also owns Fuji and several other brands. How has your role changed now that Breezer Bicycles is under the ASI banner, and do you still have a free hand in design, specification and development?

I am still with Breezer as designer. The association with ASI has freed me from all of the details of running a company and allowed me to concentrate on design and product development. I don’t have the same level of control over all details of every finished product, but I’m able to do many more projects and create many more bikes, than when I had my own company. I am continuing with transportation bikes, for Europe as well as the US, and I’m also doing mountain and road bikes again.

4. What emerging technologies do you see playing a larger role in transportational cycling’s future? I’m thinking of belt drives and other alternative drivetrain systems, in particular. What else looks promising?

As the secret of everyday biking is getting out in America I see a lot of growth for cycling in the coming years. New cyclists tend to appreciate things that make cycling easier, so internally-geared hubs like Shimano’s Nexus series of low-maintenance, easy-to-shift transmissions are becoming quite popular. New technology is inspiring. I myself was certainly inspired by the Nexus hub; I saw it as an opening to introduce a Netherlands-type cycling lifestyle to the US. I first spec’ed a bike with the Nexus 7 hub in 1996 (the Breezer Ignaz X); then I designed my Breezer Town bikes around Nexus hubs in the early 2000s. The 2011 Breezer Uptown Infinity (∞) has the NuVinci transmission hub with infinitely variable ratios. NuVinci is even easier to shift. People have asked for a fully automatic bicycle transmission forever, and this NuVinci hub will develop into a game changer. Though bicycles have remained fairly constant for a century or so, the bicycle of tomorrow could be quite different.

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(Joe presenting a bicycle to San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom)

5. Breezer now has several electric bikes. What’s your take on electric and pedal-assist e-bikes? Any plans to add more electric systems to the Breezer commuter line?

Electric bikes will see much broader appeal too. Of course we hope to offer more here as well.

6. The U.S. seems to be lagging far behind other countries in our adoption of cycling as a valid form of transportation. What are the top policy changes that our government and nation can make to get more people on bikes?

Level the playing field: Reduce car-driving subsidies, most of which the public is unaware of. Make motorists pay more of the full cost of driving. Current gasoline taxation does not come close to paying these costs. This gap ends up robbing funding for better things like education. When there are healthier, more enjoyable ways to get around, why give a false sense of the cost of driving?

7. Do you have any tips or insights for beginning commuters or those looking to reduce their reliance on automobiles?

1) Get a fully equipped bike. At minimum it should have a kickstand, rack, full fenders, chainguard and generator lights. Without the full bill, it’s too easy to find an excuse not to ride: It might get dark. The roads might get wet. I might need to carry something, etc.; 2) Get clothes that make riding more comfortable in a broader range of weather. 3) At first, just getting past your front door may be the biggest obstacle. Once beyond though, you may wonder why it seemed so difficult.

8. We are currently in a recession and the nation faces high unemployment. Do you see a future for more Made in the USA bicycles, and can a more vibrant bike culture in the United States create jobs and help our desire for a more sustainable economy?

Certainly. Bicycling is a growth market with a huge future around the globe. The US is a leader in new technologies, some of which will be applied to bikes.

9. Have you signed the People for Bikes petition, and do you feel it is an important statement for bicyclists to join?

Yes. Make your voice heard. Doing so is a tenet of a functioning democracy.

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(Joe riding with his son’s mountain bike team from Drake High School)

We’d like to thank Joe Breeze for sharing his thoughts with us…it’s not every day that we get to rub shoulders with someone SO influential in the bike commuting world, and we’re happy we made his acquaintance. To learn more about the Breezer Bikes lineup, swing on over to their website — you’ll be glad you did!

Sneak Peek at the New Breezer Uptown Infinity

This appeared in my mailbox yesterday — a sneak peek at Breezer’s Uptown Infinity commuter bike. Rack and fenders? Check. Full chaincase? Check. Dynamo-powered lights? Yep. Internally-geared hub? Uh huh…in this case the NuVinci N360 Continuously Variable Planetary Transmission. This is one smart-looking machine and one that will ring all the appropriate bells for commuters who want the full turnkey package for an all-weather, all-conditions bicycle.

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We’ll be swinging by the Breezer booth at Interbike in a couple weeks and will round up more information about this bike (and the rest of Breezer’s commuter line) when we do.