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Tag Archive: city bikes

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.

Hello, Good Lookin’…

What do we have here? Why, it’s a bike we received to test out and share with you…a Breezer Uptown 8:

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This bike checks off nearly everything on the commuter’s punchlist…fenders? Check. Dynohub and front/rear lights? Check. Internal shifting? Check. High-spoke-count wheels? Check. Full chaincase? Check. Carrier rack? Yep. Bell and kickstand? You betcha. About the only thing the Breezer Uptown 8 doesn’t come with is a waterbottle cage, but that’s quick and easy to add. Otherwise, it is a truly turnkey urban commuting machine — and I mean that literally because one of the other standard features is an AXA rear wheel immobilizer with a keyed release.

I unpacked and assembled this bike on Christmas Eve, and other than a quick Xtracycle trip to the grocery store and Sunday neoghborhood farmer’s market, this has been my sole around-town bike since then. In a few days we’ll put up our “first impressions” article with a comprehensive review a few weeks after that.

Why a step-through frame, you might ask? The folks at Breezer gave me the choice between a standard and this step-through version, and I chose the latter purely for kicks. Many Americans will wonder, “why’s that guy riding a girl’s bike?”…while more enlightened types will realize that no, this isn’t a girl’s model, but referred to as a “unisex” bike, or a “step-through” model, or “low step” bike, or simply just “a bike”. That being said, I’ve already been asked twice about it — once from someone who should know better.

Anyhow, stay tuned for more.

Urbana Bicycle: Final Review

The Urbana was custom-designed in-house. It’s not some cookie-cutter Taiwanese frame with some extras thrown onto it. The design goal was to create a different kind of urban bike. Inspired by freeride/downhill mountain bikes and European utility bikes, the Urbana is built be a one-size-fits-all bike for around-town errands, standing up to heavy loads on blighted roads. I was challenged by Haniya at KMI to push the Urbana to its limits.


If there’s one thing I can say about Kansas City, it’s that the late winter and early spring time can be really strange for cyclists. I just got back from a nice mountain bike ride, and it’s just beautiful outside: Partly sunny, 75°F with a light breeze. I was using the massive 2.7″ wide tires for “suspension” as I tackled rocks, tree roots and muddy ruts on my favorite local singletrack course.

Just a few weeks ago, I was using the same tires to carve through a snow storm to get groceries.

I’ve put the Urbana on a bus to take it downtown. I’ve picked up several huge loads of more than 60 pounds from nearby stores. I’ve taken it on a few short, slow group rides and there were a few days where I logged more than 25 miles on it pretty much in one run of things.  I’ve intentionally bombed straight into the most treacherous of pot-holes, smacked it into curbs, took it off some sweet jumps and ridden it down countless stairways. To say I’ve wrung this bike out would be an extreme understatement.

So now, the question remains: How did it hold up?

The Urbana needed a few adjustments during the review period. After the sort of abuse I put it through, this should come as no surprise. They’re the sort of adjustments that some cyclists would feel alright about doing at home: Tightening the headset, adjusting the brakes, tightening the chain tension and things like that. I’d imagine with normal use, these might be things you need a shop to do once per year or so. Try as I might, nothing broke during the review period. I’m notorious for killing wheels and breaking spokes. The wheels aren’t only intact, but they’re still as true as the day I unboxed the bike.

How does it ride?

The Urbana, as I mentioned before, weighs in at a somewhat hefty 43 pounds. My test bike was encumbered with pretty much every accessory that KMI is willing to install at the factory: the heavy-duty reinforced cargo rack, fenders, rear kickstand and a chainguard. Acceleration was, as you’d expect, slow going. My 8-speed equipped bike was geared exceptionally well, which is to say it’s geared for climbing and heavy loads, not for speed. The supple tires roll smoothly and quietly. They also don’t seem to add much rolling resistance, despite their width and weight. The head angle on the frame, combined with the steel fork’s “rake” feature gives the Urbana a unique feel on the road. The steering feels somewhat twitchy when you first ride it. You get used to this sensation quickly, though. A unique side effect of such extreme caster on the front wheel is that the front fender doesn’t cover much of the upper part of the wheel. The gargantuan tires happily throw water up into the air ahead of the rider, despite the fender, and if you’re moving fast enough or riding into the wind, you’ll get a face full of road grime spray.

The well-ventilated rear roller/drum brake grabs the rear wheel with gusto

While the front disc brake stops the behemoth of a bike (and whatever load you’re hauling) quicker than you’d likely expect.

As I mentioned earlier, the wide tires work pretty well in low-traction conditions such as sand, gravel, snow and mud, but they’re far from perfect. Today’s muddy adventures proved that thick, slippery mud is better left to knobby tires. They are otherwise perfect tires for year-round commuting and errands. All in all, the Urbana rides much like I was expecting: It’s big, comfortable and has a lot of momentum. It’s the SUV of bicycles, in more ways than one.

Nice Rack!

The custom-engineered RNR rack is sold as an accessory, but without it, I think the Urbana loses its identity. It’s rated to carry well over 100 pounds of dynamic weight, and it attaches to the seat tube with a rigid metal plate that keeps the rack firmly in place laterally, even with the heaviest of loads. The rack itself is made of thick tubing and plate metal, with beefy welds holding everything together. Its unique design suits not only the usual suspects: Panniers, trunk bags, and things attached with bungees and ratchet-straps, but it also holds re-usable shopping bags as well. More on exactly how that works on my personal blog.

On the street
I got a lot of looks and questions from people who saw the Urbana. It’s a somewhat unique looking bike. Of course, I got the occasional “You’re riding a girly bike!” but most people I talked to were genuinely interested in it, and several people wanted to take it for a spin. Yeah, I’ve also heard that line before. I knew the people who I entrusted to ride it. Theresa owns a local bike shop that focuses on commuting and utility cycling. A bunch of folks at the local hackerspace took it for a ride through the caves. Lorin is a long-time bike commuting buddy of mine. Bill owns a farm, and thinks this would be a good bike to get around the farm on. Here, he’s taking it for a night-time spin around a parking lot:

Final thoughts
The most basic singlespeed Urbana will set you back more than $1,000 USD. From there, drivetrain makes the most difference in price. Options include 3 speed Sturmey-Archer or 8 speed nexus IGH and 1×7 derailleur configuration. Toss in some cash for accessories like the RNR rack, and this is NOT a cheap bicycle. That said, it’s probably the last bike you’d need for getting around town. The days I rode 25 miles or more on this bike were NOT pleasant bike rides. This is a runabout bike for short errands. A 5-miles-at-a-time bicycle to get to the office, the bus stop, the bar, the food co-op, the hardware store. It’s a genuine pleasure to ride for these short errands, even when it’s fully loaded. Initially, I didn’t understand the lack of a place to mount a water bottle cage, but now I get it: If you will be out long enough to need hydration, you probably want to think about taking a different bike.

Review: Jango 7.1 Bicycle

Well, it has been a few months with the Jango, and finally I’ve gotten around to writing a review of the bike. As mentioned in our preview, the Jango is a novel concept in bicycle manufacture and sales. Basically, there are several base models to choose from. From there, a purchaser can select “trim packages” to suit a rider’s needs, or the base model can be outfitted with a wide range of accessories designed specifically for the bike.

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(shown with optional fenders)

In the preview, some people objected to my comparison of the Jango to a car-purchasing experience, but it is really the most accurate way to describe this unique setup. Subtract the pushy salesmen, the cheap suits and the stale coffee and you’ve got a very similar arrangement: choose your base model (from seven different bikes) and accessories (over thirty to choose from), or pick a base model and go with a pre-set package of accessories (there are nine trim levels to choose from). It seems like another bike manufacturer tried something similar back in the 1990s, but I don’t remember any of the details. In any case, this model of sales and accessorizing can make real sense — with a dizzying array of bicycles on the market and literally thousands of aftermarket accessories, Jango has figured out a way to both streamline the experience and offer specific tools for a rider’s needs. Select the stuff you want and get riding!

From Jango’s website, here is a bit about the main features of the model we tested, the men’s 7.1:

Bell: Jango integrated courtesy bell, black
Lights: Jango integrated front and rear LED lights
Pedals: Ergonomic Jango Dual Fit safety pedals
Saddle: Pressure free Allay Racing Sport saddle with AirSpan technology
Sizes: XS (430) / S (475) / M (500) / L (550) / XL (600)
Tyres: Jango light weight 700c x 38c
Wheels: Jango light weight wheel system
Grips: Ergonomic grip
Gears: Shimano Alivio 3 x 8 24 speed
Brake: Levers Jango with integrated bell mount
Fork: Jango suspension fork with magnesium lowers. Oil / Nitrogen hydraulic damping with elastomer spring. Variable compression with lock-out function. 50mm travel
Frame: Jango design with patented modular Plug in Play ports and personalized head badge theft deterrent system. Comfort geometry, high strength 7005 alu, double butted
Kickstand: Jango integrated kickstand
Seat Post: Jango with quick mount socket
Bar/Stem combination: Ergonomic Jango Vario Stem with adjustable angle and height. Forged Alu
Brakes: Jango disc brakes with integrated front disc lock
Colour: Jango Silver

The parts spec for this bike is nothing too exotic….lots of workman-like parts; e.g., the Shimano Alivio drivetrain…nothing fancy but perfectly satisfactory for the job. The drivetrain gave me no problems whatsoever throughout the testing period — clean shifts and easy adjustments once the cables bedded in.

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The mechanically-operated disc brakes were satisfactory — not too grabby and easy to modulate once the discs and brake pads were broken in. Disc brakes can make a lot of sense on a commuter bike, particularly in areas where there is sloppy weather in the form of rain and snow. We sure don’t get snow here in Florida, but plenty of rain. I didn’t have to worry about wet rim brakes and the associated wear and tear on the rims from rain-deposited grit…the discs were a blessing in this application. And Jango did their homework, too — the rear brake body is mounted to the chainstay rather than the typical seatstay location, allowing fitment of accessories such as fenders and a rack without additional hassles. As you can see in the photo below, there is clearance galore for the rack and fender eyelets:

brake body

One additional feature of the brakes is the integral disc lock on the front brake. In the photo below, right at the base of the brake body is a small yellow circle:

front brake

That yellow circle is the keyway for a tubular lock. Press the button in the center and a hardened pin goes through the brake disc, immobilizing the front wheel and preventing its removal, even with the wheel’s included quick-release skewer opened. That’s a nice touch and provides a little measure of extra security.

The aluminum frame of the bike is strong yet fairly lightweight…7005 aluminum alloy with nice welds throughout. Styling-wise, the bike looks very “concept bike” — something you might see over at Bicycle Design. I wasn’t too big a fan of the “look”, initially, but I grew to like it over time. It’s snazzy without being overly flashy, and the logos and decals are fairly subdued.

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The frame and suspension fork are peppered throughout with attachment points: two waterbottle cage locations, a port for the integrated kickstand, rack and fender eyelets and a host of other “plug n play” ports for additional accessories. Some of these will be shown when we review the accessories Jango sent. There are even a few spots where I have NO idea what goes there. Here’s another one of the ports…this one is for the modular rear rack and the rear blinkie:

rear

The frame isn’t “buzzy” as some aluminum frames can be. The frame feels stiff enough, but the worst of the road chatter is eliminated by the included suspension fork. To me, such a fork can be gimmicky on a commuter bike; a lot of extra weight and complexity for little benefit. If it smooths out some of the road imperfections, though, it can be worth it for many riders. This fork has adjustments for preload and can be partially- or fully locked out to reduce bobbing while pedaling.

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The wheel choice is a bit perplexing, in my opinion. The 700c wheels are “paired spoke” and have a low spoke count (24 up front, 28 in the rear). Such wheels fit the modern “look” on this bike, but I’m not convinced they are a great choice for urban use. Because paired-spoke and low spoke count wheels use very high spoke tensions to maintain trueness, a single broken spoke can render a wheel very out of true. This isn’t as much of an issue with bikes equipped with discs rather than rim brakes, but it is still a concern. Heavier riders are wise to be a bit more concerned about these wheels, too. Extra weight on low spoke count wheels can be a no-no…

All that being said, I had no problems with the wheels — they stayed true and rolled smoothly throughout the testing period. Tampa has notoriously rough streets, so they provide a fertile testing ground for evaluating the durability of wheels.

The frame is set up, like many other bikes billed as “urban” or “commuter friendly”, to give the rider a very upright position. Coupled with the big 700c wheels, it is a confident machine — plenty of above-traffic viewing possibilities and speedy rolling with the big wheels. I tend to prefer a slightly more aerodynamic position on my commuter bike, though — in wind, an upright riding position is like being a human sail and robs a good bit of forward momentum. It gets pretty windy here, particularly in the cooler months. Using the adjustable stem that comes stock on the Jango can help dial in a bit lower position, but for the most part we’re stuck…short top tube and deeply-sloping frame geometry limit what you can do to get more “aero”.

One part of the bike I didn’t care for at all was the saddle. Those of you familiar with my bike reviews know that I often take issue with stock saddles…many of them don’t suit my anatomy. The stock saddle is a Topeak “Allay” model, which has a user-adjustable air bladder to fine tune it. For me, no amount of fiddling with air pressure made the saddle comfortable to ride around on for more than a few miles. It’s a easy swap to a more suitable saddle, however, and like other bikes I’ve tested, I’m not going to give negative marks for something that is a very personal choice.

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Overall, the bike is configured in a way that may make it quite suitable for urban and commuting use. Still, there are a couple of concerns, such as the wheelset. Mostly, though, the Jango 7.1 is a stylish bike that has many of the features we’ve come to appreciate in a capable around-town bike and comes stock with a couple accessories (integrated bell and both front and rear LED lights) to make it more user-friendly. Add in some of the other accessories Jango/Topeak offers and this could be a real winner.

In the next couple weeks I’ll have a review of an assortment of accessories for the Jango. In the meantime, swing on over to Jango’s site to see what’s available and to take a look at the other bike models and trim packages on offer. Please stay tuned!

tampa theatre

Biria “Easy Boarding Top 3” — Guest Review

Here’s a design straight out of Europe…Biria’s “Easy Boarding Top 3” city bike. With its innovative step-through frame and comfort features, the bike is ideal for around-town errands, neighborhood cruising and light commuting.

Biria Easy Boarder 3

Here are the manufacturer’s specs:

Frame – Aluminum 7005 – 40 cm (15.5″) and 46 cm (18″)
Fork – Hi-Ten unicrown
Rims – Aluminum
Tires – 26×1.75
Gear – 3-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear with coaster brake
Stem – Adjustable Aluminum
Handlebar – City cruiser
Brake – Rear coaster foot brake and front alloy v-brake
Weight – 31 lbs.
Colors – Red, pearl white, Satin Blue, Aqua Blue, brushed aluminum, black
Standard – Chain guard, kick-stand
Option – Rack, fenders

Biria’s wild stepthrough frame configuration — no leg-swinging required. Just step across and GO!

step on through!

I’ve only ridden this bike around the block a couple times…it was a Valentine’s Day gift to my wife. She’s the one who spends a lot of time on it, so we figured, “what better way to get a review of it than let her use her own words?” So, here goes:

This past Valentine’s Day, I was presented with a lovely Biria “Easy Boarder” bicycle by my most thoughtful husband. I wanted a utilitarian commuter bike that would serve as an errand-runner as well, but would also cater to my girlie need to wear a skirt if I damn well wanted to. The Biria delivers, baby!

This is not a bike designed for the “extreme�? sport enthusiast. It weighs approximately 622 pounds and does not at all make you look like an ass kicker. It does not inspire you to perform “sweet jumps�?. But it rates high on the Eurochic meter, with a very styling leather seat and matching handlebar grips. It is, indeed, easy to board with its cutaway frame, and the covered drivetrain makes grease stains on the hemline unheard of.

Three speeds are all I need on the relatively flat terrain of the Tampa urban jungle, and there’s plenty of room on the handlebars for pimping your sweet ride with a Basil basket. That basket comes in especially handy on account of the frame is too chunky to affix a bottle cage. Not a problem for me, as I’m sort of gawky (in the most charming and feminine way possible, of course) and fear colliding into whatever may be handy as I struggle to pull my squeezie bottle free. I’ve also got some flashy panniers on the backend, ‘cause I’m a girl what likes to accessorize.

The only source of irritation is the coaster braking system. For those who are in the habit of backpedaling whilst you coast, you could be in for a nasty surprise as you come to a screeching halt. It does, however, have a front brake that is of the more conventional handlebar variety, which I favor in order to avoid horrible 7th grade flashbacks.

All in all, I am thrilled that Jack beat the crap out of that 70-year-old couple that were eyeing my fine German-designed machine and snagged it for me first. I ride it to work every other weekend and get to feel invigorated while I’m looking all snazzy. Now if I could only master cycling no-handed so I could randomly flash the “jazz hands�? to passing motorists, I’d be the coolest girl ever!

Euro-chic, indeed…stylish and functional for those who aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere fast and who appreciate some comfort along the way.

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