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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.

Spot Brand Hires Sky Yaeger

We don’t post press releases too often here on Bikecommuters.com…but this one we HAD to share. We’re all huge fans of Sky Yaeger and her work…everything she touches, bike-wise, turns to pure gold. Check this out:

SPOT BRAND HIRES SKY YAEGER

Golden, Colorado鈥擩uly 8, 2010鈥擜ndrew Lumpkin, CEO of Spot Brand bikes announced today that they have hired Sky Yaeger for a newly created position as Senior Product Manager. Yaeger started immediately, working out of a Marin County, California office. The majority owner of Spot Brand is Wayne Lumpkin, having founded Avid in 1991 and, after successfully building the international brand, selling it to SRAM in 2004.

鈥淭his is a fantastic opportunity for me, as I have always admired Spot Brand and been a huge fan of Wayne and Andrew. After they acquired Spot Brand I was excited to see where they would take it and I am honored to be joining a company with such legitimate MTB heritage, and now huge potential with the Gates belt-drive system,鈥? Yaeger said.

Yaeger brought some of the first production single-speed mountain bikes to market in the mid-90s, while at Bianchi USA, and spec鈥檇 Spot hubs on those first bikes. 鈥淚 go back with the brand and have always liked the simple, clean design and fun vibe.鈥?

Andrew Lumpkin added, 鈥淪ky is a trendsetter in the industry and will be instrumental to Spot Brand鈥檚 continued trailblazing of new technologies.鈥?

For the past 4 years Yaeger has been working at Swobo Bikes, which was recently acquired by Santa Cruz Bicycles. She started designing the urban bicycle product line in 2006, and the line-up now includes 10 models currently in production. Before that she was VP of Product Development at Bianchi USA for many years.

The industry veteran will be responsible for a new line of Spot models that will incorporate the Gates belt-drive technology. 鈥淚 think the future looks bright for alternative drivetrain options. I鈥檝e always believed in simple, elegant solutions to complex problems. The internal hub is an old idea but it鈥檚 been my mission, since I designed the Bianchi Milano in 1996, to get more people to appreciate the function and simplicity of internally geared hubs on modern bikes. Add a belt to that and you have an almost perfect drivetrain.鈥?

sky
(photo by Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious — thanks for letting us borrow it!)

Torker Graduate Review

-Editorial: RL Policar “As you may recall we had solicited the help of MtnBikeRiders.com Team Racer, Eric “The Animal” Hunner to conduct the review on the Torker Graduate. Not only was the Graduate used for grocery gettin’, it was also used as a training bike for an upcoming long distance mountain bike race. If we want to test an item and find out if it is bomb-proof, or at least Animal-Proof, then we send it over to Eric. He’s one big and strong fella, 6’2″ @240lbs with a 7% body fat…nuff said.”

The Product: 2010 Torker Graduate

It does not rain very often in Southern California, but it always seems to rain when I am trying to get some training miles in for the long distance Mtn bike races. With most of the riding areas closed I had some time on my hands to put some time in on this bike.

Features; At first this bike looks Plain Jane, but upon closer inspection you will notice nice features:

5 speed internal hub-Sturmey Archer

Drum Brakes-Alloy 70mm Internal Drum F & R

Full Coverage Fenders

Nice tires-Tioga Gritty Slicker 700 x 32

Rear Rack mounts

Handle Bar-Alloy All Rounder — I flipped the bar over

Six different frames sizes available

Single speed good looks with gears to boot



Great MSRP @ $499.99

I had fun on this bike; it held up to me mashing on the pedals with few complaints. Keep in mind I am not your average size commuter, I am 6′ 2″ and 240 pounds currently. During my first few rides I ran into some gear shifting problems; I dug deeper into the problem and it was me. I managed to slip the wheel forward during some aggressive hill climbing and lost the correct adjustment on the SA hub. I locked the rear hub into place with a wrench and I made the adjustment to the shift cable after learning the correct way on how to adjust the hub, then the gear shifting improved greatly. If you are interested in the internals of the hub here is the PDF manual link http://www.sturmey-archer.com/userfiles/manuals/XRD5-Tech.pdf

If you have never ridden a Sturmey Archer it takes a little practice; when you want another gear you simply stop or slow your pedaling and twist the grip and let it drop into gear. This is really nice at stop lights, you could be in 5th gear while stopped and twist the grip to 1st and be on your way wiht no pedaling necessary to shift.

In short this is a great bike at a great price: the ride is predictable and the steering angle is perfect, the fenders keep you dry, the tires can take a beating and roll fast, the option to flip the handle bars is nice and the brakes are smooth even with a heavyweight aboard. A little more on the brakes– they slow the bike down without any signs of fading or locking up. The brakes do require a little more stopping distance then disc brakes, but require very little maintenance.

I have been running back and forth to the grocery store and locking the bike up to the rack — not worrying about some knucklehead slamming his bike into the Graduate and messing up the the gears or brakes. Why? Because it has no external derailleurs and drum brakes that are not exposed to dangers of bike racks. Another nice thing about the Plain Jane look is that a thief would probably look for bikes with more gizmos and bright colors.

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

Review: Dynamic Synergy Road Bike

As we announced a couple of weeks ago, Dynamic Bicycles offered us the rare opportunity to test-ride their newest offering before anyone else outside their company. While I only got to keep the bike for a shortish test period (two weeks), I put a lot of miles (close to 200) on the bike and was able to get a great feel for it.

synergy
(pink Velocity waterbottle cage not included)

Here’s some background: Billed by Dynamic as 鈥渢he world鈥檚 first production internally-geared road bike鈥?, this bike is aimed at the performance enthusiast who likes to think outside the box. With a drivetrain based around a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internally-geared hub, the other item that really makes this bike stand out is the STI-style shifter co-developed by Dynamic and the Taiwanese component manufacturer Sussex. The shifter is branded “Versa”. This shifter is the first of its kind for internal hubs…prior to the development of this shifter, the two choices were a twist-grip shifter and a trigger assembly for flat bars (although a barend shifter set recently became available as well).

Please bear in mind that the bike we tested was a pre-production model; not all of the components shown are in the final production version, and there were minor changes to the frame and a different paint scheme is planned. Patrick Perugini, president of Dynamic Bicycles, was thoughtful enough to provide me with the production spec list:

路 7005 Aluminum Frame
路 Carbon Fork with alloy dropouts
路 Shimano Alfine 8-speed Internal Gear Hub
路 Versa 8-speed Road Shifter Set with integrated brake levers
路 Versa Alloy Crankset, 46T with external BB
路 Steel rear cog 19T
路 Alex DA-22 Double Wall Alloy Rims, 32H Butted Spokes
路 Shimano 105 front hub
路 Vittoria Rubino, 700x25C Tires
路 Alloy Pedals
路 San Marco Ischia Seat
路 Ritchey Pro Alloy Seat Post
路 Ritchey Pro Alloy Handlebars
路 Ritchey Pro Alloy Stem
路 Cane Creek IS2 fully integrated Headset
路 Tektro 740 Alloy caliper brakes
路 Includes water bottle cage
路 Frame Sizes: S,M,L,XL
路 Color: Blue/Silver
路 Weight: 21 lbs

As shown in the previous article, this is what the production bike will look like:

production version

The frame is configured in a fairly commonplace compact-geometry format, with a slightly extended headtube for a bit of added comfort and a slightly less aggressive riding position. There are rack-mounting points on the seatstays but no corresponding eyelets on the rear-facing fork ends. Dynamic has addressed that oversight in the production version; there WILL be eyelets back there. The frame itself is TIG-welded with nice clean beads. The fork is carbon fiber with polished aluminum dropouts and an alloy steerer. Like the OSO we reviewed a few months ago, the fork comes with eyelets for fender mounting…but there’s virtually no clearance between fork crown, tire and brake arches. It’s not clear if these eyelets have carried over into the production bike.

Fender eyelets on a tight-clearance road fork? Still a mystery…

eyelets

Aluminum-frame-haters, you might be surprised: this frame isn’t harsh at all. In fact, I found it surprisingly comfortable for long rides and rides over some pretty rough streets, including the many brick streets of central and south Tampa. Part of that comfort is the riding position, part is courtesy of the carbon/aluminum fork and part of it comes from the 25mm tires (up to 28mm tires should fit in this frameset with no clearance issues). The main thing, though, is that a comfortable frame can be made out of any of the major frame materials, and I think Dynamic crafted a good one here.

Franklin Street in downtown Tampa — one of many brick streets in my area:

franklin street
(photo by Steve Swiger)

Let’s talk about the drivetrain, seeing as how that’s where a lot of the excitement about this bike centers around. The Alfine hub is a proven performer — easy to adjust, easy to shift under load or even standing still and plenty durable for all manner of applications. Coupled with the Dynamic/Sussex STI-style shifter, and you’ve got a winner; fingertip control over the entire range of gears lets you fire off shifts as easy as you please. The Alfine doesn’t care whether the hub is under load or coasting when the shifts take place, but I’ve found that easing off the pedal pressure makes everything a bit smoother.

versa shifter

The shifter itself takes a little getting used to. The hoods are comfortable and will feel very familiar to users of Shimano’s various STI “brifters”. The Alfine (and Nexus) hubs require a lot more cable pull to shift than a conventional derailleur-equipped bike, so a fairly long lever throw is required. The big lever on this Versa shifter travels almost 35 degrees, and I found quickly that using my longer middle finger to shift it made things work better. Two minor gripes about this shifter: initially, I found the smaller downshift lever to be in a somewhat awkward spot. Based on the way I wrap my hands around the brake hoods, I found on the first couple of rides that if I squeezed the lever bodies wrong, I would inadvertently press the downshift lever, triggering an unintentional shift. After the first couple of rides, I was more careful with my hand placement and this “problem” ceased to be. My other gripe is that this pre-production shifter seems to be a little finicky about upshifts — a rider has to be careful to press the lever all the way to its inboard stop in order to get a clean shift. I found that in some gears the shift wouldn’t be quite complete, causing a little bit of chain skipping. Luckily, hitting the lever again quickly was easy to pull off. Patrick Perugini insists that the production shifter won’t be so finicky — this pre-production version has a much cruder set of innards and all that has been refined by the manufacturer.

alfine
(photo by Steve Swiger)

The gearing range afforded by the Alfine internals, the 46 tooth chainring and 19T cog seemed adequate for all but the toughest hillclimbs. Set up this way, the range goes from a hair over 40 gear inches up to 108. That covers a lot of territory, and the ratios between them are fairly even. Still, with only 8 to choose from, there are times that NO gear is “just right”. That’s an inherent drawback to all internal hubs and doesn’t reflect in any way on the Dynamic system. To play with the gearing range, a rider can simply swap out chainrings (standard 130 mm BCD) or rear cogs for something more suitable to his/her terrain.

I don’t have much in the way of hills in my area (Tampa is pretty flat), but I’ve got a “test hill” on the North Boulevard bridge leading over the Hillsborough River — it’s where I take any bike that I get to test. This is a short but pretty steep pitch and lets me test the gearing range of a bike without too much hassle. Up this “hill”, I shifted down under load several times with no problem and I found this gearing range to be up to the task. Would I try to climb the Alpe d’Huez with this setup? Probably not…but anything short of that shouldn’t be too much trouble.

My test hill (don’t laugh…it’s all we’ve got around here!):

north blvd.

The test bike came equipped with some good componets — Ritchey stem, handlebars and seatpost, a San Marco saddle, good Tektro dual-pivot sidepull brakes, Cane Creek integrated headset and decent Alex wheels. Nothing too flashy, but also nothing generic. Everything functioned smoothly; there were no issues to speak of.

cockpit components

I’ve had a couple people express concern that the heavy Alfine hub (the bare hub weighs around three lbs.) would unbalance the bike. And, in fact, if you pick the bike up with your hands, it definitely feels “back heavy”. During rides (where such things really matter), though, this heaviness is completely unnoticeable. The bike rides smoothly and with stability.

Another concern was overall bike weight. This bike is aimed at the performance enthusiast, yet the bike appears “piggish” at 21 lbs. Again, this isn’t noticeable…but that’s easy for me to say, because one of my primary bikes is a 60 lb. machine with a minimum of 50 lbs. of cargo onboard! So, to me the Synergy felt quick and racy. Bottom line is that bike weight is a good bit overrated — if a bike performs well, giving both a spirited and comfortable ride, it really doesn’t matter how much it weighs.

Checking out the bike and talking about its features:

ken

Overall, I really liked the bike — I was already a fan of internally-geared hubs, but the fingertip shifting control offered by the Versa system is amazing. The bike rode the way I like a bike to — stable and confident without being too twitchy. Geometry is performance-oriented, but with some comfort features built in. This bike seems ideally suited for speedy club rides, fitness riding and, with the addition of a rack, fast medium- to long-distance commuting. Besides, with the ease of maintenance of the Alfine/Nexus hub family (no fiddling with high/low travel screws, “B tension” screws, etc.), this bike helps simplify things for riders: more fun, less adjusting.

Looks like Dynamic has another winner on their hands — and who knows; perhaps this shifter/hub combination may find its way onto other platforms (especially a more commuter-specific bike with fender clearances and the ability to accept fat tires)?

Oh, did I mention the Synergy was fun to ride?

wheelie
(photo by Steve Swiger)

Visit Dynamic’s website for more information on availability of this new model (projected for March or April?) and their line of other well-thought-out bicycles.