Joe Breeze is one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. He built what are considered some of the first true mountain bikes in the late 70s, and he was a leader in the industry throughout the 80s and 90s, selling a variety of high-end production bikes under the Breezer label. Most of the early Breezers were recreation-oriented mountain and road bikes, but Joe had a personal interest in bicycle transportation throughout this period, riding bikes for transportation and working as an advocate for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.
Joe’s ongoing interest in using bicycles for transportation eventually led him to move away from recreational bicycles and launch a new line of transportation-oriented bicycles in 2002 under the Breezer label. These new bikes are fully outfitted from the factory for use as motor vehicle replacements with features such as generator lights, fenders, racks, reflective tires, locks, and bells included as standard equipment. Just as he was with mountain bikes in the 70s, Joe was ahead of the curve with transportation-oriented bikes in the 2000s; this style of bicycle is just now becoming commonplace in the U.S.
The Breezer line-up includes 15 models. The “Town Bike” series is comprised of 8 models that are optimized for short trips around town, the “Range Bike” series is comprised of 3 models that are optimized for longer commutes and more challenging terrain, and the “Folding Bike” series is comprised of 4 models for multi-modal commuters and apartment dwellers.
In March, Breezer sent me their top-of-the-line “Finesse” from the Range Bike series for review. The Finesse is designed as their “fast commuter” for people who have a long commute on open roads and need to cover the distance in minimal time. The Finesse is a specialized bike and is not designed to be a garden variety “grocery getter”; this review is written with the designer’s vision and the bike’s intended use in mind.
The frames of many commuter and utility bikes are constructed from steel for long-term toughness. The performance-oriented Finesse is constructed from aluminum and carbon fiber (the frame is aluminum and the fork is carbon fiber), materials that are more commonly used for racing bikes. The performance advantage provided by these materials is tangible, and for a rider covering long distances at higher speeds, they are a fair trade off for reduced resistance to the punishing treatment sometimes heaped upon pure utility bikes.
The welded aluminum frame is made in Taiwan and the construction is on par with other bikes in this price range. The carbon fibre fork is robust and looks similar to, but beefier than, the carbon forks seen on many production racing bikes, but with the obvious difference of having V-Brake mounts and fender eyelets. The deep, metallic blue powder coat and decal set is understated and attractive.
The bottom bracket shell is worth noting. Bikes outfitted with internal gear hubs require some form of chain adjuster/tensioner. This can be accomplished with horizontal dropouts, sliding dropouts, a spring-loaded chain tensioner, or, as in the case of the Finesse, an eccentric bottom bracket. The bottom bracket shell acts as a clamp that holds an offset, rotating bottom bracket. Loosening the cinch bolts and rotating the bottom bracket changes the distance between the rear axle and the bottom bracket spindle, increasing or decreasing chain tension in the process. The advantage of an eccentric bottom bracket over a horizontal dropout is that it greatly simplifies roadside flat repairs by eliminating the need to readjust the rear wheel each time it’s removed.
You’ve heard me rave about the Shimano Alfine group before. One of my everyday rides (a Civia Hyland) is outfitted with the full group and I’ve become quite familiar and enamored with Shimano’s top-of-the-line commuting/utility component set. The Alfine group includes a single crank, front and rear disc brakes with levers, front dynamo hub, and an 8-speed internal gear hub (IGH) with shifter. As can be seen in the photos, the components are anodized in an attractive high gloss black finish.
The heart of the Alfine group is the 8-speed internal gear hub and matching RapidFire shifter. I can’t say enough about this shifting system. It performed flawlessly throughout the test period. The Alfine IGH can be shifted while sitting still, coasting, pedaling, and even while under power. Missed shifts are non-existent with this hub and every shift is precise, quick, and quiet. For city riding, the only hub that outperforms the Alfine is the Rohloff Speedhub, but it’s not a fair comparison if you take into account the exorbitant price of the Rohloff (~$1400).
The front dynamo hub is sufficiently efficient, though it does introduce more drag than its main competitor, the SON hub from Germany. Still, the amount of drag was small enough to be unnoticeable while riding. The electrical connection on the Alfine is more secure and easier to set-up than the connection on the SON, an advantage for those who occasionally change out their front lights or move them from one bike to another.
Alfine hydraulic disc brakes are extremely powerful and are strong enough to lock either wheel with 2-3 fingers. In general, hydraulic discs make me a little nervous in that they’re harder to repair than cable actuated brakes if by some odd chance you have a catastrophic failure on the road. That said, I’ve been using Shimano Alfine discs for quite some time now and I’ve found them to be 100% reliable and a breeze to adjust.
The most unusual component on the Finesse is the “Truss Sport Rack”. The Truss is mounted at the unused rear V-Brake studs instead of the rear dropout eyelets like most racks. The idea is to improve aerodynamic efficiency and reduce weight. I do like the Truss rack’s clean design and minimal look, but it doesn’t accept standard panniers, a major disadvantage that, in my opinion, is not worth the minimal performance gain.
The lighting system on the Finesse is the highest quality and most well-integrated I’ve seen on any bike sold in the U.S. The Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ Fly Senso Plus headlight and Toplight-Plus tail light are absolutely top shelf. The Fly is one of a new generation of LED headlights coming out of Europe that are competing favorably with battery systems, and the Toplight-Plus is best of class in dyno-powered tail lights.
What really sets this system apart though, is the way the wiring is integrated into the frame. After leaving the headlight, the tail light lead enters the downtube, exiting at the bottom bracket where it plugs into the rear fender with snap connectors, continuing from there embedded in the fender, then exiting at the rear of the fender where it connects to the tail light with snap connectors. It’s a well thought out system that’s fully integrated into the design of the bike.
The wheels are built on Shimano Alfine hubs with Shimano WH-S500V rims and double-butted spokes. They do a good job of reaching a compromise between performance and toughness. These aren’t expedition-grade touring wheels for carrying heavy loads, but they’re plenty strong for daily commutes on rough roads, while still providing good performance for long, fast rides to work. The Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires are relatively fast and reasonably comfortable. They don’t have the extreme flat protection of Schwalbe’s other tires from the Marathon series, but again, they provide a fair compromise between speed and utility.
The remainder of the components are of a quality you’d expect for a bike in this price range. The adjustable stem and carbon seat post are from Ritchey. The threadless, integrated headset is from Cane Creek. The main bars are a comfortable semi-swept back design reminiscent of the On One Mary. The adjustable, bolt-on “Joe Bars” provide an extra, more aerodynamic hand position for longer rides; you’ll either love or hate these depending upon your aesthetic preferences and riding style. If, by chance, you don’t like them, they can easily be removed.
The first thing I noticed when I jumped on the Finesse is its long, open cockpit. The top tube on my 56cm test bike is 24.2″ long, approximately 2″ longer than the top tubes on the 56cm Surly LHT and 54cm Civia Hyland I’ve been riding this past year. Some of this can be mitigated with either a short stem or by choosing a frame size based upon top tube length, but the designer undoubtedly intended that the rider be stretched out into an aerodynamic position on this bike. The design works well on open roads where the Finesse feels like it’s on rails once up to speed. It tracks solidly through sweeping turns and it’s a real treat on rollers and winding descents. As might be expected, this high speed stability comes with a price; the Finesse is slightly less user-friendly at low speeds than bikes with more compact, upright cockpits.
Like most modern bikes with aluminum frames and carbon forks, the Finesse’s frame is relatively stiff, though I wouldn’t go so far to call it harsh. Road vibration is well dampened, probably owing mostly to the carbon fork and Marathon Racer tires. The stiff bottom bracket and rear triangle help to impart a pleasant feeling of connectedness to the road. Overall, the Finesse is a confidence inspiring bike with a solid, yet lively feel.
The Breezer Finesse doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It’s one of a growing number of high performance commuters, unapologetically designed to get from point A to point B with minimal effort and maximum speed, while providing many of the amenities expected on a commuter bike such as fenders, lights, a rack, and a protected drivetrain. This isn’t a bike for hauling groceries or locking up to a parking meter all day, but if you have a long commute over varied terrain and you want to cover the distance quickly and with confidence, the Finesse is the perfect bike for the job.
Frame: Butted aluminum, eccentric bottom bracket, disc and V-brake mounts, Breeze-In dropouts
Fork: Carbon fiber blades, disc mounts; option for V-brake mounts
Headset: Cane Creek, fully integrated, threadless
Crank: Shimano Alfine with external bottom bracket
Brakes: Shimano Alfine hydraulic disc
Seatpost: Ritchey Carbon Pro
Saddle: Velo Plush multi-density, tubular Cro-Mo rails
Stem: Ritchey Adjustable, 3D-forged aluminum, +/- 45 degrees
Handlebars: Swept Townies with Joe Bars, ergo grips
Rear Rack: Breezer Truss sport rack with 14-inch bed
Headlight: B&M Lumotec IQ Fly Senso Plus
Tail light: B&M LED Toplight-Plus
Shifter: Shimano Alfine 8-speed Rapidfire Plus
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Racer 700x35C
Wheel (Rear): Shimano Alfine Internal 8-speed, Shimano WH-S500V rim, double-butted spokes
Wheel (Front): Shimano Alfine Dynamo, Shimano WH-S500V rim, double-butted spokes
Size as Tested: 56cm/22″
Many thanks to Advanced Sports/Breezer for supplying the Finesse used for this road test. —Alan