The Europeans know how to build practical bicycles. The typical European “town bike” comes fully-equipped from the manufacturer with fenders, integrated lights, generator hub, internal gear hub, enclosed chain case, kickstand, rack, bell, heavy-duty tires, and suspension seat post. These bikes are ready-to-go and require no aftermarket accessories or modifications to be used day-or-night, throughout the year, in all weather conditions.
The bicycle industry in the U.S. has been driven by sport and recreation for decades. This emphasis on bicycles for entertainment, as opposed to bicycles as tools for transportation, has created a situation in which a majority of the bicycles on the market are ill-equipped for use as vehicles for daily transportation. Go into almost any mainstream bike shop around the country and take a look around; even today, with so much talk about using bicycles for transportation, most of what you’ll see are carbon fiber racing bikes and full suspension mountain bikes with the occasional smattering of hybrids, cruisers, and possibly an “urban” single speed or two. Even though we’re starting to see a shift away from exclusively bikes-for-sport in some shops, you’re still highly unlikely to find a wide selection of ready-to-go, purpose-built bikes for serious commuting and utility uses.
One of the first bicycle manufacturers in the U.S. to reject this over emphasis on bicycling-as-sport is Pennsylvania-based Breezer. Led by Joe Breeze, the company first introduced a line of Euro-style bikes to the U.S. market in 2002. The current Breezer line-up includes 16 transportation-oriented models, with more to come for 2010 (these will be introduced at Interbike next week).
In March, Breezer sent me their top-of-the-line “Finesse” for review. The Finesse is designed as their “fast commuter” for people who have a long commute on open roads (read the review here). This time around I’m testing the Uptown 8, Breezer’s flagship city bike and urban commuter. The Uptown very closely mimics the European town bike in all respects, with an emphasis on functionality, reliability, and suitability for rough-and-tumble, urban riding conditions.
The Uptown 8 frame is welded aluminum alloy with a steel unicrown fork. The welds look good and the fit and finish are clean. I was unable to find any significant flaws in either the powder coat or the underlying frame construction. The sparkle black finish is understated and appropriate for a city bike that’s likely to be parked in public places and left locked outside.
The frame and fork are manufactured in Taiwan and the construction is on par with other bikes in this price range. Regardless of the brand name, virtually all mid-level bicycle frames are now manufactured in Taiwan; labor costs in the U.S. and Japan have forced the manufacturing of all but the most expensive bicycles overseas. The good news is that the quality of Taiwanese frames is excellent and getting better all the time.
Like single speed and fixed gear bikes, bikes outfitted with internal gear hubs require some way to tension the chain. The Uptown 8 accomplishes this with horizontal dropouts. They get the job done, but properly tensioning the chain can be a little tricky. Installing chain adjusters at the dropout would solve the issue. Better yet would be a sliding dropout with vertical slots or an eccentric bottom bracket as seen on the Breezer Finesse — maybe for 2011?
The Uptown 8 is outfitted with a mix of Shimano, Tektro, and Breezer-branded components. The heart of the component set is the Shimano Nexus “Red Band” 8-speed internal gear hub. The Nexus Red Band is one step down from the top-of-the-line Alfine hub I’ve raved about in the past (read here and here). The Nexus differs from the Alfine in only a few minor details and I found that it performs nearly identically to its more expensive sibling. Like the Alfine, the Nexus 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. Even though I have a personal vendetta against all twist shifters, I have to admit, the Shimano twisters on the Uptown performed well and I became accustomed to the clickety-clack after a few days of regular use. There’s no questioning the fact that twisters are functional and practical for urban riding.
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 and a total non-issue for anything short of ultra-endurance riding and randonneurring. The electrical connection on Shimano hubs 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.
I’ve found very little difference in performance when comparing linear pull brakes from different manufacturers. The Tektros on the Uptown 8 worked as expected, providing good modulation and plenty of power. As I always suggest with any off-the-shelf brake, I’d replace the stock pads with Kool Stop salmon pads right away.
The Uptown is one of the few bikes produced by a U.S. company that comes outfitted with a full chain case. Chain cases go a step further than chain guards, protecting clothing from greasy chains while also minimizing maintenance by completely shielding the drivetrain from the elements. The translucent chain case on the Uptown is attractive and well-integrated into the design of the bike. My only issue with chain cases is that they complicate roadside flat repairs. Fortunately, the Uptown is outfitted with heavy duty, kevlar belted tires, so flats are highly unlikely (we went flat-free through the entire length of our 3-month test period).
Like the chain case, the lighting system on the Uptown is also well-integrated into the design of the bike. The wiring is mostly hidden within the frame, with a portion of the leads molded into the fenders. The Busch & Muller Lumotec Oval Senso Plus headlight provides a sufficient amount of light to see and be seen, though it’s not up to par with the latest LED offerings from B&M such as the IQ Cyo we recently reviewed (read about it here). My review bike is a 2009 model and I see the headlight is changing to a “Basta Pilot” for 2010, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new light performs.
The wheels are built on Shimano Nexus hubs with stout Alex DH-19 rims and 26×1.75 (47-559) Schwalbe City Plus tires. These are totally bomb-proof urban wheels that are capable of hopping curbs and plowing through potholes without issue. We beat ‘em up pretty good over the test period and they held true throughout.
I’m happy to report the Uptown comes with a kickstand plate and a bolt-on, single-leg kickstand. The stand is plenty strong and did a good job of supporting the bike even when fully loaded with groceries or a laptop and lunch.
The rear rack is plenty strong for carrying a pair of loaded panniers and a stack of books on top. It has a built-in spring-loaded clamp for holding small items and articles of clothing. Unlike a number of the racks I’ve encountered lately, it’s designed to accept nearly any pannier attachment system on the market.
I’ve owned two bikes outfitted with integrated wheel locks like the one on the Uptown. Wheel locks are not a bad idea for quick stops at a store or cafe where you can keep an eye on your bike, but to expect a wheel lock to ward off a professional bike thief (or even a zealous amateur) is probably asking too much. Get yourself a good U-lock!
I’ve never been a big fan of suspension seat posts, but as they go, the post on the Uptown is a good one. The spring tension is adjustable to the point that you can dial out most of the travel to prevent the bobbing that can be so annoying and inefficient with some posts. If a nasty pothole catches you by surprise, the post does a good job of soaking up some of the impact.
The remainder of the components are what you’d expect on a bike in this price range. The upright bars and stem are nicely finished and provide plenty of vertical adjustment. The fenders are plenty wide, even for the 47mm tires, though like most bicycle fenders they could stand to be a little longer. The ergonomic grips are quite comfortable and fit a variety of hands just fine.
I found the Uptown easy to ride and confidence inspiring right off the bat. The steering is dialed in and feels light in the hand without being twitchy. The frame feels solid and stiff, even with a load. The bike has a uniquely plush, yet at the same time solid, ride quality, probably due to the combination of high-flotation tires, suspension seat post, over-stuffed saddle, stiff frame, and heavy duty wheels. Every contact point with the rider is muted, so very little road vibration gets transmitted through to the cockpit; even potholes and curbs feel remarkably muted on this bike. At times I longed from more feedback from the road, but that’s to be expected from a bike that so completely isolates the rider from road shock and vibration. Everyone who rode the Uptown immediately commented on how smooth, quiet and comfortable it is.
The folks at Breezer have been designing bicycles for transportation since 2002 and their experience really shows in the Uptown 8. There are still only a handful of bicycles available in the U.S. that are 100% ready for year-round commuting right off the rack — the Uptown is one of them. You can literally take this bike home from the dealer, pump up the tires, and start commuting on it immediately. It’s not a fast bike, and at over 30 lbs. it’s by no means a featherweight, but the Uptown’s smooth ride and transportation-specific features make it an excellent choice for full-time commuters or anyone using a bicycle as a car replacement in the city.
MSRP: $1159 (Price Subject to Change)
Sizes: 17.0″, 19.5″, 21.5″, 23.5″
Frame: Aluminum Alloy
Shifter: Shimano SL-8S20 Revo
Chain: KMC Z-51
Front Hub: Shimano Nexus 3N30 Generator
Rear Hub: Shimano Nexus 8-speed Premium, Internal Gear
Rims: Alex DH19
Tires: Schwalbe CityPlus 26 x 1.75″
Brake Calipers: Tektro V-brake
Brake Levers: Tektro 396A
Handlebars: Upsweep, Alloy
Stem: Svelte, Longneck
Seat Post: Zoom Suspension
Saddle: Velo Plush Comfort Contour
Headlight: B&M Lumotec Senso Plus
Tail Light: B&M Toplight Plus
Rack: Custom Tubular Alloy, w/Spring Clip, 14-inch Bed
Fenders: TPR Plastic with Stainless Fittings
Weight: 34.5 lbs (19.5″)
*Our test bike is a 2009 model.
Advanced Sports/Breezer supplied the Uptown 8 used for this road test. For full disclosure, I wanted to point out that I was recently contracted by Breezer to shoot photos for their 2010 catalog. This has in no way influenced this road test, most of which was written long before I was approached by Breezer to act as their photographer. I was not compensated for writing this review, and I have not discussed details of the review with Breezer. For more on our review policy, click here.