Handsome Cycle Co. Devil

The Handsome Cycle Co. Devil (aka the “Handsome Devil”) is a steel frameset that draws inspiration from the legendary Bridgestone XO-1 of the 1990’s. Like the XO, the Handsome Devil is unusually versatile. Its many braze-ons, multiple brake mounts, generous tire clearance, and semi-horizontal dropouts enable it to be built up as a tourer, commuter, single speed, club racer, or virtually any other type of road bike. Here’s an explanation of the concept from Handsome Cycle:

The model that has really stood out for us is the XO-1. We started our design of The Devil with the XO as a template. We admire Bridgestone for making a very versatile bicycle in the XO line. The ability to morph into a city bicycle, a touring bicycle and a mountain bicycle in the same frame is what we wanted and felt that our customers would as well. We then took that template and adjusted it. We changed it to 700c wheels instead of the 26 inch that the XO-1 came with. We felt that 700c wheels are a more efficient way to go, and now a days you can get a 700c wheel that is just as strong as a 26 inch. We also changed the geometry to make it a great city commuter, touring bicycle, cyclocross bicycle, or single speed winter bicycle.

The Devil was designed in Minneapolis and is manufactured in Taiwan using 4130 chromoly steel. The overall workmanship is on par with other framesets in this price range from Soma, Surly, and others. The TIG welds are clean and the powder coat is attractive. A full set of decals is included, but the Devil is shipped sans decals, giving you the option of going decal-free if you prefer.

EcoVelo is all about replacing car trips with bike trips, so naturally we want to know how a bike behaves when loaded with weight, whether it be groceries, gardening supplies, or library books. To test out the Devil’s load carrying capabilities, I first loaded it with 30 lbs. in the rear panniers only, then 16 lbs. in the front basket only, then both. As a comparison, I did the same thing with my everyday ride, a Surly Long Haul Trucker. The LHT is a good bike to compare and contrast with the Devil because it’s also a versatile, reasonably priced, TIG-welded steel bike. Here’s what I found.

The LHT, with its relatively high trail steering, is stable but a bit sluggish for my tastes. Not surprisingly, adding 30 lbs. to the rear wakes up the steering and makes it feel lighter and quicker up front, in this case actually improving the feel of the front end. The Devil, on the other hand, has relatively low trail and an already responsive, quick feel up front when unloaded. With 30 lbs. in the rear panniers, the already light front end becomes twitchy and the weight feels as if it’s steering the bike. This result is not surprising considering the LHT is specifically designed as a touring bike, whereas the Devil is more of an all-rounder that isn’t specifically designed to carry such heavy loads in the rear.

Model
Size HT ST TT BB CS WB Trail
Handsome Devil 58cm 73° 73° 590mm 70mm 436mm 1046mm 45mm
Bridgestone
XO-1
59cm 73° 73° 580mm 45mm 425mm 1031mm 55mm
Surly LHT 58cm 72° 72.5° 587mm 79mm 460mm 1067mm 65mm
Soma
Double Cross
58cm 72° 72.5° 592mm 66mm 425mm 1042mm NA
Legend: HT = Head Tube Angle, ST = Seat Tube Angle, TT = Effective Top Tube Length, BB = Bottom Bracket Drop, CS = Chainstay Length, WB = Wheelbase

As might be expected, placing the weight up front had almost exactly the opposite effect. The Devil, with its relatively low trail front end, handled 16 lbs. in the front basket quite well. The front end remained manageable, and though the steering was noticeably slower, I still felt totally under control and didn’t at all feel as if I was wrestling with the handlebars. The front end of the LHT, on the other hand, felt extremely heavy and sluggish with that much weight up front. There was a noticeable tendency for the weight to swing to the side, and after just a short while my forearms tired from death-gripping the bars.

Both bikes handled reasonably well with the weight distributed between the front and rear. The Devil works best with the load split closer to 50/50, whereas the LHT performs better with most of the weight in the rear.

Though it can handle rear loads up to around 15-20 lbs. without issue, the Devil really shines when it’s set-up porteur-style with a front cargo rack and/or basket. Add a mid-sized saddle bag and you have plenty of capacity for commuting and light cargo runs, while eliminating the need for a rear rack and panniers. The Devil I tested was set-up with a small Nitto rack and Wald basket up front. This is a great set-up for commuting that provides capacity for a laptop bag, lunch, and other work necessities.

The Devil is quicker and more compact than most of the bikes I’ve been riding this year. To once again compare it to the LHT, the Devil is lighter in the hand and more responsive. It feels decidedly more like a road bike than a touring bike. The fact that the Devil can also handle commuting loads without issue makes it a capable, all-around ride for anything other than cargo-level loads.

The Handsome Devil is an appealing frameset at a competitive price. Details include all the necessary cable stops, eyelets for fenders and racks, bottle mounts, a pump peg, semi-horizontal dropouts, 132.5mm dropout spacing to accept road or mountain hubs, and sufficient clearance for heavy duty tires. This kind of versatility and attention to detail is hard to find in a frame at this price point. In all, the Handsome Devil is an extremely well thought out package.

Price (frameset): $409.95

Handsome Cycle Co.

Spotlight: Jango Flik

Background

Topeak is primarily known as a manufacturer of high quality bicycle tools and accessories, the most well-known being their popular bicycle pumps and multi-tools. They also manufacture everything from bags and bottle cages to racks and repair stands. Theirs is one of the most complete lines of accessories on the market.

Topeak is also the parent company to Jango bikes. Jango has developed a line of what they call “Multi-Activity Bikes”. The concept is that by changing out the wide range of Topeak/Jango “Plug & Bike” accessories — each specifically designed to integrate with these bikes — the bike is capable of transforming from a day tourer, to a grocery getter, to a loaded tourer, etc. Here’s an explanation from Jango:

Jango establishes a new type of bicycle. The Multi-Activity Bike. All Jango Accessories have been specially developed for Jango Bikes. They are exclusively designed and produced by Topeak, the Premium Manufacturer. Integrated Ports for precise and seamless integration of Bikes and Accessories. The brilliant Plug & Bike Port technology makes for perfect integration of Jango Base Bikes and Jango Accessories. Jango is simple to use and understand – no complicated technical knowledge required. The innovative Modular System guarantees your enjoyment. High Quality, Function & Styling. Everything is possible from a minimalist sporty fitness bike to a fully equiped Travel Bike with trailer. Functional, elegant and simple.

While any number of bikes can be modified to be used for multiple purposes (my Surly Long Haul Trucker is a good example), the Jango concept integrates the accessories a little tighter, and arguably, makes the modifications simpler for beginners who have little to no mechanical skills. The downside to this concept is that the Jango system locks you into using only proprietary Topeak accessories. While I very much like the quality of Topeak’s accessories, I’m more of a advocate for open standards and universality in part-and-accessory mounts.

The Flik

The Flik is Jango’s folding model. Late last year, Jango loaned us a Flik V8 to play around with and we’ve been riding it for a couple of months now. It’s an attractive folding bike with 16″ wheels and a two-position fold. The V8 is the 8-speed derailleur model with V-brakes, rear suspension, and rigid fork. Four other models are available with varying combinations of drivetrains, brakes, and suspension. You can view the other models on the Flik website.

The fit, finish, and detailing on the Flik are excellent. It’s a pretty bike.

The Flik’s relatively open cockpit makes it feel larger than it is. It rides similar to a full-sized bike and it was comfortable for 20+ mile trips, something I can’t say about all of the folders I’ve ridden.

This is what Jango calls the “shuttling” mode. The concept is that when the bike is partially folded, it has a small footprint for wheeling through train stations or on crowded sidewalks. While the idea sounds good on paper, in the circumstances in which I ride I didn’t find this fold to be an advantage over simply leaving the already-small bike unfolded.

This is the full fold. While not as compact as a Brompton or a Tikit, it’s a super-fast and simple fold that may be sufficient for people who need a folder for putting into the trunk of a car or storing in a small apartment. It’s sufficiently small for taking on the Amtrak train (which is outfitted for full-sized bikes), but it’s too large to carry on our City buses where packages (and bicycles) aren’t allowed in the aisles.

This is the folding stem. Slide the gray ring and flip the black lever and the bars fold down. It takes just a second or two.

This is the lever that initiates the main fold. Flip it forward and the rear of the bike hinges up and over. Simple and quick.

Pull this ring and the fold unlocks. Again, easy.

There are lots of interesting details to admire on the Flik. It’s really attractive up close.

Michael and I both like the rear suspension on this bike. Small bikes with small wheels can ride quite harshly (Michael didn’t much like my Brompton due to its relatively harsh ride and super-quick steering, but she really enjoys riding this bike). The rear shock and 1.75″ tires work together to smooth out the ride on the Flik.

The Shimano drivetrain is smooth and reliable and the gear ratios are appropriate for city riding. We both like the RapidFire shifter and prefer this type of shifter over twist shifters. While I generally prefer internal gear hubs on folding bikes, the weight savings that come with speccing a derailleur drivetrain are not an unwelcome compromise on a folder.

Like the other Jango bikes, the Flik accepts a wide variety of accessories in the Plug & Bike system (35 according to Jango). While I’m not 100% sold on the concept for full-sized bikes, I think it works brilliantly for a folder. Because there is little standardization among folding bikes, many accessories are proprietary in any case. And in the case of the Flik, a wide variety of well-made and well-integrated accessories are available.

The bags attach to the rear rack via a sliding rail system. This is the forward latch that holds the bags in place. It’s a slick system that’s super-easy to use; a real advantage when shuttling on-and-off of trains, etc.

This is the integrated wheel lock that’s mounted on the front left V-brake caliper. While it won’t keep a thief from carrying off your bike, it’ll make for a good laugh when he endoes… :-) Speaking of brakes, the Jango branded V-brakes worked fine and provided plenty of stopping power and decent modulation (there’s not much to say about V-brakes – they all seem to work reasonably well if properly adjusted).

This clever little kickstand rotates in two directions which enables it to work when the Flik is folded, unfolded, or in shuttle mode.

This is the integrated headlight mount that accepts the Plug & Bike headlights.

Ding, ding! Another nice little detail…

Topeak manufactures the Allay “AirSpan” saddles. The Flik came outfitted with the “Racing Sport” model. That translucent area in the middle of the saddle is an air bladder designed to reduce pressure on sensitive tissues. The air pressure can be adjusted with the valve under the nose of the saddle. Michael found this saddle to be quite comfortable, while it wasn’t a good fit for me. As always, saddle preferences are highly personal and subjective.

What It Is

The Flik would be an excellent choice for someone who needs to store a bike in a small apartment, stow it in the back of a car, park it in the corner of a small office, or take it on a train that has facilities for full-sized bikes. It has a comfortable, open cockpit that makes it more appealing for longer rides than some other small wheel folders. The fact that it’s set-up for the Plug & Bike system gives the owner access to a wide variety of excellent accessories.

What It’s Not

The Flik is not a Brompton. In other words, it’s not a bike that can be taken onto a crowded bus or stored under the desktop in a small cubicle. The fold is secure, but on the large end of the range for 16″ folding bikes. This large folded size makes the Flik cumbersome to carry and less than ideal as a bike for multi-modal commuting in tight conditions.

Why You Might Like It

The main advantage the Flik has over its competition is its ride quality. The longish cockpit and excellent rear suspension give the Flik a comfortable and smooth ride, not unlike a full-sized bike. The fact that the wide selection of Plug & Bike accessories are so well integrated into the bike design is a real advantage as well. If you don’t have a need for a tiny fold, and you’d prefer a folder that rides more like your standard bike, you might really like the Flik. We did.

Specifications

  • Frame Size: One size fits all
  • Folded Size: 32.9“ x 13.1“ x 31.9“
  • Suggested Rider Height: 4’11” – 6’2.8”
  • Maximum Rider Weight: 242.5 lbs.
  • Suspension: MCU elastomer damping, 10mm travel
  • Shifter: Shimano Rapidfire 8-speed
  • Crank: Forged aluminum crank arm, 50T
  • Derailleur: Shimano Sora
  • Cassette: 8 speed, 11-28T
  • Brakes: Jango V-brakes
  • Grips: Ergon
  • Saddle: Allay Racing Sport
  • Wheels: 16″ x 1.75″
  • Weight as Tested (without bags): 27 lbs.
  • MSRP: $1399

Jango Flik

Disclosure

Topeak provided the loaner bike for this review. EcoVelo was not compensated in any way for writing this review.

Short-Term Road Test: Civia Bryant

Civia was kind enough to loan me a prototype of their new Bryant commuter for a couple of weeks to put it through its paces and share my impressions with EcoVelo readers. I normally like to ride a bike for at least 4-6 weeks to get an in-depth picture of the bike before writing a review, but because of the excitement surrounding this bike I thought I’d go ahead and write a short-term review with the caveat that these are only my limited impressions based upon two weeks of riding.

Last week we took a first look at the Bryant, pointing out component details and going over the spec list. For this round I wanted to focus more on frame geometry, ride quality, and the overall package.

I’ve been looking at frame geometry charts and poring over component lists for so many years that I usually have a fairly good idea whether or not I’ll like a bike well before I ride it. I knew by looking at the charts that the Bryant would most likely be comfortable and easy to ride, with neutral-to-stable handling and no big surprises. To put the Bryant’s frame geometry in context, I created a table showing the Bryant’s numbers next to those of the popular Trek Pilot and Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Bike (all 58cm) Trek Pilot Civia Bryant Surly LHT
Head Tube Angle 73 degrees 72 degrees 72 degrees
Seat Tube Angle 72.8 degrees 73 degrees 72.5mm
Effective Top Tube Length 567mm 580mm 586mm
Chainstay Length 420mm 440mm 460mm
Fork Offset (rake) 45mm 45mm 45mm
Wheelbase 1005.0mm 1057.3mm 1066.7mm
Estimated Trail 56mm 63mm 65mm

The Trek is a sport/performance bike that has a more forgiving geometry than their pure racing bikes. The Surly is the most popular loaded touring bike on the market. The Bryant falls in the middle between the two. The Trek has quicker steering than either the Surly or the Bryant, both of which have stable steering optimized for carrying rear loads. The main difference in geometry between these bikes lies in the top tube and chainstay lengths. The Trek is short in both regards which makes it lighter and stiffer, but not ideal for hauling loads of any sort. The Surly, with its long chainstays, has enough heel clearance for even expedition-size rear panniers. The Bryant’s mid-length chainstays provide the appropriate amount of clearance for commuting panniers while still keeping the wheelbase a little tighter and more compact than the LHT’s.

The ride quality of the Bryant holds true to its spec sheet. The steering is neutral-to-stable and optimized for a rear load. The frame is plenty stiff for carrying a commuting load, but not as rigid as many aluminum frames or the touring-oriented LHT. The frame has just a touch of vertical compliance under my 160 lb. frame, though not as much as my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. The top tube is longish and should work well for riders with average to longer-than-average torsos. I happen to have long legs and a short torso, so I’d opt for a shorter stem if I owned this bike.

The best chromoly frames coming out of Taiwan today rival those we used to see coming out of Japan, and the Bryant’s frame is right up there in quality. The TIG welds are crisp and clean, the finish is smooth with no obvious orange-peeling or bubbles, and the frame details around the dropouts are impressive. The overall fit-and-finish is excellent for a production bike in this price range.

I already covered the Bryant’s component details in a previous post. To briefly recap, the highlight of the group is the Alfine IGH/Gates Carbon Drive/Versa brifter drivetrain. As I’ve previously stated (to ad nauseam at this point), this is an incredible drivetrain for year-round commuting and general utility riding. Again, it truly is one of the smoothest drivetrains I’ve encountered, and the low maintenance aspects of the internal gear hub and belt drive are real benefits for those who ride year-round in inclement weather. Being a prototype, the wheels on this bike were mismatched and the disc brakes were down-spec’d to Avid BB5’s. The production models will, of course, have matched wheels and the brakes will be the higher quality Avid BB7’s. The remainder of the components are nice quality and about what you’d expect on a bike in this price range.

The Civia Bryant should serve extremely well as a car replacement, particularly for those who have been riding road bikes and prefer an open, drop bar cockpit. The drivetrain is state-of-the-art, and the thoughtfully detailed chromoly steel frame is attractive and well-constructed. The handling is neutral and easy and the layout is well-suited to carrying rear commuting loads. Overall, I’d say the Bryant is a successful design that meets the needs of serious commuters. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the final production version when it hits the streets in April.

Specifications

MSRP: $1,630
Frame and Fork: Double Butted CroMoly Steel
Shifters: Versa Integrated shift / brake levers
Crankset: Civia Forged Alloy
Gearing: 50×24 w/ 8 speed internal
Brakes: Avid BB7 Road
Rear Hub: Shimano Alfine
Weight as Tested: Approximately 30.5 lbs.

Civia

Disclosure: Civia is a sponsor of this site and provided the bike for this review.

First Look: 2010 Civia Bryant

That’s a nice looking bike. I like the overall balance, gently sloping top tube, clean drivetrain, and tasteful color scheme. This particular bike is a 58cm. The frame and fork are chromoly steel (of course). There’s no need for a chainguard with a Gates Carbon Drive.

 

This cool “lug” at the base of the headtube serves as a cable stop. The rest of the frame is TIG welded.

 

Boy howdy! Yep, that’s a kickstand plate you see there. Thank you, Civia.

 

That is one complex dropout. Things to notice: replaceable dropout slot; integrated fender mount (just below the rack); notched disc brake mounts; and three holes that mimic the Civia logo.

 

This is the dropout that makes the Gates Carbon Drive possible. Notice the slit for inserting the belt at the upper right of the tensioner.

 

Love this seatpost clamp. It takes an M6x20 socket head capscrew and matching nut, so there’s no possibility of stripping the frame. A nice detail.

 

Post mounted Avid BB5 disc brake on a straight blade fork.

 

As is typical for Civia, tasteful, understated graphics.

 

Versa “brifter”; the control end of the Alfine IGH and rear Avid BB5 disc brake.

 

The Gates Carbon Drive. I’ve said it before: the Gates/Alfine combo is the smoothest multi-gear drivetrain I’ve encountered.

 

Nice curves. ;-)

 

Honjo-style alloy fenders.

 

The bike pictured here is a pre-production prototype. The production model will be available in April 2010. Please visit the Civia website for more information.

Civia

Disclosure: Civia is a sponsor of this site and provided the bike for this review.

Road Test: Raleigh Alley Way

Introduction

The Alley Way is an exciting new commuter/city bike from Raleigh for 2010. The commuter segment of the market is really heating up this year and the Alley Way looks perfectly outfitted to do well among the fast growing and increasingly more sophisticated pool of transportation riders. Features include a butted Reynolds 520 chromoly compact frame; matching integrated bar/stem; matching alloy fenders and chainguard; Shimano Alfine/Gates Carbon Drive drivetrain; Shimano Alfine generator hub; Shimano mechanical disc brakes; Brooks B17 saddle; and Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires. All of that at a retail price of $1425.

Construction

The Alley Way’s frame is made from Reynolds 520 chromoly tubing. 520 is a mid-level steel tubing; good quality but with a lower strength-to-weight ratio than Reynold’s more expensive tubesets. As is true for nearly all bikes in this price range, the frame is manufactured in the far east. The TIG welds look sufficiently clean and the general workmanship is on par with competing models. The Bianchi-esque celeste green powder coat is particularly striking and elicits comments wherever the bike is ridden. The matching integrated bar/stem, fenders, and chain guard give the Alley Way an attractive, boutiquey look.

The most noticeable characteristic of the frame is the dramatically sloping top tube. Traditionalists may be put-off by such a steeply sloping top tube, but many people I talk with find the look very appealing. Practical advantages of sloping top tubes include weight savings (less frame material); added stiffness (smaller triangles); wider fit range (long seat tubes and lower standover height); and clearance at the top tube for wearing dresses/skirts (similar to step-throughs or mixtes).

The frame and fork are peppered with numerous braze-ons including rear rack mounts; a pair of water bottle mounts; front and rear fender eyelets; and mid-fork front rack mounts. Disc brake mounts are integrated into the frame and the right rear dropout breaks apart for installing the Carbon Drive belt. The bottom bracket shell is oversized for housing the eccentric bottom bracket, a necessary component for tensioning the drive belt. The matching fenders are attractive, though the front fender is too short to be fully effective without the addition of a mud flap. The one missing item is a kickstand plate, something I consider a must-have on any purpose-built commuter bike.

Components

The Alley Way features a nice group of predominately Shimano components with a few Tektro and generic parts mixed in. Most notable are the Alfine internal gear and dynamo hubs. These hubs are quickly becoming the de facto standard for mid-to-upper-level commuter bikes; both the Civia Hyland and Breezer Finesse we reviewed earlier this year were outfitted with these hubs. The Alfine IGH is smooth, quiet, and trouble-free. It is arguably the smoothest shifting IGH on the market and when combined with the Alfine Rapid-Fire shifter, it’s a joy to use. The Alfine dynamo is the best in its price category with Ultegra-level bearings and drag numbers approaching, but not quite matching, the more expensive SON hubs from Germany. The two together represent the best front/rear hub set designed specifically for commuters.

Some might question Raleigh’s choice to supply a dynamo hub on a bike with no lights, but I fully agree with the decision. Most headlights supplied on production bikes are woefully inadequate, and each rider’s lighting needs are unique based upon their local conditions. I’d rather the manufacturer supply the dynamo and let me choose my own headlight/tail light combination based upon my particular needs.

The internal gear and dynamo hubs do much to define the character of this bike, but the Gates Carbon Drive is the star of the show. When combined with the Alfine IGH, you have what may be the smoothest, quietest drivetrain on the market. It feels like an over-oiled fixed-gear drivetrain, but with 8 speeds and no grease stains; completely clean, smooth, crisp, and quiet. From all reports the bugs are pretty much worked out of this system and it’s ready for prime time. My experience during the test period bears this out. A few benefits of the Carbon Drive System include special sprockets that shed all types of debris including mud and snow; zero maintenance over the life of the belt; at least twice the life span of a traditional bike chain; and reduced weight when compared to a conventional chain/sprocket combination.

The Shimano mechanical disc brakes are reasonably functional if not that exciting. I’m accustomed to hydraulic discs and the Shimano mechanicals feel somewhat vague and underpowered when compared to their Alfine counterparts. They’re certainly safe and provide plenty of braking power, but they lack the sensitivity and snap I’ve come to expect from disc brakes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the Alfine hydraulics I’ve been using on other bikes this past year.

The rise, reach, and bend of the integrated bar/stem is right on the money, which is a good thing because if the bar position doesn’t suit you there is no way to make any adjustments. The key is to take a good, long test ride and be sure to purchase the frame size that places the bars in the proper relation to the saddle when adjusted to your normal saddle height. Doing so should prevent any potential fit issues.

The Brooks B17 “Narrow” saddle is an unexpected and welcome addition on a production commuter bike, though I found it to be too narrow for this bike’s upright geometry. Saddle preferences are highly personal, but a standard-width B17 would be a better choice for most people on this bike. My test bike is a pre-production model, so it may be that the final production version will come outfitted with the more popular standard-width B17.

Ride Quality

The Alley Way is stable and novice-friendly. It likes to go straight and it takes little thought or effort to keep it on track (riding no-hands on the Alley Way is a cinch). All of that stability comes at the price of some quickness and maneuverability, but many people will find the undemanding geometry a plus, particularly those transitioning from cruisers and hybrids to their first purpose-built commuter. The frame is plenty stiff at the bottom bracket and it has that characteristic lively, shock absorbing quality found in many chromoly steel bikes. As I mentioned above, the Alfine IGH/Gates Carbon Drive combo is completely silent, and when combined with the steel frame and 35mm Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires, the overall impression is one of smoothness and stability when ridden at commuting speeds.

Conclusion

The Alley Way is a highly competent city bike that has something to offer for commuters of all experience levels. Its relatively relaxed frame geometry should make it particularly appealing to less experienced riders who might be intimidated by quicker handling bikes. The cutting edge Gates Carbon Drive/Alfine IGH drivetrain dramatically reduces the need for maintenance while providing a uniquely quiet and smooth riding/shifting experience. The matching celeste green frame, fenders, chainguard, and integrated bar/stem add the finishing touches to a functional and attractive package that turns heads wherever it goes.

Specifications

Sizes: S, M, L
Frame: Reynolds 520 Butted Chromo w/CNC Dropouts
Fork: 4130 Chromo Cross w/Disc Mounts
Handlebar: Custom Chromo 1pc with integrated stem
Seatpost: Alloy Micro Adjust 27.2x400mm
Saddle: Brooks B17
Headset: Ahead 1-1/8″ w/Alloy Cup/Sealed Cartridge Bearing
Cranks: 2pc Forged w/External BB and Gates Belt Drive Chainwheel w/Guard 50t
Rear Cog: Gates Belt Drive 24t
Shifter: Shimano Alfine
Brake Levers: Tektro Comfort
Brakes: Shimano BR-M416 Disc
Hubs: (F) Shimano Alfine Dynamo 32h (R) Shimano Alfine Internal 8spd 32h
Rims: Weinmann XM260 Disc
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur Cross w/Reflective Side 700x35c
Weight as Tested: Approximately 32 lbs.
Retail Price: $1425

Raleigh USA

Disclosure

Raleigh is a sponsor of this website and supplied the Alley Way used for this road test.

Road Test: Breezer Uptown 8

Background

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.

Construction

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?

Components

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.

Ride Quality

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.

Conclusion

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.

Specifications*

MSRP: $1159 (Price Subject to Change)
Sizes: 17.0″, 19.5″, 21.5″, 23.5″
Frame: Aluminum Alloy
Fork: Cro-moly
Crank: SR-Suntour
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.

Disclosure

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.

Alan

Breezer

Road Test: Breezer Finesse

Background

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.

Construction

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.

Components

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.

Ride Quality

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.

Conclusion

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.

Specifications

MSRP: $1,799
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″

Credits

Many thanks to Advanced Sports/Breezer for supplying the Finesse used for this road test. —Alan

Breezer


 
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