Long Term Test: Breezer Finesse – The Alfine 8 Speed Super Commuter
Four years ago I sold my car and moved to Portland with two bicycles. I haven’t owned a car since, which means I use a bike and public transit to get anywhere and everywhere. The bike collection has grown to four, plus any test bikes I have at the time, but still no car. However, my personal stable consists of drop bar road bikes (and one cyclocross bike). So, when offered up the chance to test out a flat bar commuter bike from Breezer I was excited to have something a bit different to ride.
I have had the Breezer Finesse since June, 2011. This has provided ample opportunity to ride the bike in all sorts of different conditions. I have ridden fully loaded, long distances, and short commutes. Click through for the full review.
As mentioned, the Finesse is a flat bar commuter oriented bike, and it runs a full Shimano Alfine 8 speed drive train. The Finesse is part of Breezer’s Range series of bikes, and for 2011, it was slotted in at the top spot, costing $1799. The fame is made from Breezer’s D’Fusion hydroformed aluminum, and it comes in three sizes, S (48cm), M (52cm), L (56cm), XL (60cm). Up front is a Breezer designed carbon fiber fork, Alfine hydraulic brakes provide the stopping power, and an Alfine wheelset with front generator hub wrapped in Schwalbe Marathon 32c rubber keeps things rolling. The generator hub runs a B&M Lumotec IQ Fly LED headlight, as well as a B&M DToplight Plus LED taillight. The cockpit is comprised of a Breezer aluminum bar and adjustable stem, as well as a Breezer (made by Velo?) saddle perched a top a Ritchey Pro carbon seat post. Mounted to the bars are a set of bar ends, but oddly, they are set up for an “aero” position, being placed in the center of the bar. More on this in a bit. And while the Finesse normally comes with the Breezer Truss Sport Rack mounted to the canti studs, mine was built using the newer Breezer tubular aluminum full rack specced on 2012 Breezer line. For the full list of specifications, head to the end of the post. The complete build comes in just shy of 30 lbs. While that is 11 pounds more than my heaviest bike, it’s right on par with pretty much anything in this class. All in all, it’s a very solid build, and there is little I would change.
I was shipped a size large, and at 6’2 with a 33” inseam, it fits well. Riding the Finesse took some getting used to for me. By design, the rider is positioned very upright. Until it showed up, my primary commuter was my single speed road bike. Going form a fast, quick handling, drop bar road bike, to this was a big change. At first, the Finesse felt large and cumbersome. It’s a lot like driving a small sports car, vs large SUV. However, the more I road the bike, the more I got used to it, and the more I liked it. It’s comfortable, stable, and once up to speed, it just keeps rolling. Dodging pot holes is a thing of the past, as the wheels are super solid, and with bigger tires, the impact isn’t nearly as bad. The aluminum frame is fairly stiff, and under heavy efforts frame flex was never an issue.
The drive train has performed very well, and I love how low maintenance the internally geared Alfine 8 speed system is. After a couple hundred miles on the bike, I had to adjust the shifting a bit due to cable stretch. However, that is to be expected on any bike during the initial break in period. Otherwise, shifting happens very smoothly. I love the ability to shift when not pedaling. It’s a lot like depressing the clutch in a car and hitting first gear while rolling up to a stoplight. One thing of note is that the trigger shifter on the Alfine system is setup backwards, with the top paddle being the negative shift. It took take a few rides to get accustom to. Besides that, the only issue I had with the Alfine set up is that there is a noticeably large gap when going from the 4th to 5th gear. This is due to the fact that it is changing to a different planetary gear set. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and after riding the set up for the past few months, I really like it. The gearing is adequate for any terrain I have encountered, but this is not a climber. If you ride anywhere with big hills, look elsewhere.
When riding, it was nice to have the carbon fork up front, and the Ritchey Pro aluminum, carbon wrapped post under me. They worked well to kill road buzz. The carbon fork is very stout and had no flex issues that negatively impact handling. It was always stable and predictable at speed. That said, I would prefer the addition of rack mounts up front. The fork felt beefy enough to handle light loads. For 2012, Breezer’s Range line of bikes are running a metal fork with rack eyelets on it.
Speaking of racks, the full rack on the rear of the bike is very useful. I take this bike to the grocery store every couple of weeks and ride home with the rear fully loaded. I have had no heal strike on the panniers, and the bike remains stable with the added weight.
I do have two nits to pick with this bike. The first is with the “aero” bar ends in the center of the handle bar. I just don’t get it. I understand that additional hand positions can be nice, but in practice, this set up is not comfortable. When using the bar ends, the bike feels a bit less stable. Plus, I couldn’t grab them without getting a handful of cables along with the bar. Thankfully, the 2012 Breezer bicycles are absent of the odd handlebar set up.
Second, rear flats are a major pain to change. Changing a flat is annoying in of itself. When you add in the Alfine internally geared hub, it becomes more so. Make sure to carry a wrench for the axle nuts with you as there is not a quick release. Also, you must release the shift cable from the hub which requires a 2mm allen key (or spare spoke), and a pair of needle nose pliers. I only had two flats over the past 7 months however, as the Schwalbe Marathon tires are pretty puncture resistance.
Note: the bike was normally specced with Vittoria rubber, but mine showed up with Schwalbe tires.
There are two things about this bike that I absolutely love. The first being the Alfine hydraulic disc brakes. I ride rain or shine, and here in Portland, it seems to be more of the rain than less of the shine. These brakes stop the bike equally as well, no matter the conditions, and they have required no maintenance the entire time I have had the bike. After riding these, I never want another commuter bike with rim brakes again. SRAM, you have those hydraulic road levers ready yet?
The other thing I love about the Finesse are the permanently attached B & M lights. I ride a lot at night, and never having to make sure I have a light packed in my bag, or take them off when I get to my destination is so very nice. I can literally just hop on the bike and go. Plus, they never have to be charged up thanks to the generator hub. The output of the headlight isn’t going to blow you away, but it is good enough to be seen with, and on really dark roads, it puts out enough light to get you home again.
At first, it was hard to get excited about the Finesse. Having a stable of light, nimble road bikes to choose from, the Finesse isn’t always my go to bike. That being said, it definitely has it’s place in the bunch, and I am not looking forward to giving it up. It is a very comfortable, easy to ride commuter bike. It does exactly what it was designed to do, and it does it very well. It’s a lot like driving a sporty car on a daily basis, but owning a SUV or truck for when you need to haul something. You are always glad it’s around when you need it.
I also realize that the average Joe doesn’t have a collection of bicycles hanging around the house. Should you be looking for that do all bike that will get you to work, be at home on a family bike ride, and still be fast enough for a nice fitness ride, the Finesse fits the bill.
Note: Breezer has dropped the Finess from their 2012 Range lineup. It appears to have been replaced by the Liberty. The Liberty runs the same frame, but opts for an aluminum fork with chromoly steerer, and an Acera / Deore mixed drive train. It comes in at a very reasonable $1089.99. If you are interested in an internally geared bike, I suggest browsing Breezer’s Town Bike offerings. I was informed that the Finesse will be available in 2012 again, but hasn’t been added back to the new Breezer website yet.
|Sizes||Step-Over: S (48cm), M (52cm), L (56cm), XL (60cm)|
|Color(s)||Midnight Blue, Pearl White|
|Main frame||Breezer D’Fusion hydroformed aluminum, integrated head tube, dual water bottle mounts, Breezer Eccentric bottom bracket|
|Rear triangle||Breezer D’Fusion aluminum, Breeze-In dropouts|
|Fork||Breezer Carbon Fiber, chromoly steerer|
|Crankset||Shimano Alfine FC-S500 w/ 39T chainwheel|
|Bottom bracket||Shimano Exterior Bearing System|
|Shifters||Shimano Alfine SL-S500 Rapid Fire 8-speed|
|Wheelset||Shimano Alfine DH-S501 QR Dynamo Front/Alfine S501 Rear, 24H Centerlock Hubs, Shimano Rims|
|Tires||Vittoria Randonneur Hyper 700 X 32C folding w reflex sidewall|
|Brake set||Shimano Alfine hydraulic|
|Brake levers||Shimano Alfine hydraulic|
|Handlebar||Breezer Aluminum, 25.4, 26mm rise, 590mm wide, 33° sweep|
|Stem||Breezer Aluminum, 25.4, 7° FlipFlop, Ahead Style|
|Tape/grip||Breezer Ergonomic Kraton Rubber|
|Saddle||Breezer Performance Saddle|
|Seat post||Ritchey Pro carbon 350mm|
|Fenders||Polycarbonate, 41mm, Stainless Fittings, Integrated Lighting Conductors|
|Headlight||B&M Lumotec IQ Fly, Standlight, Auto Sensor, w/ Switch|
|Taillight||B&M DToplight Plus, Standlight|
|Rear Carrier||Breezer Truss Sport Rack with 14-inch Bed|
|Weight, lbs||28.5 lbs|