25 June 2008

Comparison: Breezer Uptown 8 vs. Novara Fusion

Posted by todd under: Breezer Uptown 8; Novara Fusion .

Reader Brian B. asks:

I ride on a bike path that is not well-illuminated. In the winter, it gets dark early. Will the hub generator of the Uptown 8 cut it? Also, I am looking at the Novara Fusion. You mentioned Joe Breeze gave a point-by-point comparison. Could you post that or pass that on privately? What about the “hub brakes” on the Fusion. Do you think they are superior to the V-brakes of the Breezer Uptown 8?

Brian, thanks again for the questions. Breezer founder/owner Joe Breeze himself and I answered the question about the lights in an earlier post. The answer about the Fusion is a little more involved. Brian is referring to this post: I considered the Fusion before buying the Breezer Uptown 8, and e-mailed Breezer to ask for a comparison. Joe himself sent a specific reply.

I asked Joe whether it would be OK to publish his reply here, and he gave permission. Major caveat: Joe wrote this in December 2005 — the specs of the Fusion might have changed since then. From what I have seen online, they haven’t changed all that much. (It’s also worth mentioning that I have repeatedly e-mailed REI, over several weeks, trying to get specific specs for the Fusion, and they have not been forthcoming.)

I left out the last paragraph, which included prices that have changed. (These days, the Breezer Uptown 8 goes for somewhere around $960; the Fusion, for $749.)

Joe Breeze compares the Uptown 8 and the Fusion

Here is Joe’s response, from 5:24 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 2005:

Hi Todd,

I looked at the Fusion [right] a month or so ago. This is what I recall:

Breezer Uptown 8 ride (same frame as all our Town bikes): With medium-diameter aluminum tubing, 1.5-inch tires and Ø1-inch steering tube and tapered curved-blade forks, the ride is compliant, yet plenty stiff for a good sprint. The ride is important to me–I ride one.
Fusion: Deep draw seat tube and down tube, 1-3/8-inch tires and Ø1-1/8-inch steering tube with straight-blade fork. (I was considering leaving out further comment here, not being keen on a harsh critique, but on the other hand it’s important to let you know. Todd, all my experience points to this being a dreadful design, one that would most surely give a harsh ride.)

Breezer, Shimano Premium Nexus 8 hub (signified by red line around rear hub
shell): The Premium hub is 10 ounces lighter. It also has low-friction bearings in it.
Fusion, Shimano Standard Nexus 8 hub.

Breezer has Standlight feature,
so lights stay lit when you stop at a signal. No batteries to fuss with or throw away. And there is the Senso safety feature, so the lights come on automatically at dusk or whenever it is darker (dark clouds, underpasses, etc.)
Fusion: Requires batteries for that feature.

Breezer tail light: Protected by the rack Fusion tail light: Exposed. Also, attach a BOB trailer and after one harsh road transition the light might get scraped off.

Breezer, chainguard: The real deal
Fusion: Chainring guard only

Breezer, gearing: Plenty of room to customize gearing useful to most people.
Fusion, gearing: The 46×21 gearing leaves little room for a lower gear (23T is the biggest cog available).

Breezer, rear carrier: 14-inches long makes it a real useful rack. Includes spring clip.
Fusion, rear carrier: 12-inches

Breezer comes with a lock that can be very convenient for quick stops at stores, etc. For higher security situations, it means one less lock to hassle with.

The Fusion was shown at $749, and our Uptown8 MSRP is $909. I won’t disregard that $160 difference, but if $909 is beyond your budget, the Villager at $769 would get you a much better bike.

Best wishes,

Joe Breeze

11 Comments so far...

Nathan Says:

27 June 2008 at 10:00 am.

I really appreciate your thoroughness and attention to detail here. I’m looking for a new all-purpose bike and am pretty much sold on getting a Nexus 8 red stripe or Alfine internally geared hub. I tried out the amazing NuVinci transmission at my LBS and concluded that continuously variable ratio isn’t worth ~6 pounds to me if it provides about the same range as the Nexus 8 (which it does), but will definitely keep an eye on the technology.

My previous bike was a 1980s Nishiki steel road bike that cost me a C note used. It was absolutely devoured by the corrosive, salty conditions here in Boston this last winter, so fenders are a definite requirement for my next bike, as well as as few steel bits as possible. However, all the internal hub bikes I have tested seem too upright after that lightweight speedster, and i have developed an affinity for madly dashing about for adrenalin and time reasons. You mention that you set a pretty leisurly pace, but i’d be interested to hear your impressions when riding your Breezer vs. your other bikes with a more aero position.

Anyway, the Breezer is definitely at the top of my list. My biggest issue with the Breezer, though, is the v brakes. Disc brakes seem like such an improvement, or even hub brakes like the REI competition has, that i’m puzzled why Joe went with rim brakes. Do you have any insight on this issue, or comments on why you like/dislike the brakes?

Thanks again for your work on this blog.

Frank Says:

7 July 2008 at 3:00 pm.

One thing you didn’t mention in the review is that the Fusion comes with 700c wheels whereas the Breezer is 26″ with stock tires measuring a whopping 1.5″. Unless you’re riding on a very bumpy path the Fusion will provide considerably less rolling resistance without sacrificing comfort. You can get lower pressure, large 700c tires or higher pressure skinny 700c tires, or even studded 700c snow tires but you’re pretty limited with 26″ tires and wider rims.

The straight vs. curved fork doesn’t even matter all that much because the riding position is upright and there’s not much pressure on your wrists. My wife rides one and can also fit, without heel strike, two large Deuter pannier bags on the rack without any problems.

The other features are trivial in my opinion, especially given the price difference between the two bikes (if you’re an REI member each spring you can get an add’l 20% off list price on one item, including Novara bikes). With the Breezer you’re basically paying $300 for a full chain guard. It does have a taillight mounted higher (in a better place for visibility) than the Fusion, but its rear fender also does not go as low and thus does not provide as much coverage. Regardless, a taillight is not worth $300, even if it comes with a chain guard and one hour massage.

Also, her bike came with the premium Nexus hub (not the standard one, as listed above) and it has a double high/low headlight. The high comes on automatically when it gets dark out and the low is on all the time that the front wheel is spinning. I know that the rear light stays on for some time even after the bike stops (without batteries), but I’m not sure about the headlight. As mentioned by Nathan, the Fusion’s brakes are much better than the Breezer’s, especially if it’s wet outside.

All in all I think the Fusion is a better bike because:
-> Its headlight provides better coverage with the two range high/low feature while its tail light does stay on when stopped
-> Its brakes are far superior to canti rim brakes, especially when wet
-> It’s easier to ride due to less rolling resistance and has better wheels for commuting
-> It provides better fender coverage (although this is a cheap fix)
-> It costs $300 less if you buy it in the spring and are an REI member
-> REI’s customer satisfaction policy will let you take the bike back if you don’t like it

Overall I would say to each his own, but I think the review above was extremely biased towards the Breezer and didn’t really give any useful information about the Fusion. Both bikes are Cadillacs of commuters.

todd Says:

17 July 2008 at 10:20 am.

Frank, great response, much appreciated. A couple of notes, to continue the dialogue. I’m sure the Fusion is a fine bike, and I know a lot of people are making this comparison.

If the review in this post was biased toward Breezer, there might be a reason — it was written by Breezer’s owner! :) (Look elsewhere on this site for my personal observations.)

Remember, as the post said, Breeze’s response is from the end of 2005. It’s possible that the Fusion has been upgraded since then — I would love to know for sure, but there is no REI store around here, and when I e-mailed the company to ask for specific specs, especially about the hub, I got no response. That tells me something about their customer service.

I respectfully disagree about limitations with 26-inch tires. For the kind of riding the vast majority of commuters do, there are plenty of options in 26-inch. For commuting, 700c vs. 26-inch is a theological debate. I like 26-inch for simplicity’s sake, because the 2 bikes I ride most are both in that size. Somebody else’s mileage may vary.

I am not sure what you mean about the Fusion’s being better because the taillight stays on while stopped — the Breezer’s does that as well. Have you done a side-by-side comparison on the headlight coverage? The Busch & Mueller headlight is well-respected and performs very well in my experience.

While I’m not crazy about the V-brakes, I’m less crazy about needless complication, and disc brakes strike me as needless complication. Other people love ’em — great!

I find the observation about the rear fender curious. The coverage on each bike looks the same to me — the fenders on both bikes go down to the bottom bracket, which is what I would expect.

The chain guard is a significant issue for me. Little things make a difference when it’s time to decide whether to ride the bike today, or drive. Hop-on-and-go convenience is significant — especially when it comes to getting grime on the leg of a nice pair of pants. (Yes, I know, roll up the pantleg, but stuff happens.)

Do I think Breeze knows what he’s doing? Yeah. Do I think the Uptown 8 is going to be as close as it gets to the ideal upright riding position? Yeah. As a lot of people are going to have to make a decision between these bikes without being able to ride both of them, I’m comfortable recommending the Breezer.

That said, I have never ridden the Fusion, because there was no way for me to do so without ordering it sight unseen (for me, an unacceptably complicated answer).

Bottom line: This is a case where I’m willing to pay for better/best. Others might disagree, and that’s fine.

I can’t find the Fusion on REI’s site any more — it says the Fusion is no longer available. So it’s tough for me to respond further with much specificity. If anybody from REI is reading this and wants to provide specifics — or let me know whether the Fusion is gone for good — please drop me a line.

tina Says:

31 July 2008 at 1:30 am.

I found your site while looking for info on how to fix a loose connection on the headlight on my Uptown, and now that I’ve read a bit I thought I’d say hello. Looks like we ride the same bike, only mine is a little older – 7 speed hub instead of 8. I also ride about 6 miles, 5 or 6 days a week, all seasons, all times of day and night. This post is interesting to me because when I was shopping for this bike I almost ended up getting the Novara Fusion. I actually had already decided on it, but the one in stock at the local shop had a slightly bent rim, so we drove to a different shop where the Fusion was parked next to an Uptown. Checkbook in hand, I decided to give the Uptown one more test ride … I had ridden it the year before, and decided it was too rugged and technical looking. Next to the ugly and overbuilt (in my opinion) Fusion though it looked elegant and beautiful. And the second I started pedaling I knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for. It’s been my main form of transportation for several years now and my only problem is that loose connection I mentioned – and actually I’m not completely sure that’s the real problem, since as far as I can tell all the connections are sound. All I know is that sometimes when I ride over a bump in the road, the headlamp suddenly goes out. Then I hit another bump, and it comes back on. Anywho … I’m enjoying reading about someone who loves this bike as much as I do, and I will definitely be back to read more!

Tina, welcome, and thanks so much for the kind words. — Todd

brian Says:

28 August 2008 at 7:02 am.

Hi. I just picked up a Fusion on closeout (for $550) and wanted to add my two pence.

All things being equal, I would have gotten a Breezer. But considering I saved two hundred dollars from the list price of the Fusion, I couldn’t say no. I’ll be curious to see how the hubs survive the winter, but if I get a solid year out of them, I’ll be happy, I think. The 2007 model (I believe what I have) still has the regular Nexus hubs, not the red bands. I’ve heard mixed opinions about them–some folks who destroy the generator in a matter of months, others who have used it for years.

Yeah, the tubing on the Fusion is kinda weird. It’s racier looking than my actual racing bike. The gearing is definitely a little on the stiff side, but I’ve heard that’s changing in the new model.

I typically carry about 15 pounds of stuff in my panniers (work clothes, food, laptop), and the handling is just fine. The position is very upright, and the bars are comfy. The lighting is a bit substandard for a generator system, but I have a Lumotec Oval Plus on my workbench that will get installed before too long.

Anywho…as I said, all things being equal, I’d get the Breezer, but the Fusion was a deal that couldn’t be passed up.

DanishGuy Says:

30 December 2008 at 1:22 pm.

I have a question regarding the Fusion.

It is on sale for $589, down from $750.

Should I purchase this bike or the 8-speed Bianchi Milano. The Milano is offered at $700, but that is before lights and rack etc.

Thank you!

todd Says:

3 January 2009 at 11:18 am.

At $589 the Fusion would be VERY hard to pass up — especially when you consider a $200 price difference (more or less) between it and the Milano by the time you are finished turning the Milano into what you need. I suspect the Milano would offer a more comfortable ride (and that IS based on nothing but speculation), but probably not $200 worth of comfort. That is a significant price difference.

Matt Says:

17 February 2009 at 2:24 pm.

I tried to find an Uptown 8 to test ride locally, but the only one I could find in stock in Kansas City was too small to ride. I rode a Fusion at the REI store in St Louis.

I can get a 2009 Fusion for $899, minus either the 10% REI dividend or the 15% off sales that happen a couple times a year. So, either $809 plus tax or $764 plus tax depending on when you buy. Comparing this to the Breezer, which would be $1100 or more from what it looks like. The Fusions now sport Alfine hubs front and rear, which is a higher quality setup than Nexus.

To me, the Uptown is very, very appealing but I can’t justify $300+ more for a bike with lesser hubs.

The weakness of the Fusion to me is the lack of a light that stays on while stopped, and REI being 200 miles from my house compared to 25 miles for a Breezer dealer…

PFD Studio Says:

27 February 2009 at 5:07 pm.

I looked at the Breezer last year, but wound up buying the Novara Fusion. The deciding factors, for me, were that the Breezer was $150 more, and had the rim brakes. I also prefer the 700mm tires, but that wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

That said, I’ve been extremely happy with the Novara Fusion as a commuting bike. I put 60-95 miles a week on it, and it’s been very reliable. I switched to an Easy-Seat 2 saddle and Odyssey Triple-Trap pedals, and I’m very happy. (Well, ok, I also switched the dinky little bell that came with the Fusion and sounds like it belongs on someone’s tricycle.)

I’m seriously thinking of getting the 2009 model this year, and turning one of them into a winter bike with studded tires next year.


Dave Says:

21 April 2009 at 11:37 am.

Well I am just agonizing over this decision – between the Fusion and the Breezer, and then fitting up a bike like the Canondale Bad Boy or Marin Muirwoods. A quick question: My commute is 5 miles each way, but includes a long (3/4ths of a mile), very steep hill. I wonder if the upright position of the Uptown is too Upright for the work I’ll do going up the hill and if there is any advantage to 26 vs 700c tires when it comes to hills? I note that Breezer has put 700c on its Finnesse bike – another one I am considering. Any advice/guidance would be most welcome!

todd Says:

1 May 2009 at 1:20 am.

Dave, quite frankly in your position I would go with something that has a bit less of an upright riding position, and a granny gear would be nice for that hill. I think 26 vs. 700c is a bit of a religious argument — I think tire width has more to do with the ride, myself. The Finesse looks sweet, that is for sure. If I were in your shoes (with your budget!), I would consider the Raleigh Sojourn or the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

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About the picture atop the page

Yes, that's me, Todd Van Campen. No, I'm not wearing a helmet. Yes, I usually wear one, so please don't scold! Seriously, I endorse wearing a helmet! Pinky swear! In fact, I almost ALWAYS wear one (while riding a bike anyway). (On the other hand, if YOU don't want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it.) I don't remember what happened on this particular day. Fortunately for all of us it makes for a less-nerdly picture. My exceptionally talented professional photographer friend Charles Bertram took this photo.



Art for art’s sake

I asked my 6-year-old son, Caleb, an avid bicyclist and artist, to draw a bike for me. I think he did a great job!




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