Hey San Francisco, meet Mini Velo.

Bruno. Image courtesy of Bruno Bike 2014

2014 Bruno 20. Image courtesy of Bruno Bikes.

In a past post, I discussed how e-bikes can assist people who live on San Francisco hills and that there is a variety of different styles for just about anybody. Now I want to introduce you to the “mini velo” which I think can be another perfect city bike for SF.

These mini bikes are very popular in Japan, South Korea, and some other Asian countries. You can see in this video which mini velo and folding bikes are celebrated in this annual event in Japan. They are popular there because their living spaces are small, the urban environment is very dense, and their people tend to be more petite and have a smaller stature. But I don’t think having a smaller stature has that much to do with riding these mini bikes because folding bikes (sometimes even smaller than the mini velo) are pretty popular with all demographics around the world. Moreover, many frame sizes vary from 47 cm to 55 cm, big enough to fit a 6 footer.

SOMA Fab mini velo.

SOMA Fab Mini Velo. Image courtesy of SOMA Fab.

I have tested two mini velo bikes- one from SOMA Fab and another called Mercier Nano.  Both are extremely fun, comfortable, and shifting with their retro shifters was simple. They are zippy and can stop on a dime.

Mercier Nano from Bikesdirect.com

Mercier Nano from Bikesdirect.com

A friend of mine commutes to work with the Mercier Nano about 12 miles one way and occasionally takes public transit with it. Because the bike is smaller than a standard bike, they are easier to take onto transit.

This bike is very affordable at just under $300 USD from bikesdirect.com.

Soma Fab mini velo size relative to a folding bike and a regular sized bike.  Image courtesy of

Soma Fab mini velo size relative to Bike Friday and Fuji Absolute. Image courtesy of Kevin Bjorke’s Flickr page.

You might ask, “Why not get a folding bike instead of a mini velo?” The difference is very apparent. Many folding bikes also come with 20″ wheels identical to mini velo’s, but the difference lies within the frame. Because mini velo is not foldable (no break in the frame and neck) they don’t flex. Rather it’s pretty stiff and it gives you a softer bounce when going over bumps. When you are climbing hills or riding over long distances, folding bikes start to flex more than you would like. Secondly, the handlebar is of the same width as a regular sized one so it’s more comfortable and easier to handle than a folder. Finally, the drivetrain components are of the same as a 700c bikes. This may explain why I feel like the mini velo rides closer to a regular bike than a folding bike. They are lighter than folding bikes too, another advantage. Because many of the components are identical to a regular size bike, you can obtain it at most bike shops or online stores. Accessories are similar too. For example, you can mount a Wald basket on the SOMA Fab Mini Velo. And yes, they are cheaper than average folding bikes as well as regular size bikes.

Because they are in the low 20 lbs (9.1 kg) and under 4.5 ft (140 cm) long, they are easy to carry up stairs, turn corners through narrow hallways and can probably fit into the space next to your apartment door. On a crowded train such as the BART, you needn’t be afraid of hitting your fellow passenger with it. Don’t worry about the front rack of a MUNI bus because it can accommodate 20″ wheel bikes. And with the front wheel off (install quick release skewer if it doesn’t come with one), it will fit nicely in a trunk of a moderate-sized car.

The only thing people may feel adverse to about the mini velo is the awkward geometry of the frame, but I am sure that feeling will go away once people see it more frequently and get used  its looks. I now find it to be very cute with a few retro elements thrown in like the frame, the quill stem, and the shifters.

As I have researched to find them here in the States, I found only four brands that are available here: SOMA Fab, Mercier Nano, Biria USA, and Big Shot. Big Shot makes them for bike polo. I think it’s a great bike for the sport.

I hope they do become more popular so there will be more different brands offered here.

Anyhow, here are some that I found throughout Asia:

MiniVelo-10 from Bianchi. Image courtesy of CyclEurope Japan.

MiniVelo-10 from Bianchi. Image courtesy of CyclEurope Japan.

Celeste green chromoly frame with 16 spds from Bianchi. It weighs in at 23 lbs (10.8 kg) and costs about $640 USD.

Montebello mini velo

Montebello mini velo.  Image courtesy of Rakuten Global Market.

This classic purple mini velo with Mixte frame from Montebello costs about $305 USD at Rakuten Global Market.

Fuji Comet. Image courtesy of Rakuten Global Market.

Fuji Comet. Image courtesy of Rakuten Global Market.

This is a cute one. It comes in pretty small sizes at 47 cm and 50 cm Tange frameset with 3 speeds internal hub at $545 USD.

Swiss brand Bruno mini velo. Image courtesy of

Swiss brand Bruno mini velo. Image courtesy of Ischtar blog.

The one above is a 2013 pink Bruno 20 designed by the Swiss. It comes with sizes from 47 cm to 54 cm and 16 speeds for $750 USD. If you like pastel colors, this brand has them.

GIOS Panto. Image courtesy of GIOS Italy.

GIOS Panto. Image courtesy of GIOS Italy.

GIOS Panto is a mini replica of a road bike. It comes with Shimano Tiagra, chromoly frame with carbon fork and 18 speeds. It’s too bad it still weighs in at 21 lbs (9.7 kg) and comes in small sizes of 48 cm and 51 cm.

road bike

 

Who says mini velos are cute looking only? The one above is pretty mean looking. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any info on it (Bannard Poseidon, updated 6/14/14).

Well, I hope you consider one when you are looking for a new city bike.

Happy riding!

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12 comments

  1. Dante

    The Mini Velo is definitely a quick bicycle. With its 20” tires, I don’t really need to use the smaller front gear because now I can stay with the largest front gear always even when climbing hills (I can now stick with the large gear during my 7 mile climb on my way home and stay constantly at 10 plus mph whereas I can only climb at an average speed of 8 mph with my regular bike—pathetic when compared to the Tour de France average climb pace of 21 to 30 mph, LOL.

    The Mini Velo gives you a quick and fast head start on everyone, and tends to make the Spandex cyclist want to race and catch up with you (probably because of ego and knowing that a cyclist with smaller tires just passed them). And I also find the Mini Velo more comfortable when riding in the rain. You don’t really need fenders because the tires are small—my regular bike became uncomfortable during the rain because I had no fenders so the mud and sand kicked up on me. But it is not like that with the Mini Velo.

    When exiting the Panhandle Park while riding the Mini Velo and then making a left turn on Oak Street to enter the Wiggle, I tend to beat the traffic light (which I think starts with an 8 second count until it turns red) on Divisadero Street (quickly/immediately and carefully going 35 mph). I beat the 8 second count to 2 seconds left on my ride today. With my regular road bike, I could not really immediately start quickly at 30 plus mph even with racing tires—I needed an extra 1 and a half second to get going with the largest gear. I came close to catching up the light but it was too dangerous so I skidded. But it seems easier with the Mini Velo so for me, this is proof enough that the Mini Velo is quick and gives you an immediate and fast head start—a bike definitely perfect for city touring and commuting. I would say that it is good for long rides also. But I still prefer my regular road bike for a 100 plus miles ride due to the long term comfort factor that I believe a regular road bike definitely and always provides.

  2. Dante

    Although I have already quit my ridiculous bike riding of racing through these lights, I’m glad the city stopped (or it looks like they did last time I biked there) the back-to-back countdown on those traffic lights. When I made a left turn to Oak St., the traffic light on the corner of Oak and Broderick were already red and did not do the usual countdown–which was in the past very tempting for cyclists to speed up and beat the traffic light count on the Broderick/Oak corner and then speed up again to beat the count on the corner of Divisadero/Oak. It seemed like those lights were a temptation for the cyclist to hurry and beat. Well anyway, I am glad they made a change last I biked there.

    • Chris

      That’s a beautiful bike! Did you have it shipped internationally? I would like to get one too but I am afraid of getting it shipped all the way from Japan.

      • Tom

        Nah. The local bike shop had a display model sitting there and I saw it on the web. Currently going through a renovation at home and have no shed to store the bike. Will be getting that soon though. I asked if I could have it on lay-buy so that i could just pay it off in three months. So did not get it sent from overseas. I guess I was lucky there. Depending on your location there may just be a bike shop near you with a mini velo hanging around.

  3. John

    Mini Velo is great, whether you need to store it in a closet or throw it in the back seat of your car. I have never really liked folding bicycles, and when I saw mini velo having traditional frame geometry I fell in love. I live in the US and most Mini Velo require international shipping, the US bike industry is always at least a few years behind…

    I found one USA company Respect Cycles http://www.respectcycles.com that started this year. They have a single speed, but on their website they appear to be releasing geared models soon. Both a 2 speed sram automatix and 8 speed grip shift sturmy. I’ll be in the Washington DC area in November and plan on going by one of the shops that they have listed on the website to give it a ride.

  4. Pingback: The Gios Antico mini velo | Japan's Bicycle Culture (日本での自転車文化)
  5. Pingback: Mercier Mini Velo: Pedal Revolution Refurbished Bike Update 7-29-14 | Pedal Revolution Bike Blog

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