When you are exploring a city on the seat of a bicycle, you are making a deeper connection with it. You are engaging more of your sensory faculties and your whole body is in motion. With every pedal forward, you are opening yourself up to what is around you, making yourself vulnerable but also much freer. When you are on a bicycle, there is nothing between you and the world around you except a space of air. There is no glass, perfumed interior, no controlled climate which can keep you comfortably contained. The raw elements of the world reach you. But you can be more quick and nimble, and you can choose to go at your own pace- you decide. Almost all of your senses are engaged. With your eyes, you can see wonderful sights- from the shape of a landmark set against the sky, to the reaches of the horizon. You can see humanity around you and the expressions on people’s faces. With your ears you can hear the soundtrack of the world- of laughter and sneezes and conversation, set amidst the medley of city noises. With your nose you can smell the scents of not just exhaust and refuse, but also of trees, flowers, and grass, Chanel perfume, and bread being baked. Most wonderfully is the experience of feeling the wind on your skin and in your hair. Sometimes the air is crisp, sometimes more humid and warm, but always you feel something. This creates a symphony of sensory input that feeds into your body, mind, and imagination. The music of this chorus is like a sweet song that you will remember for as long as you can. It is one of the most delightful and simplest of joys- riding a bicycle in the city and especially one that you love.
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.
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.
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.
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 (discontinued, 2014), Mercier Nano, Biria, 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:
Celeste green chromoly frame with 16 spds from Bianchi. It weighs in at 23 lbs (10.8 kg) and costs about $640 USD.
This classic purple mini velo with Mixte frame from Montebello costs about $305 USD at 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.
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 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.
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.