What: H&M stretch dress in purple, Express cargo jacket in gray, Fjallraven Kanken backpack, Brooks Addiction sneakers (recommended by my podiatrist for foot problems =p), silver hoop earrings
Where: Oakland Chinatown
When: Friday evening, August 15th
Why: Riding to meet Chris at the Jack London Square ferry station, then dinner in Chinatown at Shooting Star Cafe
Featured Bicycle: Biria mini velo
About a year ago, I wrote a post on how a mini velo style bike is a great bike for urban living. Well, I changed my mind…it’s not just great- it’s actually the perfect urban city bike!
After moving to Oakland, we were confronted with a new set of conditions. First of all, the streets in downtown have way too many traffic lights for bicyclists. The stop and go momentum makes it harder to ride a full-sized bike. This is where mini velo excels. Its small 20 inch wheels with a lower rotational mass overcomes this problem. It makes it easier to start and stop.
Very often living in a city, the weight of what you ride/carry to run multiple errands affects your overall experience. Picture yourself locking up your bike several times to different bike racks and also having to lift up the bike from the street level onto the sidewalk. It can get pretty cumbersome. What about those times that you forget to bring your u-lock (or u-lock key). Well, with the mini velo, it is small enough to just bring with you into the shop.
BART is a great public transit option in Oakland. There are 8 stations and it covers the city pretty well, but the few elevators they have are tiny and escalators (bikes supposedly are not allowed on them) are super narrow. Many times, carrying your bike down the stairs is the only the option. So, carrying a smaller bike down the stairs and maneuvering a compact bike into a crowded area helps a great deal.
Moreover, the bike infrastructure in Oakland is relatively bad. You have bike lanes disappearing and even bike sharrows that disappear suddenly. Sometimes, the bike sharrows are in the door zone. And one way streets are common. As you know, it is an obstacle course for cyclists. Sidewalks clearly are not the place for bikes; but when it’s a one way street or you feel your life is on the line, I have to admit I do sometimes ride on the sidewalks (certainly at a very slow speed and where pedestrians are almost absent). Riding on a smaller bike such as the mini velo feels like you are not intruding as much into the pedestrian space.
Nellie and I moved into another place that doesn’t have nearly enough indoor bike racks in the garage and keeping your bike indoors makes a huge difference to how long your bike stays in good condition (and clean). Thus, we have to store our bikes in our unit. Size does matter. Also, I used to have an office space that a full-sized bike wouldn’t fit, but with a mini velo, of course!
In addition to riding in the city, she wants a bike that she can go for a long distance ride sometimes. None of her current bikes meet all of these criteria in one bike. So, Nellie decided to give the mini velo a try on a long ride. We just did a 30 miles/48 km ride, and Nellie wasn’t a bit tired. She said it’s the best bike she’s ever had.
Here are the specs and comments for the Biria Mini-20:
– Aluminum alloy frame and fork. After a long 20 miles/32 km ride, it can be harsh on your wrists because shock is not as well absorbed. But going just around town, you won’t notice it. Remember, city streets in America are poorly maintained so this is not a factor if you live in the suburbs or on foreign soil where there is good infrastructure. The good thing about aluminum is that it’s pretty light at 22 lbs (under 10 kg).
– 51 cm (c-t) frame, one size only. Nellie’s 5 ft 3 in/160 cm tall and there’s only 5mm to go at the minimum at the seat post. I’m 5 ft 8 in/173 cm and I can still fit, however, I need a longer stem. The great thing about mini velo is that it really can be ridden by a male or a female.
– Two choices of colors for the Biria: matte black or nickel silver. Nellie had the black one and it’s a nice color in person. Very chic and stylish.
– Tektro Tenera brakes and calipers. Good, solid and soft brakes.
– 20 x 1 1/8 CST tires. They are heavy and cheap, and prone to punctures. We immediately changed them out. The narrow size of tires helps reduce the high rolling resistance from small wheels.
– SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and SRAM X-5 shifters. The shifters are easy to shift with just your thumbs, but it’s a bit slow (not a problem if you’re not racing). Nellie’s bike is 2012 and the current model comes with Shimano 105 rear derailleur, and with 27 speeds (18 speeds for the 2012 model).
– Prowheel Chariot crankset (53/39T). Other than it’s made in China and provides a standard range, I don’t have any comment here.
– Saddle, grips and pedals. The saddle is very narrow at 35 cm wide , and it was immediately replaced with a woman’s saddle. The pedals are horrendously small and one sided only, and was also immediately changed. The grips are fine.
– Joy Tech hubs with Joy Tech quick releases. The quick release wheels and seat post makes it a good storage bike. Surprisingly, it really can fit into our Scion IQ with both wheels removed.
The current model retails at $900, which is not a bad price. Overall, the bike feels solid, more solid than any bike I have ridden. It is zippy and stops on a dime. I could see why these type of bikes are so popular in cities in Asia. I may have to get one for myself in the future.
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.