Mini velos are otherwise full-sized bicycles with 20″ wheels and road-ish components and ergonomics. They look a bit like folders, but they don’t fold. They’re light and responsive with a ride that falls somewhere between a “normal” bike and a folder (think Moulton or Bike Friday, but without the linkage).
Measured outside to outside, a mini velo is approximately 12″-15″ shorter than a standard bike. They’re great for situations where a standard bike is too big but a full-on folding bike is not required. That’s an admittedly narrow niche, but nonetheless, over the past few years they’ve become quite popular in Japan and they’re gaining in popularity in other parts of Asia and Europe. Whether they’ll catch on here in the U.S. is yet to be seen.
The Soma Mini-Velo pictured here was introduced earlier this year. It fits the mold of other mini velos with 20″ (406mm) wheels, a near-normal riding positon, road/touring components, and no fold. Like other Soma frames, the Mini-Velo is constructed of Tange chromoly. The components are a mix of Shimano Tiagra, Sugino, IRD, and others, cherry-picked from Soma’s product line (see the full build specs below).
The Soma Mini-Velo is only available in three sizes up to 55cm. Even the largest size is too small for me, so Michael has been riding our loaner over the past few months. Her regular rides are a Rivendell Betty Foy and a Brompton M3L, so I was interested to get her impressions of this unusual bike that sort of splits the difference between the two.
Michael was initially skeptical when I built up the Mini-Velo. She had reservations regarding fit, comfort, and pedal clearance. Fortunately, after the first ride her concerns were pretty much allayed. She was pleasantly surprised that it fits and rides almost like a full-sized bike. And even though the Mini-Velo has slightly less pedal clearance than her other bikes, pedal strike never materialized as an issue. The one thing she would change is the handlebar height; she’s accustomed to upright bars with a grip position at least a few centimeters above the saddle. If this was her bike, she’d swap out the stock stem for a Nitto DirtDrop.
Michael really enjoyed the Mini-Velo’s responsiveness. She used words like “zippy”, “quick”, “light”, and “nimble” to describe its ride qualities. She feels it pretty much splits the difference between her two usual rides, being slightly smoother and more forgiving than her Brompton, while being more responsive, but less comfortable than her Rivendell.
At 23.5 lbs. the stock Mini-Velo is significantly lighter than our full-sized bikes outfitted with racks, fenders, etc. Numerous times, Michael commented on how easy it was to throw the little bike over her shoulder or toss into the back of our car. It’s not as compact as a folder, but it’s nearly as easy to throw around. Of course, adding fenders, racks, and a kickstand—all items we feel are necessary for the bikes we use for daily transportation—would add 5+ lbs., making it nearly as heavy as our full-sized bikes and heavier than our Bromptons.
The mini velo platform is not going to be for everyone. At least on paper, its occupies an extremely narrow niche: “Compact bike with 20″ wheels that isn’t a folder.” Taken strictly at face value that seems like a non-starter for most people. What surprised me though, was how much Michael enjoyed the little Soma. Time and again she mentioned how much fun it is and how easy it is to park and carry in tight quarters. Something she said probably sums it up best: “People need to give the Mini-Velo a try before making a judgement based upon how it looks – it’s a lot of fun while being surprisingly easy to live with.”
- Frame: Tange CrMo steel
- Crank: Sugino RD 53-39t
- Shifters: Micro-Shift bar end
- Derailleurs: Shimano Tiagra
- Hubs: Shimano Taigra (32H)
- Cassette: Shimano Tiagra HG-50 11-25 9-spd
- Tires: Kenda Kwest 20 x 1-1/8″
- Headset: Tange-Seiki RDC 1″ threaded
- Brakes: IRD Cafam Cantilever
- Saddle: Cardiff Cornwall (the Selle An-Atomica saddle shown in the photos is Michael’s personal saddle)
- Stem: Kalloy quill
- Sizes: 48cm, 53cm, 55cm
- Weight: 23.5 lbs.
- Price: $1,195
Disclosure: Soma is a sponsor of this website and provided the Mini-Velo for this article.