Minivelos are not common bikes and you don’t often see them on the streets of London, which is a shame.
I am a fan of small wheeled bikes, I love my Brompton and it’s acceleration. A minivelo benefits from fast acceleration but has a larger frame, making it a little more stable. The smaller footprint, thanks to the smaller wheels, compared to a regular bike means that they fit into small London flats well.
alpini are a small London company, started because the owner, Sofia loves mini velos and strongly thinks they are a great bike for London.
The company has 3 types of bike, all based on the same design but with different aesthetics, the Finch, Curzon and Tufnell. The later is the ones we got our hands on for an afternoon.
What is it?
A minivelo is a bike with a full size frame and small, 20 inch wheels. Popular in some areas of Asia such as Japan, they offer a great style of urban riding. alpini’s bikes are all single speed, making them light, nimble and easy to maintain. As we have spoken about in the past (and will do again soon), single speeds make great bikes for commuting around most of London. Coupled with the faster acceleration of small wheels and you have a fun bike.
The main difference between the 3 models of bike is aesthetic. The frames are all hi-tensile steel so are sturdy with a little give over harsh streets. The frame is a one size fits all deal, meaning you don’t need to worry about picking the right size, all you have to do is adjust it to fit you. Particularly good if you want to share the bike with a friend.
I have been wanting to try out a minivelo for a while so was pretty happy when I borrowed a Tufnell for an afternoon to try it out. I saw a few minivelo’s in Taiwan on a brief visit and have been pretty keen on trying one around London ever since. They seem to be a great mix of Brompton
The Tufnell is really is easy to ride and handles well. The small wheels mean it is easy to get going and the handling is very light. Coupled with the narrow handlebars, the bike is great for getting around in city traffic. It accelerates very quickly, which is great to get away from lights and for stop start traffic.
The bike generally felt like the other hi-tensile steel bikes I have tried. It was a bit smoother than an aluminium bike, but a little harsher than my chromolly steel bikes. This did not detract from how fun the bike is to ride. It really is seriously smile inducing.
The weight is really great. I didn’t take the bike somewhere where I had to carry it up lots of stairs, but it certainly would be easy to do so. It would also be easy to get it around tight hallway corners (I constantly scuff my bike on corners in my apartment when going up the stairs) – it would not be a problem with this bike.
This bike is fun. For the short journey I made it was obvious that riding this around town will be great. It accelerates well which is great for busy central London traffic where it feels like you are constantly stopping and starting.
Alpini offer a different handlebar option that has a built in basket. This is such a good idea and means you can throw a small bag or some food on the front of your bike and head out. As the front end is pretty nimble because of the wheel size, it should not impact handling at all.
The Tufnell is jazzy, in such a nice way. These bikes are different, and you will get looked at as you cycle past. The Tufnell is going to make people smile. If you don’t want to be quite so jolly, then the Finch is for you and it will still make you grin.
The gearing on the bike is pretty low. I don’t really like having to push a gear too much and I don’t like hills so I tend to spin more than giving a gear. That said, I found this bike to be a little low for getting around town quickly. It would be great for going up some of my more precipitous routes, but not so good for going down or getting up speed on the flats. This is something that is easily fixed though so not a huge problem.
A minivelo turns heads. If you are a very shy rider and don’t like people looking at you, this may attract more attention than you like. People will be looking at the bike rather than you specifically, as I said, minivelos are rare. This of course happens with any nice bike, but unusual ones catch people’s attention just a little more.
If you are after a nippy bike to enjoy your rides round town, it is certainly worth considering a min velo. They are very similar in spec and quality to the single speeds we loved so much a few months ago, but with an added speedy twist which just makes you smile while riding it. They are also quite a bit lighter and easier to store in a small flat. They are well priced and would make a great commuting bike, weekend run around or pub bike.
Do you have a minivelo? Let us know!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.