Velo Orange Neutrino Review: Small Bike, Big Fun
Designed for travelers and apartment dwellers alike, the Velo Orange Neutrino is a Chromoly steel mini-velo with a small but surprisingly capable stature. A few months ago, Miles pieced together a custom build to see just how much big fun this small bike can deliver. Find his review here…
The history of portable bicycles can be traced all the way back to the late 1800s, when British inventor William Grout designed a version of the penny-farthing with a large collapsible front wheel to make transporting it easier. Although his contraption never really caught on, it didn’t take long for other foldable and collapsible bikes to hit the streets. In the 1890s, Captain Gérard of the 87th Infantry Regiment of the French Army developed a foldable bicycle that soldiers carried on their backs, and in the early 1900s, there were multiple patents submitted in the US and Europe for various types of folding bicycles for commuting in the city. The original Moulton bicycle entered the scene in the 1960s and was positioned as a fashionable mini-bike and an icon of the era. I’d also be remiss not to mention Andrew Ritchie’s invention of the three-part-folding bicycle, which would eventually become the Brompton.
Although we haven’t seen comparable leaps in the portable bike world in recent times, brands continue to innovate with titanium folding bikes, cargo carrying solutions, internally geared drivetrains, and more. It turns out that portable bikes, just like those from the early days, are still just as practical. Increasing costs of living, gas prices, and busier roads make commuting by bike more appealing than ever, so having a bike with a small footprint that doesn’t sacrifice capability certainly has potential to be the next big thing.
The Velo Orange Neutrino is among the most recent portable bicycle—or mini-velo—options to come to market. It was first released in 2019 and was marketed as a tiny-wheeled bike for apartment dwellers, multi-modal travelers, or anyone with limited space. Its frame size and compact 20” wheels were said to make navigating tight spaces easier, and they also offered the potential for it to be disassembled into a compact size for traveling. In fact, the two smaller frame sizes can fit into a regulation-sized airline box or bag without oversize charges. In 2021, the Neutrino was updated with internal dropper post routing and a fresh Pistachio paint job, which was enough to throw me over the edge. I decided I was ready for mini-velo life.
Neutrino Specs and Features
Despite its dimunitive size, the Velo Orange Neutrino boasts an impressive suite of features. Available as a frameset only, it’s based around a 4130 Chromoly steel frame and matching fork—both of which are plastered with mounting points for cages, racks, fenders, and more. It’s designed around 20” BMX wheels, which, according to Velo Orange, are affordable, plentiful, and strong. It has clearance for 2.3” tires with fenders, and we’ve also heard of folks running proper 20 x 2.4” mountain bike tires, such as the Maxxis Minion, and up to 2.6” tires in the front. So, while the original inspiration behind the Neutrino was for commuting and urban riding, it’s proved capable enough for rough-stuffing as well.
- Highlights (XXL)
- Angles: 73° Headtube, 72° Seattube
- Chainstay: 380-401mm
- Bottom Bracket: 68mm Threaded
- Hub specs: 100mm QR (front); 135mm QR (rear)
- Seatpost Diameter: 31.6mm
- Max Tire Size: 20 x 2.3″ with fenders
- Price: $825 USD (frame + fork)
Thanks to the Neutrino’s sliding dropouts, it can handle geared drivetrains, singlespeed setups, or internally geared hubs. It’s based around standard quick-release hub spacing, a 68mm threaded bottom bracket, a 31.6mm seatpost, and it can accept a front derailleur, though Velo Orange recommends 1x setups. Beneath the fork’s towering steerer tube, you’ll find triple-pack mounts, rando rack mounts, standard rack mounts, and an IS disc brake mount. Aside from the dropper post, all of the cables are externally routed with guides along the bottom of the downtube.
Although the Neutrino’s sizing is “a bit less than traditional,” as Velo Orange puts it, it is offered in three sizes that should provide a “normal” feeling bike for most people. Velo Orange suggests folks who are 5’6″ (168cm) and under go with a small, and folks between 5’6″ and 6′ (183cm) go with a large. If you’re 6’1″ to 6’4″ (193cm), go with a xx-large. Because of its long headtube and low standover height, the Neutrino is perfect for shorter riders. It has a neutral position that works well with drop bars, flat bars, and riser bars, with lots of exposed steerer tube to dial in bar height and the reach. It was this promise of versatility and its no-wrong-way attitude that had me eager to piece together a build of my own.
Building a Tiny Dream Bike
Since the Neutrino is available exclusively as a frameset (frame + fork), a custom build is the only way to go. Finding parts can be tricky these days, though thankfully it’s getting easier, and since there are nearly endless ways to build up such a unique bike, I think the frameset-only option makes sense. Thankfully, Velo Orange produces a wide range of classy components that are perfectly suited for the Neutrino. From klunker bars to wheels and headsets to fenders, they have an expansive range of bits and pieces to help complete your build.
I pieced together this particular build to be reliable and capable. I imagined an all-weather commuter and light-duty tourer, and I think the build reflects this. Of course, there are some flashy bits scattered throughout for flare, but it wouldn’t be challenging to create a comparable build from your parts bin. My take on the Neutrino is based around microSHIFT’s new Advent “Super Short” drivetrain, which is designed specifically for 20” wheels and small hands, fast-rolling 20 x 2.35” Maxxis Grifter tires, a wide and tall Whiskey Milhouse handlebar, and a long-travel dropper post for good measure. Some of the boutique parts include Ignite Components’ US-made Catalyst Cranks; Paul brakes, levers, dropper lever, and stem; and a stunning custom frame bag from Andrew the Maker.
- Frame Velo Orange Neutrino Gen 2
- Fork Neutrino Chromoly Steel
- Headset Wolf Tooth Premium
- Bottom Bracket Wheels Manufacturing
- Crankset Ignite Components Catalyst Cranks
- Chainring Wolf Tooth Drop Stop 42T
- Chain Shimano 9-Speed
- Shifter MicroShift Advent Super Short Quick Trigger
- Derailleur MicroShift Advent Super Short
- Cassette MicroShift 9-Speed, 11-38T
- Brake Levers Paul Love Levers
- Brakes Paul Klampers, Short Pull
- Rims Sun Ringle ENVY BMX 20″
- Tires Maxxis Grifter 20×2.3″
- Hubs Velo Orange
- Stem Paul Boxcar, 70mm +/- 15°
- Handlebar Whiskey Milhouse
- Grips Wolf Tooth Fat Paw
- Pedals PNW Loam Alloy Pedals
- Seatpost Race Face Turbine R 200mm
- Saddle Brooks Cambium C17
- Frame Bag Andrew the Maker
- Bottle Cage Velo Orange Mojave
- Front Rack Velo Orange Flat Pack Rack
- Basket Wald 137 Half Basket
- Extras Wolf Tooth Collar, Pedal Further Stem Cap
The reasoning behind the youth microSHIFT drivetrain is simple enough: the rear derailleur needs to be short on account of the mini frame. Like 20” kids bikes, the Neutrino sits dangerously close to the ground, and modern 11- and 12-speed derailleurs will either rub on the tire or the ground or both. While running a short-cage road derailleur could work for some applications, I knew I wanted a bigger cassette and realistic climbing gears for riding loaded.
That’s where the new (as of early 2022) microSHIFT drivetrain comes in. It’s a 9-speed drivetrain with a short derailleur and 11-38T cassette, and it pairs up perfectly with the Neutrino since you don’t actually need a massive 52T cassette as the small wheels already put you into a low gear ratio. So, while the 42T chainring might look massive next to the cassette, the resulting low gear comes pretty close to a wide-range 11-speed drivetrain.
The Neutrino is a unique bike that offers an incredibly fun canvas for any number of interesting builds. It’s the dream bike I never knew I needed, and I think it has immense potential as a head-turning mini-velo no matter how it’s built up. I don’t think I’ve gone on a single ride without seeing heads turn in my direction, and I doubt it’s my haircut folks are checking out.
Here’s a rundown of a few standout components that have impressed me in one way or another:
Andrew the Maker Frame Bag
I knew right from the beginning that I wanted a frame bag to fill the Neutrino’s voluminous main triangle. At that time, Andrew the Maker (ATM) had just teased their new extended-zipper opening, which wraps two-thirds of the way around the bag for a large flap opening. We decided that application wouldn’t make as much sense for such a large bag, so we instead stuck with a classic zippered wedge bag. We left room on the seat tube for a large water bottle, in this case a Velo Orange Mojave cage and a Nalgene, and the bag attaches to the frame using a combination of bolts, lace-up, and a single fixed velcro strap. There’s an internal vertical divider, a slim non-drive-side pocket, and the X-Pac fabric we used matches up with the anodized Wolf Tooth bits perfectly. This was my first ATM frame bag, and the overall quality and attention to detail are top notch.
Ignite Components Catalyst Cranks
I’ve been chatting with Ian Colquhoun of Ignite Components about trying out some of their CNC-machined cranks for over a year, but it wasn’t until the Neutrino project began to take shape that we both decided it was time. Their mission is to make parts that are strong, lightweight, and beautiful, and the Catalyst Cranks live up to this promise. They are some of the nicest cranks I’ve used and the polished finish certainly adds to the wow factor.
Paul Klamper Brakes
Having fully converted over to hydraulic disc brakes, I’ve been curious about the Paul Klamper mechanical brakes for a while. I’m happy to report that they live up to the hype, providing impressive stopping power and modulation beyond what’s typically expected from mechanical disc brakes. They’re also machined in California, easy on the eyes, and designed to last a lifetime.
Wolf Tooth Bits
Wolf Tooth Components is one of my favorite component manufacturers. Their quality and design is always top notch, and the fact that most of their products are made in the USA doesn’t hurt either. Once I decided on the purple highlight for my Neutrino build, it was an easy decision to add some of their parts into the mix. Plus, it nicely matches the frame bag.
Race Face Turbine R Dropper Post
I knew I wanted a long-travel dropper post to take full advantage of the low standover height on the Neutrino. While it might seem a little over the top for a 20” wheeled bike, I’m of the mind that having a dropper post is better than the alternative. They make it easier to dismount and remount in traffic, as well as for other riders to hop and can give the bike a spin without the need for tools. Plus, when things get rowdy, it’s nice to get that saddle down and out of the way. The Turbine R has been operating flawlessly over the last few months and has a nice audible clack noise when it returns to full height, letting me know it’s time to pedal.
Velo Orange Flat Pack Rack + Wald Half Basket
The Velo Orange Flat Pack Rack and half-height Wald 137 basket combo is as classy as it is functional. All three mounting points on the rack are adjustable, and the wide 11” platform works great for supporting larger handlebar bags or attaching a basket.
Have Small Bike, Will Travel
While most of my rides were spent zipping around town on errands and cruising down gravel roads closer to home, I was also able to sneak away for a handful of loaded rides. One particular campout stands out for me as the perfect example of what the Neutrino is good at. I’d been scheming an island-hopping bike ride between the Sunshine Coast, Cortes Island, Quadra Island, and Vancouver Island for several months, and I decided to take advantage of some unseasonably beautiful fall weather to complete the ride solo.
The first part of the trip required a boat shuttle from the coast to Cortes, which was a good opportunity to realize the benefits of a small bike. The Neutrino tucked in easily behind the captain of the small motorboat and was easy to handle between the docks and boat. Equipped with a loaded front rack and frame bag, the majority of the weight is positioned low and right over the wheel, which makes for a predictable and stable setup both on and off the bike. The smaller diameter wheels don’t flop around as much or get hung up on obstacles, and besides my wide mountain bike bars, it made it easy to move around.
Despite the short wheelbase (more than 5” shorter than my Hudski Doggler), the Neutrino has a familiar planted quality on most terrain. Its steep 73° head tube angle and tiny wheels make for a fairly twitchy front end that was unnerving without gear, but the weight of a tent and some other equipment on the front rack helped reel things in considerably. It seems funny comparing the Hudski Doggler to the Neutrino, but besides some massive differences in chainstay length and front wheel position, the resulting riding position is surprisingly similar. The xx-large Neutrino and large Doggler are only about 20mm apart in stack and reach numbers, which made it easy for me to replicate the setup of my Doggler, which I’ve grown to love. It helps that the Neutrino’s fork comes with a massive amount of steerer tube exposed for lots of stack and reach adjustment.
The Neutrino makes a great option for traveling by air for a few reasons. First, the box Neutrino framesets are shipped in is smaller than average, airline acceptable, and complete builds can fit inside with some disassembly. A smaller box is likely to be less prone to damage during travel and easier to manage as a solo traveler.
For the most compact setup, Velo Orange suggests the following: remove the bars, remove the fork, deflate the tires, remove the freehub body and cassette, remove the crank, remove the sliding dropouts, rotate the stem flush with the bars, and remove the brake rotors. Getting the Neutrino to its smallest possible form requires a few steps, and in some cases, a couple of speciality tools. It might not be as slick or as packable as some coupler-equipped or tiny packable bikes from Bike Friday, but that’s not the Neutrino’s primary intent.
Mini Velo Does Dirt
The problem with adding dropper post routing to non-mountain bikes is that the masochists among us will take that as an open invitation to get rowdy. While everything about my build screams capable all-terrain bicycle, the Neutrino has some shortcomings when riding off-road. As mentioned earlier, the tiny front wheel and steep head tube angle can be twitchy without weight up front. I’ve barreled down enough loose gravel roads to know that combination can quickly turn terrifying. A few times, my front wheel would get caught in some soft gravel near the edge of the road, and I’d lose nearly all control. I’m sure the fast-rolling Maxxis Grifter tires weren’t helping, but I don’t think a knobbier tire would help much.
I’ve also ridden my fair share of singletrack on the Neutrino. In short, it’s doable if your sights are set on Olympic gold in underbiking. The small wheels, steep head tube angle, and stiff rear and front end make for a pretty harsh and bumpy ride when navigating anything remotely technical. The Neutrino isn’t a mountain bike, despite my build being equipped with a big dropper post. But if you’re not someone who generally shies away from roots and rocks while riding drop bars, riding such trails is manageable.
The nice thing about twitchy handling and a short wheelbase is that it zips between obstacles, rocks, and roots, lessening impacts on the frame and your body. On most trail rides, I’ve ended up zig-zagging my way through the forest, which is hilarious in itself. The addition of a front rack and fenders also produced some noise, and I quickly bent my front fender back on a high-profile butter snake (root) on my island-hopping adventure a few weeks back. I imagine most people who install dropper posts on the Neutrino will be using it to make getting on and off the bike easier and maybe for the occasional trail ride.
- Loads of fun to ride and fun for people to watch
- Build it your way with slicks, racks, bags, chunky tires, dropper post, drop bars, or riser bars
- Sliding dropouts open up drivetrain options
- Low standover and neutral geometry will work well for most people
- Frameset-only option results in unique builds
- Fast steerer, planted climber, and maneuverable
- Handles cargo, racks, and gear naturally due to lower position
- 20” wheels and tiny steel frame are harsh on rough terrain
- Twitchy and not totally ideal for off-road riding, but doable for semi-pro underbikers
- Frameset only means it takes some work to get it rolling
- Limited rear derailleur options due to dropout to ground clearance
- XXL frame loses most packable benefits
- Still not as packable as true travel bikes
- Model / Size Tested: Velo Orange Neutrino, Size XXL
- Weight: 8.5 pounds (3.8kg) frameset
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price: $825 USD (frameset)
- Manufacturer’s Details: VeloOrange.com
The Velo Orange Neutrino is easily one of the strangest bikes I’ve tested. Friends have referred to it as my “clown bike,” and considering its overall stance and build aesthetics, they’re not wrong. The latest Neutrino is a fun option for folks who prefer building up bikes from scratch, as it provides a unique blank canvas that makes riders grin almost as much as the folks watching them. The addition of dropper post routing, decent tire clearance, and loads of mounting points create a versatile platform. The neutral geometry of the Neutrino means there’s no right way to build it up, and it makes the perfect bike to lend out to friends while they’re in town or when someone needs to be cheered up.
While it’s had me riding more pavement and smooth paths than ever before, the Neutrino is surely one of the most fun bikes I’ve ridden in a long time. I’m excited to try some different drivetrain options out this winter, play around with drop bars, and mount various types of racks and bags. With so many possibilities, my mini-velo life has only just begun.
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