A guest post by Nic Morales
‘It looks small!’ my mom said, looking at a few iPhone photos I’d sent. ‘Can I ride it?’
After fielding a series of questions, explanations, and demonstrations from an inquisitive mom, I dug into Velo Orange’s Neutrino myself.
It was small. Not in the sense that the bike didn’t fit me, but in that the odd, bmx-meets-road-style construction literally looked small. I nearly zeroed out the local bike shop’s spacer cabinet dialing in the placement of the stem.
‘Yooooo’ my buddy Dave squealed, as he popped the rear wheel in the air and put his entire weight through the not-yet-entirely-dialed-in-disc brakes. ‘This thing is sick.’
It was sick. I’d never ridden a bike quite like it before. Some months prior, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Lead Designer at Velo Orange, Clint Boyer. He let me ride his Neutrino and I was taken aback. It was squirrelly and yet somehow burly but felt nimble and responsive. I had to find a way to get my hands on one.
A few months down the road and I managed to wrangle one out of Igor and the lovely folks at VO, along with a pretty baller build kit. After an afternoon wrenching away in my apartment, the little bike started to settle in. In concept, the bike is funny. In front of you, arguably hilarious. But in action, the Neutrino does something none of the bikes I've ridden prior have been able to. Though companies like this one are a testament to how established non-establishment cycling has come, I think it’s fair to say we all exist on the spectrum the cycling industry presents. For better or worse, so much of the cycling diaspora is dictated by a sense of performance. Achieving to some level, race-oriented or otherwise, is the shadow in which much of this activity exists. What the Neutrino offers as a counter to that is why, among other reasons, it’s such a valuable tool.
The aforementioned baller build kit is the result of VO being pretty close to providing all of their own parts. Aside from the brakes, rims, rear mech, and some drivetrain bits, most of this bike is of Velo Orange’s making. Brand synergy be damned, there’s something about the way it all comes together that makes it feel like a set bonus in an MMORPG. That said, there are an infinite number of ways to set this bike up. As the internet has gone to show, people have gotten pretty creative with it.
Part of the reason I asked for the Neutrino, however, was to test out its capabilities as a legitimate commuter. As I’ve grown into the space of bicycles, the less my car sees use. But, using a Crust Bombora with ENVE wheels and carbon cranks to go grocery shopping doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. I wanted to dip my toe into the freedom of a car-less existence and the Neutrino fit the bill.
With 20-inch wheels, this thing can take an atom bomb and come out okay. I’m no engineer, but from what I understand, the smaller the diameter of a wheel, the more abuse it can take. Add on the 2+ inch tires most run on their Neutrinos and this thing is perfect for the degraded roads, exploded sidewalks, non-contiguous bike lanes, and generally bad infrastructure that makes up this country.
This mini-velo’s versatility brings forth an aspect of commuter-focused bikes I think often goes overlooked. I once spent four days traversing gravel roads with baby heads the size of children on a fully loaded gravel bike (another of Velo Orange’s offerings, the Pass Hunter) and had no issues. Upon my return to civilization, I spent roughly thirty minutes trying not to get hit by cars in urban Atlanta and sliced my tire no less than twice. People, often those berating you from their suburbans for not riding on the sidewalk, don’t realize how harsh sidewalk aprons and uneven asphalt can be. The Neutrino, by all accounts, shrugs off the reality of our broken infrastructure with ease.
The way I see it– you can be an idealist or a realist. Sure, there may be slightly faster modes of non-motor traversal in urban environments. The upright position and wheel diameter make speeds above 12–14mph something of a task. But with an ever-rising amount of pedestrian deaths, I’d rather be able to skirt the rules that fail to protect me than live in a world where I’ve placed my faith in them. This mini-velo’s BMX-style geometry makes mounting and dismounting asphalt a breeze, and the hearty construction of a 4130 frame, albeit a little heavy, makes the asphalt-to-asphalt surfing you’re bound to do feel like a day at a theme park. Whether the safest route to your local coffee shop or friend's house involves pavement, cutting through a construction site, or a loose interpretation as to where you ‘should’ be riding, the Neutrino’s capacity to roll through it all will surprise you.
Adding to its urban versatility, this bike seems like it's designed to be ridden with a load. The upright position and small wheels make the handling a tad squirrely when coming from a more traditional ride –something you adjust to in a few minutes. With some groceries, extra clothes, or whatever you’ve deemed necessary to travel with, the twitchy aspects mellow out without feeling sluggish. This particular build benefits from another of VO’s products – the Utility Bar and Rack. A modest, wide, comfortable flat bar that has a rack built directly into the middle. At first, I thought the load being so high up would denigrate what is a fun ride once adjusted for. But even with little in the way of planning or thought toward appropriate load distribution, the Neutrino felt at home with ten pounds of produce on the utility rack and no extra weight anywhere else.
The drivetrain is another point that allows for creative practicality. With sliding, 135mm QR dropouts, the Neutrino offers the possibility for geared, single-speed, or internally geared setups. This build used the cute, functional, and extraordinarily affordable MicroShift Advent Super Short as a 1x9 with a 42t Velo Orange crankset up front. The result was an easy pedaling experience that felt doable, if entirely unchallenging, for even the most unpracticed of cyclists. I’m not sure if it’s due to the position, absurdly short chainstays, or wheel size, but I’ve yet to come across a more approachable bike.
When people in my life ask for bike recommendations, I manage to come up with a few options before having an aneurysm. Most have some form of compromise built in. Single-speed and fixed-gear setups are ones I tend toward because of their low(er) cost ceiling, ease of maintenance, and general lack of complexity. The biggest drawback typically being how hard it can be to push a 46:16 or whatever ratio comes stock on said single-speed/ fixed gear. The Neutrino offers an easy pedaling experience for anyone but would benefit those new to the world of cycling yearning for simplicity and ease of use.
With all that in mind, it’s worth dissecting what effect this little bike has had on someone who has experience riding bicycles. As I said, I think we’re all subject to the performance-focused motives the bike industry revolves around. Owning a series of ‘normal’ shaped bikes will push you to ride the way they were intended. Usually, that’s toward some end. What the Neutrino encourages is a shirking of those ideas. By being constructed in such an odd manner, you can’t really try and set a KOM on the mini velo. I mean, you can, no one is stopping you, but what the Neutrino’s material conditions encourage is pure fun. Sure, you’re going to move a heck of a lot slower than you would on other bikes. It feels downright stupid to try and push watts or even get out of the saddle. But, for anyone that enjoys the feeling of being ambulated by their own power, this bike strips away the expectations and ideas that can often be thrust upon us, either by ourselves or the external world, and puts forth a simple idea.
Irrespective of how much you ride or how long it's been since you’ve pushed pedals, the reaction this bike garners when out and about is almost universal. The intrigue and stoke are, dare I say, a product of the fact that so many of us know what it’s like to cruise along, worry-free, on two wheels. The funny-looking package VO delivers is an uncomplicated, unintimidating entry point toward that idea. If for no other reason than a reminder of the child-like wonder I believe is inherent to bikes, the Neutrino is worth a look. But as a legitimate option to reducing the nearly 50% of sub-3-mile trips people look to their car for, the Neutrino has more than a leg to stand on. Be it urban commuting, coffee shop cruising, or just plain fun, the Neutrino changed how I look at this thing we all spend so much time thinking about.
Nic also did a great video on Instagram about replacing his car with a Neutrino!