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The Velobello Soho is an affordable off-the-shelf singlespeed/fixie for aspiring urban fashionistas. At its heart is a pretty and pretty tidy steel frame that offers a very good ride experience, but other components – particularly the brakes – don't perform quite so well.
Testing retro bikes can be a bit of an occupational hazard. On one occasion, a magazine review I wanted to file about a fantastic old-school flat-barred steel adventure bike ended up with me quitting the entire job because my editor refused to give it the score I wanted. Ironically, for a cycling journo, I decided to walk.
The problem is, these types of bikes tend to have something about them – a spirit, if you will – that readers or editors who haven't jumped aboard can't appreciate just from looking at the pictures. In the case of the Velobello Soho, there shouldn't be quite so much controversy because while the core performance is very good, a significant blemish or two stops it from being an against-the-odds humdinger.
At the heart of the Soho is a fairly standard but perfectly decent steel frame. The top tube isn't truly flat, marking a slight departure from genuine old-school aesthetics, but it's very nicely finished and would make quite a funky piece of wall art for space-limited city dwellers.
On the road, it generally feels as good as it looks. The round steel frame tubing and matching steel fork do a fine job of insulating you from bumps and lumps. Interestingly, bobbly surfaces come through slightly more than one-off big hits, but this is a perfectly comfy place to ride. My only complaint would be in terms of fit – I tested the larger 58cm frame, which would normally be perfect for me, but it came up just a little bit short in length.
Handling is good, and you'll find direction changes lively but predictable. It's hard not to mention other ingredients beyond just the frame because control is affected by the fairly narrow handlebar. Initially this takes a little getting used to and you might find the handling just a tad twitchy to begin with, but once you understand its behaviour, it's a perfect tool for weaving through the urban jungle.
Balance at high speed is very good – from a ride quality and handling point of view, there's little to complain about. Considering the compliance of the frame in terms of comfort, it's surprising that power delivery is also pleasingly direct.
That brings us on to the Soho's gearing. You have a choice of two gears... sort of: a 48-tooth chainring allied with a 16-tooth fixed gear; or you can flipflop the rear hub and there's a 16t sprocket sitting on a freehub. I'm not a sadist, and I live among a few hills, so for most of my time with the Soho I stuck with the freewheeling option.
Thank goodness I did. I'm not going to wax long and geek-out about chain lengths, I'm just going to say that getting up to speed on road surfaces much beyond horizontal requires the quads of Chris Hoy. If you intend to buy the Soho, factor into its price the cost of a pair of non-skinny jeans – you'll need them soon enough.
The unbranded chainset is nothing special but just about good enough. As you could probably guess, it's fitted to a tried and tested square-taper bottom bracket. It's all simple, proven and, let's face it, old-school technology. Not particularly plush, but straightforward at least.
That fairly high gearing means you're going to definitely pick up some velocity in the right conditions, so you're going to need something to help you stop. Here's where running the fixed gear comes in handy, because resisting the motion of the pedals is a big help in slowing down. Using the shiny unbranded side-pull rim brakes and short-arm brake levers alone offers very limited stopping ability. They'll slow you down a bit, but I wouldn't want to rely on them in an emergency.
Although I appreciate these fit the retro-inspired fixie vibe, I would suggest that for an off-the-shelf bike at a reasonable price, the Soho really could do with much better braking. The sort of people who buy this bike probably won't be cycle courier-level urban warriors used to resistance braking, but more likely novices dipping a toe into the steel-framed world. When they reach for the brake levers, they're going to really want something with reassuring stopping power. This isn't it.
Like the frame, the wheels with their bright orange deep rims look the part for an urban hipster's runaround. They roll pretty well too, and the fact that they are bolted in place makes for a stiff experience – in a good way – although they do feel a bit heavy.
The 25mm Mitas Syrinx tyres are decent, too, and offer acceptable comfort and grip.
It has to be said, though, the wheels do have the slight whiff about them of catalogue-style 'bike shaped object' rather than serious bike. They perform well, but I would venture they've been picked to fulfil an aesthetic rather than for practical ability.
The quill stem is a pretty rare option these days, although you can find adjustable modern quill stems on lower-end leisure bikes. This isn't one of those – this is a proper old-school effort where adjustment is limited to height only. As with the wheels, there's nothing wrong with it in use, it just feels a bit basic. Also, replacement quill stems aren't the easiest thing to find these days, so requiring a longer or shorter one is far more of a palaver than simply swapping in a new aheadset stem.
For the praise I gave the handlebar earlier, it's not perfect. Yes, it feels ideal for threading your way through the cityscape, but get on a hill and you'll find the slightly limited width restricts your ability to get out of the saddle and muscle the bike up the climb. The grips are fine, though, and come colour-coded to match the rims.
The Selle Royal Mach saddle also has flashes of orange branding and causes no complaints – it's another ingredient in an overall comfy riding experience.
Before I start rounding things up, the Soho's weight of almost 12kg does feel rather generous, though. Without gears to help, getting up to speed is already more of an energetic experience than it might otherwise be, but the lack of derailleurs and cassette means a lighter total mass perhaps should have been possible.
It's tempting to think that, by definition, a singlespeed bike is always going to come with limitations, but it's not necessarily as true as you might imagine. I tested the Pearson Once More Unto The Breach a while back and while it now costs almost £999, it is a truly fantastic bike. The Genesis Flyer is also a highly-capable modern singlespeed, albeit at £699.99.
It's unfair to directly compare the Velobello Soho with these far more expensive alternatives, but there is a fair selection of decent singlespeeds at lower prices, too. The Mongoose Maurice is just £225 and Decathlon's angular Elops Singlespeed 500 is £249.99. Both come with steel frames and spec sheets that largely match the Soho, albeit with a few modern touches like aheadset stems.
In comparison, the Velobello Soho does seem just a little pricey. I think at least some of that premium is justified in the prettiness stakes and fairly accurate retro vibe. In performance terms, though, a nod to modernity wouldn't have gone amiss, particularly in the braking department. Similarly, while an aheadset stem would have ruined the looks, it would make it significantly easier to set up in terms of fit. Considering the potential in the Soho's frame, I'd be tempted to sacrifice aesthetic details for better all-round performance.
If somebody had put this bike together as a result of their own efforts and preferences, you'd say, good on you. But this is a commercially available product aimed at the general public and, to that end, it does fall down just a bit. There's no shortage of charm, though, and the ride quality is good, so if Velobello can sort the Soho's limitations, it might have a little gem on its hands.
A fun retro-inspired steel bike that's very good for flat commutes, though some speccing falls into 'style over substance'
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Velobello Soho
Size tested: 58
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Fork: Rigid steel fork
Crankset: 46t, 170 mm, alloy crank
Chain: Kmc z-410, 1 speed
Brakes: Alloy caliper
Stem: Alloy quill
Handlebar: Alloy riser 55cm
Rims: 700c x 32h, alloy deep section
Tyres: Mitas Syrinx v80
Saddle: Selle Royal 6553 Mach
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
This is a singlespeed/fixed bike for urban cycling. Velobello says: "Introducing the new Soho single speed fixed or freewheel lightweight, stylish, super fast, easy to navigate single-speed urban city bike. Handcrafted in Europe with high-quality components and virtually maintenance-free."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
Velobello has a small but eclectic range: there's the Soho in a variety of colours; the Chelsea step-through shopper bike; and the Carnaby folder.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very few complaints about the frame and fork – they look good and provide a very good ride experience.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
We don't know much but Velobello says it uses: "pure steel which is lighter and stronger. No impurities."
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Although this is a faux-retro bike, there is actually a slight slope to the top tube, meaning it's a very semi-compact frame. The rear triangle is pretty tight, though. The fork has straight legs – I would have expected a tad more rake with perhaps some curve.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Height was fine, reach was a bit of an issue. Despite being the 58cm model, which I expected to fit me, it came up a tad short.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, comfort is very good. The steel frame and fork do a good job of keeping things in check.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Despite the comfort there didn't seem to be any unnecessary flexibility.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it was surprisingly efficient – probably thanks to the tight rear and bolted hubs.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
Not normally, but there's not a whole lot of spare room. I used flat pedals and every now and then toe overlap did prove a slight issue if my feet weren't in perfect position. That could be fixed if you fit clipless pedals, though.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? A bit twitchy initially, but that settles down. Largely lively and responsive.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handling was actually very good. Everything felt nicely balanced and secure on the road.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I don't think it requires any great changes in the pursuit of comfort. I found the Selle Royal saddle particularly good.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The jury's still out on the wheels in other respects, but being bolted certainly seemed to aid stiffness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres seemed good enough for the job but there are better and more efficient options available.
Surprisingly impressive. It didn't feel like any power was being lost.
Despite the limited gearing, getting up to speed was rewarding.
Good, even if the slightly narrow handlebar doesn't allow for quite so much muscling.
No worries at all at high speed – very well planted.
Once up to a nice cadence on a flat road, it's a fine bike.
Bit twitchy, but no big deal.
Fine – easy to weave about.
Not bad, although the brakes' weaknesses tend to promote caution.
Climbing is its Achilles' heel – hard to muscle and no gears to play with.
Straightforward – no gears, no problems.
If this doesn't last forever, it's hard to know what will!
Considering how few components there are, it's not particularly light.
Nothing to it.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I'd always prefer more sympathetic gearing on singlespeeds because I live in a hilly area. If you face a lot of climbs, this might not be the bike for you.
Wheels and tyres
I was surprised by how well the wheels rolled.
They look solid enough, but they're obviously relatively cheap, so time will tell.
Not the lightest hoops in the world.
Can't really complain about comfort.
I think they're what you'd expect on a sub-£400 bike.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Although the wheels performed well, they'd probably be my first upgrade because there's still a fair bit of performance to be found here.
Decent performance on dry roads.
Seem good so far, but as with the wheels, I wouldn't want to guess as to long-term use.
An easy upgrade.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Very good grip on dry roads – I haven't had chance to test them in the wet.
Stem and handlebar look pretty, but they're a bit old-tech.
Nothing much to go wrong with them.
Bar grips and saddle are good.
Nothing surprisingly luxurious here, although the Selle Royal saddle is at least branded kit.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The quill stem has very limited adjustment which, when combined with the short frame length, is something to be aware of. The Selle Royal Mach saddle is a nice touch that provides good comfort.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The unbranded side-pull rim brakes offer a poor performance. While they're able to scrub off speed slightly, emergency stops feel out of the question.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? No
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's not the most expensive singlespeed: I tested the Pearson Once More Unto The Breach a while back, and though it now costs almost £999, it is a truly fantastic bike. The Genesis Flyer is also a highly-capable modern singlespeed, and £699.99. Obviously, it's unfair to compare the Velobello Soho with these far more expensive alternatives, but there is a fair selection of decent singlespeeds at lower prices, too. The Mongoose Maurice is just £225 and Decathlon's angular Elops Singlespeed 500 is £249.99. Both come with steel frames and spec sheets that largely match the Soho, albeit with a few modern touches like aheadset stems. In that respect, the Velobello seems just a tad pricey – although it's much prettier than both.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Soho's performance was surprisingly good on the road, especially once up to speed on the flat. The lack of gearing harms the experience on the way up hills, and the lack of stopping power with the brakes harms the experience coming back down again – but overall I'd say this is still a good bike for its intended use. And it looks really pretty.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb, Leisure