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The Vello Rocky is a fast and eager chromoly folding bike, with an innovative design, superb build quality and very decent spec. The problem is, it's just so stiff.
Before I even sat on the saddle of a Vello bike, I'd already had a chat with its designer and company boss, Valentin Vodev, about his overall bike building. Valentin made it quite clear that when designing the Vello, his focus was on the ride experience.
I don't know quite what I was expecting but initially, and especially at low speed, the Vello feels almost as fidgety as other small-wheeled bikes, even if its 20in wheels do help it to seem just a fraction more relaxed. Up at higher velocity, though, it's a different matter. Stability is superb and you quickly develop the confidence to be sure the bike is going to go where you put it. There's no dispute about power delivery, either. It's a very stiff bike and it's eager to be ridden.
Vello talks about making an ultra-lightweight version using purely off-the-shelf components, and you can see the attraction to some people – namely roadies, really: this is designed for speed. It's just about the best folding bike in terms of handling that I've ridden at top velocity. Descents are actually quite fun, as long as you steer clear of potholes and bumps.
And that, unfortunately, is Vello's Achilles heel.
Valentin and the Vello brand are big fans of chromoly steel tubing. Steel, of course, is strong but also quite nicely compliant. However, that's on a traditional two-triangle frame. This is anything but a traditional frame and, to my peachy posterior at least, comfort is found wanting. There is an elastomer element for suspension just behind the seatpost, similar to a Brompton, but it didn't seem to take the edge off of anything.
And it's not just at the rear that comfort is missing in action: up front, my wrists and palms felt like they'd taken a bit of a hammering as well. It's a huge shame because I feel it fundamentally compromises the overall ride experience – it really is that stiff.
Unfolded, the Vello is a very smart looking bike. The wheelbase is long for a folding cycle and the overall riding position feels very similar to a non-folder.
While stem height is adjustable across an impressively wide range, as a six-footer, for me the reach was just a tad short with the stock stem, but that can be fixed easily by fitting a longer Aheadset stem.
Similarly, I had to swap the saddle over to a longer seatpost because the stock one didn't give me quite enough length.
It's a beautifully manufactured frame and, in many ways, it reminds me a little bit of an old-school BMX or a mountain bike from the early days of off-roading. There's a certain utilitarian craftsmanship about it and Vello actually markets it as a 'multi-terrain' folding bike, although I admit to being very hesitant to put that to the test; the poorly surfaced roads of south London were more than rough enough.
The folding system is pretty straightforward, with the rear triangle flipping underneath the main frame and to one side slightly. It pivots just in front of the bottom bracket, but the pivot itself is set at an angle so that it folds slightly diagonally. It's a clever idea, but also a bit disconcerting to see something welded on a frame that isn't pointing forwards or at 90 degrees.
Valentin says the folding/unfolding mechanism takes a bit of practice, and he's right; there are a few quick releases to tighten and high-power magnets to overcome. That said, the only traditional folding bike clamp that needs to be done up is found underneath the head tube, and works in combination with a safety 'pin' to keep the front wheel facing forwards.
When these are undone, the front wheel also folds underneath the main bike and sits next to the rear wheel, attaching themselves together via a magnet.
Incidentally, when pedalling, my heel occasionally brushed against the magnet body – which is mounted on the left chainstay – so if you have a particularly 'heel in' pedalling technique, you might want to test ride before buying.
A couple of quick releases get the seatpost and stem out of the way, and there's a set of folding pedals, too.
The pièce de résistance, though, comes at the handlebar. The end sections of handlebar can be removed after undoing a quick release on each side to dangle loosely, but they are connected together by an elastic ribbon, just like your mum did to your mittens to stop you losing them.
With so many elements to the core folding frame, this entry-level build's all-up weight of 12kg is really pretty good.
Although this is the least expensive Vello, my opinion is that there's no great necessity to pay more for upgrades in the componentry department. The Rocky's Shimano Deore shifters and Deore XT 10-speed rear mech offer all the performance you'd need.
Gear changes are smooth and reliable and, combined with the beautiful chrome-like, double-chainguarded 54-tooth chainset, the 11-32 cassette offers a fair spread of gears.
Braking is also very competent and comes courtesy of a set of Vello-branded hydraulic disc brakes. As always with hydraulic discs, it's not just a case of excellent ultimate power but nicely progressive feel, allowing you to perfectly judge how much you need to squeeze the levers. If you aim to ride at some pace regularly, the moving parts fitted to the Rocky are more than up to the job.
The Rocky's unbranded 20in wheels are fine and certainly strong enough. They roll well, too, although I suspect at least some of the reason for the bike's overall lack of bump compliance could be levelled at them.
The Vello website for some reason lists the tyres as '20in Kojak', but our test bike was fitted with Schwalbe Marathons, which are a well-known quantity. They grip well and offer three-season performance without being so grippy that riding on them is a slog. Further enhancing that on-road efficiency, they can be pumped up to a drop-bar-bike-rivalling 100psi.
The Selle Royal saddle does the best it can in the circumstances. It's fine but nothing particularly special. The same goes for the ergonomic bar grips, which I normally quite like but they just can't do much to soften the innate rigidity of the front end.
I do like the included folding pedals and kickstand, though, and the Rocky also came with Vello's diminutive rechargeable lights front and back.
One point worth mentioning is that the Aheadset stem is only held in place by its side bolts – there is no bolted-in top cap, rather a push-in rubber cap – so make sure your side bolts are done up nice and tight.
In terms of added extras, Vello is keen for its bikes to be seen as viable commuting and touring machines, so you can fit a bespoke rear rack, custom mudguards, and a front luggage carrier.
The Rocky is at the entry point of Vello's range and things get quite interesting as you move up through it, although prices do start ramping up accordingly. Next in line is the Vello Alfine with a hub gear of the same name at £2,390. If you have unlimited funds and want the very best Vello that money can buy, there's the Vello Rohloff for £3,990. Or you could get a bit of help with all that pedalling malarkey via Vello's electric bike range.
In terms of other rival brand bikes, the obvious comparison is a Brompton, which start at £850. For about £240 less than the price of the Vello Rocky you could have the 6-speed all-steel Brompton C Line Explore, and for £700 more than the Rocky, you could have the excellent lightweight P Line Brompton I tested not so long ago.
And if money is truly no object, and you crave comfort more than anything, the Riese & Müller Birdy is a quite unique option starting at £2,579.
Against that background and considering its beautiful construction, unique design and fine spec, I think the Rocky is decent value. There's a lot to recommend it, especially when it comes to overall handling and power delivery. If the roads you intend to ride it on are super smooth and blemish free, it's worth considering. However, I found it so stiff and rigid that, for me at least, I just wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience for long.
A very classy steel folding bike that might appeal to tough old-school roadies, but other riders will find it too stiff
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vello Rocky
Size tested: n/a
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame and fork: Chromoly steel
Gear shifters: Shimano Deore Rapidfire
Rear derailleur: Shimano Deore XT 10-speed
Chainset: Polished aluminium, double chainguard 54t
Cassette: 10-speed, 11-32t
Brakes: Vello-branded hydraulic disc brakes
Handlebar: Aluminium folding
Saddle: Selle Royal, foam matrix
Seatpost: Satori aluminium 30.9mm x 500mm
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon
Pedals: Aluminium folding pedals
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 folding bike with a scope of use beyond 'just' commuting – touring, trekking and adventure riding should also be possible. Vello says: "The Vello Rocky is made to smooth out the jolts of the city jungle. With its Shimano XT 10-speed top-quality trekking bike components, you can easily avoid traffic congestion by choosing shortcuts through parks and over rocky paths and steep hills."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
This Rocky version sits at the bottom of the range. Next in line is the Vello Alfine with a Shimano hub gear of the same name at £2,390. If you have unlimited funds and want the very best Vello that money can buy, there's the Vello Rohloff for £3,990.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The core bike is beautifully made.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Very similar to 'normal' bike geometry – impressive wheelbase length.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Reach and saddle height were a fraction short with stock components, but it's easy to swap those out to something suitable.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Not comfortable. Ride quality is fast and stable, but not comfortable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Too stiff for my tastes.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer and efficiency was very good.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
No toe-clip overlap, but slight heel rub against the magnet body on the left chainstay.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Lively at slow speed but it settles down very nicely at higher velocities.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very surefooted handling. However, it feels bumps keenly and these can put it off its stride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Saddle did the best it could to soften heavy blows – not sure what else you could fit that would have much of an effect.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Perfectly competent 10-speed Shimano drivetrain – unless you're looking to really make a lightweight bike, there's no pressing need for upgrades.
Wheels and tyres
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?
The wheels are fine, but nothing special. I don't know what the market is like for aftermarket 20in wheels, but if I was a Vello owner I'd be tempted to look into upgrading this area first.
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?
Schwalbe Marathons are good quality commuting or touring tyres. Perfect option to get you up and riding.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The folding handlebar is a quirky thing, otherwise it's all quite classy stuff.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The Vello-branded hydraulic disc brakes are very good.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Sadly no.
Would you consider buying the bike? No
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? I'm not sure – if somebody wants a quick folder, possibly.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
In terms of other rival brand bikes, the obvious comparison is a Brompton, which start at £850, and for about £250 less than the price of the Vello Rocky you could have the 6-speed all-steel Brompton C-Line Explore. For £700 more than the Rocky, you could have the excellent lightweight P Line Brompton I tested not so long ago. And if money is truly no object, and you crave comfort more than anything, the Riese & Müller Birdy is a quite unique option starting at £2,579.
Use this box to explain your overall score
There's a lot to recommend the Vello Rocky – build quality is top notch, spec is good, and on-road performance in terms of power delivery, handling and stability at speed is all decent. However, I can only go by personal opinion here, and for me, it's just too stiff.
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