Folding bikes are ideal city companions: They are suitable for commuters in combination with public transport. Or for camping enthusiasts and train travelers who want to be mobile after arriving on site. So far, so normal. But what if you fitted wide tires and a racing handlebar?

Then a gravel folding bike would come out that would expand its radius of action to include forest, meadow and forest paths. That was the idea that the folding bike manufacturer Vello had at the beginning of the Corona crisis in Vienna and that was put into practice in 2021.

Brompton had also dealt with making folding bikes fit for adventures beyond the asphalt. The British folding bike specialist configured a special model with more robust tires. A folding e-bike with rough terrain knobs is on the market under the Jeep label.

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Another folding bike pioneer from England, Moulton, also calls his bad-road variant XTB a gravel bike – but the distinctive feature is missing: the curved racing handlebar. We kidnapped the Vello Gravel on forest paths and country roads.

The purpose of the Vello Gravel

Valentin Vodev, co-founder of Vello, attributes “perfect gravel properties” to the model. It is about encouraging his drivers to expand their traditional terrain – the campsite, the daily trips: “For example, it is ideal for short trips around the city, off-road and on-road,” says Managing Director Vodev.

The difference to conventional gravel bikes, the folding mechanism, is interesting for many customers: tours can be made more spontaneously with the Vello – at least if the starting point is not right on the doorstep.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

Folded and packed: The Vello Gravel fits in many car trunk compartments

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

The folded Vello can travel as luggage on many public transports free of charge – a full-size all-road bike, as gravel bikes are also called, has to be placed on the bike rack on the car, or you have to buy an additional ticket.

The technique of the Vello Gravel

Like any folding bike, the Vello Gravel rolls on comparatively small wheels, but at 20 inches they are larger than the 16-inch Brompton. This makes the folding size for a folding bike compact, but not ultra-compact.

Because the racing handlebars cannot be folded up on the Gravel, it is slightly larger in height and width than the Vello basic model and measures 65 x 79 x 39 centimeters (height times length times width).

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The patented folding mechanism is simple but requires some practice. The rear structure, which is locked by a magnet, can be swung via a joint on the bottom bracket to the right of the frame. The front wheel and fork, which can be loosened via another joint on the fork head, are placed against another magnet on the other side.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

Another joint is located on the fork head. A screw connection and a locking pin ensure that nothing comes loose while driving

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

At 11.9 kilos, the bike is just light enough that carrying it from the platform to the exit or from the basement to the car is not an unreasonable burden. Alternatively, you can grab it in the folded state on the saddle or roll it around in front of you.

What qualifies the model as a gravel bike besides the racing handlebar tires and gears: According to the manufacturer, the 50 millimeter wide Billy Bonkers tread tires from Schwalbe should also provide more grip on sandy soils.

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The cassette offers a lot of bandwidth: A large sprocket with 36 teeth ensures smooth mountain gear, and one with 11 teeth for a brisk ride with an adequate gear ratio.

The rear derailleur comes from Shimano’s ambitious 105 series racing bike group – that fits in with the racing bike genes inherent in every gravel bike. The disc brakes, which unlike rim brakes, promise full functionality even in wet conditions, owe the mountain bike heritage, which is also predisposed.

Driving impression of the Vello Gravel

Lively and agile, the bike reveals its character from the very first few meters. It can be accelerated effortlessly, the tires whir on the straight country road, on which the bike picks up speed and then rides almost as precisely as a full-fledged bike.

If you turn onto field and forest paths, the fun doesn’t wane, on the contrary. The 20 incher roll off surprisingly comfortably. Because of their width, their volume is large and they require less air pressure, which improves cushioning. The contact surface of the profile is larger, which increases traction.

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An elastomer rear end damper between the top tube and seat stays also softens the impact from below – at least in the head. The playfulness of the Vello is more noticeable, it steers itself so directly that you enjoy turning around roots and chunks on the forest path. However, the 20-inchers are more prone to potholes and hollows than larger wheels, which often roll over them.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

An elastomer ensures a certain level of comfort

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

Above all, however, there are some drawbacks when it comes to steering when the telescopic stem is loaded from the side. Like the seat post, it can be adjusted in height to adapt the one-size bike to the body size.

But at the latest when kicking out of the saddle, but also when sitting, when it comes uphill with exertion, the stem lacks a bit of stiffness. The effect decreases the more the handlebars are lowered.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

A feature of every gravel bike: the racing handlebar. The derailleur can also be operated using the brake lever

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

The racing handlebar, on the other hand, allows several grip positions and thus provides a variety of sitting postures – it is particularly comfortable if you grip the horns of the brake lever.

Very few should use the lower link, which, as is typical for gravel bikes, is exposed to the side for more control in the terrain. The off-road folder doesn’t encourage too much sport after all.

Equipment, accessories, peripherals

The Vello Gravel can also be optimized for everyday use and easier tours. All-weather cyclists can order mudguards as accessories, which can be folded with the bike (89 euros). For the same surcharge, Vello supplies compact LED lighting with 80 lumens, which is charged via USB and attached with silicone loops and complies with the Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO).

A front luggage rack with a load capacity of ten kilograms can be attached to the head tube, which is not in the way when folding, but can be removed (99 euros). Lashing straps in a pair cost an additional 19 euros.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

An extra feature of the Vello is the lighting: the test bike rides with LED lights that are held in place by magnets

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

The Vello Gravel, which, as usual with folding bikes, is only available in one frame size, costs from 2290 euros. This is 700 euros more than the basic Vello Rocky model without Gravel equipment.

Conclusion: Pretty quick, pretty cross: the Vello Gravel is fast and copes well on gravel and also in easy terrain. But as a folding bike, it remains a compromise. If you like the mixture and don’t see cycling primarily as a sport, you should be satisfied with the high-quality bike from Vienna.

On 20-inch bikes through the forest: out and about with a gravel folding bike

Mounted on the Vello Gravel are 50-millimeter tires from Schwalbe, model Billy Bonkers. The fork could no longer accommodate wider tires

Source: dpa-tmn / Stefan Weißenborn

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