Review: Mezzo bike (2005)
Folding bike review from the Velo Vision archive. First published in Issue 20 in 2005.
Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 8 Dec 2011
This review was first published in Velo Vision Issue 20 in 2005. Prices mentioned date from that time, and will have changed. Contact details are current unless otherwise stated.
MEET THE MEZZO
The new Mezzo folding bike competes head to head with the Brompton – but how does it match up? Peter Eland reports…
The Brompton has remained more or less unchallenged – and unchanged – for decades as the only sensible choice for a commuter who wants a bike which rides well but folds fast and small. Yet it has its flaws, as we discovered last issue, even in the posh new titanium models. So in some ways it’s surprising that there’s been no serious competition until now.
The Mezzo is aiming squarely at Brompton territory, the urban commuter, and is aiming to attract users from the incumbent machine with fresh styling and marketing, a super-quick and compact fold and a good ride.
There are two models: one has nine-speed derailleur gearing (at around £625 in the UK) and then there’s the one we tested, with a Shimano Nexus four-speed hub gear (£595).
First launched just over a year ago at the Cycle 2004 show in September, the Mezzo has used that time to feed in improvements from its first batch of users. The bike we tested incorporates most of the latest refinements, though more are in the pipeline as we go to press, as I’ll describe later.
Designer Jon Whyte comes from the world of MTBs, and there’s evidence of plenty of fresh folding thinking in the Mezzo. New design concepts abound – but how well do they gel? Is it an over-engineered contraption, or a successful stowaway?
The Mezzo is available in any colour you like so long as it’s anodised silver – it certainly looks smart, and projects a modern look that would go well with a business suit and laptop. The alloy frame is nicely finished, as we’ve come to expect these days, with tidy welding and finish. Weight as tested was 12.2 kg.
As to the overall look of the bike, it’s a matter of taste. Some quite liked the angular look, but I’m afraid most onlookers did find the stem in particular rather ungainly. I found it grows on you, and looks less strange after a while. I did like the clean and unobtrusive cable runs.
It was also good to find a folding bike that’s big enough for me, at 6' 2" tall. There’s a lovely clear scale printed on the seatpost which unaccountably stops a couple of inches short of the very faint ‘maximum extension’ mark. I found I needed to set the seatpost about an inch higher than the end of the scale, so there was still an extra inch to go.
The seatpost was supplied with its clamp facing forwards, bringing the saddle closer to the bars. It can be fitted either way, so I turned it backwards for extra reach. Riders of different proportions will appreciate the chance to fine-tune their riding position. There’s also a telescopic stem to change handlebar height: even at the minimum they’re set moderately high, and fully extended should be tall enough for anyone.
The saddle supplied was comfortable, and has a dinky little LED light built in where you’d once have found saddlebag loops – a shame in a way as it rules out a luggage option. But the light’s handy and runs on two AAA batteries.
Happily the frame is set out to accommodate standard-width hubs, 135 mm wide at the back and 100 mm at the front (though you’d best stick with the one supplied at the front because of the involved folding gubbins inboard of the dropouts). The standard back end means that almost any hub gear up to and including a Rohloff could be fitted: perhaps one of the new 8-speed crop might be an attractive choice in this style of bike. As it is, the Shimano four-speed gives ratios of 37.5" to 69", activated by a simple twistgrip control.
The simple four-speed twist-shifter
The Mezzo comes with 16" (349) wheels, for which there’s a wide choice of tyres. They’re fitted with Kenda tyres, which I’ve seen criticised in other reviews for sluggish performance. Well, I didn’t find them particularly bad – and they’re easily replaced anyway. The wheels seemed well built, and were still running perfectly true at the end of the test after some hard riding.
The brakes are a mixed bag. At the front it’s excellent, a short-reach sidepull and a beefy lever making for a positive action and powerful stopping. By poking the brake out in front of the mudguard, they can keep it tight around the tyre, improving stiffness and feel. At the back, though, it has to reach past the mudguard. This, together with a longer and more bendy cable run, makes it a bit soft – it’s easy to squeeze the lever right to the bars.
An effective short-reach front brake
Moving on to accessories, and the Mezzo comes with mudguards built in and a rear rack. This has nice rubber coated bits where it’ll touch the ground during the folding process, and I understand future models will have some little wheels to ease moving the folded bike around.
The rear mudguard is held firmly in position by the rack-mounted reflector clip
Unfortunately, while the rack surely helps the stability of the folded bike, it isn’t a particularly useful luggage carrier. I believe specially-designed luggage in the form of a large rack-top bag is in the works, but it’s a shame not to be able to use standard luggage: I doubt Mezzo will come up with anything as waterproof as an Ortlieb.
As it is, I did eventually manage to fit my small Ortlieb front panniers as pictured, but only just. The rack bars are the wrong shape to accommodate the hooks: they’ll slide on, but can’t close, so I needed to attach the panniers semi-permanently with cable ties to make sure they were secure. Luckily the rack is long enough that these can be fitted at the very back, leaving enough heel clearance even for my size 47 shoes. Of course, they have to be removed before you can fold the bike. Another option might be to use a saddlebag or seatpost-supported bag.
Actually, I shouldn’t make too much of this luggage issue. For town use, which is what this bike is designed for, a courier bag or backpack is often the most practical choice anyway.
The folding sequence is shown in the pictures below, so I won’t repeat it here. A key novelty is the use of the quick-release catches. Instead of a clamping element either twiddled tight or a lever pushed shut, these simply snap into position when closed, the spring-loaded catch engaging a roller onto a carefully-shaped cam. These are adjustable for perfect action, although I never had to do this for the test bike. All of the catches locked solid in one easy motion, though a quick push with the hand to ensure they’re fully home is worthwhile insurance.
Stand on the right of the bike, and line the right-hand crank up with the chainstay. You can fold the pedals now or at the end, it doesn’t really matter
Now swing the bars right around until the boss on the fork crown contacts its stop
Holding the bars swung round, release the rear catch, lift the bike and fold the rear end under. Lock by lowering the saddle. The chain is kept under tension, and we never had any problems with it coming off
Now release the front wheel by undoing the quick-release and lifting the safety catch. Swing it under, and snap the mudguard stay into the clip provided on the rear swingarm
Finally, release the stem catch and fold the bars against the side of the bike. There’s no catch for them, but the hinge is stiff enough to keep them in place
These catches account for the stem and rear triangle folds. The seatpost uses an ordinary quick-release, but it’s at the front wheel where things get really interesting. Here the hub’s quick-release is what secures it into place for riding, while when folded, it’s held into the fork assembly by a small clip on the non-QR side. There’s a safety clamp which pops over the quick-release end as well, which must be lifted to release the wheel when folding, gently ejecting the axle via a lever.
The wheel is held into the swinging mudguard-stay assembly via this clamp, using two Allen bolts threaded into those small black steel cylinders
After releasing the QR, lifting the safety clamp pushes the axle forwards, so that it swings out along with the metal mudguard, pivoting near the front brake
It all works OK with practice, but I don’t really like using the wheel QR as part of the folding procedure. Quick-releases need to be carefully adjusted and closed with considerable force to be safe, as the very clear and thorough manual explains in some detail. Attaching a wheel is a safety-critical job which I like to take my time over and do carefully, not rush every time I fold the bike. I close QRs with enough force to almost hurt my hand, and opening it also requires considerable effort and finger strength. Again, not something I want to do each time I fold the bike.
Also, that black safely catch looks much the same whether it’s properly pushed into its lower position or just poised over the front axle unclosed, especially from above, which is the natural angle you view it from. A clearer visual safety indicator might be good.
Further visual confusion comes from the fixing nut side when you’re looking to see if it’s done up. The machined area on the dropout isn’t concentric with the nut even when it’s actually OK, more than once leading me to retry the closing action to get it to line up.
It’s a little confusing visually that the machined area on the dropout doesn’t line up with the axle even when, as here, it’s full and safely locked into position
I’m possibly being over-sensitive here: I never actually had any unintended release problems. But if you’re not mechanically inclined and aren’t confident with quick-releases, maybe think about a bike with a simpler mechanism.
That aside, if all goes well the folding and unfolding process is a matter of seconds. As a package the Mezzo is undeniably a little larger than the Brompton, but fairly neat, and good enough for most trains. Both folded and unfolded it ‘carries’ conveniently with a hand under the main frame tube.
Right after the Mezzo was delivered I took it up to Northumberland for a weekend’s cycling at the Bike Right event. This is social riding in a moderately hilly area, and the longest ride was around 40-45 miles. Given that this bike – especially with the four-speed hub gear – is very much a city animal it was perhaps rather an unfairly harsh test of its abilities.
But the Mezzo managed to pleasantly surprise. Even with a weekend’s luggage lashed hastily to its back rack it still handled the 12 miles from station to hostel with considerable aplomb. It could be heaved up hills outside the range of its gearing by standing on the pedals, and fast descents felt stable and confident. The brakes were fine, and the front in particular is strong and easily modulated – the back is a bit mushy, but does slow you.
It was a real pleasure to use the four-speed hub. As I’ve surely mentioned in the magazine before, this is the hub gear I used on my main town bike for several years before I started fitting the many incarnations of the Sturmey 8-speed. It’s not terribly light, nor terribly efficient perhaps, but it does shift gears with a wonderful lack of drama and fuss. Just twist the shifter and it shifts, under load or not, pedalling or not. It made a nice contrast to my riding companions with their 21-speed derailleurs, which seemed to require cossetting and stress as they wondered if the chain would drop down into the little ring half-way up a hill…
I did run out of ratios at the top end quite often downhill or with the wind behind me, but overall I found the gearing just right, and didn’t have too much problem keeping up with a mixed bunch of riders. But I’m a ‘spinner’ and like low gears – others might want to raise the range a little with a larger chainring or smaller sprocket.
The hub gear requires a chain tensioner to keep things secure when folding. But it’s a simple unit, and it should still all be much lower-
maintenance than the derailleur version
When the gears did run out, standing on pedals on the Mezzo for sprinting or climbing was a more pleasant experience than on the Birdy, GoBike or Moulton machines I’ve tested recently, simply because there’s no suspension to bounce up and down. Instead it feels direct and controllable. This could be a big factor if you’re the type of rider who does like to rise up out of the saddle.
Standing on the pedals did also expose a bit of stem/handlebar flexibility, but that’s partly because the general rigidity if the bike allowed greater forces to be exerted than on many other folders.
So how does all of this rural riding experience translate to town use? Well, it’s a nippy city bike, with confident braking and easy-to-use gearing very appropriate to stop-start use. But just as for touring, its lack of luggage-carrying capacity could be an annoyance, and for hilly cities, more gears would definitely be welcome.
The riding position is also well-suited to town riding, although just like every straight-barred bike it really needs bar ends or Ergon grips to sort out the ergonomics, for me at least. Signalling and riding one-handed is no problem.
Finally it’s a pleasantly quiet ride: no rattles, just the quiet buzz of the chain.
I’m sure the Mezzo people are sick and tired of Brompton comparisons by now, but I’m afraid that’s the benchmark which many customers will use. And it’s an interesting comparison: the Mezzo definitely wins on brakes and it’s too close to call on the ride. It also wins on gears, with the nine-speed derailleur option and a standard drop-out width opening up all sorts of options. In contrast the Brompton’s narrow rear end essentially limits it to the manufacturer’s own offerings.
The Mezzo’s quick-release folding catches work well, but the speed advantage it gains here over the twiddly Brompton hinges is rather lost with the front wheel’s release mechanism. The Brompton does have the edge in folded package size and neatness, and also a far more evolved and practical luggage carrying system. But the Mezzo still a relatively young design, and it’s encouraging that the designers seem to be taking feedback on board and making changes.
Really, all of the ‘downs’ on the Mezzo are relatively minor, and none are deal-breakers. If the gearing possibilities, the styling or the ride take your fancy, it should be one for the shortlist. I’d certainly recommend taking a test ride to check it out.
Search Velo Vision website story archive:
Search full magazine text via the digital edition: