One of the first things I remember reading about bike polo, was that it was super cheap, and you can use whatever bike you have. This was totally true for the first couple of times I went, but things changed drastically when I realized I was hooked, and bike polo was about to consume all of my free time. I needed more than a bike, I needed MY bike, the one that was going to fit like a glove and let me play the game instead of fighting the bike itself each time they yelled “POLO!”.
In retrospect I wasted a lot of money as I didn’t know what I wanted, and even worse, what I needed. I always went middle of the road or cheaper, and even then I was into $600 or so on a bike. This got me an 1/8″ scrambler v2 frame, and a lot of origin 8 parts that have changed 3 or 4 times over the last year. I’ve never been in a situation where I didn’t know what I wanted before, and it’s frustrating for me.So I’m on a hunt. A hunt for a good starter bike that can get you almost where you need to be for as little money as possible, for folks who are where I used to be. Someone like me that doesn’t have a ton of bike parts laying around, or a killer hook up at a bike shop nearby.
So I present to you the Vilano “zulu” bike. It’s a freestyle inspired fixed gear bike for $279.00 with FREE shipping. It looked too good to be true as I came across this, so I ponied up the money, got it, rode the hell out of it, and here is where it stands in my opinion…
ORDERING PROCESS / SHIPPING / PACKAGING: It’s as easy as it gets. Pay online (paypal and credit card), and it comes within the week. It comes packed just like any other bike, lots of zip ties. Mine came a little banged up and the only thing it appears to have messed up is the fork. I’ll get to that a little later. But all in all, there are no complaints at all. One thing worth mentioning is that the only real customer complaint I could find online about this bike was the color. A customer ordered the graphite bike, and claims he got a black one. I would also agree that the graphite is damn near black. Also the other 2 colors, hot pink, and neon green, won’t be available until the spring. The Zulu also comes with an extra set of bullhorn handlebars for some reason. Personally I’d rather see them throw in some bmx pedals or a second set of cogs, but regardless, you’ll get something “free”.
ASSEMBLY: Like all mail-order bikes, you can not assume that it’s put together properly. I opted to completely disassemble the bike, and re-grease all components from scratch. This means bottom bracket, headset, everything. There is no grease used on this bike and no screw or bolt tightened so do not expect a quick out of the box ride. Start from scratch and save yourself the headache later.
I need to also point out that I opted to just use my cranks and freewheel cog off of my current beater so as to not invest any more actual cash into this review. The bike comes with a 46/16 ratio which is fine for riding around the neighborhood, but I play on a 33/22 ratio for polo. I point this out again later in the final overview, but you should expect to buy a new chainring and freewheel cog to make this a proper polo bike.
FORK: I like the fork, it’s what grabbed my attention. I love the look of a bmx bike in these road bikes. It’s made of 4130 Chromoly, and looks real sturdy until you get to the inside of the drop outs. You can see they welded the length of the outside, and then 2 spots not the inside. This was the only majorly questionable thing I saw out of the gate. I also ran into a problem getting the front wheel to set right. I needed to have someone force the wheel into the fork so I could tighten it properly, and have it aligned. After going back into my pictures, I’ve decided that they were slightly bent in shipping. It was easily fixed so no fault to Vilano.
FRAME: This is your standard OEM track bike frame. It’s also 4130 Chromoly and feels great. I have 2 major problems with the frame though. The top tube is extremely long. I ordered the 53 cm, and the top tube comes in at around 58 cm. A good 5″ longer than most other bikes when full assembled from wheel to wheel. This helps and hinders both when playing goal, but if you don’t like long frames, this is your deal breaker right here. The second major complaint I have is that the bottom bracket is extremely low to the ground. I use a 175 crank regularly, and it’s borderline on this bike. Now, the cranks it comes with are shorter, but comparatively, I’ve never had as many pedal strikes as I’ve had on this frame. It does have tire clearance for bar spins. I find that the frame and fork together made the bike extremely agile, and very responsive. If you can work around the two major flaws (as I perceive them), then you are still in the game here.
HANDLE BARS / STEM: I love the bars and stem combo. The bars are already cut narrow, so you are good out of the box. They feel like they are about 1.5″ risers and aluminum, not steel. The stem feels burly, and I never had any problems with slippage at all. It’s a threadless 1 1/8″. The fork is cut a little long, and puts the stem higher up above the headset, and it feels great. The grips are your run of the mill forgettable bmx grips. Nothing to love, or hate for that matter.
BRAKES: The first thing I noticed was that they come with radius branded short pull levers. The way that the handlebars are angled, and the angle the lever hits, makes the lever pull at an offset angle (to many angles make a useless pull). This, and the fact that they are short pulls means that you will never stop your bike on a dime and you should just throw them away and start over. I ended up having to get a long pull lever to get the brakes any pressure, but once I did, they were just fine. The brake line is split with welded on brake points on the top tube so you have an exposed piece of cable. I opted to go with how they set it up and use the full caliper and brake pads on back. They stopped the bike in fast and hard situations just fine. Even with the deep V rims not having machined edges. All in all, an $8.00 left handed long pull is all you are going to need to get the brakes working in proper order. I ran this bike with only a back break, so no front brake was installed or considered for the review.
WHEEL SET / TIRES: The Super Deep V is really cool looking. I didn’t take a saw to them, but I’m confident they are not triple walled. But I can’t confirm or deny that. They felt sturdy, took some hard mallet shots to the front wheel, and didn’t bend. There is nothing to love or hate about the front hub, and the rubber it comes with are 700c/25 black generic tires. They have the same pattern as the tires that come on the build your own republic bike, and wouldn’t be surprised if both of these bikes are coming from the same factory.
Now, there is a real potential problem with the back hub. The back freewheel cog is not easily replaceable. The first thing we noticed is that the freewheel cog that it comes with sets really far in. Once we replaced it with my 22t, it put the cog out a little bit. Now, the chainline is just fine, and it fits on the bike just fine, but you won’t be able to use any chain tensioners other than the cheap hook-eye with a bollt on the end ones that come with the bike (pictured). There just isn’t enough room between the cog and the frame for anything else. The fixed cog on the other side looks like you’ll have no problems though. Keep this in mind as it’s pretty substantial, and could seriously make a $279.00 bike no longer a cheap starting point if you have to rebuild the back wheel. But again, we got it to work with just the new cog, and it didn’t slip, strip, or give me any problems. You will want to wear covers on these wheels too as hard shots will fly through these spokes like no one’s business.
PEDALS / SADDLE: I didn’t even mess with the pedals as they are your standard OEM track pedals with cages. If this is what you like, then you’ll like these just fine enough. For a bike being advertised as a freestyle, I half expected to see bmx platform pedals, but either way. The saddle is pretty damn comfortable. I went from a Brooks to this and didn’t miss it at all really, and I felt less guilty playing on it. It’s not leather,and tears up pretty easily, but just like any other velo type saddle.
OTHER COMPONENTS: The headset, saddle stem, etc. It’s all your run of the mill no-name fare. It all works just fine.
I really enjoyed riding this bike a lot. A lot of other folks in my league did too, so much in fact that I passed this bike on to a new player as she never looked so comfortable, or played so well as she did until she got on this bike. It’s definitely a good starting point if you have nothing from a financial viewpoint. If you had to choose a bike from walmart or target and this, then the zulu is the winner hands down. But if you are used to say a volume bike, or even a fleet velo, then this is not for you. The only major things that have to be replaced are the lever, the chainring and cog and maybe the pedals. You are looking at a total of under $100 to completely get this polo ready. So factor in $379.00 as your real cost of the bike for this purpose. This is still less than say a pk ripper or an 1/8 scrambler complete by several hundred dollars. But having ridden a 1/8″ scrambler this whole year, I will say you get what you pay for (I’m a big fan of the 1/8″ brand frames). The front fork welding doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, and the geometry is a little different, but the bottom line is it rides like a son of a bitch, and for comparatively little money. Again you can purchase the bike by going HERE.
This bike is still in use and being played on 3 times a week. It’s new owner loves it dearly. I enjoyed getting to review it, and if you have any products you would like to see handled in the same way, please contact Me.
- Sizes: S, M, L
- Colors: Black, Graphite Grey, Neon Green, Neon Pink
- Frame: 4130 Chromoly
- Fork: 700c 1 1/8″ Threadless Freestyle
- Wheels: Tec9 Deep-V 43mm 36H
- Crankset: Tec9 Forged Alloy w/ 46T Alloy Chainring
- Hub: High Flange Flip-Flop 16T Freewheel / 16T Fixed
- Tires: 700c x 25c
- Brakes: Promax Front & Rear
- Headset: Neco Alloy Threadless
- Stem: Tec9 Freestyle Alloy
- Handlebar: Tec9 390mm Riser Alloy & FREE BULLHORN BAR
- Saddle: Velo
- Seatpost: Tec9 Alloy
- Pedals: Welgo Alloy w/ cage
- DC/PK Ripp