When I set out to launch the xbiking AMA series a few months ago, I was fortunate to have reached out to Igor Shteynbuk, owner of Velo Orange. As an unknown bike enthusiast attempting to establish something novel, I had serious doubts about whether and how I’d get the xbiking AMA series off the ground. It was Igor’s willingness to conduct the inaugural AMA, despite it being an untested event, that set the tone for the successful series that they’ve become.
The friendly and accommodating nature I remembered about Igor from those earlier interactions was again on display during my shop visit to Velo Orange and bike ride with Igor this past Friday. His favorite Bambi mug in hand, Igor was happy to shepherd me around Velo Orange’s office and shipping center in Annapolis, MD, and to introduce me to the members of their six-person operation.
While not a true bike “shop”, Velo Orange is open to walk-in traffic. Those who do find and enter the nondescript facade are greeted with a refurbished VW bus, a set of old-school beach chairs, and several unique bike builds ready to be spun around the block.
Strewn throughout the office are all sorts of Velo Orange components and builds- “Here are our new rims,” he says as he holds up a silvery hoop, and proceeds to explain the requirements of tubeless compatibility to me. On another wall, four bikes hang in a square, each one looking as fun to ride as the next.
“This is a 1970 Bertin- a classic French bike- that I picked up for Adrian’s birthday several years ago,” Igor explains as he points to the bottom-left bike. Adrian is Igor’s wife, co-owner of Velo Orange, and just as much of a bike enthusiast as Igor.
“Bertin was a company back in the 60s and 70s, and they made just good-quality French style bikes. We looked for this bike model in the catalogue, and it didn’t exist. But if you look at the sticker on the seat post, it’s clearly 'Hans Ohrt' which was a super well-known bike shop back then that catered to the ‘stars.’ We suspect that, given the racing level components and the way everything is chromed and painted, it was likely a custom build.”
“We added our own components to it to make it rideable. It came with tubular wheels, so I re-laced them to the original hubs. Added our VO rims, fenders, Rustines constructeur grips, and a few other odds and ends. The bike is still clearly used, but I love the history of the bike that the patina hints at. Many people have suggested that I paint it- I’d rather preserve it.”
As he explains this to me, I can’t help but think of this build as a microcosm of Velo Orange in general. One of the ostensible standout elements of Velo Orange’s mindset towards bikes is the company’s reverence for the elegance of vintage bicycles and styling. Another aspect of VO that distinguishes it from other bike manufacturers and distributors is that it facilitates the modification of all sorts of different bikes, rather than focusing only on their own frames and builds. The historic bike before me- with its vintage styling complimented by the modern VO components that respect and play off of that old-school aesthetic- encapsulates this neatly.
When asked about their vintage inclinations, however, Igor is keen to point out that Velo Orange is a company with a fundamentally modern disposition and an eye turned toward the future. A clear example of this is the bike hanging to the upper right, which Igor motions to presently.
“This is our mini-Velo, which we introduced at the Philly Bike Expo this past year and have received a ton of excitement and positive feedback about. We’re pretty sure that it’s going to be officially dubbed the ‘Neutrino.’ The bike isn’t yet ready for sale- there’s one more round of prototypes to be done and a couple small changes to be made. But we’re very excited to get this offering to market.”
Igor explains to me that this bike was born out of a few motivating concerns- “once you disassemble this bike, you can put it into a checked bag and don’t have to pay those overage fees that other full-sized bikes require. That ease of transportation was a big motivator to get this bike to production in the first place. Also, with the smaller wheel size and overall compactness of the bike, it makes navigating through cities and more populated areas that much easier.”
Contrary to the Bertin I had just been ogling (and my general impression of VO to this point), the “Neutrino” certainly does not present as particularly "old." Sure, there are the shiny accouterments typical of a vintage VO build, but with 20” BMX wheels, drop bars, and a distinct “miniaturized” frame, I haven’t seen anything quite like it before. And I like it.
The uniqueness and newness of the “Neutrino” suggest a larger pivot in the way Velo Orange projects itself to the public, a pivot which Igor is happy to discuss over coffee midway through our ride together. About 15 miles into our ride, he and I sit down for coffee at the Big Bean in Severna Park, MD, and Igor offers a candid assessment.
"We'll always have that vintage aspect of Velo Orange's identity- just by virtue of what we appreciate in bike aesthetics. But more recently I think we've been offering new, more modern components, accessories, and frames that do still evoke that vintage aesthetic," Igor explains. "Everything we design and put in production arises from a practical concern from one of us at VO. Everybody at VO has cycling experience, and subsequent opinions about wants and needs in bike components and accessories. Even if an idea initially seems off-the-wall, we assess what the real utility of that product is, what sort of market we think exists for it, and if we're satisfied in our assessment, we just go for it."
The recent transition in product offerings and development that Igor references is certainly related to his acquisition of the company along with his wife Adrian in 2017. The original owner of Velo Orange, Chris Kulczycki, sold the business to Igor and Adrian, outfitted himself a sprinter van, and is now roving the country and living the "van life." Igor explains that under Chris, Velo Orange was more an importer of eccentric or vintage bicycle accessories. Since taking control, Igor sees the business as much more reactive to the immediate practical concerns and wants of modern cyclists.
As an example of a seemingly off-the-wall item that is actually a response to practical considerations which VO has put into production, Igor offers up the appropriately named "Crazy Bars." He explains, "The Crazy Bars, for example, are a super unique product. While on the surface they look pretty weird, when you start to get into it you realize that this is a very practical, interesting handlebar for tourists that offers a variety of hand positions."
It checks out that Igor and Adrian understand the handlebar wants of bike tourists, given that they themselves have done extensive touring across the world. In fact, Igor and Adrian got married mid-tour, and carried the wedding dress and suit in their panniers. Igor recounts, "On our tour of Denmark, we landed in Copenhagen, took a ferry over to the beautiful island of Ærø, had a ceremony on the beach and got married. From when we landed until the actual ceremony, we had all of our wedding clothes stuffed in our kit. We rode for two or three days before taking it out and having the actual ceremony."
Igor met Adrian at the University of Maryland, where Igor studied economics and Adrian studied business. Their mutual interest in bike riding grew in tandem with their relationship, and Igor credits much of the success of their relationship to lessons learned on tour. "Out on tour, you're bound to run into problems, and being able to react and make decisions as a team is paramount to a healthy relationship. There's not much you can control when you encounter problems on tour besides your own emotions, and being able to keep a cool head during those times when things can be potentially turbulent is key. The problem-solving required of touring definitely played a formative role in our relationship."
Now onto the next stage of their lives, Igor and Adrian are raising a young son outside of Annapolis. Both Adrian and Igor grew up in Maryland, and enjoy the company of their respective families, who aren't too far away.
The simplicity of this scenario, though, betrays the reality of Igor's family's initial journey to the United States. Igor was himself born in Moldova during the Soviet era, and as a young child immigrated as a refugee to the United States along with his parents and grandparents. As Russian Jews in the Soviet Union, Igor's family was part of a marginalized group and faced hardships unique to their marginalized status. The Shteynbuks' synagogue helped to facilitate their journey, and upon arriving in America, they made a home in Maryland. Igor has resided there ever since.
Given his family history, one might label Igor an example of "the American Dream." From the hardships of life as minorities in the Soviet Union, Igor's parents, through hard work and big gambles, were able to provide for a much better life for their son. That son went on to receive an education, pursue his passions, find and marry someone who shares those passions, and jointly assume ownership of a venture that provides them with joy and fulfillment.
While his path to ownership of Velo Orange was less than certain, Igor certainly seems apt to his role and ready to take Velo Orange into the future. As far as Velo Orange's next significant endeavor goes, Igor has a clear goal. "The big thing that we're working towards is complete bikes. We're preparing our product line and ourselves with this in mind. Either doing them in-house, or partnering with a local shop to have them assembled." Igor also points out the various new products coming out this year- fenders, handlebars, the mini-Velo frame due to launch in the fall.
"There's definitely a lot in the works," he says, "it's just a matter of getting the gears to match up and the wheels turning." Note the choice of analogy- spoken like a true cyclist. 🤙