Airnimal are a small UK-based bicycle design company that has come a long way in a short time. Six or so years ago they launched into the folding market with the Chameleon. A racing bike that folded “Day of the Jackal’ style into a suitcase. It was groundbreaking in that it used sensibly sized wheels and was directly targetted at the road market and not, specifically, the commuter.
Now their aptly named Chameleon has many loyal users and is regarded in the same genre as the Bike Friday and Riese und Muller’s Birdy. I’ve ridden a Chameleon, in fact I owned one for a while, and they are a wonderfully thought out bits of kit.
So this is their attack on the folding commuter market which is an easier market to satiate, in theory anyway, however the competition is littered with weird and wonderful contraptions. From the award winning Bromptons and the classy looking Whyte-designed Mezzo, to umpteen poorly executed Taiwanese takes on the ‘problem’ – many of which create more problems than they solve.
So we packed up two Joey’s and headed off to the Tuscan hills for some R&R without having to take bike bags and all the gear…
Frame and ride
Out on the open road is where the Joey beats all similar priced folders hands down. It rides like a ‘proper bike’ and (after a few personalised extras were added) I felt surprisingly at home. I even joined in with an Italian club run, which caused a bit of a stir. My other half liked the upright mountain bike flat bar position (she used to race them) and the casual ‘shopper’ potential that a bike like this can provide. With an effective top tube length of
56cm (22″) you have plenty of room for stretching out and the flat bar position means that you are essentially looking at a mountain bike position.
However after 3 hours and several mountains(!?) I still felt comfortable which is a testament to the Joey’s geometry and the experience that Airnimal have gained through their other road bikes. The biggest difference is the wheels/tyres provide real-world handling and the frame is much more stable the the suspended version.
The frame features a suspension bike style pivot and a set of very well made chunky clamps and lugs that fit together really neatly. First time we re-folded the bike we (well I) forgot to follow the instructions and ended up in a bit of a tangle. It’s actually easier than it looks and to the reasonably mechanically talented it creates no problems as long as you approach it in a methodical way (see the pictures at the bottom for a fuller idea of what’s involved).
Unlike the Chameleon there is no suspension in the rear triangle but the height of the seatpost and small size of the frame allows a certain ammount of ‘give’ into the seated position. It’s a tough piece of engineering too as we found out when cranking up a 10km hill. They have re-designed the steering column and a neat extension tube that locates into the Aheadset assembly is far better than the quill stem that Airnimal’s previously used. The extension also allows you to custom fit the bike by changing the stem length and having much more up and down adjustment. There’s also rack fixings and luggage facilities.
A Cro-mo fork is a fair bit shorter so a lot of the road buzz comes through at the grips mudguard eyes (if you can find any small enough) and rack eyes mean that the bike can take a few touring accessories.
On the original Chameleon the tyres were a problem. The wheels also didn’t have the same quality available as 26″ MTB or 700c road ones either. There is always a compromise when trying to adapt to folding and the wheels often create a real headache. But massive leaps in performance and availablity have been made, with better rim availability and some tyres with suitable rubber for riding hard – the result is better performance.
All the components are well considered and perfectly matched to the Joey’s purpose. The specification is built around a budget and certainly aimed at the commuter rather that the tourist – but the best thing is that you have a good point to start from and bits could be upgraded in time. A single chainring offers a few gearing problems for hill climbing but the ratios are stil enough for all but the steepest hills. You could run a larger cassette too.
A chain guard serves to keep the chain on and protect your trousers.
Gripshifter and V-Brake combination make the controls instant and at your fingertips, which makes a big difference in traffic, which is where the Joey really performs – quick steering and short wheelbased bikes always go well through the city streets. The saddle supplied was acceptable for short journeys but Catherine preferred her specific perch for longer trips, a change that Airnimal would make for you if you want.
The gears and brakes worked perfectly, the modulator on the brake is needed to stop them ‘grabbing’ and as such mean there’s consistent stopping in all weathers, the smaller 24 inch wheels have machined surfaces that really grip, so the brakes need to be treated with respect. Overall the componets package is good especially for a bike at this price and where much of the engineering and quality
For this type of bike you do need a little practice on the fold and assembly (we have done a sequence at the bottom of this page). Assembly takes about 10 minutes even for the most mechanically challenged. The steering column has been re-designed and this makes life much easier for people who don’t understand Aheadsets. Folding takes a lot less time depending on how far you need to go. The suitcase is tough and allows for other riding kit to be stashed away.
There are many, many folders on the market now, but Airnimal have placed the bar quite high as far as the performance end of the market is concerned. With the Joey there is less sag and flex than many of the more expensive competitors (The Birdy and the Bike Friday) and it’s a lot cheaper than both of these too. Price is a consideration for folders mainly because they aren’t going to be the first choice bike.
Next to the Chameleon the Joey is a better price option and could be converted into a more road orientated bike or a tourer easily if the urge took you. I’d consider a lower gear ratio for really hilly rides but the spread is fine for most applications.
But for the commuter with a space premium at home this will vanish into a cupboard in the same way that a Brompton would. Or if you have a train journey with a long ride either end, this is the perfect bike – it’s faster and more comfortable than a Brompton and more foldable (easier anyway) than a Birdy. But for it’s intended user, the frequent flyer, this bike is a must-have – just watch the luggage allowance as it’s easy to overload the case and take it over 23kgs.
Where Brompton get it right so do Airnimal. They both work. They fold quickly and easily and there’s no need for loads of size options as they fit most sizes of rider. Where Mezzo get it right, so do Airnimal too – they are both great to ride. Brompton will always be hard to beat for the daily commuter who needs flexibility, but the Joey will appeal to the more regular cyclist as they are a better riding bike first and foremost – so the fact that it doesn’t fold as well as the Brompton, won’t bother the rider who chooses it.
Like the Mezzo the Joey has a quality aluminium frame that is super-sturdy and lighter than most of Brompton’s range, the only area I think the Joey could improve on is the finish – the Mezzo’s anodised parts and sleek matt finish is far classier – which appeals to the ‘Graphic-designer-around-London’ type who is going to like that attention to detail.
Bad: It attracts a lot of attention from passers by!