It’s a truism with folders that, the smaller the wheel, the less likely the bike is to ride like a bike with full-size wheels, but the better the fold is likely to be. Airnimal’s philosophy is to create ‘a folding bike that performs with the best conventional bikes’.
There are different Chameleon models for different types of riding, even loaded touring. Our test bike did have eyes for mounting a rear rack, but this model is really one for travelling light and fast.
Frame: The tough, oversized aluminium frame accounts for nearly a third of the bike’s weight, but that folding mechanism needs to be strong (8/10)
Handling: No real compromises – handles very much like a standard geometry road bike with full-size wheels (8/10)
Equipment: Shimano’s Ultegra forms the heart of a decent speciﬁcation (7/10)
Wheels: The 24in wheels are light, but this size rolls better than 20in wheels and much better than the 16in wheels seen on many folders (8/10)
Although the Airnimal doesn’t have a Brompton-style ﬁt-in-a-matchbox fold, you can quickly reduce its dimensions and keep jobsworth train guards quiet. Just 30 seconds will get the Chameleon small enough to go in a car boot; three minutes will get it small enough for a 30x24x12in suitcase.
But while it will ﬁt in a suitcase, out on the road it performs very much like a conventional road bike. Weight is just a shade over 20lb – nearly a third of which is accounted for by the oversize aluminium frame that hinges in the middle.
By contrast the 24in wheel and tyre combo is very light. But unlike folders with 16 or 20in wheels, these larger wheels cope easily with holes in the road without letting them swallow you and the bike whole or throwing you off line.
And on climbs those small, lightweight wheels come into their own, while the efﬁcient frame and uniﬁed rear triangle mean that your pedalling efforts aren’t wasted.
There is some damping, in the shape of an elastomer, taking away the worst of the road stings, but this doesn’t result in any unwanted ﬂex. Different elastomers are available, depending on how much damping you want.
One ﬁnal thing: the Chameleon name, what’s that all about? The bike doesn’t change colour, it changes shape. Huh?
airnimal chameleon ultra: airnimal chameleon ultra www.robertsmithphotography.co.uk