Airnimal Chameleon Ultra review

Folding road bike

BikeRadar score4/5

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
airnimal chameleon ultra: airnimal chameleon ultra

Simon has been cycling for as long as he can remember, and more seriously since his time at university in the Dark Ages (the 1980s). This has taken in time trialling, duathlon and triathlon and he has toured extensively in Asia and Australasia, including riding solo 2900km from Cairns to Melbourne. He now mainly rides as a long-distance commuter and leisure/fitness rider. He has been testing bikes and working for Cycling Plus in various capacities for nearly 20 years.
  • Age: 53
  • Height: 175cm / 5'9
  • Weight: 75kg /165lb
  • Waist: 33in
  • Discipline: Road, touring, commuting
  • Current Bikes: Rose SL3000, Hewitt steel tourer
  • Beer of Choice: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  • Location: Bath, UK
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