I had for some time been thinking about getting a folding bike and last September eventually purchased an Airnimal Joey Explore. The reasoning behind the need for another bike was twofold (no pun intended): (i) whilst we have from time-to-time taken our bikes on trains in order to start or finish a ride or tour, it’s never easy and I like the idea of using public transport more for this purpose to expand my riding horizons – including moving around towns by bike – a folder should make this easier, and (ii) after two operations on my left knee and a third on the way, a folding bike would prove helpful for local or in-town journeys – ironically it’s weight bearing walking and not cycling that I find difficult, so a bike improves my mobility.
The search for a folder goes back at least two years, during which time I considered a number of bikes that culminated with a special trip to Avon Valley Cyclery in Bath, who possibly sell the largest range of folding bikes in the UK and, importantly, let you try them out. I had already tried the Brompton, which in its many guises is an outstanding and original folding bike but I found it unpleasant to ride: too wobbly due to its small 16” wheels, too slow and not altogether comfortable. However, if I was looking for a commuting bike I would not hesitate to buy a Brompton, as they are very quick to fold and quite small but in my opinion are not for touring (though some do) or just riding for pleasure. Having defined the problem – too small wheels – I therefore needed to find a folder with larger wheels. As soon as I tried an Airnimal, which has 24” wheels, the difference provided a ‘near normal’ ride and was likely to be the folder I was looking for. Of course nothing is quite that simple.
For a start I had already had a brief try-out of the Airnimal’s other folding bike, the Chameleon and liked it a lot; I did not consider the Airnimal Rhino as it is too bulky, has smaller wheels and very expensive. Whilst similar in principal to the Joey, the Chameleon has different frame geometry and with lighter wheels feels and is not unlike a standard road bike, easily providing the best ride I have experienced on a folding bike. But there are two issues: (i) the different geometry puts great stress on the lower part of the frame which, as a result, has been known to fracture, and (ii) whilst many do use the Chameleon for touring, it is not as robust and would not have the same load capacity as the Joey. I was very tempted but in the end went for the Joey. Actually Mrs G and I are sharing the bike, to see if we like it and if we put it to good use, in which case we might buy another – his & hers – or maybe I’ll still be tempted by the Chameleon. We shall see.
This is the most expensive bike I have ever purchased but it is: (i) made in Britain (ii) original (iii) well specced and finished, so inevitably it costs more and is probably worth it. Like so much in life today there are, of course, also numerous types of Joey: the Sport, Explore and Commute. I was drawn towards the Joey Sport but as this does not come with a triple chainset, which I needed for my knee, I eventually chose the Explore.
As the name suggests the Explore is aimed at touring and therefore includes the all-important triple chainset as well as front disc and rear v-brake brakes, wider wheels and tyres. I considered the standard 1.75” Marathon tyres supplied would be too bulky and provide a sluggish ride, so instead requested smoother Kenda Kwest 1.50” tyres in order to provide better rolling characteristics – for me the Holy Grail of riding feel; limited choice of tyres is a disadvantage of 24” wheels and could still, in the long run, be a problem. In practice, I found the Kenda tyres an excellent ride but Mrs G was not so keen in wet conditions, so I have since fitted Marathon 1.50” tyres, which roll well and, like all Marathons, are bomb proof.
Were this bike for my own use I would have fitted drop handlebars but have so far found the straights to be quite comfortable but might consider fitting Ergon grips later. The indexed gears operated by thumb levers are very easy and accurate to use. The gear range is almost exactly the same as my Audax bike and has so far proved comfortable, though I suspect that fully loaded, on a very steep hill could prove a problem; unloaded it flies uphill but there’s a tendency for the front wheel to lift slightly when pulling hard on a steep hill, another consequence of small wheels that’s unavoidable.
To make the bike more functional I have added SKS blade mudguards which can be quickly removed for folding, a ‘Rolls Royce’ Tortec Epic stainless steel pannier rack, Shimano A530 pedals and lights.
Although the bike looks good, I was disappointed that they have recently changed the finish from enamel to matt and dropped the standard Royal Blue colour. The colour range now of white, black and Cambridge blue is rather limited, even boring, though for an additional cost you can have them almost any colour you like.
Our experience of the bike so far has been excellent but we have yet to use it for touring. The all critical folding is good but certainly not as slick or compact as a Brompton, however, by moving the rear seats forward it fits comfortably in the back of my VW Golf Plus, making it very easy to transport; I have yet to determine if it will be more useful on public transport. Though not unduly heavy, it is not a light bike and would not be good to carry for any length of time but then neither is the Brompton (9.0 to 12.5 kg). Despite some initial concerns, the ride quality has also been very good: fast, stable, useful gear ratios for fast or climbing conditions, firm but secure braking and a generally enjoyable feel. In short, it is a fun bike to ride.
Bottom line – we both really like and enjoy riding the Joey. It is an excellent, original and well-built British bike which provides us with new riding opportunities. Whether in time we will avail ourselves of these new horizons remains to be seen?
|Gears||x9 speed, 11 – 32|
|Gear Range||23” – 114”|
|Bottom Bracket||Shimano Octalink|
|Front Derailleur||Shimano R443|
|Tyres||Marathon 24”x1.50” (+ Kenda Kwest 1.50”)|
|Brakes||Front – Avid BB5 Disc / Rear – Acera V|