Published by Andrew on 20 July 2022
Bob Zeller steps out of 1978 and into 2022, upgrading from his beloved Mariposa to an Airnimal Joey folding road bike. Photos by Stephanie Zeller.
I had been touring on the same bike since 1978, but thanks to a wonderful surprise 80th birthday gift from my family, I am now the proud owner of an Airnimal Joey – and I love it.
It is a very different bike from what I am used to, however. My touring bike for all these years has been a Mariposa made for me by Mike Barry in Toronto (more information here) in 1978. It is a typical road bike of the time: 531 Reynolds tubing, relaxed frame geometry, turned down handlebars and 32 spoke 700 x 21 tyres. Upgrades over the years have changed most of the components from Simplex to more modern Campagnolo units. But it is still a 1970s bike and one that has served me exceptionally well cycling tens of thousands of miles riding on cycle tours and at Audax events and sportives.
However, recent body flex and mobility issues have become complications in my cycling and the longer I was on the bike, the more uncomfortable I became. Even getting on the bike was becoming difficult at times. And then, when on the bike, it was increasingly a struggle to raise my head sufficiently to get a long look down the road in front. It was much the same when I wanted to glance to the rear before turning. On top of that, over the years I have worn out my rotator cuffs on my shoulders and, after an hour or so of cycling, they hurt. Physiotherapy has helped slow down the problems, but they are not going to disappear.
Most certainly I wasn't going to give up cycling, but solutions needed to be found. The first thing to be settled was the sad acceptance that I would have to put the Mariposa away and get something more suited to my current needs. But what?
The answer was an Airnimal, a bike that can be had with flat handlebars and a more upright seating position. But importantly, it is not just a road bike, but one that's ideal for touring. As a bonus, it is also a road bike that folds. It doesn't fold as small as a Brompton – the Airnimal is, after all, a road bike and not a commuter bike, but it folds easily and quickly enough into its travel case for flying. The folding is a bonus but it does not come at the expense of ride quality – unlike many folders.
I wanted a bike that was quick enough yet stable with loaded panniers and a bar bag. When touring with my friend Jim Burke these days, we don't hammer out the miles like we used to. Two or three hours of riding in the morning, a couple of hours for lunch and then two hours to get to our next hotel for the night. But I would still want a bike that is lively, even when loaded. And did I get one? I did indeed! In fact, the Joey is both faster and more nimble than my Mariposa – even though it has 24 x 1.7 wheels compared with the Mariposa's 700 x 21 wheels.
While I love the folding convenience and the quickness of the bike, the most important features are being more upright and the flat handlebars. You can get the Joey with turned down 'bars, but with the flat 'bars I am not only more comfortable, but I can see very much better. And then, as the day progresses, I can easily adjust things using two quick-release levers (for the stem and the seat post) should my shoulders begin to ache. This flexibility means full days of touring in France will still be possible.
Where to start?
To get everything right on a new bike, you have to start by making the right component choices. Circe Cycles, a company based just outside of Cambridge, in England that designs and builds the Airnimal (as well as a number of equally innovative bikes, tandems and trailers) were an enormous help as we worked through the options.
We agreed right at the start that while there are a number of different Airnimal folding models, it was the Joey that I should have. Circe actually make three models of the bike: the Chameleon, which is designed to be a speed merchant; the Rhino with full suspension and BMX wheels; and the Joey with its 'all-round' design, giving great breadth to its usage. That was what I needed.
Then we spent lots of time discussing components, many of which were very different from what I was used to with my Mariposa. They asked questions: Would the new bike be an everyday go-to-the-shops bike as well as a touring machine? What about flat handlebars – did I have a view about them? What about bull horns? (I didn't know what they were, but they are right-angled extensions at the bar ends providing another hand position on the handlebars.) Would I be attacking big hills? If so, what sort of gear range did I require? Would I be riding primarily on proper roads or would there be some gravel and dirt as well? Did I have a view on wheel sizes? Would I be using panniers or bikepacking when touring?
The list was endless, but the Circe folk were great with their advice, suggestions and patience. Many components that they suggested for me are associated more with mountain bikes than the road bikes I am used to, so their help was very much appreciated.
How to fold the Airnimal Joey
In order to fold the bike to what Circe calls the 'first fold' – the fold that you would use most of the time for trains or the boot of your car, you open a quick-release hinge and the rear triangle swings down and tucks under the front half of the frame. Other QR levers allow the saddle to be lowered and raised and the handlebars to be moved from their cycling position and repositioned for the fold. Even the pedals are removed without needing a spanner. It's all rather neat and takes about a minute with a bit of practise. Then when you arrive, you reverse the process and you are ready to go. To be honest, I was surprised by how quick and simple it was.
If you're flying, you can use the travel case, which is a hard shell case that can be converted into a trailer to tow behind your bike. For this, you go to the second fold, which takes a bit more time – 10 minutes or so. Afterwards, the bike is packed away safely and protected from airline baggage handlers. Coming back to Belfast from England with the case was a doddle.
Picking up my new bike
But in spite of all the homework and preparation, I have to say it was a bit of a shock when I first saw the finished bike in Cambridge when my son James and I went to collect it.
Being used to my Mariposa's smallish-sized chain rings and 10 cogs on a very compact cluster, the Shimano Deore system with its giant single 42T chain wheel and a huge 11 x 51 cluster were visually very different from my expectations. Likewise, the wide flat handlebars with their bull horns and the ever-so-slightly smaller but very much wider tyres with the Schwalbe Marathon heavy treads. But within minutes of hopping onto the bike for my first ride, I realised that the gearing, the steering, the wheels and the myriad other differences all added up to the perfect bike for me for 2022. It is no longer 1978!
Airnimal Joey full specs
Cost: A general purchase price varies is difficult to state as there are so many component choices. An off-the-shelf option starts at £1700.
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon (507x47) (24x1.7in)
Bars: Ergon GP3 with bar ends
Front brake: Shimano Avid BB7
Rear brake: Shimano Alvio
Front hub: Shimano Deore
Rear hub: Shimano Deore
Shifters: Shimano Deore
Cassette: Shimano Deore 11-51T
Chainring: Shimano Deore (single) 42T 18inx85in range
Carrier: Joey Rack Commuter
Folded dimensions and travel details
First fold: 960 x 850 x 350mm
Second: 840 x 660 x 350mm
Weight: 14kg without touring gear
Travel case 870 x 660 x 350 mm
Weight: 9.5kg (excluding wheels)
There is also an optional first-fold travel bag
About our contributor
Bob Zeller, a now-retired UK-based Canadian journalist, spent much of his professional life covering major European and North American professional cycle racing for (Toronto) Globe & Mail, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Winning Magazine and others. His beat included the spring and autumn Classics, the Tour de France and world championships. While he has enjoyed just about all types of cycling – sportives, audax and just riding his bike to the shops – it's touring that he has always loved the most. And it's touring in France that he enjoys the most.