In my book, a vacation isn’t much of a vacation without daily rides exploring the area. For this, I strongly recommend a travel bicycle, such as the Airnimal Chameleon described here. Oh, it’s possible to bring your best bike (or a beater), however, you’ll need a large carrying case or a cardboard bike box, both of which are a hassle to get to the airport and lug around, and worse, they’ll ding you at the airport about $75 each way(!) to take it on the plane.
Alternatively, you could ship a bike via UPS/FedEx to your destination, however, that’ll cost you, too, and there’s no guarantee it’ll get there, causing you to worry from the time you drop it off at the shipper to the time you arrive.
Renting a bike may seem like an option until you discover that most bicycle shops don’t rent the models that serious riders prefer. There are exceptions, but these shops are few and far between in my experience. Most of the time you end up on an ordinary touring machine and you’re lucky if it fits. Sure, it’s better than not riding, but certainly not ideal. And, you’ll pay fees, which can add up — especially if you’re addicted to riding and like me, need your daily outing.
When you own an Airnimal Chameleon, you’re on easy street. This globe-hopping road racer (Airnimal can build you a touring or mountain bicycle, too) is custom built to fit you perfectly so right out of its suitcase you’ll hit the road and feel at home, riding as comfortably and efficiently as you do on your favorite machine on your local loops. Which means you can join a local club ride or try for a new personal record on a century, no worries.
Plus, Airnimal will build your bike exactly as you wish. I was lucky enough to test a 56cm Chameleon built exactly for me and spec’d with Shimano’s beautiful Ultegra 30-speed group. It fit identically to my custom bikes and set-up was as simple as adjusting the seat and installing my clipless pedals.
Surprisingly, you might even like the Airnimal more than your everyday bike because there are several enhancements resulting in a most impressive ride. First is the massive-diameter 7005-aluminum main frame with unified-rear-triangle swingarm, which ensures awesome climbing, cornering and acceleration — and that attracts compliments every time you pass someone.
Swingarm, you ask? Yes, because the second feature that sets the Airnimal apart is an elastomer-suspended rear end, which soaks up road vibrations for a velvety-smooth ride. Plus, the unified rear triangle design ensures that the suspension cannot interfere with pedaling. The elastomer is available in different durometers to fine-tune the damping, too.
Another unique feature is the 24-inch wheels, which are significantly larger than the 16- and 20-inchers found on most folders and travelers. Airnimal’s hoops are still smaller and lighter than a full-size bicycle, which makes for a super-lively feel. Yet, compared to the smaller wheels, the Airnimal’s deliver increased stability and road feel especially descending at speed.
I expected the 24-inch wheels to require a larger suitcase, however, Airnimal’s case measures only 30 x 24 x 12 inches — an easy fit for even small rental-car trunks, and with sturdy wheels on the bottom, a cinch to pull to check-in when you have to park a mile away.
Inserting the Chameleon is as simple as removing both wheels, the pedals, the seat and seatpost (as a unit), and handlebars. You then release a catch on the swingarm letting it swing under the main triangle, open the quick release at the seat support letting it swing forward, and the frame is easily tucked into the bottom of the case.
There’s a thick piece of foam that goes down next, and then the wheels rest on top held in place by two crisscrossed straps. Along the edge of the case is a pouch for quick-release skewers, pedals, spare tubes and the touch-up paint and gloves supplied with the bike by Airnimal (they thought of everything). The packing process takes 10 minutes, tops. Plus there’s room for accessories in the case and plenty left over for dirty laundry, trade-show propaganda, etc.
I had the Chameleon for a week and while I didn’t fly with it, I did take it along on a 6-hour driving trip. One of the great features of folding bikes is that they get so small you can tuck them into a corner of even a fully packed vehicle — and stored like this, there’s no need for a roof or hitch rack, plus, even better, it’s highly unlikely any thief will recognize it as a bicycle worth stealing.
Custom built to fit me perfectly, sporting a carbon fork, trick Velocity aero wheels and assembled with Shimano's latest components, my test Airnimal was great fun on the trip, but then having a high-tech machine such as this along is the only way to travel, if you ask me.