Since Covid-19 lockdown, myself and Jules have both gone back to the drive/ride model of commuting. For me this means driving to RAF Northolt and then riding into Covent Garden – I don’t care how flash your Brompton is – that is too damn far. On the Piegare prototype it feels no more onerous than on the Serotta or Pegoretti that I was using in the middle of summer. Looking at the data and the fastest I ever rode in on my Serotta legend Ti was fifty-seven minutes, and the fastest so far on the Piegare prototype is, fifty-seven minutes. At 9kg with pedals it gives a couple of kg to the Serotta but it brakes better, spins up almost just as quickly on the 26” wheels and somewhat bizarrely feels every bit as stiff through the drive-chain. Jules was astonished when he took the bike out for a spin. He was expecting a pumped-up Brompton, but instead got a proper performance bike with an astonishing transmission dividend. I could see he was impressed and shocked how good it felt. When you ride the Airnimal at pace you can use as much body-English as you would on a competition race-bike – out of the saddle with weight forward over the front wheel, feels very powerful and balanced.
Our primary intention was to build a folding bike where you don't have to constantly ride around its shortcomings. We routinely ride some of the finest bicycles in the world; our standards are therefore very high. And I rarely feel in the mood to sacrifice too much, just because I have to be able to fold my bike onto a train or into the back of my car. The fact that I can commute 30 miles over mixed urban and suburban terrain, without ever once having to adapt my riding style or speed, is a towering triumph. And in this guise, 1 x12 Force AXS, the ride is totally quiet - no clattering cables or squeaky pivots - just positive drive followed by hard, binary braking. I can ride no-handed, putting my water-proof on (try that on a Brompton) and push hard into apex of cut-up corners on the 28mm Conti Gatorskins (4-Seasons are my preferred choice). The Piegare is a quick bike in any company and by any measure - and then you can bust it apart in seconds, ram it into two wheel-bags and easily conceal it amongst the holiday luggage in the back of the car - in case anyone objects to you taking a bike to Cornwall. I do it every year.
I have spent eight years unconsciously planning this bike. The filtration process has been extreme. The perfect folding bike rides like a top-end road-bike, uses familiar prestige componentry and seeks no excuses for its folding nature. To be perfect I had to wait for technology and Airnimal to catch up with my theoretical shopping list. Our Piegare build is invisibly excellent - powerful hydraulic discs, 1 x 12 AXS shifting, no cables, Hope hubs and 24-spoke 26" wheels and carbon fork. Everything I like and nothing that I don't. The fold is easy and rapid- I am as fast folding the Airnimal as I am my old Brompton - 30.42 seconds as this clip from our video blog shows. The only negative is that on this bike you have to take the front wheel off. which in truth, does bother me very occasionally, when the wheel itself is dirty and wet - but this does come with the bonus that you can then wheel your folded bike down the platform, deriving a modicum of schadenfreude looking at all the Bromptoneers clonking their bikes against their legs as the do the lopsided walk. But it should be pointed out that if you fold your bike constantly, for example going from meeting to meeting, building to building, and only ride short distances in between, then reluctantly a Brompton is probably still marginally a superior choice. If your ride is longer and you only fold a few times a day, then the Airnimal/Piegare is a world away in terms of ride quality and speed. And has the huge advantage that you can fold and then wheel it comfortably long distances.
In addition the Airnimal/Piegare is actually multiple bikes - I have learnt over the years to outfit my bike according to intended use and weather. The winter/commute outfit is; mudguard, rack, Schwalbe Marathon tyres. It is also possible to configure the Airnimal for touring or fast road-riding. I don't think there is a more versatile and better made bike on the planet? Great bike, rubbish name. Landrace Piegare is much more fitting. This prototype is ready for you to test - see how it fits into your life?
I like Brompton as a company and respect what they have achieved in keeping UK bicycle manufacturing on the map. Their bikes may be small but they are actually a very big company. Airnimal are a tiny company, which partly explains why they fly under most people's radar. Don't be put off by the name - this is a seriously well designed and well made piece of kit. and nobody understands them better than us. I have dragged Jules and Barna, kicking and screaming down the folding-bike road. But even they have had to admit that our new Piegare (pie·gà·re) rides sensationally. The clock can't lie - it is as fast over 15 miles as a road bike and as fast to fold as a Brompton. Job done.