Growing up in a small South African town in the late 80s and early 90s meant David Mercer was largely shielded from the travesties of the apartheid era. But in 1994, in a coincidental coming-of-age historical convergence, the status quo was cracked open, not just for Mercer but for the whole country. The same year he turned 16, South Africa officially ended apartheid as the country held its first democratic elections. At this point, Mercer was well enmeshed in his love affair with bikes, having grown up a young BMX ripper but becoming fully infatuated with mountain biking as a teen. Many youthful afternoons spent pouring over bicycle magazines like MB UK and Mountain Bike Action led him to develop a fast fascination with steel-wielding magicians like Dave Yates and Chas Roberts and were responsible for his own framebuilding aspirations. However, the end of apartheid brought a wave of foreign frames as longtime sanctions were finally lifted. This swift influx quickly decimated the local steel bicycle manufacturing industry and a deflated Mercer went on to become a veterinarian. The dream of bikes was always there, simmering in the background, but it would be nearly a decade-and-a-half before he’d pick up a torch himself.
Our Radar Roundup compiles products and videos from the ‘net in an easy-to-digest format. Read on below for today’s findings…
Welcome to the world’s toughest mountain bike race. Over seven stages and a prologue, on sinuous single track and dusty farm roads, under glaring South African sun and the odd sudden downpour, the Cape Epic always crowns a worthy winner. Two, in fact, since riders race in pairs. But we know all this… We’ve been here before, and 18 months after the pandemic put paid to our first appearance at the Cape Epic, Rapha Gone Racing returns for a second attempt. But so much has changed since last time. For a start, none of Lachlan Morton’s regular teammates could make it to this race so the team has reached out for reinforcements. And in Kenya’s Kenneth Karaya, they’ve uncovered a gem. This will be the biggest race of his life so far but in Lachlan Morton, he has the perfect partner for keeping things in perspective. After all, racing is never all about results. Tune into Rapha Gone Racing from the Cape Epic to find out how they fared.
Every steel bicycle frame begins life as a pile of tubes and frame components. This frame really started as a pair of Shimano UF, semi-vertical dropouts, lying on the Schauff table at Eroica South Africa. I bought them on a whim, after enjoying a few beers at the finish line of the 2020 event. At that moment I thought I would hang them on a keychain or hand them over to a friend, Dave Mercer of Mercer Bikes.
In case you missed our DUST feature last week and the video embedded within the Reportage from South Africa, we figured we should share the event’s video recap (which has also been updated in higher quality). Enjoy!
You know how a hashtag can fuck you? Well maybe not, but a few years ago my good friend Nic and I had this idea … we’d always been intrigued by the pans – or mud flats – of the Northern Cape here in South Africa. At the time we were really getting into riding fixed gear bikes and one day it hit us – let’s take our fixed gear bikes onto the pan! Why not? Surreal landscapes, super smooth surfaces good enough for world speed records! Sounds like a good adventure right? We did some research and found out that that year there was a South African Speedweek planned in September 2014 on the Hakskeenpan, coinciding with the launch of a planned rocket-propelled car land speed record attempt – the Bloodhound SSC. We decided to travel up in Nic’s old 1963 Porsche 356 – it seemed appropriate. Bikes on the roof, gear in the back.
When RideFarr announced their 70mm long Headspace stem, there was a cry for a 35mm clamp option, so the brand developed a heavy-duty version of this throwback cockpit. These new stems are shorter and have a larger clamp diameter for burlier riding and control. You can pre-order one now at RideFarr for $105 with a March 2021 delivery.
-35mm Bar Diameter
-Forged and CNC-machined construction
-31.8mm Compatible ( with shims / sold separately )
-Target Weight : approx 142g
Riding with flat bars doesn’t mean you can’t get aero. The latest from Ride Farr are these alloy aero bolt-ons that create a lightweight, ergonomic addition to your cockpit. These bolt-on aero bars provide added hand positions and comfort while offering an aero-tuck position for when you just have to go fast.
-Ergonomic bend and shape
-Easy to fit in under 2 minutes
-Lightweight Alloy construction
-Suitable for most 31.8mm diameter handlebars
-Gravel / Racing / Touring / Bikepacking / MTB and more
-Weight : 133 grams ( including hardware )
In stock at Ride Farr.
Ride Farr announced today two new framesets in their catalog. Known for their aero bars and other ultra-endurance accessories, these frames are a milestone for the brand. The Gravel Monster (GMX) aluminum frame ($695) and All Terrain Bicycle (ATB) steel ($495) frames were designed from the ground up, with bikepacking, and long rides in mind. The GMX features its own 483mm Axle-to-Crown steel rigid fork that is suspension corrected for 100mm 29er travel, while the ATB rolls on a steel chassis and 120/130mm travel. Head to Ride Farr to see all the details.
Lachlan Morton and Alex Howes were to be EF Pro Cycling’s ringers for the Cape Epic. Then the news broke…
The Tour of Ara was a truly unique race, out of South Africa:
“The Tour of Ara, named for the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Ara, was a prestige race ridden mostly on South African-built steel racing bicycles in the proud tradition of the early Italian multi-day stage races. For it’s five year duration, the Tour followed a tough dirt-road route over six days through the beautiful but harsh semi-desert South African Karoo each year. It was as much a race as it was an exploration and celebration of this unique landscape and the people that live there. This 34 minute documentary follows 40 racers as they experience life-changing situations, meet locals, and face some serious race challenges – soft sand, corrugated roads, loose stones, sharp tyre-shredding rocks, rain and mud.”
My time in South Africa was a real treat – tendonitis inflammation aside – I met a lot of amazing people there, including Poppie, the local who cooked us such delicious food, her roosterbrood. When the organizers of Eroica Italy came to Eroica South Africa, they fell in love with Poppie’s cooking, so they bought her a plane ticket to visit the original Eroica. Stan from Tour of Ara and the Karoobaix has set up a fundraiser to get Poppie some cash to use on her trip! Head on over to donate if you have the means.
For those seeking a truly unique experience, half a world away, the Karoobaix is for you. Based in South Africa, this dirt road race requires a grueling effort, yet is rewarded with a beautiful environment and welcoming community. You can check out my coverage from last year’s event in the Related sidebar to the left, register for the event at Karoobaix.com and find out more details below…
My Mercer ‘Buitelander’ (translated from Afrikaans – ‘foreigner’)
Words and photos by Stan Engelbrecht
I have a handful of track bikes. Almost all local South African-built in the 1980s. I love these bikes, all weird and wonderful and collectible. For some years my Hansom pursuit-style 700c was my day-to-day ride, but this constant use was starting to take its toll on the frame and the beautiful pink to seafoam fade paintwork. And the front wheel / downtube clearance is so tight that normal road use would sometimes push the tyre into the frame, resulting in long black rubber streaks under the downtube. It was obvious – I needed a bike I could use every day, without having to worry about destroying a bit of South Africa cycling heritage in the process.
Eroica’s most exotic location returns for 2018. Montagu is home to the Eroica South Africa and has landed a calendar date of March 18th. If you have the means to attend, I highly recommend it. As a lover of the desert, this part of South Africa is gorgeous, just like that Dream Press-made, Ello Xray Eyez-designed poster.
Head to the Eroica South Africa website for details.
Down the Ladder into Hell
Words and 35mm film photos by Stan Engelbrecht
I don’t remember when I first heard of ‘Die Hel’ (The Hell). It’s the kind of thing that comes to you like a mysterious rural legend – a rumour of a tiny community of farmers living for decades in complete isolation in an impenetrable valley paradise. More than anything, I wanted to go to ‘Die Hel’. Places and people like this have always fascinated me. South Africa has for many, many years had a complex social and political landscape, and I always like to imagine that these individualist pioneers left whatever country they came from to escape some kind of governmental or religious ideology, and when faced with the same developing in their newfound home, they were driven further into the natural world. To live simply, in peace, with nature as their surround.
Size matters, at least when it comes to shops like this. One of my absolute favorite parts about traveling with a bicycle is visiting the local bike shop for whatever location is on my itinerary. During my recent trip to South Africa, I was delighted by their local shop, Woodstock Cycleworks. The first thing I noticed was the scale of this shop. It is massive, taking up half a city block, with giant, vaulted ceilings, exposed brick and wood trusses, with natural light so beautiful, any photographer would take great pleasure in shooting the interior.
A cyclist sprints through the streets of Johannesburg, engaging with the city like none other.