My Dad didn’t have a great introduction to Mountain Biking. One sunny afternoon in 1995 he arrived home from work disgruntled. My mum asked me to take him for a ride to help get his mind off his work. Neither of us realised at the time just how effective that would prove.
After a short ride from the house we reached the service road that ran along the railway line. I often used to ride up this road as an alternative to the busy Main Road up Botha’s Hill. We started pedalling along the gravel double track – every now and then I would look back to see how my dad was doing and offer some advice. He was cruising along confidently – there was nothing to worry about.
A little higher up the grassy track had recently been mowed. Somewhere in the mown grass I knew there was an eroded ditch – it wasn’t a problem as long as one stayed on the track. I looked back in time to see my dad fly from his bike as his front wheel disappeared into the ditch. He landed badly on his head and as I circled back to him I could see something was wrong in the way that he sat up afterwards. He was cradling his arm and holding his head at an odd angle. He told me that he couldn’t feel his arm and worried he might have broken his collar bone. I helped him up and back onto his bike and we free wheeled back down the hill towards home.
As we neared the house I could see that my dad was taking strain – he was obviously in a lot of pain and struggling to keep the bike straight. At the bottom of our short driveway my dad fell from his bike again. My mum raced outside and together the two of us carried him indoors.
Later, x-rays revealed a horrible truth – my dad had broken his neck in a number of places. One of the fractures was particularly unstable and was compressing the vertebral artery that carries blood to the brain. In these types of fractures, the doctor explained, the usual outcome is a tear in the artery and death at the scene of the accident. That my dad had survived the fall was extremely lucky – that he’d survived the second fall on the driveway with his unstable neck was miraculous.
My dad had spinal surgery the very next day: his luxuriant beard was clipped (still the only time I have seen his chin). He was bedridden for a couple of weeks afterwards and once allowed up he had to wear a huge neck brace for a further nine months. You’d have thought he’d have been scared off Mountain Biking but the bug had bitten.
The first thing my dad did when the brace came off was to get himself a new MTB. I remember Granny Mercer scolding him: ‘Colin – you’re nearly fifty years old! When are you going to grow up and stop acting like a kid?’. He started entering all the local races – he especially enjoyed the classics. Rides like Hilton Classic, Lidgetton Toughie, Giant’s Castle Challenge. It seemed like not a weekend went by without there being some event my dad was off to. Now, almost twenty years later it still seems that way.
When he mentioned to me that he was thinking of getting a new 29er I urged him to wait a short while till I could build him something special. He waited, and waited and it finally paid off – when my parents came down to visit us at Christmas time I introduced my Dad to his new ride: Intshebe (Beard)
I built my dad’s frame from Columbus Zona tubing around relatively slack and low geometry. The head tube angle is 68.5 degrees while the seat tube angle is 73. The bike has a fairly low bottom bracket and quite a short top-tube. Due to the spinal fusion my dad underwent his neck is not very flexible and I wanted the bike to be as comfortable as possible for him. The bike was designed around a 120mm travel fork and features very short chain stays for a (hopefully) punchy and manoeuvrable ride. As a nod to frame-building heritage I made traditional seat stay caps and attached the stays in a side tack arrangement on the sides of the seat tube. The frame is fully fillet brazed and to finish it off I added a brass head badge.
I decided to have the frame painted in the same Royal Blue as my own Monkey King. Jared had some orange left over from Laura’s Bokkie and I asked him to do the lettering in that. It came out better than I could have anticipated, Jared’s alchemy yet again turning one of my dull steel frames into a glittering jewel. I knew my dad was going to love it.
Dad, enjoy your new bike. I hope it serves you well on your demanding calendar of rides. I look forward to stories of where you go together. Say hi to all those classics for me!