Around the New Year, Stan Engelbrecht embarked upon a remarkable cycle journey. A specialist in seeking out the paths less travelled, Stan headed North and beyond the border. He wrote the following post and supplied the incredible images. Sit back and enjoy:
It was raining in Morocco and snowing in Turkey. I’d left my plans too late. In a few days I needed to be somewhere, on my bike. And I was beginning to not really care where I might end up. I just needed to GO. Namibia. Why not? I could ride out of my gate at home, and I’d be on the road. Sure, it’s hot there at this time of the year, up to 45°C, but the urgency to get out of Cape Town was consuming me, and I packed my panniers and rolled out of town. Thing was, I’d just finished building up my fully custom, 100% locally-built Mercer CX/Tourer a few days earlier, and I was beside myself with excitement to experience my first adventure on my new ride. It had been months since Dave Mercer and I first sat down to conjure up what would become the ‘Buitestander’. Weeks of meetings, emails, late-night sms’s were exchanged before Dave could put flame to steel. We’d settled on Columbus Life tubing, a classic choice when it comes to selecting the steel for your frame, but my bike was going to be decidedly contemporary. Fast, modern handling, with the ability to tour. In fact, I wanted it to be able to do it all – a Swiss Army knife of a bicycle. We made allowances for fat tyres (up to 48c), rack mounts, two water bottle cages – all the normal stuff one could imagine. But what really set the frame apart was all the little details to be built into it. I wanted S&S couplers, allowing me to split the frame in two for packing small when traveling by train or by plane, so we ordered those in the right size from the US when we settled on the Life tubing. We added an old-school chain hanger on the inside of the seat stay, the kind you find on old Italian race bikes (so strange they’re not added to frames nowadays – so handy). I also had some brass Columbus dove badges made, and Dave liked them so much he decided he’ll be adding them to all his Columbus frames from then on. But the real show-stopper was Dave’s fully-custom chain stay disc-brake mount. I wanted to run disc brakes of course, and really prefer the low chain stay mount, but hate all the ugly integrated brake calliper dropouts that are available. Disc brakes are already not a very refined addition to a bicycle, and I had my heart set on minimalist, classic Ritchey dropouts, that don’t accommodate a brake calliper. Dave took it on. He went back to the drawing board and came up with a very clever and elegant solution. And it worked! He incorporated the calliper mounts directly into the seat and chain stays. And this is what I loved most about working with Dave – he really is a custom bicycle frame builder. From my experience, some builders out there have basic models they build from, and one can add a few options to that. Dave listens, discusses, and solves. He loves bicycles, he loves building them. That much is obvious. A few weeks after the the first tube was cut and mitred, my frame was ready for the next big step – painting.
Now, I had been deliberating over this very issue for months and months, from even before deciding on vital stuff like the tubing choice. Should it be black? I love black. And for a while there I only rode black bikes. Then I acquired a blue and white 1991 Moser Leader AX. Beautiful. Next came my celeste green and sea foam Hansom track bike. Oh shit, so beautiful! And I rode my red and white Alpina in the 2014 Tour of Arae. Safe to say I was drifting away from my all-black-all-the-time rule. I’d been following the work of a local artist, Black Koki, for a while, and was finally introduced to him through a friend when I expressed the idea to maybe commission someone to conceptualise the paint scheme for my Mercer. I figured that since this was only Dave’s 17th frame, and something I will own for life, we might as well make it something special, something spectacular, and something 100% local. I contacted Black Koki, and he jumped at the opportunity. He’s a multidisciplinary, working in everything from ceramics to oils to spray paint – all in a very particular colour palette and in a strong distinguishable visual language. I was happy to share a few ideas with him and let him develop the concept on his own. We had some long conversations about Goya and Haring and the aspects of his work I resonate with. I gave him some drawings and photographs as reference, including a painting from 1858 of a ship being tossed about in a dark and stormy sea, a shaft of sunlight illuminating the surf in one are area to a beautiful Bianchi green. There was something about it that reminded me of Black Koki’s work, the blues, the tension. The first thing he wanted to do was select the colours – a purple, teal, blue fade to celeste green. Jared Mahaffey from BMC – who was going to be doing the actual painting – sent us down to an automotive paint shop to select the exact hues. We spent hours there, Black Koki pouring over the thousands of variations and combinations of colours. It was then I knew that he meant business. With the colours for the fade and accents selected, Black Koki started working on the actual artwork concept. While he saw illustration as part of the design, he explained to me that his work had been heading more towards experimenting with patterns, and we talked about driving rain and lightning as a departure point for random pattern he wanted to play with. So the collaboration between Jared and Black Koki started – 3 weeks of back and forth between them. First the fade, then Black Koki applied his pattern design in something called ‘paint resist’, after which Jared sprayed the entire thing in black. Then the ‘paint resist’ was removed to reveal the pattern. Black Koki then went to work adding the illustrations in the predetermined areas – including a snake wrapped around the front hub, a red right hand on the fork leg after a tattoo I have on my wrist, the face of my long-dead dog Julip, an eye crying a single bloody tear, because, as Black Koki puts it, ‘Die lewe maak seer.’ When all the illustrations were done, the frame went back to Jared for clear coating. Quite an operation. Half the the time I didn’t know what the hell was going on. But there it was, ready to be built up. I had all the parts ready. It was time.
An Enve CX carbon fork, DT Swiss 240 hubs laced to H Plus Son Archetype rims, Thompson bar, stem and seat post, Cane Creek headset, full Sram Rival groupset with the exception of an XO Type 2 clutch rear derailleur (to keep the chain off my fresh paint job) – it was all coming together. A Fizik Arione seat and matching bartape, and Shimano XT small-platform pedals took care of the contact points, while Avid BB7’s would slow me down. Rubber came courtesy of Continental, and after spending weeks researching tyre choices, I settled on 42c SpeedRides to start out with. Dave was still to build my front and rear racks at this stage, but lent me one of his in the meantime.
A few nights and about 600km later I was in Hondeklipbaai on the West Coast, well on my way to the Namibian border. Camping every night, and preparing modest but delicious meals from as much fresh produce I could find during the day, I made my way north at about 100kms a day. On New Year’s eve I pitched my tent in the spooky, semi-abandoned town of Alexander Bay, and two days later I crossed the Orange River by pontoon into Namibia. I spent two days camping on the river, swimming as often as I could and enjoying the trees and greenery in anticipation of the heat coming. What followed was some of the most desolate, hardest but incredibly beautiful riding I have ever done. Spending hours in the saddle sweating in the sun lends itself to a lot of thoughtful introspection and self-discovery, and I was so happy to be there. I didn’t even mind that my drinking water was the temperature of hot tea by 10 in the morning, or getting flats in the blazing sun with not a tree in sight. Days later the desert was giving away to green and the hills were telling me I was getting close to what I though might be my final destination for this trip. It had been over 3 weeks, and I needed to start thinking about getting back to Cape Town. 2015 had started without me.
Over the 2200km I cycled to Windhoek, less than 200km of that was on tar. Some of the roads I travelled on were some of the worst I’d ever been on in my life, regardless of the mode of transport. But all these factors – the heat, corrugation, thirst – made arriving at my destination even sweeter. Every face I saw, every cold drink that passed my lips, every bit of shade, all became more vivid in the moment after the hours of suffering in the sun. I live for this stuff.
Below the BB Dave had attached his signature brass plate, with the name of the bike, as determined by himself and whomever the bike is for – mine says ’Buitestander’. In Afrikaans this means ‘outsider’, an outcast of sorts, but the word play: too good to resist. And one of my birth names is Stander, like the surname, so it’s all very appropriate. I want to be outside, forever, on my Mercer. Cast me out.