Hello and welcome to my blog. My name is David Mercer and this is my first blog post. Through this blog I hope to give you a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes at MercerBikes.
Firstly, a little bit of background:
(warning: the following may contain sentimental drivel – jaded readers may wish to scroll down to the next post)
I’ve loved bicycles in all their forms for as long as I can remember. My first bike was a 16” BMX with red foam top-tube and handle-bar pads and the most dangerous front brake in the world. No kidding! The front brake was so grabby that for a while I used to practice “tricks” where I’d grab the brake, initiate launch and then figure out some sort of landing procedure for my cartwheeling body. It was fine on the soft lawn outside our house but my mom freaked out when I demonstrated my “trick” to her on the concrete floor of our garage.
And that was how I got my first helmet.
(I’m the handsome guy on the right)
By the time I was a strapping 6 or 7 years old I’d outgrown the little red monster and it was time to move onto bigger and better things. My folks bought me a secondhand IronHorse BMX. Beneath its scuffed and scratched paint beat the heart of a lion, or perhaps a Clydesdale cart horse. It was heavy and indestructible. I loved it. This was the mid 80’s and South Africa was in the thrall of a BMX phenomenon that was sweeping the world. BMX tracks appeared in every city and town and races took place most weekends. My friends and I would meet up at the local track after school and session the course, dreams of BMX fame pushing us faster each time. I was never very good at it and I made a lousy jumper but the feeling of speed and flowing through the berms had me hooked.
On the world stage BMX racing began to die in the late 80’s. In South Africa funding for national meets was withdrawn and this trickled down to the grassroots level. Weekend racing became less and less regular and fewer riders maintained interest. Sometime in ’88 or ’89 the land that our local track was built on was sold to a nursery to be used as a compost site. The track was never demolished and we’d climb through the newly erected wire fence to have a look at it from time to time although it would never be ridden again – over the years its start gate rusted and collapsed, the shipping container that was used for race registration became home to a swarm of bees, the concreted start ramp began to crack and crumble and the dips between the jumps and berms were filled with more and more rotting compost. Even today the track may be still be there – 6 feet beneath a steaming mound of manure and vegetable debris.
Our dreams of BMX glory faded with the track but my BMX had become so much more than just a track toy. My BMX represented freedom and exploration. My friend Tim lived down the road from me and we’d meet up most days to ride to and from school and then to mess around in the neighbourhood. We taught ourselves to bunny hop in a vacant plot over the road and we’d set up jumps along the road side, egging each on, further, faster. On my bike (and with mom’s permission – and often without) I could take myself anywhere that my legs could pedal to. And if I couldn’t pedal I could still push…
As I grew my BMX began to feel a little small and by the time I was 13 I was aboard a shiny, heavy, purple and pink “Rocky-V”- my first Mountain Bike. One afternoon a school friend, Alex, pedalled past to show off his bike with its shoulder pad. The pad was a piece of foam from a BMX top-tube pad and it was taped into the corner between the top tube and the seat tube. I was intrigued – why on earth would any one want a pad there? Alex explained to me that it was for carrying your bike up unrideable paths in order to find new off road trails. The idea immediately resonated with me – I rushed inside to scavenge a pad for my own bike and after wasting a roll of insulation tape I joined Alex for our first ever Mountain Bike ride. That afternoon changed my life and was the start of a long and rewarding friendship that continues today.
Everything during my teenage years was eclipsed by my growing addiction and passion for Mountain Biking. Alex and I would ride most weekday afternoons and every weekend. We explored the farm lands and country side around our home town foraging further and further afield in search of singletrack. We’d eagerly await the arrival of each months Mountain Biker International Magazine and then we’d peruse it cover to cover over endless cups of tea. At one point Alex’s mom even suggested we should start buying our own tea bags as she couldn’t keep up with our demand.
Before long Mountain Bike racing had a hold in South Africa and Alex and I joined in eagerly. Some of the bigger races even had trials and downhill disciplines and you could enter whatever you wanted. There were no such things as DH bikes or Trials bikes – you rode your cross country bike in everything. Some people even had suspension forks and a company called Manitou had recently announced that they would soon add a 2.5 inch travel fork to their line up. 2.5 inches! What overkill! Everyone knew that 1.5 inches was all you needed for racing – more than that was just heavy and inefficient! Soon Shimano trigger shifters began to replace the ubiquitous thumb shifters, plastic toe clips were shown the door by new fangled SPDs and suspension forks even started appearing as standard equipment on new bikes – they were no longer solely aftermarket items. Mountain Biking had come of age.
We joined our local Mountain Bike Club and before long were taking the lead on the social outrides. We knew the countryside around us better that most and we delighted in being the youngest riders on most of the meets. We’d plan routes ahead and go out to practice the drop offs and features before hand – just so we could show up the ‘old codgers’.
We’d save all our spare change and put it towards our bikes. Often we’d just have to make a plan – like the time I straightened my crash-damaged handlebars by hammering a length of chromed towel rail down their centre. Or the 180mm long “Girvin Flexstem” ripoff I made out of mild steel and a skateboard steering bumper (if you’re wondering, 180mm long was almost normal back in the day although my flex stem only lasted a few rides before it bent and broke). Another time I remember feeling as though my world had come to an end when I snapped the dropout off one of my fork-legs. It was only a temporary setback – my uncle arc welded it back on for me and a day later I could hit the trails again. My naivety knew no bounds.
As the years passed we graduated onto better bikes. Our suspension forks grew from an inch or two of barely controlled travel to the five or six inches of sex-plush cushioning we enjoy today. Tires have morphed from skinny gum walls to fat block treads and brakes have evolved from simple cantilevers to the ubiquitous disk. The bikes we ride today may look superficially like the humble machines we started out on but almost every single thing about them has changed.
End of Part 1.