I’ll level with you. The first ride was terrible.
It had little to do with the bike though, and everything with the man who did the build – me.
Consider a first date with Scarlet Johansson – you’ve idolised her from afar for years, you’ve been looking forward to the date with great anticipation. On the days before, anxiety kicks in. What if she’s not FUNNY? What if she has a weird laugh? Bad teeth? Can’t hold a conversation? Doesn’t like to braai?
Then, on the night, the restaurant lost your reservation. Once sorted, you discover you’re seated by the kitchen. Your waiter is in training. Noise, you know.
Well, almost exactly like that.
To this end, its proper to separate the first ride from the FIRST ride. The first, first ride is really a configuration ride. Getting used to brake setup changes, getting used to a new seat and then cutting the ride short due to a slipping seatpost. This was terrible, and really things I should have sorted out in the work stand.
The REAL first ride actually happens when you’re not even planning it. When the frame disappears from underneath you and there’s a realisation that you’ve settled into the 100,000-revolution mantra of just riding. This happened after I’ve added about 400km and everything has settled. The setup is sorted out, brakes are bedded in and the seat is 1/4-way ridden in. I’ve gotten over the changes in how a tourer feels compared to my Ti racing rig.
What a delight!
The frame feels solid, bullet proof. There’s enough road feel for me to stay connected to what is happening under the wheels, but it comes without a sense of fragility.
The steering is quick when the fork is turned, but when leaning (like at speed through fast corners) feels planted to the line. A mid-corner correction is met with keenness and an instant movement, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere near the limits of grip. Its almost like I can tighten the radius infinitely without losing control.
I discovered that there is no toe-overlap on the front-wheel, with a margin to spare. Moving backwards, the bottom bracket is low (no doubt adding to the planted-feel of the ride) and the length of the stays further lends stability to the ride. Its almost like the bike is made up of two parts: The front is racy and invites me to push harder, to take that gap there. The back is more laid back, and easily follows the course set out before it, but with a reluctance to change.
This duality is not easily married, but comes together extremely well in this package.
There is a group ride in Gauteng most days of the week from the Engen garage in Bryanston off Main. Tuesdays are HARD. I decided to join as a comparative. Well, it was blood-in-the-mouth HARD. I dropped sooner than usual, as can be expected having just added 4kgs of weight, almost half of it in the wheels. What was a revelation though was that this machine will run like a racer if you’re up for it. If it feels like a racer, looks like a racer and (mostly) stays with the pack, I think its fair to call it a racer.
Back to the first ride though.
To give you an appreciation of what’s at play: I changed the setup of my brake levers, swapping left and right. Imagine my panic when I grabbed a handful of “front” brake to feel almost no effect at all. Yep, front is now rear AND the discs have not been bedded in yet.
Then, I flipped the stem for a more upright position (touring, you see). Well, I HATE it! My legs aren’t used to the position and I can’t seem to get any power out. I also developed lower back pain after 5km – WHAT??
Shifting is razor sharp, but I’m so worried about dropping a chain or pushing the derailleur into the spokes that I overthink every shift.
On what I believe is the only climb with proper switchbacks in Gauteng, I discover the seat post is moving in the seat tube. Yep, too much grease and too little torque when tightening it. I promptly decide to cut the ride short and sort out the setup.
Adding carbon compound grease to the seat post and properly tightening the bolts sort out any movement. I also lift the saddle slightly to account for the sag inherent in Brooks saddles’ mid sections.
The step is slammed and, while still higher than on the racer, it feels much more familiar.
The brakes take a while to get used to. The new standard I’m applying on all my bikes has front shifting and braking on the left. Time will sort this out soon, I’m sure…
Fast forward to one month before the planned departure date, and the bike is unbelievable. Having recently refurbished my Lynskey racer (new paint job, new groupset and wheels, new everything, actually), I’ve spent a couple of days off the Mercer and on the Ti-rig. This badboy dropped 1.5 kgs in the refurb process and felt super fast and responsive.
I also sourced the panniers I’d be using for the trip and started adding everything to the bike. Decreed: From here onwards, the Mercer is ridden only with full touring kit. Getting used to it, you know.
So on one particularly beautiful Saturday morning, I wheeled the Mercer out. All 20kgs of it. And dragged it up some of the worst climbs I could find in Johannesburg. An absolute delight! The weight is noticeable (well, duh?), but its not like riding is a battle at all. On the contrary, every pedal stroke feel effortless.
My mantra becomes: NBP – Never be Pushing. This applies both to the bike itself (never even got close), and to the gear: If it feels too heavy, shift to a lower gear and spin it out. Wonderful. With a newly added 32 in the back, the lowest combination of 32×30 is never even called into action. Not yet, at least. I’ll have to find some tougher climbs soon…