The most unusual bike at this year’s Trans Provence was a handbuilt mountain bike, the Gangly Gibbon, crafted by Cape Town master bicycle builder, Dave Mercer.
Considered one of the world’s most testing enduro mountain
bike events, the Trans Provence runs is a week of very testing technical
riding, in the Maritime Alps of Mediterranean France.
It covers a total racing distance of 308km, with an elevation gain of 9284m and 22 723m of descending. Those numbers reveal that this is a race very much biased to riding downhill. A lot of downhill – which dramatically increases the risk of crashing.
Riders are only timed on a series of special stages, racing
blind – without the benefit of practising on any of the routes beforehand. The
Trans Provence is considered one of the truest assessments of technical riding
skill and courage.
Bike choice is paramount as competitors are required to pedal up huge climbs, and then descend down terrain which tallies roots, rocks gardens and corners with vertigo-inducing exposure. It is an event where one error of judgement can have enormous consequences.
One of the South African’s participating at the 2019 Trans Provence was Daniel Dobinson, a professional mountain bike guide with iRide Africa and also renowned for popularising the enduro racing format in Cape Town.
Bringing along a very different bike
Unlike most of his rivals, who entered on carbon-fibre mountain bikes with between 150- and 160mm of suspension travel, Daniel optioned to race on something very different. He arrived at the start line in Barcelonnette on a steel framed mountain bike, with only 120mm of rear suspension travel.
The bike in question was fabricated by Dave Mercer and
although it might have looked a touch underwhelming, it proved to be
tremendously fast and reliable.
By the end of nine days of racing, Dan had managed to finish second in his age group. The only rider who managed to go a touch quicker than Dan in his category was former downhill mountain bike world champion and legendary British cycling icon, Steve Peat. The masters’ podium was completed by another South African and experienced Trans Provence rider, Gary Barnard.
The combination of Cape Town bike builder and rider left a
strong impression on the 2019 Trans Provence, with Dan Dobinson’s Mercer Gangly
Gibbon showing that steel is real – and a 120mm mountain bike can tame even the
scariest downhill trails, with an appropriate pilot at the handlebars.