It all began with the On One 456 and the excellent reviews it received in U.K. magazines. The fire was further fuelled by the Ti model that was let lose on trails in 2008. It seemed like the perfect blend of trail ripper and friendly climber. The 456 has since been updated to the Evo 456 and has further evolved thanks to the addition of a carbon model and a bump in wheel size to 27.5"
Transition joined the growing long travel hardtail crowd with it's TransAM - also to rave reviews. Made from 4130 Chromoly, they proved reliable and fun out on the trails. The original has been superseded by a 27.5" with a geometry in line with current trends. Unfortunately, that was long before Transition had an official distributor in South Africa, so I decided to give it a miss.
When news broke of a slack, long and low 27.5" Stanton I was ready to swipe. With a static head angle of 64 degrees on a 140mm fork, I was very keen to feel the handling of a hardtail with those numbers. Unfortunately there were some manufacturing delays and once again my card made it safely back to the warm confines of my wallet.
As these things go, I was looking at the Production Privee Shan at the same as I was considering the Stanton Switchback. Many an evening was spent on Google studying the options, builds, ride videos and reviews. What almost convinced was the 917's Gulf Oil Racing Colors, but again it wasn't to be and the idea gave way to a steel hardtail of another kind - the rigid single speed Momsen ST-R29.
Once I had scratched the long standing single speed itch, the illusive long travel chapter was opened again. Since I first started looking a number of other interesting bikes and bike designs had been launched.
The BTR Fabrications Ranger which, in it's own right, is a bit of a Frankenbike - long, low and very slack frame designed around a 120mm fork. A head angle of 64 degrees on a 120mm fork is almost unheard of and slacker than that is something of fantasies. Trust two friends from Oxford, UK to slap a 64 degree head angle, usually reserved for downhill bikes, on a short travel hardtail.
Unfortunately once it's asking price in British pounds was converted to ZAR, it proved a bit too expensive of an experiment.
Towards the end of last year, I was looking at another build project to replace my beloved Ibis Mojo HDR and was interested in a couple options. Ibis was about to release the new Mojo HD3, Yeti launched their SB6C and SB5C with it's Switch Infinity link, Giant rocked the establishment by announcing the new trail-crunching Reign, and Pyga was building a bigger and bigger following with the Pascoe catching my eye.
While looking at geometries and exploring some ideas in line with Mondraker's Forward Geometry, I started toying with the idea of getting a bike one size up from the one size up that I was already riding with the help of a super short stem. At 179cm, I've always been between sizes on most bikes, but opted to go with a medium based on the thinking back then. This changed in 2010 when I realized that most medium bikes are just too cramped when running a shorter stem. I wasn't planning on going back to a long(er) stem so decided to rather size up. I haven't looked back since.
I figured as long as the bike's stand over was sufficient and the seat tube short enough to run a 125mm dropper post, I would be able to make the rest work through clever component choices. A big risk, but one worth trying in my opinion.
I somehow found myself considering dual suspension bikes between 130 and 140mm of travel and a head angle between 68 and 66 degrees. Three possible options made that cut and their XL bikes would work on the fitment side. They were the Santa Cruz 5010, Giant Trance 27.5 and Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt.
Then I visited the Africa Cycle Fair. There were all kinds of bikes that would make many a heart race. I got to ride a few of these and enjoyed most of them, but only one really got my attention on the short, flat course around the fair. The Mercer Bikes Hungry Monkey. I had been eyeing it on the Mercer Bikes stand but nothing could prepare me for the way that first pedal stroke felt.
Admittedly the build kit (which included the super plush Rock Shox Pike) helped, but it didn't take much to realize that the frame is something special. By the time I got off the bike my mind was already made up and an order was placed with the man himself and in doing so the Mercer Bikes Hungry Monkey project build was born.