Back to the Future - Rapide´ Tigre´ A New Generation of Steel Mountain Bikes
While cleaning my aluminum Momsen mountain bike after a moderate cycle along Bronkmanspruit, a greenbelt in Johannesburg, South Africa, I noticed a stress fracture just below the seat clamp. Devastated to see the catastrophic failure of my beloved mountain bike frame, I started researching warranty and replacement options.
On an online bike sales platform featuring used and new bikes and frames from around South Africa, I came across Rapide´ Cycles (rapide.co.za) and my curiosity piqued. Rapide´ offers a unique and versatile steel frame compatible with a variety of wheel, tire, fork and gear combinations. The geometry of the Rapide´ Tigre´ mountain bike is, “LSL -long, slack and low.” I felt a jolt of recognition and excitement. This was a lead I needed to follow!
I started mountain biking in the late 1980’s and tucked into the slipstream of the first wave of racers including, Jaquie Phelan, Cindy Whitehead, Ned Overend and Tinker Juarez. Back then bikes were made of steel and had no suspension. As part of the Seattle cycling community in the 1980’s, I rode with frame builders, painters, mechanics and cycling enthusiasts from Elliot Bay Bicycles, Wright Brothers Cycles, Rodriguez and Erickson, and Ti Cycles and found myself steeped in the artistry of frame building. These guys forged ridable works of art.
Steel was the medium of choice for the Seattle frame builders at the time, except for Dave Levy. Dave built me my first custom frame (steel) but his true love involved pioneering titanium as a medium. I love a steel frame. I love the classic lines, the comfort and the durability. I love that the frame can easily be repaired
I messaged Rapide´ and asked about compatibility of my current components with the Rapide´ frame. I got a message back with spec sheets that overwhelmed me. I decided it would be easier to show up at the shop with my cracked bike in hand and see what could be transferred to a new frame. I plugged the address of the shop into my GPS and drove into the thrumming heartbeat of inner-city Johannesburg. My GPS indicated that I had arrived at the shop, but I couldn’t find any signage or indication that I had arrived. I phoned the number. Wayne answered told me that Rapide´ is an on-line shop. I let him know that I was in his driveway and could I come in?
Wow! I stepped through the gate and into the storage area and workshop and felt entirely at home. Wayne Levet, known locally as “Kiwi”, for his New Zealand origins, welcomed me into a world of frames, components, bicycles and paperwork. I felt instantly at home. Wayne shared details of his racing life and his inspirations for importing reasonably priced, quality, steel bike frames and components into South Africa. I was struck by his sincerity, passion and knowledge, so reminiscent of the Seattle frame builders of my early cycling experience. Wayne’s company, Rapide’ is based on the idea of providing “excellent quality cycling products at affordable prices.” Wayne keeps his overhead low by basing the business out of his home workshop. He travels to Taiwan and deals directly with manufacturers to spec his quality frames and components.
Wayne didn’t have a frame built up in my size for me to try, but he did have one in candy apple red. Most of my components would switch over, although I’d need a different seatpost along with a new rear hub and wheel which he could build up for me. I took a risk. I said “yes.” Two days later I arrived back at the shop and Wayne put the finishing touches on my new bike. Turns out I had worn out a few other components along with the Momsen frame. Wayne had everything I needed in stock at quite reasonable prices.
In the meantime, the guys from the warranty department at Momsen offered to repair my frame. By then, I had moved into a new direction and although I appreciated their offer and warranty integrity, I had already let go of my old frame. I had simultaneously moved on and returned to my roots.
I loaded my new bike into the back of the car and drove from the Rapide´ to Mangrove, a restaurant and cultural center in Braamfontein just in time to join the Critical Mass night cycle through Johannesburg’s inner-city with an outrageous and dedicated group of cyclists.
What a grand way to initiate my new ride!
I’ve since put in a lot of kilometers on and off-road and am delighted with my Rapide´ Tigre. I love the geometry. I love the feel of the steel. Even though the frame is a little heavier, I feel like I have new wings!