Last night was the UK launch of South African produced book trilogy; Bicycle Portraits, which takes a beautifully shot and up-close look at everyday South African people and their trusty steeds. Authors and photographers, Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler, travelled the length and breadth of the country, searching out people who choose to ride a bicycle in the face of cultural and social stigma, crime and dangerous roads. The journey became a three year project, spanning 10,000 km.
The launch was a way to showcase these amazing books to the UK, exhibit some lovely photographs, and show off some South African bicycle craftsmanship.
The books look awesome, and the printing is second to none.
The lads, Stan Engelbrecht (left) and Nic Grobler (right)
The books have actually been on my radar for a while, after seeing them on a trip to Cape Town to take part in the annual Cape Argus Cycle Tour. Coincidently, my brother got to know Stan and Nic while working in Woodstock Cycleworks in Cape Town, which lead Stan getting in touch with me to get involved with the launch, or more specifically, to involve my South African built Hansom track bike!
My lovely Hansom, which I brought back with me from Cape Town, in all it’s glory.
As with the UK, South Africa has had a boom in appreciation for old steel bicycle frames, and few people are aware that South Africa once rejoiced in its own industry of hand-made bicycle frames. It was a trade that was once rich in South Africa, and has now all but disappeared: the age of the master frame builder. In that era, a group of highly skilled, specialised South African artisans practised the art of bike-making. Builders like Gotty Hansen, Francois Du Toit and Bill de Lange, to name a few, were part of this group, and their beautifully handmade frames are now well sought after. As the UK has seen an encouraging growth in young frame builders, South Africa is also seeing the emergence of builders like Mercer. Stan brought his custom built Mercer with him, and I was blown away by how awesome it was, take a look for yourself…
Note the S&S couplings, amazingly awesome custom paint job, and a handmade front rack that attaches via the bolts on the Thomson stem.
The launch and exhibition also served as a means to promote Stan and Nic’s other baby, The Tour Of Ara; A L’Eroica-type event which is held in Cape Town over six days… “The Tour of Ara, named for the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Ara, is a prestige race that is ridden on vintage South African built steel bicycles in the proud tradition of the early Italian multi-day stage races.”
As with L’Eroica, there are rules. As mentioned, the bikes have to be South African, and all parts (bar saddle and pedals) have to be pre-1999. Having heard stories from last years event, the first one, and how the unusually extreme cold had sent some of the riders into a state worse than delirious, I know this is an event not for the faint of heart. As the boys say themselves, “The Tour of Ara is ridden entirely at your own risk. Know your abilities and limitations.” That’s you told then.
A shot of Stan’s Alpina, mid-race somewhere.
They had some woollen jerseys made, for that authentic touch. Nic’s Le Jeune sits below.
Beautiful landscape pictures taken en route.
Thursday 14th May – 14th June