Hungry Monkey frames are built one at a time in the Cape Town workshop of Mercer Bikes. The frame is 650b specific and is equipped with sliding dropouts and has been designed to accept long travel forks (140 – 160mm). The head angle is a relatively slack at 66 degrees running a 160mm fork and the top tube is on the long side - 620mm effective top tube giving you a roomy 428mm of reach in the large size. To make a stable ride at speed, the bottom bracket is lower than the norm and the chainstay length can be adjusted from 420 to 445mm. A 1x specific design, the Hungry Monkey also has cable routing for a stealth dropper post making it a very versatile frame that can be set up for many riding styles.
Steel's longevity and liveliness are legendary and the heart of the Hungry Monkey is its handmade steel frame. A selection of double butted steel tubes from Columbus and Dedacciai are fillet brazed together - brass is melted into and around the join to fuse the tubes to one another. On a microscopic level some interesting things happen - there is a transition zone of bronze that forms through the interaction of steel and brass.
The fillets are then worked on with a file and emery cloth to reveal a smooth bond at each juncture - this helps to dissipate stresses at the join, as there are no sharp transitions to form stress risers. Since brass is also more ductile than steel, there's a microscopic amount of flex that occurs at the joins. Traditional frame builders believe that this flex further enhances resilience.
David Mercer does not use gussets on the front triangle as he feels that this concentrates stress around the ends of the gusset. Gussets are however used to increase the wall thickness of the chain stays where they are joined to the bottom bracket to compensate for the lack of chainstay bridges. By leaving out the bridge there's a bit more clearance for larger tires and mud.
Most Mercer Bikes ship as a frame only, leaving the buyer to cherry-pick all their components themselves allowing for a truly custom build bike.
Fork: DVO Diamond
As a recent addition to the build, I don't have too much to say about the DVO just yet. So far it's been all good, but I need some more time on it to get it dialed to my liking. For now you can have a look at our "First Look" article about it here.
Wheelset: American Classic Carbonator
I had a 29er set on review and was very impressed with their overall performance. These were fitted in haste to get the bike up and running in time to make it to the Africa Cycle Fair. For the full review have a look here.
Drivetrain: SRAM X1
One word: faultless. I can add quite a few more words of praise, but let's leave that for the full review coming up in the not too distant future.
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 125mm drop
This is the second bike of mine with this stealth dropper and I haven't had a single issue with it. Once the review is done on this one, I will get a 150mm drop for this frame, as there's enough length.
Brakes: Hope Stealth Tech Evo with 183mm floating rotors
Another piece of kit that has made it's way to more than one build. They haven't let me down once and to date no maintenance has been needed to keep them operating at their best.
Tyres: Hans Dampf TLR 2.35 front, 2.25 rear
My love affair with Hans Dampf tyres have been a bit hot and cold. Quite capable in most terrain, but surprisingly weak in others - like sand. Running them on the super wide Derby Rims gave them a new lease on life. Alas, my search for the perfect one tyre continues.
Pedals: Point1 Podium
For their review I have dug into my archives to try and figure out exactly when I bought them. Although the exact year could not be determined I have established that I've had these for the best part of four years and they have somehow survived very little maintenance and have out-lived several bikes. Point1 was recently acquired by Gamut (a certain Mr Minnaar rides their gear) which means these are now available to purchase locally.
Bottle Cages: Specialized Zee Cage II with EMT Cage Mount Tool
Full review on these here.
Handlebar & Stem: Easton Haven 35 Carbon 20mm Riser Bar, 750mm | Easton Haven 35 Stem, 50mm
Easton was one of the first big players to release 35mm bars and stems and it certainly looks like it's here to stay and possibly take over as the steering of choice for longer travel bikes.
Grips: ODI Rogue
I have been a fan of ODI for a good couple of years. With colour, width and feel options to suit just about every rider regardless of discipline. The Rogues have been my grip of choice, as they provide an extra bit of give without being too soft or spongy. Plus, they perform well come rain or shine.
Headset: Nukeproof Warhead 44IETS
Along with a bike's bottom bracket, the headset is often an unsung hero expected to slave without much love and attention. The Nukeproof has been going for months without any issues.
Saddle: SDG Circuit Mountain Ti-alloy saddle
I've tried many saddles of this nature and the SDG Circuit has proven to be the most comfortable on longer rides. Full review on it here.
On the Trail
Spoiler alert: it is great fun. The Hungry Monkey manages to blend the perfect combination of a direct drive hardtail with the forgiving feel of steel. Stomp on the pedal and it leaps forward with gusto.
Climbing rocky terrain is typical of a hardtail with a dash of forgiveness thanks again to steel's characteristics and Mercer's understanding and experience with building some "traction" into the rear triangle. What efficiency does get lost is made up for in heaps and bounds by it's competitively lightweight (2.4kg for a frame in size large) and a sorted geometry. The seat tube angle plays a big part in this and the ability to adjust the chainstay length means you can play around until you find a perfect blend of snappy response and sure-footedness.
Hit open, flowy single track and let the Hungry Monkey loose for hours of fun. My original build had a dual position Pike on it that could be set to either 120mm or 150mm. I found the bike's trail manners surprisingly good in 120mm. The bottom bracket height does come into play so you will have to watch those pedal strikes, but get your mind around that and the combination of the low bottom bracket, healthy reach and head angle makes for one super capable trail bike. In fact, in this "mode" I would argue that it could be the perfect XC / Marathon race bike for most. It's not as harsh as some alloy frames and although there's no discernible flex, its not as harsh as some carbon hardtails where the goal from outset was the stiffest possible frame. Even here Mercer seems to have a one up on most big brands.
Although not meant to be a definitive guide, for reference I would say trails like Meerendal, G-Spot and Bottelary Hills are perfectly suited to a 120mm Hungry Monkey. For our Gauteng readers... The Spruit? Just kidding, I have no idea really. Best description would probably be trails that aren't too rocky and rooty and have lots of smooth, flowy single track. That's not due to any short comings of the frame, purely based on the bottom bracket height in 120mm mode.
Up the travel to the recommend 140mm - 160 mm and you have yourself a beast of a bike. Come to terms with the fact that you are on a hardtail and you will be rewarded with one of most fun bikes on our trails. Getting your tires off the ground takes little to no effort, manuals and bunny hops have never felt this "natural" on anything but a dirt jump bike.
Tackle a technical downhill section and the bike's head angle comes into play as it let's you carry speed and momentum with confidence and bravado. Railing berms is uber fun and if you do lose some momentum getting back up to speed takes very little effort as every pedal stroke is rewarded with a burst of speed.
When combined with the almost "plus size" effect of the super wide Derby Rims (35mm internal, 40mm external) the bike is a momentum monster delivering stupid grins for long after the single track has stopped.
In our coverage of the Hungry Monkey for the Africa Cycle Fair's Best Bike in Africa two lines stood out for me: "In an era of mass production, the Hungry Monkey stands out as something unique and special" and touching on it being a handmade steel frame "this should make the Hungry Monkey a frame for life." Two lines that sum it up to the T.
If you want to be to the point and factual about anything that can be ridden or driven then surely it all comes down to the cold hard facts or how it rides or drives and there should be little to nothing to add to that. We have seen the dawn of the hypercar era, but only a few have managed to stir the soul and evoke emotion. So too there are many great mountain bikes out there and one could actually argue that there are very few bad mountain bikes left, but of those great bikes only a few manage to get ones heart rate up - for me, the Hungry Monkey is one of those and I attribute that to 3 main factors:
Steel. There is just something special about riding a steel bike. Okay, I suppose not every bike made out of steel rides the same. But with the Hungry Monkey you know lots of thought and consideration has gone into every tube, angle and finishing touch.
Having met it's maker. When I first met Dave it was obvious that he loves what he is doing. This is not a way out of a job or a way into an industry. He is passionate about his bikes and the steel tubes on the shelves in his workshop - and it rubs off.
The joy of riding a hardtail again. Yes, I miss rear suspension sometimes when out on the trail and yes I do still love dual suspension bikes, but here's just something beautiful in how simple and fun it is to ride a hardtail. Even more so when it's this new breed of all-day, all-mountain hardtails that can shred with the best of them. To add to that is the fact that I'm a tinkerer and that with the wide variety of bikes we get to ride in a month one never quite settles down. Not the case with the Hungry Monkey as it's a jump on ride type of bike.
To me fitness and health has always been a by-product of cycling and riding the Hungry Monkey has been a return to my roots and reason for riding again. No Strava, no beginning or end, no set route and certainly less deadlines. It's taken me back to riding just for the sake of riding and for the love of being outside and the love of being on a bicycle. The smell of the early morning dirt and the reward of a Jonkershoek mountain stream on a hot day.
Back to the tangible. Take into consideration how versatile the frame is and the fact that in steel you have a frame for life, and you have a clear winner here.
A Mercer Bikes Hungry Monkey II frame retails for R12,500. Contact them here.