Bike Check | Martyn Ashton’s Custom Nicolai
July 3rd, 2015
Back on two wheels
British mountain biking icon Martyn Ashton has just astounded the entire mountain biking community by getting back on a mountain bike – no small feat considering the fact he is paralysed from the waist down, an injury sustained from a riding accident in 2013.
There was never any doubt in Martyn’s mind about getting back on a bike though – it was just a problem that needed solving. And one he figured out with the help of renowned fettler, Chris Porter of Mojo Suspension.
We chatted to Chris about the project and got up close and personal with Martyn Ashton’s Custom Nicolai Geometron…
FJ: How did this project start?
CP: You know I forget how this even came about, but I suspect I probably read something about him wanting to get back on a bike and just said ‘lets do it!’
We got Tom Wheeler back on a bike with a paralysed arm (watch this incredible video) and have got him riding really well.
Working with Martyn seemed like a logical move!
FJ: The Nicolai looks quite refined – what happened before it?
CP: Martyn came to me with all sorts of ideas at first – like having some additional wheels to fall on if the bike came to a stand still. Imagine pram wheels at a 45degree angle, something like that.
We got kind of carried away, and were thinking we need a seat that moves back and forwards as that’s how you move on a bike – so we’d designed something in our heads that was pretty insane!
But then Martyn saw the sit-ski guys, and ordered a chair straight away – he had it delivered to us.
I got it out the box, held it up and thought lets just put it straight on the bike and give it a go.
We thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’.
The worst thing really that could happen would be it not working.
FJ: So you literally bolted the seat on to a bike?
CP: We needed a bike that he knew first – Martyn dropped off a full suspension trials bike he had, so I got to work mounting the chair. Obviously there was a lot of cutting, sawing, bolting and custom work to do in order to get it on there – but it was a good place to start.
For the first trial, we held the pedals in place with a zip tie just so we could try it as we didn’t know where anything needed to be. It was all zip ties, straps and electrical tape so we could change things as we needed to.
Essentially, he got straight on the bike and rode it. First time.
It was funny as we thought ‘why didn’t we just think of this in the first place?’.
The next step was to take it out on a flowy trail to see how things worked – so we pushed him off and he coasted down to the bottom. Improvements needed to be made – but we had the basis for the project. Martyn wanted the bike to be as near to a normal bike as possible.
FJ: How different is Martyn’s Nicolai to the Mojo Geometron?
CP: We didn’t go anywhere near the Geometron geometry as Martyn needs something different from the bike. In order for Martyn to ride, he needs to be able to weight shift quite dramatically from a static position. So the wheels needed to be closer together.
What we found in initial testing, was that the higher we raised him, the better handling became, and the easier it was for him to manoeuvre the bike. On that first test bike, it was easy for him to pop the front wheel up and stoppie – but we needed the bike to have stable handling on the trail – so things are slack, but the high position of the seat helps agility.
But right now, we’re not even close to what we can get out of this platform. Already we’ve learnt so much – at first we were running 12-15psi in the tyres but it just didn’t work. As we firmed the tyres up, Martyn became more confident. And as we raised the seat the handling improved dramatically.
Then we stiffened up the suspension – and ended up having to pump up the tyres even more to get the feel right.
In just a few hours we went from the point that he could barely ride it, to absolutely railing stuff – really riding quite hard.
Watching the Back on Track video, I can already see where improvements can be made by watching the way the bike sits on the ground and reacts to the terrain. Even a few tweaks will make a big difference for Martyn.
There’s a lot more to come from the chassis dynamics – we’ve only really just started.
FJ: What’s the next step?
CP: What we’re planning next is to get him lower on the bike, but have the option to lift him.
Kind of like a dropper post, but that could slide forwards and backwards too, under his own steam. That would mean he could move around on the bike and be a lot more dynamic – the riding possibilities could open up a lot.
Imagine if we had a set of Fox 40’s as the top tube, and the seat was mounted to the lowers – so it could slide fore and aft. And then a dropper post to bring him up and down.
But then it starts to not look like a bicycle again!
It would be great if someone like Red Bull or one of the bike companies with access to lots of prototyping equipment could help here – it’s a big project…
Watch this space for more on Martyn Ashton coming soon! In the mean time check out Martyn himself giving you a talk through the bike…