How many mountain bikers outside of Austria, Switzerland and Germany have heard of the Simplon brand? If you have, it’s probably because you’ve a taste for excessively well-engineered bikes that can stare down the lycra-clad competition in the summer season.
Josef Hämmerle opened a bike shop in the Austrian town of Hard, on the shores of Lake Constance, in 1930. Frustrated by the quality of the Swiss-made bikes his customers brought into the shop, he began producing bikes himself that met his own standards.
The Simplon Pass is a 2,005m high mountain pass between the Pennine Alps and the Lepontine Alps in Switzerland, and it provided the inspiration for Josef’s brand name. It took 30 years of frustration, but Simplon bikes was finally founded in 1961.
Hämmerle’s bikes struck a chord, proving to be very popular among the local racers — especially the mountain bikers — and the company grew, launching famous models like the Myth in 1992, the carbon Vision in 1994, and the Gravity in 2000.
A Gravity found its way into the hands of Markus Keßler, who had been racing both road and mountain bikes around the region from 1978 to 1993. In 1990 he shredded the Zugspitze, Germanys highest mountain, with his rigid Specialized Stumpjumper.
Markus had also been working in bike shops for over 20 years, so he had a good knowledge of quality components, which he proceeded to build his Gravity up with. Today, as pictured, it weighs in at 8.1kg.
He dislikes the term ‘weight-weenie’, he just appreciates good parts.
The fork is a LOOK LFS2 unit, produced in association with Fournales, specialists in motorsport suspension. This was the top-of-the-range model, with carbon stanchions, CNC’d bridges and adjustable compression and rebound.
Markus built the wheels himself from a pair of lightweight Mavic X517 Ceramic hoops and thin and light (1.8/1.4/1.8 mm) spokes that were still approved for downhill use. He coupled them with Tune hubs, the rear with a carbon axle.
He utilised tips learnt from a master wheel builder over 20 years ago, like dipping the spoke threads in linseed oil, which turns resinous and secures the nipple, and cold forging the spokes against the hub flange.
To accommodate the widely-stepped 22-36-50 teeth chainring, the bottom bracket has an adjustable chain line with a titanium axle. Those jumps are changed by an XTR front mech, one of the few that can handle them, and an XT thumbie shifter.
The inner ring is completely titanium, while the two outside Tune chainrings are carbon with titanium teeth. Marcus eschewed disc brakes for FRM calipers which, he says, can still flip you over the Schmolke handlebars.
And the Australian opal behind the headset? Purely for decoration. The Gravity is Markus’ pride and joy, and he claims he’s clocked speeds of up to 86km/h on the downhill. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu.
Pictures by Wilhelm Weninger, Nuernberg.