The Not-So-Subtle Art of Building Something Really Cool - Fanie’s Kok’s Specialized Sequoia

Take a minute and think about all the strange ways in which this universe connects us. 

Ever bump into a childhood friend on a bus? Meet your soulmate in the waiting room at the eye doctor’s? Have you ever come tumbling into the Deus store out of the rain, clutching a bouquet of flowers, looking for a last-minute birthday gift for your wife? 

Well that’s how we met Fanie - a bit of serendipity and a strong dose of Amsterdam magic. And the more we got to talking, the more we realized we had in common. This is a dude who’s got a love and a fundamental zeal for life. Who gives a hoot. Who doesn’t give a damn about your preconceptions, and then finds a way to absolutely defy your expectations. And most importantly, he’s got a really cool bike.

*

You can clock Fanie’s bike from a mile away. 

We certainly did. It’s the patina of the steel frame that first takes you in because, well, it’s simply beautiful. But then your eyes wander a bit over the modern geometry and bladed carbon fork. They flick down to the Roval carbon hoops and the tan-walled Pathfinders. The chopped Renthal Fatbars. XTR cranks. And then it starts to sink in that you’re looking at something truly special. When Fanie started, the bike was “just” a steel Specialized Sequoia Elite. Over time it became a city bike to top all other city bikes and most importantly, a true labor of love.

Steel bikes have been there since the beginning. And Fanie’s Sequoia is rooted in the history and the soul of the material. Some might ask us why we find so much joy in a steel bike in 2021. Why wouldn't we prefer carbon fiber? Drop bars? A healthy dose of lycra and the incessant pursuit of speed? But we’d probably say that they’re simply asking the wrong questions. And more importantly - why the hell not?

As Trail Advocate and the founder and architect of Specialized’s Soil Searching program, Fanie’s used to flipping conventions on their head - it’s a bit of a requirement if you want to create lasting change in how the industry approaches trail advocacy. 

To properly understand this bike you need to understand a bit about Fanie first.

*

Fanie Kok first found freedom riding mountain bikes with his father on the fire roads of Pretoria, South Africa. This is the conservative part of the country. Heartbreakingly beautiful, but also the kind of place where asking questions might get you in trouble or at least make someone look at you funny.

For a young kid, self-expression often took a backseat to tradition. Pretoria, as Fanie tells it, considers the de facto sports to be rugby and cricket. With a slim build and a healthy aversion to cracking skulls, young Fanie thus found himself looking for something different to occupy his time. So mountain biking, and the ability to walk out of his front door with his bike and hit the dirt, represented the opportunity to finally do something different. No rules, no one watching, no one telling him what to do or where to go or how to think. The bike represented a lot more than the act of simply riding it.

And over the years he found his community in the local bike shops and likewise, a kindred spirit in Specialized Bikes. One of the few mountain bike companies in South Africa at the time, they offered a welcome change of pace to the usual cycling scene. They came to represent this new sport and the community of riders who built its fledgling infrastructure. This idea, the building of a community around the powerful and irrevocable sensation of freedom, mixed with dirt, has stuck with Fanie. As the years passed and Fanie kept riding, he developed a lasting relationship with the brand.

After a bit of soul searching in Mozambique and starting his career pushing a broom in a Specialized warehouse in Johannesburg, Fanie found his way to the company headquarters in California. As a Trail Advocate and Stoke Activist with Specialized’s Soil Searching program, he’s changing the way we look at industry-backed advocacy. Fanie and his team are helping lead this global movement to deliver resources to the heart of the global mountain biking scene - offering stipends, bikes, and support to communities of trailbuilders.  In their own words, Specialized are asking the fundamental questions - “what if we support trail builders in the way we currently sponsor professional athletes?”

Spurred on by the thrill of adventure and a whole lot of love, Fanie and his wife found their way to the cobbled streets of Amsterdam. 

*

For the uninitiated - the Sequoia represents Specialized’s effort to create the perfect all-road adventure bike. Enough tire clearance, braze-ons, and slack geometry to leave the pavement and get lost for a while, but enough pizzazz to be an equally capable bike on the streets. But as is often the case with genre-bending and innovative ideas - it didn’t quite pick up the traction they were hoping for. After only a few years of production, they discontinued the frame for 2020.

The funny thing is, this is Fanie’s second Sequoia.

Fanie actually first owned a Jim Merz Sequoia, a stunning Limited Edition bike built to celebrate early Specialized collaborator and adventure-biking visionary Jim Merz. Fanie spent his first few months in Amsterdam using it as his city bike - pedaling it to record shops and locking it outside of cafes. But after his fair share of close calls, stern looks from fellow bike nuts, and general anxiety, he decided it was time to build a proper city bike. You know, a true ‘beater’ that he could lock up and forget about. 

Well, as bike people, we know how that story often ends. This ‘beater’ now boasts Roval carbon hoops and spends the night parked at the foot of his bed.

*

The build is centered around a Specialized Sequoia Elite that’s been - to put it lightly - customized. 

For the breathtaking finish on the frame, Fanie took his inspiration from the patina found on American rat-rods and pickup trucks. The idea is to preserve and elevate the natural properties that make steel amazing. It’s a substance that reacts to the environment around it. It’s springy, temperamental, and has a deep soul not found in other materials. In the right hands, it’s almost alive. Rather than clearcoat this amazing rusted finish, he treated it instead with a special concoction of linseed oil. The FACT carbon fork received a similar treatment - Fanie painstakingly hand-sanded the paint from the carbon, exposing only the beautiful natural weave of the fibres.

Pro Tip from Fanie: Make sure to discard the oily rags with care, lest you set your balcony on fire. But that’s a story for another time...

Fitted to the fork is a single SRAM Force disc rotor and caliper, routed to a SRAM Level Gold lever mounted on the Renthal Fatbars and matching stem. These were scored from a buddy of Fanie’s and chopped to an appropriate width for city cruising. Because what’s more baller than a top-tier DH cockpit on your cafe bike?

The answer? Going record store hopping on a set of hand-built Roval CLX-50 wheels. Deep enough and light enough for the pros, these hoops are wrapped in Specialized Pathfinder Tan-Walls in 38mm and feature buttery smooth DT Swiss hubs and ceramic bearing internals. 

Anyone who’s ever built a bike from the frame up knows about “that one thing.” Nothing ever goes fully according to plan, and there’s always at least one part of the build that keeps you up at night. For Fanie, it was the bottom bracket. How many of us have questioned our sanity because of esoteric bottom bracket standards? More than a few.

He knew he wanted to run XTR cranks because - why the hell not? But the Sequoia has modern vertical road dropouts, and he needed a way to tension his single speed drivetrain. With an eye to minimalism, Fanie wanted to keep the solution internal. So he spent the next two months sourcing a boutique eccentric bottom bracket. Mounted to a Trickstuff 68mm Exzentriker BB, Fanie’s Shimano XTR Cranks are coupled with a 38 tooth XTR chainring, and finished with a pair of completely baller Supacaz Oil Slick pedals.

But just as with any bike build, the devil’s in the details. This bike is dripping with little bits and features that come together and…just work. It’s as much a question of aesthetic and color-coding as it is the quality of materials. The honey brown Brooks B17 Special saddle matches perfectly with the gold KMC 11sp chain, the anodized seatpost collar, and the dusty sheen of the bars garnished with Republic Dutch wooden grips. Similarly, the S-Works carbon seatpost picks up the notes of carbon weave found in the wheelset and on the immaculately sanded fork.

*

It’s a build that’s special because it shouldn’t exist. 

Not because it doesn’t deserve to. It shouldn’t exist because of the infinitesimal probability of someone like Fanie Kok finding an old frame in a warehouse and taking the time and care to create something this fantastic and idiosyncratic and just...perfect.

But this is how the universe works. The powerful changes are enacted by those who fundamentally give a shit. Those who stop and ask the hard questions. Those like Jim Merz who still celebrate the magic of a steel bike. The trail builders that Fanie and Soil Searching advocate for, who simply want to create amazing natural resources for their communities. For the same reason that Fanie Kok came knocking on our door a minute after closing, leaving a trail of flower petals scattered in his wake, looking for the perfect birthday present for his wife.

This bike is an unequivocal celebration of all of the individuals out there who are willing to shrug everything off and ask, “well why the hell not?”

That sits pretty damn well with us.

 

words: Christopher Rost
photo: @tristanfopma

GALLERY

Cinema

DEUS CLASSICS