During 2020, between COVID lockdowns, employees of Sling Aircraft rode the 35km Sling Trail in Johannesburg South 157 times. A circular route, starting at the Sling factory, the trail incorporates 10 km of tar road and 25 km of dirt, split into several sections which include fast gravel, single track, loose rock and stone, mud, sand and downhill. Over its course the route gains 321 meters of elevation.
During these rides, with different riders on different bikes, there was lots of banter about the merits of different bicycle styles, the ideal machine for the various surfaces and whether, overall, a road, gravel, XC, trail or downhill design would be optimal. Branko Brkljac (Store Manager) and James Pitman (Production Manager) in particular, spent an inordinate amount of time fantasising about designing the perfect machine to deal with the mixed conditions. Mike Blyth (Chief Aircraft Designer), Jarryd Wilson (Aeronautical Engineer), Armin Neerings (Draftsman), Andrew Pitman (Marketing Manager and MD) and Bertus Janse van Rensburg (Sales Manager) all had their say. Finally, in the spirit of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who came to aircraft design as bicycle makers, the team could resist the temptation no more. Consensus was reached and soon two spanking new, freshly manufactured Sling Cycles ‘Tagati’s’ were standing in Hangar 8, Tedderfield Air Park.
A few test rides suggested that the bicycle is a winner!
The word ‘Tagati’ is an anglicism of the Zulu word “umthakathi” – an evil witch or wizard! More literally, the words mean “A mixer of medicines”. The Sling Cycles Tagati aims to capture the magic that comes from perfectly mixed medicine – the optimal blend of different riding requirements.
No airplane, indeed no machine, can be all things to all people. Compromises must be made, but they must be made wisely. Sling Aircraft, much loved and proven around the world, represent a set of careful, tested choices. So does the Sling Cycles Tagati.
Branko, doubling up as Chief Bicycle Designer, explains it like this –
“What we were looking for is a high-performance bicycle which effortlessly crosses the divide between gravel, touring, commuting, and riding a trail. Titanium was the obvious first choice – strong, light, stiff, corrosion resistant and simple to manufacture and repair. Your bicycle will still be shiny and new, even after the apocalypse. Most importantly, though, titanium is the gold standard for ride comfort, regardless of geometry.
Which raises the question –
The Tagati’s seat-tube angle sits at 74-degrees – slightly straighter than is customary on a gravel bike. This enables us to achieve maximum pedal efficiency throughout the stroke, and throughout the ride. At this angle, the body is pushed slightly forward, improving power transfer to the pedals. Since both James and I both suffer from light asthma, the 74-degree angle also provides us with an improved breathing position.
With the body angled slightly forward, the risk exists that too much weight could be placed on the hands – to counter this, we decided to design a slightly longer head and slightly shorter top-tube, which places the rider in a comfortable, upright position, relieving pressure on the hands. The 180 mm head and 578 mm top-tube compromise gives just the posture required for a comfortable riding position, while maintaining that race feel that you would expect from a road bike – just what we needed while covering the 10 km tar sections found late and early in the Sling Trail. Stem length is available to provide fine tuning for minor height and physiology differences – James uses 90 mm and I use 80.
The Tagati head-tube angle lies at 70-degrees – slightly unconventional for a standard gravel or touring bike. But the TAGATI is anything but standard! This slacker, ‘mid-way to mountain bike’ angle, was chosen to guarantee fast rolling over stony tracks, as well as providing improved controllability and comfort. On our matt titanium test-bike we combined this with 29 x 2.2” tyres as a standard – which gives excellent comfort and controllability and killer rolling capability. The bottom bracket-drop of 60 mm, combined with 29” wheels, gives excellent clearance, which we require on the rough, stony ‘middle-mannetjie’ South African tracks.
The seat-tube on the large frame bicycle is set at 53 mm – slightly shorter than typical on gravel bikes (often 55 to 56 mm) – we’re looking for a bicycle that’s easy to mount and manage in slippery and technical conditions. Nevertheless, the frame allows enough space for two water bottles and a travel bag for longer adventure rides.
The rear triangle design and expansive fork selection accommodate large size tyres (29 x 2.4” or 27.5 x 2.6”), which combine with the elastic properties of titanium to provide the most comfortable suspension-free ride available. Threaded attachment points to accommodate different water bottles, travel bags, mud-guards complete the package.“
James explains that his days as Chairman and co-owner of Sling Aircraft are a lifetime away from his previous work as a commercial lawyer and corporate advisor. Helping to run an aircraft development and manufacturing business brings with it a new set of challenges – but these come also with opportunities. The Sling aircraft has become a much loved and globally familiar product. Almost all manufacturing work is performed by the factory itself, the business employs many experienced metal workers and a comprehensive quality system is in place. Aircraft and bicycles seem to belong together – not least because pilots typically require transport on the other end of any flight! Following a brief chat between James, Mike and Andrew, owners of Sling Aircraft, it was agreed that, providing it doesn’t interfere with aircraft manufacturing activities, Sling Aircraft would use its established infrastructure to add a cycling product – the Sling Cycles Tagati.
James emphasises that while the Tagati is not a downhill or extreme mountain bike – it is almost everything else! Call sign Oscar Bravo Foxtrot, the Tagati really does meet the “One Bike Forever” objective. Although it comes standard with the recommended Shimano GRX800 accessories and Selle Royale seat, it can also be fitted, on request, with a Kindernuy or comparative belt drive and internal rear gear hub, for reduced maintenance. Finally, for aircraft owners, it can be bought with a ‘frame-break’ for tight packing – fortunately unnecessary for the Sling TSi and Sling 4 High Wing aircraft – both of which take 2 extra-large frame Tagatis, unfolded!
We look forward to seeing you at Hangar 8 Tedderfield Air Park, home of Sling Aircraft and Sling Cycles, to see and ride a Tagati soon!
Tagati sizing and chosen angles – Frame size large
|Rec. Height: Int’l (cm)||182 – 188 cm|
|Seat Tube Length (A)||530 mm|
|Top Tube Length Effective (B)||578 mm|
|Head Tube Angle (C)||70°|
|Seat Tube Angle (D)||74°|
|Bottom Bracket Drop (E)||60 mm|
|Chain Stay Length (F)||440 mm|
|Head Tube Length (G)||180 mm|
|Rake (H)||55 mm|
|Wheelbase (J)||1,097 mm|
|Front Centre (K)||664 mm|
|Stack (L)||594 mm|
|Reach (M)||408 mm|