Mountain biking is exciting because the risks are real. Going full send on the trail takes guts and recognition that the worst can happen.
Someone who understands this better than most is New Zealander Liam Keenan who, remarkably, is back in the saddle after a life-changing crash in 2017 left him without the use of his legs.
However, not only is he back on the trails, he’s doing it in style with a modified mountain bike that became the envy of Chain Reaction Cycles Facebook followers in recent weeks.
Liam posted pictures of his modded machine and bucket seat set-up on our page during a discussion about unique bikes.
The reaction from fellow riders was overwhelming, so we had to find out more.
“Inspiration for the bike definitely came from Martyn Ashton and Ryan St Lawrence who helped me with the seat bracket design,” Liam said, explaining how he’d managed to get back in the saddle in just over a year after his crash.
“It was almost 13 months to the day when I first got to ride my new bike,” he said. “It was incredible. We have a fairly large park across the road from where I was living so that was where I took it the first time.
“The bike needed a few minor adjustments; seat position, and suspension mainly.”
And it wasn’t long before he hit the trails.
“My first time off-road was in Rotorua,” he added. “I went down with a few friends and was out in the redwoods for about three hours; mainly gravel fire roads to get more of a feeling of the bike but we managed to do a few trails.”
Explaining the circumstances around the crash, Liam told us: “It happened 10 April 2017. I was in Queenstown where I had been living for six months.
“I finished work at 3pm and headed up to Skyline MTB Park, like I did every day, although this day I came off about 100m from the Gondola building before I had even made it to the trails.
“I was going around a berm when I believe my front wheel washed out. I went over the bike and headbutted a wooden post. This impact compressed my spine so much I had a full dislocation of my T5/6 vertebrae, broke four ribs – which punctured both lungs – and snapped my right shoulder blade.
“I was wearing a Leatt full-face helmet and neck brace, which definitely saved my life, and stopped me from becoming a tetraplegic.
“I am now a T4 complete paraplegic, meaning I have no sensation or use of anything from basically my nipple-line down.
“The only damage to my bike was a small scratch on the brake lever.”
The bike may have survived the crash, but it’s a very different animal now.
Speaking about the modifications, Liam explained: “I have a full factory Pivot Phoenix, large carbon frame. For a bucket bike you want to go for a frame larger than what you would normally ride as you are sitting further forward.
“The large pivot worked perfectly as they are a big size, similar TT length to an XXL Santa Cruz V10.”
The bike features Fox suspension, which Liam chose for its adjustment range and stiffness.
“My fork set-up is fairly standard, and similar to a regular rider,” he said. “The shock is set-up with full air pressure and super slow compression, but that has led to a massive problem with the bike bucking especially when going over jumps.
“I am still playing around with settings to get it exactly how I like it.”
The bike is powered by a Paradox Kinetics 1500-watt Hermes mid-drive motor, which allows Liam to get up to 50kmh on the bike.
“This includes their cranks, which I have mounted at the same angle, connected to the frame using ski straps,” he said. “Shimano DX pedals keep my feet in place.”
Liam on his local trail
For the drivetrain, Liam went for a large range trail set-up which makes the bike handle well on dirt, and an 11-46 cassette with a Box One shifter and derailleur.
Meanwhile, Revolution Suspension grips give Liam precise control.
“Most of my weight is transferred through my hands onto the bars, so I have a massive problem with hand cramp. The Rev’ grips basically eliminate that issue.
“For the brakes I have Magura MT7s, while I use Renthal carbon bars and direct mount stem.
“I also use Reynolds carbon rims on Industry Nine hubs.”
The seat is a sit ski bucket seat from Ride Designs and Liam explained its importance: “This keeps me secured to the bike. It’s mounted with some custom brackets which I was given the designs for by Ryan St Lawrence. A rear support was made for me by Cycle Express in Howick New Zealand.
“The rear support stops the seat from twisting as there is a lot of force going through the seat post as well as giving it more stability.
“The support works by having a wooden wedge in the triangle where the top tube and seat tube meet and having two metal plates clamp on it.”
Liam explained that putting the bike together took a huge team effort, with many friends and local companies volunteering their assistance to help a fellow cyclist get back on the bike.
In a message of sincere thanks for those who helped his swift return to the trails, he said: “I would like to thank Martyn Ashton and Ryan St Lawrence for being true pioneers of bucket biking and a massive source of inspiration.
“I also want to thank Byron and the team at Fourforty Mountain Bike Park for all their help and riding passes, Darrin and Benny at Evolution Cycles Britomart for use of the workshop to build my bike, Mark and the team at Pitcrew for their support, and Adu industries and Leatt – without them I wouldn’t be alive today.
“Also, Mons Royale, Alta, and Skyline Rotorua for their support with fundraising, Skyline Queenstown for lift passes, and to anyone else that has helped me – if it’s getting out riding or stopping to say ‘hi’ – I am extremely appreciative of you helping me get back out doing what I love.”
So that’s Liam’s awesome customised bike. Let us know what you think and get in touch with your modified whips.
In the meantime, you can follow Liam’s progress on Instagram here.