Building a Custom Meriwether Cycles Bikepacking Frame

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Whit Johnson, the creator of Meriwether Cycles, has sent a series of process shots of my new frame.  Our conversations about this bike have spanned several weeks, and even in the first days of fabrication, some details changed.  Some changes are the result of my indecision, others the result of evolving design goals.  As the torch nears the metal, like diving into a body of cold water, there is a moment of reflection.  The basic details:

29×2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims or 27.5×3.0″ tires on 40-45mm rims

434mm chainstays with Paragon Sliders in forward position

Drive-side chainstay clearance for above wheels and tires, 2x drivetrain (36/22), and real world mud clearance

Long-ish top tube but about 5-10mm shorter than the Krampus, 68.5deg HT angle built for 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork, 50-75mm stem

Maximum framebag volume, minimally sloping top tube

3x bottle mounts, two with three holes to accommodate Salsa Anything Cage or similar

Rear rack mount, seatstay bridge mount for taillight, simple zip-tie cable guides, all cables under TT and along seatstays

Portage handle 

Below are a series of photos directly from Whit’s shop in Foresthill, CA, some are borrowed from his Flickr or Instragram, both highly recommended.  Two other frames have recently shipped to Anchorage including Sean’s singlespeed fatbike and Zach’s rigid singlespeed chubby-niner/27.5+ bikepacking machine with internal dynamo wiring.  Check out the awesome segmented fork on Zach’s bike.  Whit has also recently shipped a bike to Mike Curiak in Grand Junction, CO, built for his partner Jeny and pictured in Mike’s most recent blog post, Summerish.

St sleeve preweld

From Whit:

“That’s the seat tube collar before being fused to the lower bent seat tube. It’s a thicker walled piece that slip-fits into there so you weld the top tube and seat stays to that piece instead of the thinner walled lower part. The darker section is the color of the covering it comes in (and all 4130) and you have to use emery cloth to get to the bare steel to clean and then weld.  The hose is the argon purge going to the heat sink inside to keep it round and free of oxygen while welding. The magnet there is nice to be able to rotate the tube with my left hand while holding the torch with my right for the fusion pass (no filler is added). 

St sleeve post

Bent seat tube, mitering.

Bb cope

Compound seattube miter at bottom bracket junction.

Mitering for st

Drilling the seat tube slot over which will be fitted a seatpost clamp.

Seat tube 

Seattube to bottom bracket weld.


Seattube to bottom bracket welded, downtube mitered and in place.

Bb dt miter

Custom half-yoke, basically a steel plate used on the drive side instead of a conventional chainstay tube to make more room for big tires and a double crank with short chainstays.  If you ask for all of these things at once, some kind of wizardry is required.  Look at the custom yokes used on the Surly Krampus, Niner ROS 9, or Kona Honzo.  Trek engineered an elevated drive-side chainstay on their Stache+ hardtail (27.5+/29/29+) with 405-420mm chainstays, while the Specialized Fuse uses a custom diamond-shaped gap in an oversized chainstay, where the gap coincides with the location of the single chainring and the maximum tire width.

This half-yoke is expected to be less stiff than a conventional chainstay, although a reinforcement may be used to strengthen the region.  If using a conventional chainstay, it would require extreme crimping or dimpling, which is a process used on many metal bikes with bigger tires.  The non-drive side uses a mostly unmodified Dedacaai ZeroUno s-bend stay.  

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Chainstay jig.

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Chainstays hooked up to the BB, not yet welded, checking tire clearance, simulating the location of a Shimano double crank and 36/22 chainrings.

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Waiting for seatstays.  Note: 44mm headtube, Paragon Sliders, True Temper bent downtube for fork crown clearance, custom seattube bend, 3x water bottle bosses with a series of 3 holes on the top and bottom of the down tube for big cages.  I like to us a 64oz. Klean Kanteen under the downtube.

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Chainstays welded, 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires on 41mm Ibis rims installed.  One centimeter of clearance on either side.


Shimano XT double crank installed with 32/22 chainrings.  Note, there should be an additional 2.5mm spaced behind the BB cup, which will improve crankarm and chainring clearance.  Tire clearance with 27.5×3.25 Vee Trax Fatty, which measures almost exactly 3.0″.

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Guess and check the dimensions and orientation of the portage handle, a first for Meriwether Cycles.  I first saw such a feature on a custom Sam Braxton ATB touring bike at ACA headquarters in Missoula.  It hung above Sarah’s head in the Cyclosource corner.  I asked Greg Siple why the bike had that extra tube.  He asked me to guess.  I didn’t know, and at the time it didn’t mean much to me.  I have since pushed and carried my bike for many miles and hours, and when looking for a better hand position, the memory of the Braxton frame came to mind.

Sam Braxton was a Missoula, MT framebuilder for many years, and also the owner of a local bike shop.  ACA has named an annual award after him– the Braxton Bicycle Shop Award— recognizing bicycle shops which provide outstanding service to touring cyclists in America.

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XL hands fit fine.  Larger diameter tubing might be more comfortable.  A little handlebar tape might help.  I’m thinking an ESI silicone grip could be really comfortable.  

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There are a few more details left including cable guides, a front derailleur mount, and paint.  Any suggestions on paint?  RAL numbers would help.  After some consideration, I am not interested in pursuing any raw finishes.  The bike will go to paint next week.


Lael Wilcox completes Tour Divide ITT in 15:10:59

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Lael takes her helmet off at the finish.  She arrived in Antelope Wells at 4:59 PM MT, for a time of 15:10:59.  Below, pushing to Antelope Wells.

Lael Wilcox raced the Tour Divide in June.  Arriving home in May from an extended period of bicycle travel, she prepared a bike for the race and rode from her home in Alaska to the start in Banff, over 2100 miles away.  She finished the Tour Divide in 17:01:51, setting a new women’s record despite battling bronchitis for the first week, with lingering symptoms to the finish.  The previous women’s record of 19:03:35 was set by Eszter Horanyi in 2012.

Returning home to Alaska in July, Lael decided that she had the time, energy, and equipment for another fast ride down the Divide, in the same summer.  Again, she prepared her bike and body and left Anchorage for Banff, taking a ferry from Whittier, AK to Bellingham, WA to shorten the distance to the start, this time only about 850 miles of riding.

Following a few days of rest and preparation in Banff, Lael departed on an individual time trial (ITT) of the 2015 Tour Divide route on the morning of August 8, at 6AM.  She finished in Antelope Wells, NM on August 23 at 4:59PM for a total time of 15:10:59.  This establishes a new female course record and the fifth fastest time down the Great Divide Route (Mike Hall’s asterisked 2013 ride notwithstanding). To provide some context, this is five hours faster than Jay Petervary’s 2012 record time of 15:16:04, which stood for three years until the latest record-breaking rides earlier this summer by Josh Kato (14:11:37), Jay Petervary (14:12:03), Neil Beltchenko (14:12:23), Dylan Taylor (15:03:01), and Alex Harris (15:12:09). The six fastest times on the Divide were all recorded this summer.

Naturally, for a race which takes two weeks and covers over 2700 miles of mountainous terrain, comparing rides which happened at different times is not easy, or fair.  But records are kept, and the spirit of an ITT is to achieve a personal goal on the route, and if desired, to record a time which relates to other riders or an overall record. 

Lael reports the biggest challenges of the most recent ride were wheel-clogging mud north of Lima, MT, regular rain showers and thunderstorms all along the route, longer nights, and staying motivated while out on the course alone.

For both rides this summer Lael rode a Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon World Cup with carbon Chisel fork, with Revelate Designs luggage, SRAM XX1/XO1 gearing with 36T chainring, and an SP PD-8X dynamo hub with Supernova lighting.

The details of her ride are recorded on the 2015 Tour Divide Trackleaders page, or link to her personal ride history on the LW ITT page

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LW ITT Update: Silver City, NM

Pushing out of the Gila back in July, under clear skies.  Photo courtesy of Mitchell Clinton, a local Silver City photographer.

Lael pushed hard yesterday to get to Pie Town early, to get through the Gila, over the 8 mile section of the CDT, and into Silver City.  But the weather had a different plan when a day with barely a 10% chance of rain  turned dark and stormy late in the day, sounded the public warning system via cell networks, television, and radio.  I received an automated message to my phone– the first ever– warning of heavy rain and hail, flash floods, winds up to 60 mph, and lightning.  The warning area reached up into the Gila and south toward the border.  The storm arrived to obscure a classic NM sunset, continuing until about 11PM and turning local roadways into rivers.

I watched Lael continue through the Gila roller coaster at night, knowing that most of those roads through the pines are underlain with granite, rocky and sandy, and generally well drained.  Lael reached the pavement and turned up the CDT about midnight, presumably in continuing rain showers.  Her progress was predictably slow, she camped late, woke early and descended the pavement from Pinos Altos to Silver City at about 6AM.  

The airport in Silver City reported just under 3 inches of rain on Saturday evening.  Regular lightning strikes persisted for hours.

I passed Lael on the paved road south of Silver City on my way to I-10 and the border, slowing to take a photo out of the window of my rented Hyundai.  She was riding a series of rollers in the aero position, the back of her black t-shirt faded to a dirty blonde.

I have a cooler full of drinks, a big sandwich, two gallons of water, a bag of grapes, bananas, nectarines, and a box of cookies from the grocery store in Silver City.  I will meet Lael at Antelope Wells later today.  She will finish in less than 16 days, as long as the Separ Road– the final stretch of dirt– doesn’t hold any surprises from the monsoon.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Pie Town, NM

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Lael stopped at the Toaster House this morning in Pie Town.  I spent a night there with three CDT hikers back in 2011

Lael camped on the climb out of Abiquiu two nights ago, reporting that as she pushed up the steep technical climb in the dark she fell a few times, once landing on he rib without injury.  Shaken, she stopped for the night and resumed at a faster pace in the AM.  Once descending to Cuba, she hammered the pavement for the rest of the day, covering a total of 220 miles to camp just before midnight.  She began riding at 4AM today along a wide gravel road to Pie Town.  

Daytime temperatures are warm in southern New Mexico, and nights are warm.  Seasonal monsoons– manifest as afternoon thunderstorms– are still in force, although they ebb and flow on a daily and weekly basis.  There may be several clear days followed by several stormy afternoons.  Lael reported minor precipitation on the last few days in NM.  In fact, I think she has seen some precipitation on more than half of her riding days since Banff.  There continues to be a low risk of thunderstorms today, Saturday, while the threat of afternoon rain returns in force on Sunday and Monday.  Lael mentioned several freezing nights in Colorado, including one night when her water froze outside Doyleville and she shivered through several hours of sleep.  That morning she began riding before 4AM to warm up.  I suspect last night was more pleasant, with forecast low temperatures around 50F now that she has left the high mountains.  Daytime temperatures are forecast in the mid-80’s today.

Lael just checked out of Pie Town, arriving 32 hours ahead of the pink LW bubble, and over and hour faster than the male record set by Jay Petervary in 2012.  She has been behind this pace since stuck in the mud before Lima.  If she pushes hard to the border she may stay on pace with this time, finishing sometime on Sunday night.  If she pushes hard, she may be into the Gila by this afternoon if and when any rain falls.  The roads around Pie Town present a high risk of clogging when wet due to the nature of the soils.  The Gila is rocky and sandy, underlain by granite.  If she pushes hard to the border she may stay ahead of Sunday thunderstorms as well.  There is one final section of dirt south of Silver City that could get messy when wet.  From Pie Town, Lael is just over 300 miles to the border.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Jemez Mountains, NM


Lost in a burn on the south side of the Jemez Mountains with Joe and Cass, October 2012.  

Lael pushed 3000 ft up from Abiquiu last night, climbing fast to catch the final light of day. She continued on the increasingly technical track in the dark, recording similar speeds to many less technical climbs from days past.  She camped early around 11PM after a long day which began at 4:30AM.  Rising at 3:45AM, she finished the climb even faster than she had been moving the night before– still in the dark– eventually connecting to higher quality Forest Service roads on the north side of the Valles Caldera towards NM 126, and Cuba.  Over a hundred miles of pavement extend beyond Cuba toward Grants, an authorized paved alternate to the official Great Divide Route and the de facto Tour Divide route for many years.  From Cuba, there are only 500 miles left to the border.

The climb out of Abiquiu is the tallest single ascent on the entire Great Divide Route, and marks the final major mountain section on the way to the border.  The Gila and a brief section of CDT singletrack near Silver City are notable challenges in the remaining miles.

Lael called very briefly while riding into Abiquiu, the rushing wind of 20mph obscuring most of our conversation.  She said she was feeling good, ready to be finished, and still carrying enough food from Del Norte to get to Cuba, augmented with a few bags of Cheetos from the snack shack in Vallecitos (notably, not much of a town in the middle of nowhere).  Buying cheese flavored puffed corn from tiny roadside shops will always remind me of Lesotho and South Africa.

I’m in Salt Lake City en route to Tucson and Silver City.  I’ll be at the border when Lael finishes.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Brazos Ridge, NM

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Cruising through the Land of Enchantment, circa October 2011 on the Great Divide Route in El Rito, NM.  Lael was riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker at the time, recently converted from drop bars to an On-One Mary handlebar in Santa Fe at The Broken Spoke.  

Lael camped just short of the NM border yesterday, reaching up and over Indiana Pass from Del Norte as daylight faded, and descending to Platoro and beyond into the night.  She woke early this morning to begin riding up Cumbres Pass, then onto dirt and into NM.  We spent a winter living in Albuquerque and like everyone who has heard the jokes about the “Land of Entrapment”, we love New Mexico.  As the miles pile up, I know that Lael is reaching deeper and deeper to find the physical energy and motivation to continue.  Crossing into New Mexico is a homecoming, and also the begging of the end of this ride.  I watched her crawl up to Brazos Ridge this morning on Trackleaders, knowing the kind of chunky New Mexico roads she was riding, and knowing that she was still warming up for the day, in a sense.  But she has found her stride this morning as she descends from the second to last big mountain on the route.  The last big climb and the tallest total ascent on the route is south of Abiquiu en route to Cuba.

I leave tonight at midnight to arrive in Tucson on Friday morning and Silver City by Friday evening.  Lael should be passing through Silver City on Sunday, most likely.  Any ABQ or Santa Fe people want to visit Silver City for the weekend?  My friends Tim and Chloe are playing music in town on Saturday afternoon, I should have a bike to ride, and we can sleep outside.  John, Jeremy, Nancy, Cass, Rusty, Melissa, Wyatt?

 Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Cochetopa Pass, CO

Day 10 Stopover Salida

Crazy Larry Melnick is the ultimate Tour Divide fan and SpotTracker, hailing from Banff, AB.  He stalks Lael down to street level to discover that she’s ducked into a bar in Salida, CO.  Or has she entered a nearby shop in search of a headlamp to the replace the one she’d lost the previous night?  Image courtesy of Crazy Larry via

Over Boreas Pass, across the grassy high park of Como and Hartsel, a blazing fast three thousand feet down to the Arkansas River in Salida, and then almost 4000ft up to Marshall Pass to the Continental Divide.  Descending the pass in the dark, Lael camped early as she turned off Highway 50 east of Gunnison.  She awoke at 4:30AM to begin riding over a series of passes toward Del Norte, CO, followed by the famed Indiana Pass, the highest point on the entire route at 11,920ft.  

Lael stopped in Salida to replace a headlamp she lost the night before.  She uses the headlamp to see what she is doing on and around the bike during late nights and early mornings.  In August, compared to the peak daylight of June, nights are much longer.

Lael may cross into New Mexico by the end of the day.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.

LW ITT Update: Boreas Pass, CO

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Touring in Israel this spring, unknowingly training for the Tour Divide, and a late-summer solo ITT.  It all happens so fast.

Despite an hour at Orange Peel Cycles yesterday, and lingering rain in northern Colorado, Lael appears to have had a great day yesterday.  She was riding fast, excited that the end is in sight, although still over 1000 miles away.  By the time you read this, she will have crossed under the 1000-miles-to-go mark, which leaves the highest pass on the route, some of the most technical riding, a lot of pavement, and most likely, one final sleepless night to the border.  In short, the final 1000 miles will happen fast.

Lael called in while pedaling the paved bike path between Silvethorne, Frisco, and Breckenridge.  She sounded good and was happy to report that she got to ride the Lynx Pass, Radium, and Kremmling sections in the daylight.  Although, she reminded me that riding in the dark is much better this time with the new Fenix LD22 which arrived the day before she left Banff, and the reason she pushed back her start date by one day.  While it only claims 100 lumens in “high” mode, (over 200 in the short-lived turbo setting), it provides more than enough light for slow speed ascents and technical sections when the dynamo powered lamp dims.  Elsewhere on good roads at high speed, she can ride with only the Supernova E3 Triple.  For those that are looking into dynamo lighting options, the Supernova E3 Triple. the Exposure Revo, and lights from K-Lite are highly recommended.  For complete charging and lighting systems, no fuss, contact Kerry at K-Lite.  I’ve never used his stuff, but while fixing a flat on a Redline BMX bike yesterday I fielded a phone call from a customer, cradling the receiver between my shoulder and my ear, inquiring about dynamo lighting and charging systems.  The only really good answer I could give him was to order a complete system from K-Lite.  That is, unless you like researching, building, and experimenting.  

The Exposure Revo is also a great light with the brightest standlight of the three options.  The Supernova E3 series is very well made and adequately bright, and is widely available through several channels in the USA.

Lael camped at the base of Boreas Pass last night, bedding down about 1:30AM, and rising to begin riding at 5 AM.  She was over the 3000ft pass and descending on the Gold Dust Trail before I was awake for the morning.  She will arrive in Salida this afternoon and will be over Marshall Pass early this evening.  She told me yesterday that she really loves the series of passes between Salida and Del Norte– Marshall, Cochetopa, and Carnero, now her fourth time riding these passes in the last few years.  Then Del Norte, Horca, Abiqui, Cuba, Grants, Pie Town, Silver City…it all happens so fast.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.  


Further reading:

Revelate Designs Blog

For a little more insight into Lael’s current ride, check out my conversation with Jill Homer on the Revelate Designs blog.  Thanks Jill and Eric!

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Coast Magazine

Also in Alaska, local mountain biking and endurance legend Janice Tower has published an excellent piece about Lael’s Tour Divide ride in the local Coast Magazine, a free Alaska-interest outdoors publication.  Thanks Janice!

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LW ITT Update: Steamboat Springs, CO

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Lael passes Brush Mountain Lodge in the night, takes food to go.  Photo courtesy Brush Mountain Lodge via

Lael rolled into Steamboat Springs this morning just in time for the bike shop to open.  Orange Peel is one of the most notable shops in Colorado, in part due to its association with Kent Erickson who founded Moots in this space.  Kent has since sold Moots, which is now housed in a larger facility just out of town, and after several years out of the business he is back to building custom titanium bikes in a small work space adjacent to Orange Peel.  The bike shop resides in an aging structure which resembles a tea pot.  

Orange Peel provides expert service to Divide riders and racers annually.  As Lael was walking out the door, one of the employees asked is she wanted any Orange Peel schwag, if she would support the shop on her ride.  She peeled off the hardened wool Patqgonia socks I sent her in Canmore, and replaced them with a fresh pair or black Orange Peel threads, with smiling orange faces on the back side.

The mechanics replaced Lael’s chain and brake pads, and checked the bottom bracket for wear, which is still spinning smoothly since being replaced in Canmore just over a week ago.  I’ve come to learn that the SRAM PF30 bottom brackets housed in plastic casings are not the best choice for a long, demanding ride.  If dealing with a PF30 bottom bracket in the future, I would make an effort to order a Wheels Manufacturing or Problem Solvers unit in a machined aluminum casing.  Assuming the aluminum fits tightly into the frame it should reduce the risk of creaking, and should resist warping the bearings if the BB shell is a little out of round, the most common issue when speaking about “manufacturing tolerances” and press fit bearings.  It isn’t good when you install a fresh cartridge bearings and it feels rough, yet it felt buttery smooth outside of the bike.  That bearing will not have a full life.

Lael rolled past Brush Mountain Lodge last night.  Kirsten was there to talk and prepare some food to go.  A few minutes later, a smiling photo of Lael appeared on the Bikepacking,net forums as she hurried up the mountain.  Brush Mountain is one of a few backcountry lodges along the Divide that provides exceptional support to Divide riders and racers.  

I bought a $400 round trip ticket from Anchorage to Tucson, to arrive in Arizona on Friday and return on Wednesday.  It is hard to spend my hard-earned dollars on a quick round trip flight to the SW– without a bike!– but Lael has earned it and I’m happy to be there to meet her.  If you want to see Lael laugh and cry at the same time, come see us in Antelope Wells.  I’ll be in Silver City for a few days, not sure if ABQ is in the cards, although we may be back through the area in another month of two.

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page. 

LW ITT Update: Wamsutter, WY

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Pink dot gains a few hours after her meds kick in, but yellow dot kicks back and races to the border.  Thanks again to GW Neal for his digital artistry.  GW is a friend through the bike community in Anchorage, and the sole employee at, which is responsible for 9zero7 fatbike sales over the internet.  GW recently underwent a kidney transplant.  This week, he is cranking out a solo bike tour in Maine to coincide with a friend’s wedding.  GW is a huge inspiration to both Lael and I, and to the Anchorage bike community.  

Lael called in from Wamsutter, reporting light rain.  She rode quickly from Pinedale to Atlantic City.  She recorded one of the fastest times of any rider on that section earlier in the summer as she had wasted two hours at the outdoor store in Pinefale updating her GPX track to include the Wamsutter reroute.  Following a quick stop in Atlantic City yesterday she continued to fight headwinds from the south through the late afternoon and evening, camping early, well before midnight.  She rose early to take advantage of the still, morning air.

Compared to the times of this year’s Tour Divide race, Lael is pacing between the fastest male finishers and the pink dot version of herself, the energetic wheezing version.  She lost almost a half day in the mud before Lima, which is a quantifiable setback but also greatly reduced her excitement as she had been pressing close to record pace until then.  Another few days of lingering rain hasn’t helped morale, although roads have been passable.  This morning, she sounded good and was looking forward to sunny skies in CO and NM.  She was looking forward to finishing.

I haven’t told her yet, but cheap flights to Tucson might enable me to meet her at the border next weekend.  It would be a little out of character, but I would rent a car to meet her, spend a day or two in Silver City with friends, then we’d both fly back to AK before leaving a little later in the season.  I am obligated to work for a few more weeks.  I have never owner a car or rented a car, although I did drive for a few years in high school.  Lael only has a driver’s license so that she could legally operate a pedicab in Key West, FL back in 2008.  Don’t ever let her drive your car– not that she will want to– she’s a terrible driver. 

Hoping for clear skies and dry roads through CO and NM.  

Follow the yellow LW bubble on the Tour Divide 2015 Trackleaders page.