Correspondence: Designing a custom Meriwether

 What type of FRAME do you want?

Modern trail hardtail 29er with clearance for large-volume tires (2.4” plus mud), and some special considerations for long-distance travel. Your orange 29+ bike is gorgeous, for aesthetic reference. I can live with less than 3.0” tire clearance, but I need real 2.4” clearance. Ardent/Hans Dampf/Minion DHF plus mud. That’s the idea. 

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A series of letters with Whit Johnson, who meticulously designs and crafts Meriwether Cycles in Foresthill, CA in the foothills of the Sierras.  He specializes in modern hardtails, fatbikes and plus-sized bikes, big-tire road bikes, and bikepacking dream machines.  Whit has been kind enough to entertain over a dozen e-mail exchanges in the past week, some of them many pages long, to hone in on the perfect bike.  I was first attracted to his detailed exploration of frame design for big tires and adventurous rides.  These letters represent only a fragment of our discussion and are more about finalizing the details of the frame.  All images borrowed from Whit’s Flickr page, and all are recent projects. Visit the Meriwether Cycles site for more information, or Whit Johnson on Flickr for lots of half-naked bikes, and @meriwethercyles on Instagram.
N. Carman– 8/5/15: 
I rode the Kona Honzo yesterday, no ROS 9 in stock.  The Honzo felt good, nothing special, not as spry as I might have expected.  I think the ETT was 635.  Let’s stay closer to the Krampus and I will use a shorter stem if I want to change the seated position.  I’d rather subtract at the stem than add. You’re right, the longer TT lengths on these bikes is part of the feeling of security on the steep stuff.  How about 625mm, split the difference between the Krampus and the XXIX.
I meant that with changing standards, the single-bolt FD might become obsolete.  You know when you see a bike with a u-brake under the chainstay, or with roller-cams, that it was sold in 1986-87.  Just yesterday I saw a new FD mount on a 2016 Stumpjumper FSR that attached with one bolt from the back side.  
I have several issues with 1x gearing for my purposes.  I want to build my drivetrain on widely available cassettes, currently maximum 11-36T.  I would want to use widely available rings, and the 26/28/30T rings I might need for climbing don’t fit 104BCD.  Direct mount rings are impossible to find even in good bike shops in the USA, especially as there are something like six or seven different bolt and spline patterns for these rings.  If I leave the country for an extended tour I will replace my entire drivetrain at some point along the way.  I lost count, but I probably cycled through six chains last year, 2-3 cassettes, and two sets of chainrings.  I think we each went through two or three BBs on tour, although Lael has killed a few more on the Divide bike too.  Surprisingly, brake pads seem to last forever.  Perhaps that is due to adequate but not monster stopping power with the BB7.  Lael’s year in review includes– as of this week– a sixth bottom bracket, although this one is being replaced as a precaution for her ride.
So, DM front dérailleur.  Go ahead and do it however it needs to be done, but I intend to install my current SRAM X5 single bolt DM derailleur.  I will probably never stray outside the range of a 32-36T chainring on a double, although currently working to wear out the stock 38T ring that came on my Shimano crank.  I like 36/22 for most of my riding, and usually revert to 32/22 for a longer tour.
The hike-a-bike handle or portage bar is not the same as the brace on a Surly frame.  It should be lower than my current hand position (just under the seat post clamp on the seat tube) to require less arm strength and more straight arm lifting with my body.  On really tough stuff I reach down to the chainstay with the TT in my armpit and the saddle nose over my shoulder.  On easier stuff when I might still roll the bike I lift from the section of seat tube just under the seat post clamp, but my hand slips and it requires substantial hand stregth.  A horizontal hand hold is much better than a vertical tube.  Not sure about angle and placement exactly.
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Yes, the Advocate Hayduke does seem to have most of the numbers I am looking for.  I like the look of the dropout, wonder what the SS version looks like.
The True Temper DT looks great on your bike, very subtle.  I like the curved top tubes, a signature on many of your frames.  However, from the perspective of framebag design (and using off-the-shelf bags), a straight TT is better for me.  I really like the look of the wishbone stays, but I already get pretty cozy with my seatsays while descending so curved stays might be better in back.
I’ve seen Russell’s bike a few times but this time is really captured my attention.  Plus, the idea of using “normal” width 2.3-2.4″ tires on 35-40mm rims is exactly what I want to do.  Where do I get a Pike with those decals?  Awesome!
The current stats are: 430(+/-) CS, 625 TT, 68.5 HT, 51mm fork offset, 60mm BB drop.
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Whit– 8/5/15
Cool you got to try out the Honzo. It is by far the LONGEST front end out there. I’m sure it rips the down but I can’t imagine it climbing well. 

What about an E-type front derailleur? I’ve never used one but it would definitely make it look clean and simple and would be easily removable when you wanted to go 1x.  I have a Shimano XT that I could give you actually. I got it for a bike I was making and didn’t end up using it.

All good on the specs. I’ll assume a Pike 120mm axle to crown. I now just have to figure out how to get 3″ tire clearance using a double ring with 22/36. The Paragon Yoke won’t do it unless we go up to 450CS length, maybe 445. I was hoping that yoke would work for this frame but I think the only way will be to do a plate style yoke. I can try a different method than on my brown bike to make it stiffer laterally. This is always the crux of the frame and takes the longest to figure out and fabricate.  

The Rockers will help with mud clearance, as you pull them back you’ll have more tire room, obviously. The green bike you sent a photo of has very little tire clearance with a 2.4 on the 38mm rim. He initially said he was going to use a 2.35 Ikon on a 35mm rim but changed it later to a 2.4″ on the Light Bicycle 38mm rim. Not a huge difference but he says there’s only a few mm’s of space to the chainstay. No mud clearance basically! That is with 420 CS, single direct mount 32t ring, and a 142×12 non adjustable dropouts. 
He did the color coordination on the Pike, isn’t that cool? He ordered them from someone, not sure but I can ask if you’re interested? It turned out really nice. That bike weighs 24.7lbs as seen and is a strong frame since he is an all-mountain rider that is almost 200lbs.  

Just to make sure i have the standover set ok, is 840 the MAX you can tolerate? I’m erring on the bigger front triangle size for a bigger frame bag. A 115 head tube will help and your 3/4″ riser bars would be pretty much level with your saddle with 30mm of stem spacers. This is assuming a 531mm axle to crown on the 120 version of the Pike.  I’m finding either 536 or 531 for the Pike.  How much sag do you run on the Fox? 20, 25, 30mm? I think the Pike is recommended to be at 25% so that’d be 30mm.

That is insane you go through that many drivetrains! I can see why but that’s just nuts. Definitely do NOT go with XX1 then. They’d last a couple of weeks!

Finishing a frame up this week, could start yours this weekend.
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N. Carman– 8/6/15
Regarding 3″ tire clearance.  I don’t feel inclined to use 3″ tires at this point and I do not need or want to use 29×3, probably ever.  What I really want is a 29er that rides/handles better than the Krampus and fits up to 2.3-2.4″ with some spare room, even if this requires some adjustment via the dropouts.  I could run the wheel forward most of the time (let’s say, about 430mm, when trails are dry or when using 2.3), then run the wheel further back if I am on bigger tires or it gets muddy.  The target rim and tire is 35mm rim and 2.4″ Ardent.  I have considered ordering some 40mm rims, but I will probably skip it for now.  It would only be an incremental gain, for a good bit of money.  I am happy with the 35mm rims.   
I’ve never put 3″ tires on the Krampus and the only time I wanted to in the last year was in Jordan, in Wadi Rum, but even then 2.4″ Ardents on 35mm rims at 10psi got me through some deep sand.
If we can build 27.5+ compatibility into this design, let’s do it.  If not, skip it.  I don’t care that much about it right now and I know I’d be able to wedge some 2.8″ Trailblazers in there if I really wanted.  I am really liking my 29.5″ wheels.
I’ll probably cover my fork in electrical tape and bottle cages, or hose clamps, although those custom decals look awesome.  I’ll get back to you on paint.  It is kind of hard to pick from the digital representations on their site.  
I’d prefer a direct mount FD.  E-type requires a cable stop and tire clearance probably isn’t as good as with direct mount.  Shifting is also better with DM.  Go ahead and braze that little square mount to the frame.  Not a problem at all.  When I go 1x in the future I can order one of those fancy plates to cover it up.
Max 840 sounds about right.  I measured 780-840 along the middle of the TT on the Krampus, Surly calls it 830.  This works pretty well although I could give up a little standover for framebag space.  My PBH was 840, without shoes.  
Yeah, 8 and 9 speed drivetrain is where its at for us.  I’ve used 8sp stuff for a long time but anymore the low quality cassettes that are available wear out too quickly.  Lael was tearing though cheap 8sp cassettes while my Deore 9sp cassette lasted much longer.  I’ve also recently come to prefer the performance of Shimano chains, at least for my 9sp system.  They are stiffer laterally, resulting in crisper shifts.  
Thankfully, we’ve got a friend working at SRAM in Indianapolis who has helped Lael with a series of XO1/XX1 drivetrain parts for her Divide bike.  Before the TD he shipped a new ring, chain, cassette, and pulleys to replace the one she rode from AK.  Surely, it wasn’t that worn, but I thought it best to start fresh. Just this week, he shipped another load of drivetrain parts to her in Banff.  She loves that stuff.
I can’t wait to build this thing up and ride it.  I hope to tour for about a month this fall before riding east to Austin where we will spend the winter.  Looking at returning to Arizona and maybe, finally riding most of the AZT.  I’ve got friends in NM.  Still thinking about spending the weekend with Eric and Dusty at Interbike talking to people about bikepacking and Revelate.  I guess I could hopscotch from your place in the Sierras down to Vegas, AZ, NM, TX.  This is kind of how we plan things.
Time to start thinking about paint.
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34 thoughts on “Correspondence: Designing a custom Meriwether

    • Federico,

      I wouldn’t really change anything, although my frame will be slightly different. I used my past bikes as reference for the design (Surly Krampus, Salsa Mukluk, and Raleigh XXIX), and also referred to the geometry of the Niner Ros 9, Trek Stache+, Carver Gnarvester, and Kona Honzo. The Hayduke shares a lot with these bikes and our design landed almost exactly on the same geometry. I really like what’s going on at Advocate, and the Hayduke looks like a winning bike. I think the designer Tim Krueger used to be at Salsa, which is interesting because I was hoping they’d release a really cool plus-sized hardtail this year, but instead everything was drop bars or full-sus. Aside, I wish the Hayduke had another bottle mount under the DT, for use with a framebag. It still kills me that Surly fails to do this on most of their frames as well.

      Have fun on the Hayduke, it looks to be an awesome bike. I’m excited about your project. I came across that a while back and thought it was such a good idea. I know the feeling of photographing a family for the first time. Being able to share a print is a powerful thing. Enjoy your travels.

      • Hola Nicholas,

        I’m looking for a rigid fork for the Hayduke but it’s tough in 500mm and I’m also a little scared with the Boost spacing as I’ll be riding “in developing” countries. Fortunately the first country I’ll be riding is Argentina, so I won’t be riding in unknown desolated areas or very far from home… at least this very first time 🙂

        Yes, Tim had been Salsa’s Product Manager for more than 10 years! Besides the Hayduke, they’ve a fatty (Watchman) and they’ve a surprise under their sleeve for Interbike (the soon to be released, Lorax)…

        Thanks for your kind words about my Little Personal Project! I’m still struggling with it, but I’m determined to start riding next month (anxiously awaiting for the Hayduke). I’m sure next year (Bolivia) would be easier… at least the non-cycling part 🙂


    • Logan,

      I have a novel’s worth of correspondence with Whit in the past week.

      There is a custom Sam Braxton bike hanging at ACA, c. 1986, that featured a portage bar like aI describe. The bike was a classic mid-80s ATB, with custom made racks if I recall. But that portage bar stood out and I asked Greg about it. He made me guess and I couldn’t think of anything. I’ve since done a lot of walking next to my bike. I’m hoping to get a photo of it from Casey sometime soon.

      The rest of my conversation with Whit is just as fascinating. I’ve learned a lot about frame design, and about the bikes that I’ve ridden. He’s an awesome guy to work with. I told myself years ago that I wouldn’t ride a custom unless I built it myself. There is a small amount of regret in not yet meeting that challenge, but I’ve never met anyone that understood my ideas more than Whit. We seem to ride much the same way, have similar opinions on rims and tires, and even stand within an inch of each other. The last point makes our conversations especially engaging, as I suspect our working design shares a lot of details with the frames he has built for himself. I hope to meet in person some day.

      • It definitely seems like you have the frame design knowledge to meet that goal. I guess it’s the time and wherewithal. Maybe the next frame… ‘Gypsy Bikes’.

        On a side note, a friend and shop owner in NC has spoken passionately about the Honzo, deeming it ‘the perfect geometry’. I have been curious to ride one myself. It seems Kona has really stepped up their game lately. My first ‘real’ mountain bike was a Kona, a Dawg, which rode like it’s name and I have been shy to look at Konas since.

        • Honzo, Process, Operator, Explosif, Rove, Sutra, Jake, Dew are all strong foundational designs for the brand, and a good value. They seem to shift their models around a lot, change names, and occasionally miss the mark. They are almost a “big brand”, but their road line-up is thin. But the Honzo was one of the first, released three or four years ago. It is a great ride and is cheap, simple, and tough. Looks like the new frame isa bit lighter than in the past, and they’s added Al and Ti options.

          I’m really interested in trying the Niner ROS 9 and the others mentioned, including the Advocate Hayduke. As a Krampus owner, you should try to throw you leg over the Stache +. It is the only 29+ bike I would consider riding with a full 3″ tire. The design and fab on that bike is something only a big company could accomplish. I’ve ridden the top-level stock bike, which was awesome. However, a friend built one up with 27.5″ 40mm wide carbon rims, WTB Trailblazer tires, and 140mm Fox 34– the result was something in the range of a dirt jumper meets a fatbike and a full-suspension trail bike. No joking, that thing was really fun and really capable. Sadly, I can;t get on with Boost spacing at the moment. If I kept it in Europe and NA, maybe, but not for the places I aspire to visit in the next few years. I’d feel like a real dummy if I needed parts for a bike like that, when I can have something very close which uses more conventional equipment.

          Building continues to interest me because I enjoy working with metal, although only in a limited way thus far. But I don’t want to be in the business, and don’t want to invest any of the money to purchase equipment at this point. That, and only living in one place for about six months at a time.

  1. Aside from the interest of your correspondence, I’m most surprised – although of course it’s because you want to spend most of the year touring, that you hadn’t apprenticed at frame building or been thinking of it more.

    On the slightly dulled excitement/practicality of 3″ (amusingly the 3″ Singular Rooster I’d Kickstarter backed over a year ago is finally only now, this week even, emerging from the frame mines of Taiwan) it does also boggle me that more genuinely marketed as 2.5/2.6/2.7/2.8 29er tires are not also emerging.. This line of thinking is also revolving around how I kind of think that 800g-900g including sealant is a fine limit for tires and these should sit there nicely.

    I’m within an inch of your measurements more or less too so it’s doubly interesting to read your frame specs.

    Sod wearing out 2/3x 9speed… I still want to see you rock a gates belt-drive Rolhoff…
    surely it’s approaching the same cost now…? Especially 2nd hand which is what I’ve got waiting for the Rooster…
    And if you and Lael somehow managed to connive the same belt length = only need for one spare…

    Have you seen the Rohloff plans for 2016 onwards too..?!!!

    • What am I missing from Rohloff? Does it “go to 11″ now? I’ve never loved the way it rides, although in certain circumstances I’ve wished I had one. Most of the time, not. At some point, price fades from the conversation; you’re right, drivetrain parts are a substantial expense in a year (although my tire obsession can be even more expensive). Maybe I would get used to riding one. Feels like riding through mud to me. It would certainly free up the frame design a bit.

      I think I would skip the belt for our purposes. Rides nice, still kind of a pain to deal with regarding sourcing parts, although I suppose all Rohloff stuff comes through the mail.

      You think an Alfine 8 would hold up under me? Shifting is a lot nicer, the hub is cheaper, uses commonly available rotors and cogs. I’ve considered that option before. I could live wit the range. Oddly, it wouldn’t be that far off of a standard 1x system (11-36), although without a ring smaller than 32 I wouldn’t get the climbing gear I need.

      Sticking with 2x for now.

      And yes, 2.4” tires and 35-40mm rims is the sweet spot. So much volume, so little weight, even with a beefy set of tires. A proper 2.5 or 2.6, built on a Maxxis EXO casing, on 40-45mm rims would be interesting. But at the moment, I’m not looking for solutions in this department. If and when I need a fatbike, I will get one again, But for everything else, I found what I was looking for. Hoping the Meriwether frame dials it all in even closer to perfect.

      • Ah, I’d only ever car park tested a Rohloff but it was the seeming ruggedness, elegance and simplicity and gushing reputation (Cass, Logan et al) that persuaded me to bid on an ebay one.
        I just love the SS/IGH look/convenience too.
        I’ve an Alfine 11 on my only other bike and it’s not as bad as people make out, even with mine being also 2nd hand. I would probably switch to an 8 when it dies though purely because they’re cheaper and I’m ever curious of change.
        So sure why not try an 8… if only for a few months of touring in the US, what’s the worse that could happen? Especially as you can build your own wheels.

        To through even more temptation into the works … Why don’t you go all .5+ wonky as well and make it a marriage of 27.5+ and 29 Ardent back/front…

        • I will seriously consider the Alfine 8. I’ll stick to 29 for now. I really, truly am happy with it. So, if it ain’t broke…

          Oh, I’ve spent nights around proverbial campfires with Cass talking about the Rohloff. He once tried to convince Nancy to sell her Prius to fund a Rohloff. She’s since sold the Prius and is happily pedaling without a Rohloff.

          • Given you’re one of the few people out there who go through enough drive trains to make a Rohloff cheaper than a conventional drivetrain, you should really give it a long-term try. It took me a while to change my shifting timing, and strategy to suit the Rohloff, but now I will never, ever go back. I don’t just prefer it for the durability and low maintenance – it’s actually the performance that I now demand. The friction goes away with break-in, by the way, in all but gear 7 (and to a tiny degree, 6). It’s at least much better than a dirty derailleur. It would also greatly simplify the problem of short cs/tire clearance/wide gear range, which will forever be a trade-off with conventional gearing.

          • Actually… Nancy just tried a Troll w/Rohloff and deemed it her favourite bike ever! Now she’s hankering for one of mine.

            She never really got on with derailleurs – or perhaps I could never quite maintain them well enough for trouble free shifting.

            Still no car (-:

          • These messages brought to you by People for Rohloff.

            Thanks guys. I’ll think about it, but the myth of inefficient and dirty derailleurs isn’t really the case for me. I do well enough to keep things moving (and tuned) that most of the time performance is good, often very good. The times when I think about a Rohloff are when I am riding in wheel-sucking mud. That’s it.

            You’re right, the Rohloff would also solve some of the design constraints associated with multiple chainrings and front derailleur.

            Oh, Nancy’s on board now, and she sold the Prius. I feel like the last person around this campfire without a Rohloff.

  2. That’s some really cool insight, thanks for the post. I’m curious about your fit, I saw your PBH is 840, but I couldn’t find your height. How tall are you?

    I also had a Krampus, but I just couldn’t get along with it, but I also have some unique fit measurements. I have a PBH of 850, but I’m only 5’10”. I also ruptured a lower disc 12 years ago so my flexibility is lower then average.

    I had a chance to ride a Jones 29 Plus demo earlier this year and it was eye opening. For me it solved a lot of fit problems since the top tube is shorter and taller, plus the bb is lower and the front is really slack (67.5) with a 76mm fork offset. It has 19″ CS’s and I find that not having the rear wheel tucked right under the saddle seems to transmit less vibration. It’s a very different ride then the modern “trail” geometry and it worked well for me. I built one up in May. I would have never built one if I didn’t get a chance to ride it.

    • 840 PBH, 183cm tall or about 6 feet exactly. I think I have an average build, longish torso and arms, flexible, no discomfort or pain while riding, and I enjoy the confidence of riding and descending on the Krampus. A slightly shorter TT might suit me for all day pedaling, and for climbing. The two things I noticed on the Krampus compared to the Raleigh are that it does not climb as well, and that it is a bit of a pig in tight situations (although mostly I’ve learned to thread this thing through some tight situations). I’ve tested a Jones, briefly, and it was a charming ride, just not for me. I like suspension forks these days, and a taller BB for pedaling through rough and rocky stuff. Still, I’d like to spend the time on a Jones out in the wild to really get on with it. It looks like a great bike, definitely a great philosophy. Do you have pictures of your build somewhere?

      • I just posted a photo to your Facebook. I’m away camping with the family, when I get back I’ll send you a few more photos.

  3. I dig the hike-a-bike bar you are requesting! Question: I am considering changing my handlebar on my Salsa EM to a Jones H bar, but don’t know anyone else that bikepacks with one. What are pros/cons? Thx. Jo

    • Lots of people are using that bar for bikepacking, and while proponents claim there is no loss of control on technical terrain, I personally prefer a wide bar with average rise and sweep. I was a real proponent of swept bars for years, and still am to resolve fit issues and for all-day comfort, but as our riding has become more technical (not always, but often), It makes sense to use the bars that we do. That said, Lael has been using the Answer 20/20 carbon bar, a light but tough all-mountian bar with 20deg sweep and 20mm rise, a good half step between the Jones and modern wide MTB bars. I’ve only ridden a Jones bar a few times for parking lot test rides. There’s a really good chance you will like them, it’s just not for me.

      Cass has been using a Jones bar for years:

      Although he also notes that the Jones is not the optimal MTB bar, even if it can get the job done:

      Really, it sometimes seems like everywhere I turn the Jones is considered ‘the bikepacking handlebar’. I guess I like to think that mountain biking and bikepacking aren’t all that different, partly why I also choose to use a suspension fork.

      • I have a suspension fork, but my handlebar is 29″ wide! I keep hitting trees with my knuckles…it’s just too wide for me. I don’t do much technical riding…too old for that…but, I suppose I could have the Salt bar cut off, but would be giving up attachment room. Thanks for the links! I might try and find someone local that has Jones’ bars and see if I can test them. Again, good info. Much appreciated.

        • I’m guessing you live somewhere with a concentration of trees, or wooded singletrack?

          A few millimeters off either end of the bar and a shorter stem might get you more upright, and the shortened stem may quicken the steering a bit to compensate for the slightly narrower bars. Although, you seem like a perfect candidate for a Jones bar.

          • Yes, I am in Eugene, west of Oakridge and mtn bike in the Cascades. I think I will try the Jones bars. I know a shop that said I could try them and then returnnthem if I didn’t like ’em. Thanks again, Nicholas!

  4. Hello Nicholas,

    You probably know it, but the new Panaracer Fat B Nimble 29×3.0 is really a 2.65 or 2.7 wide tire. The Vee Trax Fatty 29×3.0 is a 2.75 or at most 2.8 wide tire. So there are already some tires between an Ardent and a full size Knard.

    I would also love to go with a custom frame, but my current Surly Ogre is to close to most of my requirements that I can’t justify the investiment

    • The Ogre is a good one, although I’d have to have a fork to get along with it, I think. That bike has very good tire clearances all around, and an incredible amount of versatility, if you’re into that sort of thing. I guess I’m moving away from the hyper-utilitarian ways of the the Surly tourers, although I’m certainly going to ensure a the Meriwether is practical for the long haul. But first and foremost, the bike must be fun and capable on the kind of riding I seek. It has to be fun.

      I’ve seen some of these tires measured, and am happy because I really don’t want 3″ tires right now. Starting to feel like I am growing old, falling into a comfort zone with 2.4″ Ardents. Actually, I’ve been seeking 29er bikepacking bliss for a few years, and I think I’m getting close. I hate to think 27.5+ could spoil all of this, although availability and cost of tires will keep me away for a minute.

      • I love the Ogre, I do everything with it.

        About the Ardents, how do you like them on really firm hardpack and pavement? They would be perfect for my trailriding, but I commute 30km daily and don’t want an absolute drag on the road.

        The big Ikons look good, but I’m afraid
        a) they wear quickly with those really small and short knobs they have
        b) their traction on step climbs, with gravel and rock over hardpack

        Anyway, can’t wait to see your new frame

        • Well, I wouldn’t select a 2.4″ Ardent for a commuter that did some mountain biking, but for a mountain bike that rides some pavement, I’d say they roll very nicely and wear very well. Their tenacity fades a little as the tire wears, so through it’s life it transforms from an aggressive trail tire to a fast rolling XC tread, all on a big durable casing. I’d recommend the EXO version for most riding, or the LUST version for really sharp and rocky terrain, both tubeless of course.

          • I consider myself more of a mountain biker that happens to commute (a lot). Commuting performance is not the priority, I just don’t want my gear to be to bad on my daily life.

            I’m really tempted by the skinwall Ardents, light and really cheap….

  5. Wow… just saw this and super happy you found Whit to do your bike. He has been very responsive in all discussions we’ve had,and does beautiful work. The discussions are very relevant to those of us who would rather use durable/practical components than the latest unproven technology. I do think having the space to fit a 3″ 650B+ wheel would add to the versatility for sandy areas. All it entails is adding a ~CM of rear clearance. It certainly wouldn’t affect your primary objectives.


    • Mike, I’ve been super happy working with Whit, although we’ve been internet boyfriends (quote, via Joe Cruz) for some time so I knew what to expect. Mostly, we speak the same language, which makes the design process enjoyable. Excited to keep the 27.5+ door open, but like I said, I am really loving 29.5 right now.

  6. Back to the drive train topic for a sec, I see your point about using easily available 22/32 chains in the front. Do you plan to go with 2×10 or 2×9 system? My feeling is that a 9 speed system is more durable and would give you more miles for the $.

    • The idea is that with thumb shifters– which also provide the benefit of the best cable routing for handlebars and bikepacking luggage– I can nurse a broken or bandaged drivetrain easily and cheaply. All Shimano derailleurs up to the current 11sp road and 10 and 11sp mountain stuff use the same cable pull ratio, so I could plug a cheap 7/8sp Acera derailleur into my 9 sp bike and it would index, or it would work normally in friction mode as well. Further, I’ve found the current 9 speed equipment to provide the best balance of performance and price. My system from last year was superior to Lael’s in performance and durability, regarding the wear rate of the chains and cassettes. The 9sp stuff is a little cheaper than 10sp, which makes it easier to swallow when the time comes to replace it, or it is easy to justify new chains and/or cassettes before they are absolutely necessary to maintain optimal performance.

      If I had 10sp, everything would have to be 10sp all the time, no mixing with 7/8/9. And, Shimano 10sp bar-end shifters do not have a friction mode, which is part of the allure of thumb shifters.

  7. Beautiful project, I believe that is going be a monster bikepacking machine. Bring it down south at some point to bite some Andean soil. Just last week I was talking to my friend Joe Graham (Graham Cycles) to start designing a 27+/29 frame, I think if you are to have just one bike to ride it all, that would be it! Buena suerte!

    • This is the one. I could live on the Krampus for a long time, if needed, but this should be even better. Hoping to touch the Andes someday, although we’re taking the long way round right now. Joe makes some nice frames. I love the models names (Micro-Graham, Golden Graham, Tele-Graham).

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