In a word … perfectlylovelyandpracticandyeysobloodygorgeous
Everything I need to have fun and survive, all wrapped in pink. Not shown here are a tent, computer, or a front derailleur, which broke after a year and a half of adventure. For the AZT, we’re traveling without a tent. The 11″ MacBook Air has rejoined the packlist and fits nicely in the Revelate Viscacha with a certain packing procedure (clothes and groundcloth packed first).
The basic details are that it carries everything I need to survive and have fun including 4 liters of water, clothing and camping gear, durable 2.4″ tubeless tires on wide carbon rims, a useful range of gears, 120mm of seriously plush front suspension, a wide handlebar, all time lighting and USB charging, and the same saddle which has adorned every bike I have ridden since 2009, likely over 75,000 miles of touring and commuting on its bent steel frame, still as comfortable as ever.
The important details are 434mm chainstays, a low but not too low bottom bracket, a long but not too long top tube, a portage handle, a 68.5 degree head tube angle, and the aforementioned 120mm Rock Shox Pike fork with 51mm of offset. All other parts come directly from my Surly Krampus and are designed to be world touring friendly, including a threaded BSA bottom bracket and the option for standard QR wheels via replaceable Paragon dropout plates and of course, a different fork. As always, the bike is designed for big tires and a ton of extra clearance.
The Meriwether handles singletrack better than the Krampus, descends better than the Krampus, climbs better than the Krampus, and pedals more comfortably than the Krampus. But that’s only because I rode the Krampus for a year– and during that time it was a great bike– but I was paying attention and figured out how to make a bike better for me. Whit Johnson of Meriwether Cycles is the catalyst and the confidence for this project who massaged my ideas into digital lines and degrees in BikeCAD, and manufactured our ideas in steel, willingly coating his handiwork in a pink blanket of paint. Some call the color theft-protection, but honestly, it is the only color I wanted. I did consider a muted lavender hue, but settled on antique pink, as I like to call it.
The bike easily finds the center of the trail, and doesn’t have the tendency to oversteer or understeer as other bikes I’ve ridden. I can look further down the trail and know that my tires will take me there, not into the weeds. On flowing serpentine trail, I sit down and position myself between the wheels, which are properly weighted for the front tires to cut a line and the rear tire to follow aggressively. Riding this bike through corners– thanks, for certain, to the lower bottom bracket which I initially resisted– is like waterskiing. The harder I dig, the harder it turns.
The bike climbs. Shorter chainstays result in a more direct power transfer to the rear wheel, even through Whit was concerned that his drive-side half yoke would be flexible. It is not. The low bottom bracket changes my relationship with only the tallest, most menacing obstacles while climbing, resulting in more frequent pedal strike on technical trials-like climbs. In all other situations, the 60mm BB drop is a feature, and within a week, pedal strike is minimized through experience. I might adjust the BB drop to 55mm if I had the chance to do it again, but that is a very personal consideration because I love climbing chunky stuff. But the bike doesn’t try to tip over backwards on steep climbs and the shortened top tube allows me to approach long ascents in a seated position, while out of the saddle efforts are directly rewarded. I recently spend much of the Highline Trail in Arizona either hiking alongside my bike, descending behind the saddle, or ripping climbs in a 34-34 gear combination. It is a stand-up and hammer gear combination on any steep mountain bike trail, but chain retention is good and it forces me to hit the gas. Sometimes a little extra gas is what you need for the next ledge or rock in the trail. Soft-pedaling through challenging trail usually results in walking. And yes, the portage handle is awesome. I now have three useful hand positions for hauling the bike, each for a different kind of hike-a-bike.
Descending is unlike any hardtail I have ridden. The Krampus gave me much of the confidence I sought over the classic geometry of the Raleigh XXIX and its 80mm fork. Add to that more modern geometry, including the 68.5 degree head tube and the 51mm fork offset on a remarkable 120mm fork, and this bike is seriously confident going downhill. Again, a little lower bottom bracket helps to keep my center of mass behind the front axle, reducing the feeling of going over the bars on steep trails. I’ve taken to descending almost every section of trail I can find, save for most of the Pipeline Trail off the Mogollon Rim and a couple rocky drops on the way into Pine. But, I rode most of the last section of the Highline into Pine at dusk, and loved it. Happy to be on 2.4″ Ardents, for sure. And the Pike, get a Pike! To be fair, I’ve ridden some MRP Stage forks which also feel phenomenal, and some other modern RockShox offerings have impressed me on test rides, including the new Revelation and SID forks. But for the same weight as a Revelation (which has 32mm stanchions) and the same price as a SID (yes, kind of a lot), you can have the Pike which boasts 35mm stanchions with premium RockShox internals. The concept of using more fork offset with a lower head tube angle results in a bicycle with improved descent characteristics yet which preserves mechanical trail and handling on neutral trail sections and on climbs– it descends better without any drawbacks.
Contact Whit Johnson at Meriwether Cycles if you have any custom bicycle needs. He specializes in mountain bikes with character, built for adventure. He likes short chainstays, fat tires, and extra attachment points. He has recently built several gorgeous custom forks for internal dynamo wiring to accompany custom frames and has pushed the boundaries with his fatbike and plus-sized bikes for the past few years. I really enjoyed working with Whit on this project. He quickly understood my ideas and converted them to numbers, into visual impressions of a bicycle, and ultimately into a sweet ride. Check out Meriwether Cycles on Instagram, Flickr, and on the Meriwether Blog. He is located in Foresthill, CA and has relatively short lead times. Pricing starts at $1200 although a frame similar to mine would cost about $1500.
Meriwether Cycles custom steel frame for 29/27.5+
RockShox Pike RCT3 120mm, 15mm TA, 51m offset
Chris King headset and BB
Shimano Deore crank, 34/22T rings
Shimano SLX direct mount front derailleur with Problem Solvers clamp, XTR GS rear derailleur
Shimano XTR 9speed rear shifter, front friction thumb shifter on Paul Thumbie
Shimano XT 11-34 cassette and SRAM PG-951 chain
Specialized 75mm stem
Race Face SixC 3/4″ riser carbon handlebar, 785mm wide
Ergon GP1-L grips
Avid BB-7 brakes and levers, 160mm rotors
Derby HD 35mm wide carbon rim to Hope Pro 2 Evo rear hub
Maxxis Ardent 29×2.4″ EXO tires, tubeless
Redline Monster nylon pedals
Supernova E3 Triple 2 headlight, E3 Pro taillight with custom brackets
Sinewave Reactor USB charger, top cap mount
Salsa Anything Cage HD and 64 oz. Klean Kanteen
Salsa stainless bottle cages on fork attached via hose clamps, 32 oz bottles