Today we’re bringing you a great feature from Mike from Big Wheel Building who recently took delivery of a Meriwether Cycles 60mm rear travel soft tail 29er, dubbed the Miser. This is a very unique bike and we’ve got a wonderful piece from Mike, so let’s get to it!
For the two+ decades that I lived on the Colorado Plateau, a consistent theme underlying the bikes I owned was incremental evolution. Probably a lot like you. My progression likely only differed in that I switched to 29″ wheels sooner than most, but after that decision in ’99 I went from 3″ travel to 4″, then to 5″, eventually to 6″, and even briefly to 7″, before settling back in the 5-6″ range for a good long while. Probably a lot like you.
Living on the Colorado Plateau, that 5-6″ range is the sweet spot. Having that amount of travel allows a competent rider to stretch their limits on steep, technical trails and still keep a margin of safety in their hip pocket, all while remaining reasonably light and efficient for a range of ride types.
But since moving to Idaho we haven’t found (m)any tech trails. Gobs and gobs of steep ones tho, and by this time of year most of them are loose and rubbly, requiring good drifting and surfing skills. But not techy per se. As such, I’ve found less need for more travel.
I’ve experimented enough to know that if I go smaller than 2.6″ on tires I get too beat up to ride back to back days. I simply need more air volume in the tires to keep my body happy. So I spend the bulk of my trail time on 29 x 3.0″ tires. In 2020 I rode a 125mm travel bike. It was way overkill. In 2021 I built a 100mm bike. Better, but still overkill.
I also have a hardtail that I enjoy riding when appropriate. But after a few days on it, my neck, shoulders, ankles, and wrists all get creaky and cranky and plead for the forgiveness of FS. Thus, I need more than zero travel, but less than 100mm. To that end I built up a Trek SuperCaliber and rode it for a few months. 60mm travel. That is a crazy light, efficient, and fast bike. But because it was limited to 2.6″ tires, I still got too beat up. Yet the amount of travel felt fine.
I would love nothing more than to be able to swing by a bike shop — any bike shop — and buy my preferred bike off the sales floor. Preferably something middle of the road as far as componentry and price. But certain aspects of bike geometry — reach, rear center, and BB height — have departed so radically from anything that works in the real world that I inhabit that we’re not in the same ballpark, league, or even universe. If I want to enjoy riding my bike, I need to specify the geometry down to the decimal place.
Which is why in 2022 I had Daryl at Funk Cycles build one of his ubiquitous La Ruta frames for me. 60mm rear travel *and* 3″ tires was the goal, with custom-to-me geometry evolved to over 20+ years of previous bike projects. Daryl delivered exactly what I wanted: A light, nimble climbing machine that was ultra precise when descending. For the rough, steep animaltrack that we most often ride, it was fantastic.
That bike failed only in that I didn’t have the foresight to have Daryl build it for both 29 x 3″ and 27.5 x 4″ tires. I knew within minutes of swinging a leg over it the first time that I needed both. When I cleared my throat, thanked him profusely, apologized, then asked Daryl if he’d start over and build another (on my dime) that could fit both wheel sizes, I was met with crickets. No response.
Can’t hardly blame him.
So I did what I’ve done before when I needed something uber-specific, out of the mainstream, unique: I emailed Whit Johnson at Meriwether.
Over the past ~decade I’ve learned not just that he’s an excellent fabricator, but — much more importantly — he’s an excellent listener and critical thinker. Fabrication skill is irrelevant if you don’t understand the big picture of what your customer is asking for.
Thus followed close to 150 emails wherein Whit asked myriad questions and I specified all of the niggling details that matter to me — not just for rider position but brake mount style, dropout type, HS config, threaded BB, seat tube ID, welded-on seat collar, etc… — and wherein he asked me to clarify *why* I wanted what I wanted.
Whit is working on a post about how this bike came to be from his perspective. I’ll update this post with a link to that when he finishes it.
But then — now — it is built. Pictured immediately above with 29 x 3″ tires, and below with 27.5 x 3.8″.
I’ve gotten four good rides on it to fettle and fine tune and thinker on what exactly I have here.
Just like the Funk that preceded it, the Miser is a light, nimble, efficient climbing machine that is composed and ultra precise when descending. For the rough, steep animaltrack that we most often ride, it is phantastique.
As for the build specifics — read on.
I did unspeakable things to my neck, wrists, and shoulders in the ~two decades that I raced bikes. Wide, swept riser bars are positively mandatory for me to be able to ride more than a few minutes. I love these ProTaper 20/20’s now that they come in a 780mm width.
I am a hopeless fanboy for the Cane Creek Viscoset. Calms down the steering to whatever degree you adjust it to. I went deep, deep down the rabbit hole of showing how these work a few years back. How these are not standard OE equipment on all modern bikes is beyond my understanding.
Most modern brakes work just fine for me, even running 180/160 rotors. Fine tuning the friction material is sometimes needed and relatively easy to do. I chose these Hayes stoppers because they have carbon lever blades and that matters when temps are cold and I’d rather my fingers not be. I’m running 180mm on both ends.
Twist shifter and platformy ergo grips also mandatory.
I opted for a RockShox Monarch with a Debonair can because I’m familiar with how to get the most out of them with simple air volume tweaks or more complicated shim stack fiddling.
On my FS bike the BikeYoke Sagma saddle seems a bit overkill, but on this softtail and my hardtail I really like both the dampness the elastomers give as well as the side to side forgiveness it offers. I’d been riding the same WTB saddles for more than a decade, with no real need to deviate. In this case I’m glad I tried something new.
I run 24t chainrings on all of my bikes, combined with a 10-52t cassette out back. I know the steepness of the terrain we have access to within a mile, an hour, a day, and I know that I’d rather ride slowly than walk next to my bike. Tiny front rings allow stupid torque on the steepest tech climbs, and they also allow recovery when the grade briefly relents. Additionally, if you design the chassis around them you can tuck the rear tire further under your CoG with short chainstays, which allows you to maintain traction on those ridiculous grades.
Shallow section singlewall carbon rims are a relatively new thing in plus and fat widths. They offer substantially more compliance than box section doublewall rims of any material. I’ve paired these Nextie Xiphias 49mm internal rims (in both 27.5 and 29″) with Berd spokes to increase that compliance to (sorry…) eleven. I have limited experience with these rims in terms of durability, but these 3.8″ tires run at ~11psi have thus far prevented any earth-to-rim contact.
Fork is a Fox 34 “unicorn” with custom powdercoated lowers, and a little internal special sauce from DSD in Durango.
At this point there are likely all of three people still reading, so I’ll wrap this up.
Here it is on its first overnighter!
Happy to further elaborate: if you have specific questions, ask!
We’d like to thank all of you who submitted Readers Rides builds to be shared here at The Radavist. The response has been incredible and we have so many to share over the next few months. Feel free to submit your bike, listing details, components, and other information. You can also include a portrait of yourself with your bike and your Instagram account! Please, shoot landscape-orientation photos, not portrait. Thanks!