After seeing some of the rigs we can expect to see at NAHBS this weekend, it is unsurprising that Whit Johnson named his brand Meriwether, after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (also, a nickname for this particular builder). Our pre-interview explorative survey turned up a ton of interesting adventure-ready vehicles, including this super tucked fatbike with its custom rack. We had to know more of its story, so we shot Whit a few last-minute pre-show questions as we headed towards Salt Lake…
BIKERUMOR: You’ve been building frames since 2010. What were you doing before?
WHIT: Before building bikes I was in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I worked for a small city government, sitting at a desk making maps or in meetings most days. Prior to that I had tried my hand at racing XC and ‘cross professionally – that just means I went into debt riding with friends in some neat places.
BIKERUMOR: Before you started building bikes, what was your favorite bike? How did you ride?
WHIT: My favorite bike was my 2007 Hunter 29er that I got after retiring from racing. It was my getaway bike to ‘tour and go get lost in the woods and not worry about how fast I was going’. That bike, setup as a singlespeed was… well, just awesome. I rode that bike from Grand Junction to the SSWC09 in Durango. It was my adventure buddy and one reason I got into framebuilding.
BIKERUMOR: How has your direction changed since you started? How did you arrive at the raised-stay, mid-fat radness we see today?
WHIT: My bikes are all one-offs – fully custom geometry, fit, look, accouterments… whatever. So when someone asked if I could make him a 2XL fatbike (26 x 5.1” wide tires) with the shortest chainstays possible I said, “Yes, of course!”
He had tested various fatbikes and had come to the conclusion that short stays and slack heat tube angles, among other things, helped float and traction on soft snow. I did some drawings and ran the numbers and we came up with the elevated chainstay beast of a bike he calls “Brrrrly.” The elevated chainstays allow a wider tire to fit in the rear triangle without worrying about chainstay/chainring/crankarm interference. You can run a narrower Q crank and get a better chainline. They’re also belt-drive compatible if that’s something that floats your boat. Lots of pluses for fatbikes, especially. I’ve only made 4 of these framesets since they are kinda ugly. One just finished the Iditarod Trail Invitational in 6th place!
BIKERUMOR: If you could only listen to a playlist of five songs while you build, what would those five songs be?
WHIT: This was not easy!
“This Ain’t No Picnic” – Minutemen
“Descender” – Lungfish
“Going Nowhere” – No Means No
“3 Years Ago Today” – Built to Spill
“What’s Your Excuse?” – Hellworms
BIKERUMOR: What framebuilder (that you do not know personally) do you admire, and why do you admire them?
WHIT: Steve Garro. My impression is he does what he does, and you can take it or leave it. He knows what he wants his bikes to look and ride like. He has raced a ton and toured like crazy all over the world. Not only does he make beautiful bikes, they are highly functional well thought-out machines that will last forever. He doesn’t compromise longevity for aesthetics. Lastly, he gives back to the framebuilding community by sharing his knowledge on his blog and on forums.
BIKERUMOR: Which builder would you most like to collaborate with on a project? What would that project be?
WHIT: Chris McGovern. I’m not sure what it would be, really, but that’s the fun part. His passion for bikes and framebuilding is infectious, and I think we could make something pretty cool.
BIKERUMOR: What is your main bike at the moment? What is that your main ride?
WHIT: My favorite bike right now is a dirt drop 29+, but I switch to 27.5+ when the mood hits. There’s just something about railing singletrack in the drops…makes old trails new again. I’m all about plus size tires on every bike I have, whether it’s my ‘cross bike or MTB.
BIKERUMOR: How do you test or validate your product so that you know you are building the best product for your customer?
WHIT: Beyond ensuring the materials that I use are the best available and my process and skills are up to snuff, I ride every version of the bikes I can think of – or at least every option that is available at the moment. I’m all about swapping tires, rims, PSI, bars, position, geometry, forks, and fork offset. I mess with it all to find what I like and what I think works best in each condition. I also will sponsor a very select group of people that I know will ride the crap out of the bikes in the most extreme conditions. They know that if it breaks we will work to make it better next time. I know how racing and touring can really test bikes…