Sorry if that sounds needlessly dramatic -- I realize this is just bikes.
For the past 15+ years I've experimented intensely with bicycles and their attendant bonuses and compromises. Like you, I use them to take me places, to interact with the world, to carry my gear when I'm too weak (or the objective is too ambitious) to carry it all on my back.
I also use them for basic exercise and to have reptilian local fun after work and on weekends, often with friends or Jeny, just as often solo. In short, I ask a lot of my bikes and am always trying to improve them.
Devin Lenz, Brad Bingham, and Whit Johnson have been my main enablers over the last 15 years, taking my ideas (often little more than random mumblings while tugging at an ear hair) and turning them into functional works of rolling perfection. Or at least as perfect as they can be given the constraints that each project bumps up against. Rule number one of bicycle design is that every bike is a basketful of compromises. If you think you have the one, true, perfect bike you either have an incredibly narrow field of view or you simply need to get out more.
My body is failing in myriad ways but my curiosity hasn't begun to be sated about undeveloped and often remote parts of the world. I walk with a gimp across level ground, stooped over and often falling, and that's without a pack on my back. Add in that weight and imbalance and I am a hazard to any group unwise enough to have me along -- if what we're doing is all afoot.
But give me a bike to ride and/or lean on and I can more or less hold my own regardless of terrain. As our local trail situation becomes less sane I find myself riding further and further on the fringes -- off of trail systems entirely and often just poking around dendritic drainages, both wet and dry. That's a key perspective to seeing the world as I age and my body fails: To look at the bigger picture, to seek understanding where previously athletic accomplishment overshadowed all else. Seeing beyond contrived trail systems and riding the world is the direction I'm heading. I should have gotten there sooner.
And while this probably sounds eccentric and even esoteric to most, I'm also not really interested in having a fleet of bikes around to trip over and have to wrench on. 3 seems like the right number: A commuter to get to the shop, the grocery, the bank, and the post office. A fatbike to ride off piste and on snow. And a mountain bike to do "everything else".
I currently own a ripping DH bike -- modern relic of a previous mindset -- but can't really ride it. Please buy it!
To the end of creating a mountain bike that can carry a pile of gear, suspend my aging carcass through corrugated terrain, and keep up with the Joneses, Lucks, and Wixoms while ripping local trail in the off seasons, I knew that 29+ tires were mandatory. I figured 5" of travel, give or take, was about the right amount. The above more or less describes what I'd evolved to with the Lenz bikes I've ridden the past few years.
This past winter I spent some time aboard a few carbon wonderbikes and while their geo was nowhere near my preference, the compliance of this foreign-to-me frame material opened my eyes a bit. While doodling on the frame's particulars it seemed like a good time to think outside the bun as far as frame material was concerned.
I've also always wondered if it was truly possible to go too short on chainstay length. (In a similar vein I once wondered if it was possible to have too much bacon. Pshaw.) If so, what would that feel like? If not, how beneficial would centering my mass over the rear wheel be, and when would it manifest itself? My experience is that the shorter the rear center of the bike becomes, the happier I am -- and this holds true both on and off piste. Why *not* go shorter? I've never found a good reason.
To the end of answering that question I approached 4 framebuilders about this project. One never responded. 2 pondered ever so briefly before saying they weren't interested. Only one said yes -- Walt "Don't call me Justin" Wehner at Waltworks. Not coincidentally, Walt has mucho experience with 29+, FS, and short stays.
Without further ado I present the latest addition to the family. 7# 5oz of (primarily) Supertherm, with geometry that seems like the next logical step *to me* but that's way, way, way north of what you can buy at any bike shop these days. Most of the numbers mimic what you'd find on any modern trailbike -- 66.x* head angle, 74.x* seat angle, reach and stack appropriate to being ridden off road, 140mm travel up front, 120 out back. This chassis deviates from the formula in a low-for-me but seemingly-astronomical-to-everyone-else 14.1" BB height. But the real standout number is the chainstay length of 410mm. Not a misprint. Keep in mind 29 x 3" tires.
I've had it a little over a week. 4 rides in thus far, just over 100 miles total.
It rides like a bike. A really compliant, damp, quiet, yet sporty and lively bike.
I'm experimenting with other ideas -- as always -- in the get to know you process, like new rubber and non-traditional spokes.
Gearing is low, braking is prototype (and exceptional), position is upright and comfortable.
And those short stays? For now I can only say that if there is a limit we haven't yet reached it.
Much more on this bike at a later date.
Don't hesitate with questions.