This interview was edited for clarity and length.
This is the tale of two veteran mountain bike enthusiasts, two wheel sizes, and a combined goal to create something awesome. As serendipitous stories go, shortly after Miles Schwartz sauntered into Michael Vidovich’s shop, Timberline Cycles, in Colorado Springs one day, both characters found their futures shifting significantly. Schwartz had recently moved to town and was eager to meet folks in the local trail community. Vidovich was happy to have a new customer and riding buddy around, and the two quickly bonded over a particular bike that Vodivich had a hand in creating.
Having ridden motocross bikes throughout his life, Vidovich had a passion for the varying suspension styles mountain bike frames were built around and made a point of not overlapping suspension technology with the brands in his shop. He also had a variety of wheel sizes in the shop and would build up different franken-bikes and test new ideas on the regular.
One afternoon, while looking at his motocross bike, with its front wheel larger than the rear, he had the idea to try the same on his mountain bike. He had tested different versions of this idea from different brands, with a 26″ rear and 29″ front, and always felt that the true benefits of mixing wheels weren’t fully realized in those configurations.
Vidovich remembers, “It was too disproportionate, ya know? It always felt like you were wheelie-ing.” Once 27.5″ wheels caught fire in the US he knew the “golden ratio” he had enjoyed on the moto was finally achievable. What he saw then, and many professional gravity racers are now experiencing, was a new platform for mountain bikes — and a list of related benefits.
After some prototyping, tinkering, and testing, Vidovich drew up a mixed wheel platform he felt would provide the most benefits and fewest compromises, and shopped it around to as many frame manufacturers as he could get ahold of. Foes Racing bit first and Vidovich struck a deal with them to start making the aptly named Mixer frames in 2015. At some point in the game, Foes decided to go a different direction with things, and parted ways with Vodovich, who was still running the bike shop in Colorado.
Shortly thereafter, in walked Brooklyn-native Miles Schwartz, but let’s back up a few steps to understand how he got there. Knowing their son’s lifelong love of BMX bikes, Schwartz’s parents were keen to get him on a mountain bike when they packed the family up and went to Colorado one summer. Following that trip to the Rockies, Schwartz worked in a bike shop back home in NYC between the ages of 13 and 26, then slid closer to the mountain bike scene for a stint in Asheville, North Carolina before transferring to his “mecca of mountain biking” in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Schwartz owns a bike component company called Miles Wide Industries, and as soon as he arrived in Colorado he toured around to all of the bike shops to connect and find folks to ride with. He was particularly stoked to check out the only Foes dealer in town, called Timberline Cycles. He stopped in to meet Vidovich and ended up taking the shop owner’s personal Foes Mixer out for a spin. Schwartz agreed to turn his Strava on while testing the bike and he was elated to see a list of smashed PRs and KOMs on his phone when he returned to the shop. The mixed wheels were a big hit.
Slide down the timeline a little, and the pair decided to start a frame brand together called Mullet Cycles, combining Vodivich’s keen engineering talents, Schwartz’s industry connections and savvy marketing sensibilities, and their shared love of riding singletrack. After several seasons of testing and prototyping, Mullet Cycles put out its first frame with the Honeymaker titanium hardtail, and they have a full suspension and gravel frame on the way soon. We recently had the chance to ask them a few questions about their frames, and about the broader advantages of mixed wheel whips. Here’s what they had to say.
What inspired you to start a bike frame business focused on the mixed wheel platform?
[We were the] right guys, right place right time, and the right drive. We were trying to find something faster. Some people come to me and say, “well I don’t want to go faster” and I say well how about safer? Because it’s a more controlled platform that a symmetrical wheel.
Where are Mullet Cycles frame currently made?
The prototypes are made here in Colorado, and we assemble the bikes here. The frames are welded up in Taiwan.
Mixed wheel bikes have been around for a while, what’s unique to your approach to the frame platform?
[Others] just kind of overlayed symmetrical wheeled geometry or restrictions, over a mixed wheel. That’s why they either never fully shook it out, or never fully capitalized on it.
How did you land on 27.5/29 instead of other diameters?
That’s the golden ratio, in my humble opinion. It just happened by dumb luck that those two wheels presented themselves. Then I took the time, and other people have as well, to see how head angles, BB heights, chainstay lengths, and all that good stuff really brought out the benefits of it, with as few cons as possible.
The explanation of Force Vectors and Scrub Radius on your website is quite clear. Would you like to add anything to those definitions and their associated advantages of mixed wheels for your bikes?
I came up with that because I had a hard time explaining to people what they were feeling. I took time and put that together based on aircraft knowledge and motorcycle knowledge. I had to combine a lot of industries, even speaking to experts. I’ve been to Race Tech suspension school, where there are extensive studies of offsets and head angles. That was a life-changing experience in terms of understanding that some downhill bikes have very speed-envelope-specific handling that doesn’t meet a very wide range. Whereas our Mullet meets a wide range.
Given the importance of wheels, are there specific wheel build specs that you all use for your builds or will any well-made wheelset work?
It does create different loads. One of the things we tell customers is to make sure that whatever width tire you put up front, it’s the same width rear tire. When you’re using mixed wheels you’re already mixing up the contact patch. You’re already going to have a smaller contact patch in the rear, so now you can run the same width tires and get the most out of them — front and rear.
If someone’s messing around with tire widths and they have mixed wheels, their rear sidewall height could be taller. A great example of this is on a lot of e-bikes. They’re using a 27.5+ tire in the rear and a 29″ in the front, so if you take a ruler and measure the outer diameter of the tire, it’s basically the same. So it’s really more like a symmetrical wheel bike, except they have more cushion on the rear.
Do you have athletes testing your bikes before they are released?
We do have semi-pros and high level amateurs testing our bikes. We have also put beginners on it, and entry-level people were feeling safer, faster, and more under control. So I was like, “well entry level people are loving it, sport level people are loving it, and we’ve got some ex-pros that are getting sponsorships from Intense, and they’re loving it.” So that’s how we test our bikes.
Are you also conducting quantitive or lab tests?
Turn on your Strava, and you tell me. Most of my bikes are sold because of Strava. I’m a little bit older, and I wanna go as fast as I can, I wanna rip, and I want to be safe. The mixer does that. [In the bike shop ] I got to test all of the suspension platforms, and slight differences in geometry. That gave me the lab to compare and contrast, even amongst customers. It’s a platform change. We felt 27.5″, we felt 29″, we have felt the limitations and the pros of those platforms.
There are veteran riders out there who would not buy a bike without at least knowing the reach measurement, HTA, STA, BB drop, stack, and chainstay length. For some, thinking taller riders, knowing the stack measurement makes the call between two bikes. How does Mullet Cycles work with questions around geo measurements since there is no published table for the frames?
That’s a tough one. Miles and I went round and round with this one. It’s kind of like giving the recipe away for the sauce that you’re making money off of. So we tried to keep that as close to us as we could for a little while. We’ll be posting that soon [the geo], but we struggled with that.
Can you tell us anything about the coming full suspension frame?
Yeah, it has elevated chainstays, it’s a single pivot, with total disregard for a front derailleur. Front derailleurs in our world are done. One of the Achilles heels of single pivots, was that all the manufacturers were designing them around a front derailleur tab. Therefore, you can not optimally place it [the pivot]. I’ve got junior pro kids racing season after season without destroying bearings or creating creaks. Whereas multi-pivot bikes, as much as they can offer 10% more in suspension action or pedaling efficiency, they also come with a lot of durability issues. And multi joints can come with a lot of flex or vulnerability. So, we are a no-nonsense company. We’re a quiver killer. We don’t want to make wonderous claims and then try to keep selling you a new bike every three years.
That full suspension bike will be released sometime in May. It’s a 150mm travel bike, so a benefit of 150 is that the most travel a Pike Ultimate comes in is 150mm, and the least travel that a Lyric Ultimate comes in is 150mm. So you can make it a light enduro sled or a hucker enduro sled.
How do the benefits of a mixed wheel bike affect gravel bikes like your coming Dealmaker frame?
We’re dirt heads, and we really like the gravel grinder/cyclocross bikes. I have found that you still feel that you’re on a 29er skinny tire bike when you go on the trails. With the mixer, once we point that bike downhill, [compared to a symmetrical wheeled bike] one has a dirt bike DNA, the other one is basically a road bike with knobbies.
What would you say to the large number of EWS and World Cup DH racers who are riding with mixed wheels on their 27.5 or 29er frames — many of whom claim notable ride-sensation and time-based benefits and have chosen to stick with the mix throughout the season?
On a 29er platform, just popping in a 27.5″ wheel does bring out some handling characteristics and safety. The problem is, with the 29er bike, they’re shoving the BB down because it acts like a keel, and the chainstay is still long. So you’re negating those benefits. You’re gonna strike pedals more now, and your wheelbase is still not optimized.
Flip that over to the 27.5″ platforms. If you took a long travel 27.5″ bike, and you stick a 29er fork on the front, now you just slacked the head angle more and raised the BB. If you have a high BB to start with, you may have just raised it out of the range and your head angle is bad. The only way those guys could correct their head angle is by cutting down the travel, but that’s not a proper Mullet/mixed bike. So, you’re Frankensteining it, and you’re getting some benefits, but you’re getting just as many cons. You haven’t eaten the real deal.
Sometimes you can only squeeze so much out of certain platforms. In my opinion, we have squeezed everything we can out of a 27.5″ symmetrical wheel, we’ve squeezed everything we can out of a 29″. The evolutionary jump […] is mixing the two, keeping all of the pros, and getting rid of the cons of each platform.
Are there other benefits to the mixed wheel platform that you would like to add?
They turn better, they’re safer, and that’s all on our website. There’s one factor that we don’t put on there. On a symmetrical wheeled bike, if you jump a lot, it gives you X feeling. When you mix, the front wheel gives a slightly stronger gyroscopic effect. The front has a really solid gyroscopic, and the rear is less. So you can move the rear of the bike and really put it where you want. It’s a really neat effect.
Another dynamic I noticed with motorcycles is, when coming down a waterfall of rocks it feels like I’m going to go over the bars, but I almost never do. I thought, I can’t believe this piece of equipment can do that. Whereas countless people on symmetrical wheeled mountain bikes end up going over the bars. So, when the front hub has that nice [mixed] ratio compared to the rear hub, as well as the diameter of the tire, when it hits a cinder block, the inertia rather than giving a stutter, it just naturally goes up. It’s almost like a 29″ vs 27.5″ square edge analogy. But you’re now incorporating the differential in hub height and it’s even more exaggerated. You don’t feel it until you compare a symmetrical and a mixed wheel bike.
We would like to thank Vidovich and Schwartz for sharing their story with us. Stay tuned for new bikes from Mullet Cycles this spring.