Bikes and dogs just kinda go together, don't they? I've never had a proper trail dog, only a sketchy Shiba Inu that waffles between wanting to bite me or watch me pick up her morning steamers while she has a smug expression on her face, but I often see other riders enjoying their dogs' company on the trail. That sure looks nice. And the best trail dogs, the ones we get most attached to, are often those mutt mixes of who-knows-what, maybe with some street dog mixed in for good measure. Those are, at least in my experience, the four-legged friends with more character in their eyes than my stuck-up purebred could ever hope to possess.
It's that shit mix of character that makes a mutt so special, more so than a German Shepard with perpetually terrible hips or a Pug with... Well, Pugs are just loaves of bread with asthma so what else do I need to say? Just concentrate on breathing, lil' loaves.
But take equal parts Border Collie, Lab, maybe some type of hound, and something else that you can't quite put your finger on, and you'll likely end up with the kind of partner who can read your mind and would be happy to battle a sabre tooth tiger to the death if it meant they got one last butt scratch from you as a reward.
If mutts are so great, maybe we should apply that mixed approach to the creation of a mountain bike?
What if you could 'breed' the best traits, or at least the traits you want, into your next two-wheeled partner? The obvious combo of a 200mm-travel downhill bike that pedals like that weird, euro carbon hardtail that some Spanish guy in an old Mapei jersey still put a lockout on the back of because Europe might sound ideal, but there should be some rules to this game.
A Doberman isn't going to get knocked up by a Chihuahua, at least not without a step stool and some help, so lets at least keep this fantasy a bit realistic. Here's my only rule: your two-wheeled mutt has to take its ingredients from the same genre of bikes. So hounds only mate with hounds, terriers hook up with terriers, and enduro bikes can only do the nasty with enduro bikes. Completely realistic. Or something.
Now that we've established that, my mutts would look a little like this...
I'm the kinda guy who enjoys a fast, efficient bike, and I don't mind being under-gunned now and then, even if that means I end up going a touch slower down something gnarly that only makes up about 30ft of an entire trail. So I'm going to reach into the trail bike genre for my first mutt's DNA milkshake, and I'll start by grabbing the Ibis Ripley's on-power performance. That efficiency means that I could run a slippery, ground-hugging shock like a Cane Creek, without needing to reach for the cheater switch anytime the climb is smooth. Man, I hate those pedal assist levers. James Lissimore Photo
On the flipside, I also want a bike that throws duffle bags of traction at me, and when it comes to trail bikes, Devinci's Troy is the one that stands out. With 140mm of squish, it's on that hazy line between classes, but this is my fantasy, so I'll do whatever I want. The thing is, the Troy's 140mm often feels like it has an extra 10 or 20mm behind it, with it being one of the few bikes that 'ride bigger' than they actually are - it's more common to see the reverse. That active, deep-feeling suspension, combined with the Ripley's pedaling potency, is the stuff that bike dork dreams are made of.
Handling... My steering genes are coming from Cannondale's Habit rather than some slacked out trail bike with numbers stolen from a 2013 downhill sled, simply because I want to have fun on my bike at all speeds, not just at top speed. The last Habit I rode was back in 2015, but I still have it as a high-water mark when it comes to intuitive, pointy-but-not-nervous manners for a short-travel trail bike.
The angles up front are just right for me, and the Lefty's torsionally rigid chassis certainly helps matters to boot.
So, here's what I have so far: the Ripley's pedaling efficiency, the Troy's ground-hugging suspension action, and the Habit's steering prowess. Talk about a mutt of a bike, and now for the details. My mixer would roll on 29'' wheels because that's the correct wheel size and I'm often a dick about it, and I think 120mm of boing front and back is a good all-around number, especially if it's going to take the best of a Ripley and a Troy.
Making the most out of less is much more fun than not making enough out of what you've got.
But if what I've got is more, say, 160mm of help, my mutt bike would still see a lot of its DNA taken from one of the most efficient all-mountain sleds: Breezer's Repack. It's not the most forgiving thing ever, and the rear suspension runs out of travel if you even think about leaving the ground, but the Repack feels like it has a motor bolted to it when you turn the cranks over. It's about as close to an e-bike as I'll ever get, I hope. I'd mate that with handling from Ibis' HD3; yes, it's one model old but IDGAF because it's a really great do-it-all package if you know you're not getting invited to the next NWD shoot.
For suspension action, I'd want something that simply works well without anything weird going on. I don't want some crazy high main pivot that, while providing some advantages, requires a silly pulley wheel and weird ass chain guide. And I don't want to deal with proprietary shocks or any sort of remote levers or buttons - that's why the suspension on my mutt would mirror the design of a Transition Patrol. The thing prefers 35-percent sag, supplies oodles of traction, and bottoms out so softly that you're not sure it happened at all.James Lissimore Photo / Paris Gore Photo
Of course, those two mutts could never exist in the real world, but we might as well cover the details since we've gone this far.
You know they'll need to carry ALL the bottles, too. Because a happy mountaineer always pisses clear, my bikes are going to be able to carry three bottles - two biggies in the front triangle, and a giardia catcher underneath the downtube for when I want to lose 15lb in one night's worth of projectile vomiting and life-threatening diarrhea. I'd choose threaded bottom bracket shells not because PressFit has ever been noisy for me, but just because it's much easier to screw than it is to hammer or push. All cables and brake lines on the outside of the frames, too, because I enjoy working on bikes and want to keep it that way. Both would play nice with 170mm dropper posts, have enough tire clearance for me to still fist my chainstays with 2.4'' wide rubber installed, and sport whatever hub spacing we'll be angry about in 2020. It's best to future-proof them.
Now it's your turn. If you were a licensed bike breeder, what traits from what bikes would you combine and why? Forget about such and such not working with this or that, and pretend that you can mix and match at will. What would your bike look like, and what would you call it?