Maestro Rat Snake: The Story of Two Mikes and One Nice Bike
Co-designed by Joel Levin and Maestro Frameworks, the Maestro Rat Snake is a new all-terrain bicycle that’s made to be loaded up for bikepacking and intended to fit neatly in between a mountain bike and a gravel bike. Learn more about the Rat Snake’s backstory and unique design, and find a gallery of photos here…
Joel Levin has been quietly working on a new prototype with Young Mike at Maestro Frameworks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to Joel, this is the first iteration of the Maestro Rat Snake, the bicycle of his dreams, and it’s unlike anything anything else that exists today. Find a write-up by Joel and Mike, lots of photos, and the complete build kit below.
Joel: Young Mike and I met back around 2014 when he showed up in town and applied for a job at the bike shop where I was working. When we hired him, there was already another Mike there who was a little older, so we called the new one Young Mike. In hindsight, we could have just called Young Mike “Mike” because the other Mike went exclusively by “Maestro,” which was the name of his framebuilding shop. But the name stuck, at least around these parts.
Everybody likes Young Mike. He’s just one of those guys. Maestro liked him, too. The two of them clicked, and Maestro ended up teaching Young how to build bicycles and other contraptions.
Mike: Early on, Michael “Maestro” Brown invited me over to check out his shop. We started spending a lot of time together there and became great friends. He taught me how to use each machine one at a time. First, all the machine shop tools, and then welding and brazing on the Oxy/Acetylene rig. I came from a background of fabrication and metal work, but I decided to hold my tongue and let Mike guide and teach me new things. Best decision I ever made. I was floored by his creativity and the fountain of knowledge that he shared so freely. He always had a knack for people and created a fun environment to work in. And he wasn’t afraid to take on big projects.
Aside from bikes, we built five bicycle-powered moving stages for a performance group and even did a moving art installation at a local high school. He once made a handlebar for a guy who was born with no arms. That’s the kind of person Maestro was. In 2016, Maestro had a series of major heart attacks. After a pacemaker and an incredible recovery, we were looking forward to his return to the shop. Unfortunately, life had other plans. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away last October. We were crushed, but Maestro was optimistic even at his sickest. When he asked me if I wanted to take over the shop and continue the work he started, I couldn’t have been more excited and honored to say yes. I guess you can say he passed me the torch.
Joel: When I found out that Young Mike was going to carry on the legacy at Maestro Frameworks, I knew that I wanted to get involved. From the start, Mike knew that he wanted to do two things: keep prices down by building production bikes and make something new. We first started talking about the bike on a rainy motorcycle trip about two years ago. I’d recently had a chance to spend a little time on Will from Rivendell’s Susie (thanks Will!) and had been thinking a lot about how to adapt some Rivvy features into a new bike.
If you’ve ever ridden a giant chainstay bike, you likely have strong opinions. Mine are very positive. Long chainstays just feel sweet and help to weight the front end of the bike. But wide, tubeless rim brake rims are not great, and some stiffness is actually desirable off-road. There are many features of modern off-road bikes that just make a ton of sense, especially in wetter climates and when you want the option of tackling rougher terrain.
The Rat Snake is an all-purpose bicycle for a rider who favors dirty places. It’s not a big-tired gravel bike. It’s not a mountain bike, although we’d forgive you for mistaking it for one. Perhaps it’s most similar to some makers’ bikepacking bikes, but it’s longer on both sides of the rider.
It’s designed to be thoroughly composed at 35 miles per hour down a steep gravel road, loaded down, seat dropped, to not mind longer, faster rides down smoother roads, and to be capable of plodding along through rutted-out doubletrack all day. It’s also designed to be able to take a 120mm suspension fork and handle most kinds of mountain biking.
In riding it, the real magic of the bike is the weight balance, and the key to the weight balance is the long rear-center. Using a longer rear center makes the bike inherently more stable. This means we can sacrifice a bit of the stability that might otherwise come from using slack headtube angles (like modern hardtails). Both the long chainstays (~495mm as pictured in the XL prototype) and the steeper headtube angle (68 degrees) put more weight on the front tire. The result is incredible grip without needing to climb all over the front end of the bike. This is a bike that loves being ridden in a neutral, relaxed position.
Compared to a proper hardtail or rigid mountain bike, it gives up some playfulness in exchange for luxury, balance, and front-end grip. Compared to a Hillibike, it gives up some smoothness and style in exchange for better off-road chops. And compared to a “normal” modern bikepacking bike, our hot take so far is that it gives up nearly nothing.
Outside of its riding qualities, it was important for the bike to lend itself to camping. To that end, we added some bends to the downtube to make a little more frame bag space and designed a custom, minimal rear rack. It’s built around 29” tires between 2.35-2.6″ wide with plenty of mud clearance around either.
There will be at least one more prototype before the production geometry is set. That prototype will have a lower bottom bracket (keeping the eccentric BB to allow raising the BB for rougher singletrack or use with a suspension fork), a slightly steeper STA, a lighter seat tube, and a revised downtube bend to further maximize frame bag space. We’ll also be losing the sliding dropouts on production versions, as they’re just there for learning.
Prototype Maestro Rat Snake Build Kit
- Frame Maestro Frameworks
- Fork T700 carbon with 3 pack mounts
- Bottom Bracket SRAM Dub
- Headset Cane Creek Viscoset
- Crankset Truvativ Descendant Carbon 170mm
- Chainring Wolf Tooth Oval Elliptical Nickel
- Derailleur Shimano XT 8100
- Cassette Shimano XT 8100 10-51T
- Shifter Shimano XT 8100
- Brakes Shimano Alfine (Black/Silver)
- Rotors Hope pink floating 160mm
- Rims Nextie NXT29XM41
- Front HubSon28 Boost
- Rear HubOnyx Vesper Microspline ISO
- Tires Specialized S-Works Renegade 29×2.35″
- Handlebar Crust Juan Martin
- Stem Thomson X4
- Seatpost Oneup V2 180mm 31.6
- Dynamo Headlight Sinewave Beacon
- Dynamo Tailight B&M Secuzed
- Framebag Gurp custom challenge EPL200
- Rear Rack Young Maestro
- Panniers Framework Designs The Travellers
- Eccentric BB Shell Problem Solvers Bushnell Lightweight
To stay in the loop as this project progresses, follow Maestro Frameworks on Instagram or drop Mike an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pre-orders will open in late summer with the first bikes shipping at the end of the year. Options will include the extra-compliant suspension corrected carbon fork (pictured), rear mini rack, and finely tailored semi-bolt-on framebag by Gurp Stitchwork.
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