It is a funny and rare thing when everything converges. This year cyclocross season started a bit early with a season opener at Oskar Blues farm in Longmont. We’ve been a little bit quicker on our toes than last year so we already had our kits in-hand a few days before race day. On a lark I decided that I wanted to race the prototype Traildonkey as well. I’ve actually had this bike in storage since April because as a very early prototype it had a lot of imperfections in the design (which we’ve since revised and refined). I’ve been riding the Flaanimal prototype a lot lately and while I do love the bike and the feel of steel I wanted to go back and get re-antiquated with our first bike project, the one born at almost exactly the same time the team was in January 2014.
Thanks to the fact that it is August in Colorado, our race day arrived with scorching hot conditions. Some gauges said 95F, some Garmins said 102F. This was the first race of the season and I really wanted my family to come along but that heat was pretty brutal so I knew we needed a special plan. We don’t have a Rodeo team tent yet but my wife did have a 10×10 canopy for her art shows. I commandeered that for the team but resisted spray painting our logos onto it. That at least would provide some shade!
Next up: cooling. Last year when we painted Lookout Mountain with Manual For Speed we bought a bunch of 5 gallon buckets with lids, so I commandeered those as well. Each was filled with water, and an array of squirt guns were stashed in the back of the car bursting with bikes, gear, kids, coolers, and one very pregnant mommy. Cross is Here!
We got the tent set up and readied our ammo. With piles of squirt guns and buckets of water the kids didn’t need to be told what to do. The only challenge was getting them to pace themselves with the water. Meanwhile we kitted up, pinned on numbers upside-down (woops!), and watched the C racers stream by in a long, shattered, never ending merry go round of fun and heat exhaustion. Even though we were parked along a very shallow hill, racers mostly only crept by at speeds in the single digits. The course was brutal, and with the B and A race clocking at an hour each, attrition would be a game changer.
Michael, Nick, and myself lined up for the B race. We were all pretty excited and we were all clustered together about mid pack when the gun went off.
Immediately the leaders shot off the front of the race. Michael and Nick got great starts, as did our friend Anthony. I was really concerned about the length of the race and the heat so I didn’t put a lot of effort into gunning for the front of the race. I thought that it might be smarter to ease into my pace instead of going too hard too soon and blowing up. Images of the C Race and the dehydrated riders were stuck in my head.
By the end of the first lap, only about six minutes into the race, the heat factor kicked in. It was surprising to see the pace fall off so fast. People were instantly affected by it. I felt pretty good because I was keeping away from redline, but others were suffering and fading early. Up at our team tent the crew were doing their best to pitch in on the cooling effort with the squirt guns and water canons. It was awesome.
The team tent was always the best part of the course. We loved it getting wet, the kids loved getting us wet. So. Much. Fun!
As the race continued on I continued to feel really good. Maybe the legs I’d earned at Breck Epic and on some of my crazy mountain rides were paying off? I’m not exactly sure, but I started working my way towards the front of the race in a hurry and before I knew it I was within the top five. “This is great! I thought to myself, it’s so cool to have a good first race on the Donkey!”
More laps passed and while other racers were fading backwards I continued to gain places until I got to the front of the race. I smiled and said hi to Michael and Nick as I passed. Their spirits were high but each of them were dealing with chain issues. We all shouted quickly about how much fun we were having. Soon I passed through the lap line and heard the announcer announce that I was in first place. Unreal! Was this really happening! I guess the “take it easy” strategy was working!
My lead kept growing and the feeling that this could actually end up as a Win started sinking into my head. It was an impossibly good feeling. Traildonkey was totally ripping along on the course and all of the familiarity I’d gained over the last year of non stop drop bar dirt riding was paying off. All I had to do to take the win was not mess anything up. I kept my cool as well as possible and I keep my pace under control despite the rush of adrenaline. It would be dumb to get this far into the race and then mess up the result by blowing up late in the game.
Soon the lap bell rang and I had one to go. People usually rally hard on the last lap and it was still possible to be caught so I upped my own pace and was sure to burn all of the matches that I had left. Victory!
Not only did my race end well, but Nick, Michael, Peder, Anthony, and Chad all had good days out on the race course. We did the (constantly changing) team colors proud I think.
I’m actually posting this almost two months after the race, but even now this day stands out as pretty special for me. I really enjoyed racing amongst team mates, including the families and the water canons ended up being a blast for everyone, and taking a win on the first race outing on Traildonkey 2.0 was icing on the cake. Rodeo seems to be evolving into an interesting mix of community, team, a company, and products. There is a bit of tension in all of that making sure that we don’t weight too heavily in any one area, but at this race there was a perfect fusion of all of those elements. It was a great case study of the things that I like about Rodeo, and how I want it to work.
Now that Trialdonkey has notched a win I’m happy to be able to report that the bike is very raceable. It’s light, it’s nimble, and the geometry rips in and out of the turns. Some will say that a sloping top tube is not well suited to a CX bike because it makes shouldering a bike up runups more difficult. This is partially true, shouldering IS more difficult. I’ve always been lazy about shouldering my bike in races anyway, and it turns out that a sloping top tube makes it easier to lift the bike higher when suitcasing it up a runup instead of shouldering. Who knew? Whatever the case, Traildonkey will always be a mixed use bike not just a cyclocross race rig and sloping top tube makes it better suited to trail riding than any standard cross bike. Rack mounts will never be used on a race course either but adding them to our frame and fork didn’t add much weight and will make the bike ideally suited for year round adventure touring and bikepacking. The Traildonkey 2.0 is 100% our bike, our design, our molds, from scratch. It is fun to run with the creative freedom that we have because of that. It is fun to do things the Rodeo way.
The industry at large makes some very specialized and amazing bikes. It then markets them to us on the premise that we need to milk every ounce of performance out of our every bike for each discipline we participate in. Traildonkey lab project says that we can give up a few of those diminishing returns in exchange for a bike that take us more places and give us more use over the long haul. Maybe in the process we can have a little bit more fun as well.
In the end of course there is no wrong bike. The right bike is the bike that you like, the bike that you want to ride, and the bike that makes you happy on any given day. Even when Traildonkey and Flaanimal are finished and on the market (in the Spring?) we will always champion that statement and celebrate the diversity of styles and gear represented in our sport.
Enjoy the ride!