Let me start with my intro:
Hi Y’all. How’s everybody doing? That’s an absurd question of course. The world is crazy right now. But that is also a question we also get a lot from all of you:
“Hey guys! How’s it going at Rodeo? You hanging in there?”
I definitely appreciate people asking and checking in. For the record Rodeo is doing well. We’re here, or more accurately we’re not here, we’re mostly working remotely whenever possible but we are “here” in the abstract sense of the word. And yes, we are actually doing well. Not so much in the breaking sales records and taking over the bike industry sense of the phrase. Rather We’re doing well because we seem to be weathering the circumstances better than most, and it seems that the community of owners and customers that we’ve built in the last six years is in fact still ordering bikes and generally supporting what we do. For that, and on behalf of all of us at Rodeo, I say a very heartfelt Thank You! We are so grateful to still even now be able to do what we love to do for a living and we couldn’t do it without your trust and support.
2020 was on track to be a record year for Rodeo. Generally speaking in the last few years the sales graph has always been moving up and to the right, but 2020 was even more exciting because it was to be the year we released our newest bike: The Flaanimal 5.0. Originally I wanted to launch Flaanimal in December so people could actually get their bikes early in 2020 but as we looked at the state of the project in November I decided that it was too soon to launch. The first 5.0 prototype was very good and very exciting not just to us but to the cycling internet community in general from whom we get most of our feedback. The intro post on Bikepacking.com turned out to be quite the lively forum for unveiling the bike and later discussing it down in the comments. If you want to read up on the evolution of this bike then that Bikepacking post should be your starting point because it is so rich with info and dialogue.
As good as the first prototype was, I saw opportunities in the frameset to refine it further and to make an even bigger statement about what Rodeo’s vision is for the do-whatever-you-want adaptable adventure frameset. So as a team we here in Denver sharpened our pencils, fired up our keyboards, and created an exhaustive list of improvements that we wanted to make over every aspect of the frame. The wish list was long, ambitious, and even expensive from an R&D and tooling standpoint. Some of the ideas that we had were too ambitious and we got healthy pushback on the engineering or manufacturing side, but we pushed back as well until we found a balance and locked the final feature set of the production 5.0. This process bled into early January and delayed the launch announcement. As a matter of fact Flaanimal 5.0 was the first bike that Rodeo has ever launched entirely in my absence. For most of the month of February I was off riding my Traildonkey in the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. The Rodeo crew here in Denver did a great job with the launch and I’m quite proud of them for that. Our little company is growing up and transitioning from a singular leadership structure to a more distributed leadership and decision making structure. Without this important pivot we could not continue to grow as we are.
What I came back to in early March was quite exciting. The Flaanimal 5.0 was a hit. People understand the bike that we are working to make and they got behind the project in the form of pre-orders. We have quite a few pre-orders for 5.0 in our queue. Again: Thank you!
What wasn’t exciting about March was that it was of course when Covid really took the United States and the rest of the world by storm. To say that the world entirely changed in March doesn’t capture the scale of what we are all living through as I write this. It has changed so much in the day to day of the professional and personal lives of everyone at Rodeo just as it has with everyone else. Strangely though Covid had very little effect on the production schedule of Flaanimal 5.0 because Flaanimal is of course manufactured in Taiwan and our steel is sourced in Japan. Both Taiwan and Japan have handled Covid a lot better than the USA has and for the most part their manufacturing engines have never gone idle even through this pandemic.
Unfortunately though Flaanimal 5.0 production is in fact behind schedule, and probably the reason that most of you are reading this is because you are wondering when YOUR Flaanimal will in fact arrive. I see it in my inbox and in comments online daily: “Any Flaanimal update?” “How is Flaanimal coming along?”
We’ve kept fairly silent on responding directly to those questions for one big reason: We don’t want to issue a production update unless we have accurate and actionable information to provide you with – especially as it relates to people who’ve pre-ordered and already placed a significant sum of money on deposit with Rodeo. The bike industry is NOTORIOUS for delays and for stringing people out with fake reasons and false promises about When Your Bike Will Actually Get Here. I could write a novel about why that is, but at the end of the day it boils down to bike design, supply chain, and manufacturing being incredibly complicated, interconnected, and ultimately fragile.
So let’s do this and answer some quick questions:
When will my Flaanimal 5.0 be here? Current production has us finishing production mid to late June. Naked or Naked + Decal frames would probably deliver late June or first week of July. Cerakote frames will take another week or so beyond that.
Why are Flaanimals late? No, it isn’t because of Covid. The reality is that we designed a technically ambitious bike that is difficult to manufacture and we had to manufacture manufacturing methods just to be able to manufacture the bike. Make sense? I hope so.
What if I don’t want to wait for that long for my 5.0? What if late June is too late? We get it. You may want to ride RIGHT NOW. In that case we can refund your pre-order so you can buy something else. We don’t spend pre-order proceeds before we deliver bikes. Your money is safe with us and we can return it at any point that you request it should that be an unfortunate necessity. Our pre-order customers are the people we care most about right now and we’re here to answer questions, listen, and offer our best solutions if you are frustrated with us.
Is Flaanimal 5.0 worth the wait? Ah! Well you got me with that one. This is where I get excited. YES. In my very biased opinion Flaanimal 5.0 is worth the wait and then some, because in these unprecedented times full of unprecedented unprecedence, the Flaanimal 5.0 is an unprecedently awesome bike.
Quite frankly: We hit it out of the park with this one.
So let’s take a look at what changed between the first drafts of 5.0 and the production specification. What exactly got better and why is it more difficult to make? I won’t give away every detail of our production challenges because I’m not here to tell competitors how to copy us, but I will try to paint with broad strokes and detail whenever possible.
5.0 changes and improvements
Shaped rear seat stays
Every Flaanimal from 1.0 to 5.0 v1 has had straight stays. They’ve always been up to the task in terms of ride feel and durability but on 5.0 we wanted to tune the rear end of a bit more compliance and elegance, so we did.
Production spec 5.0 features these lovely shaped rear stays which, in addition to looking a lot more sexy also flex more delivering more of that oft thrown around term: Vertical compliance. Note also the removal of the entire fender bridge from the earlier drafts of the frame. For production 5.0 frames the bridge is completely removable.
Improved yoke detailing and routing
On early drafts of 5.0 there were no attachment points for the rear derailleur routing as it passed along and through the yoke. Production frames gained tidy routing guides and we also worked out an elegant Di2 wire protection system for those thinner Di2 wires.
Carbon sleeved head tube
The carbon seat tube on 5.0 is a feature we love. Not only does it save weight, it also allows us to tune the ride and it adds a certain visual flourish to the overall bike. Flaanimal’s integrated carbon tubes are the visual equivalent of a finely tailored suit with velvet lining. One look at the overall bike tells you that it is supremely capable yet and to slay. We could have paired the carbon seat tube with the carbon Spork 3.0 and called it “balanced” but deep down we lusted for more, so we added the sleeved carbon head tube to the mix to both further reduce weight and carry that carbon theme into better balance throughout the overall frameset. The results really pop on our colored frame offerings, and if you leave your Flaanimal stealth black then the accent is there to be quietly discovered by those who are paying the most attention.
3k carbon changed to UD carbon
Truth be told I was actually a fan of the 3k carbon on the first seat tubes we explored for 5.0. I like a nice carbon weave. But for others the addition of carbon to the 5.0 frameset was something to whisper, not shot about. So I listened to the prevailing opinion at the office and we changed to a UD tube for production 5.0 head tubes and seat tubes. In addition to being more stealth, UD carbon is also lighter than 3k… if you’re into that sort of thing.
Tire clearance is a big deal these days. People want tons of it. We won’t get into whether or not people need huge tires, but a lot of people want huge tires. When we first discussed 5.0 on bikepacking.com we announced that it fit 650b x 2.2″ or 700c x50mm (2.0″). As huge as that is it wasn’t enough for the impossible to please people who live down in the internet comments sections. “If only it could fit 700×2.1″” they said, to which we replied “This bike can’t be all things to all people”. Well, as it turns out it can be all things to more people than we originally thought. Not only did we later mount and test absurdly massive 650×2.4″ tires on 5.0, we’ve also recently successfully mounted and tested 700×2.1″ tires on 5.0. THIS IS A BIG DEAL, maybe even a little bit unprecedented as it were. We don’t do regular market and competition audits so feel free to correct us on this, but we aren’t aware of other bikes on the market which are able to fit such a huge range of tires onto a frameset that still retains its road-oriented q-factor and non suspension corrected geometry. Need a translation: Flaanimal is still a very elegant and well mannered bike on road slicks, traditional gravel tires, and massive MTB tires. So yes: Go road fast road riding Monday through Friday on 5.0 and go on a rugged bikepacking trip on the weekend on the same exact bike with the simple swap of wheels / tires. Bonus: Look good doing it because Flaanimal didn’t get ugly as it evolved to cover such a huge spectrum.
Improved BB shell design
The first draft of 5.0 had a fairly conventional 86.5mm T47 threaded BB shell. For the 5.0 production spec we CNC machined the shell for lighter weight and reduced the width to the 85.5mm T47 standard which may not seem like much but offers vastly improved tool purchase when installing and tightening the BB cups in the frame.
Superior tube shaping and butting on rear triangle.
Our 5.0 prototypes had straight butted rear stays because the tube shapes that were required for tire clearance caused thinner butted tubes to pinch and fold during shaping. For our production spec tubes we went back and developed special tooling to safely shape custom butted tubes for each tube in the rear triangle. This both reduced weight and improved ride quality over prototype frames. You won’t see any crude dimpled tubes on 5.0. Each tube is elegant and shaped with purpose and precision.
The small details
5.0 production specification shines in other small details from cable routing to the humor we like to include in our frame designs. 4.0 and 4.1 Flaanimals included bottle openers on the rear stays. Some saw this as decorative and gimmickey but to us it was us putting a touch of humor into the frame design. On 5.0 we removed that opener from the frame but we didn’t get rid of it, we’ve simply moved it to the magnetic removable through axle lever which is used to actuate both the front and rear axles with a single lever. Our through axles are also now lighter and more elegant in design.
Also hiding in plain sight is an improved slider design which allows 1cm greater slider range than any previous Flaanimal. Depending on how large your tire is you can now adjust your sliders from 415mm to 435mm total chain stay length. Not only does no other bike offer that range of adjustment, our flat mount sliding dropout remains the only true tucked in low profile slider in the industry. All other slider manufacturers place the flat mount caliper in a high profile position behind the seat stay.
Let’s talk about the some of the challenges that resulted in some of the 5.0 delays. If we had posted an update on this project a few weeks ago we would have had to say “we’re experiencing some challenges on the manufacturing side” but because we waited a bit we can now say “we experienced some challenges, we solved them, and we’re back to producing at scale”.
Combining steel and carbon
We get a lot of questions about the way that we are combining steel and carbon on 5.0. Is it safe? Will it stand the test of time? Will we see a repeat of sketchy carbon/steel or carbon/aluminum hybrid design frames of the late ’90s? We had to do our homework when we considered these materials and we didn’t make this decision lightly. We warrant our frames to the original owner against defects in design and manufacturing for life. That means we really have to be confident that what we are making is built to last. Thankfully we didn’t have to start from scratch when combining steel and carbon. Our manufacturing partner in Taiwan has considerable experience in this area and were able to execute our designs from day one. Without giving away any tricks I can say that combining steel and carbon takes very tight tolerances and involves sophisticated techniques and materials. Some of our delays happened as we refined these methods from boutique one-off solves to methods for larger scale production.
One area that gave us a lot of difficulty was the sleeved carbon head tube of the bike. I never waivered that we wanted this feature to make it into production but I never anticipated how difficult it would be to properly execute. A thin metal head tube wants to deform when heated during welding. How does one keep it round so that the carbon sleeve can drop in and maintain proper tolerances? That is a tough solve. Another tricky solve is the relief at the front of the head tube. Early attempts to cut the shape out involved CNC machines. The final solve involves multi axis laser cutters. Lasers are so cool. Damn Flaanimal, you fancy.
Excess steel and metal deformation also contaminate the inner diameter of the head tube. How do we remedy this before bonding in the carbon sleeve? We had to solve that.
How does one align and weld a steel frame when the carbon seat tube is entirely missing? At what point in production do you bond the carbon with the steel? We now know the answers to those questions.
These are just a few of the challenges that we’ve had to overcome as we developed this frame. Perhaps it would have been better to fully develop 5.0 behind the scenes and keep it all secret until frames were on the ground ready to ship. That is how most other companies do it. But Rodeo isn’t like that, we have a strong history of telling our story out in the open and giving people peaks behind the scenes in what it takes to make a great bike. Way back on Flaanimal 3.0 we had a legendary production issue which could have been considered embarrassing and disastrous for an emerging brand with an un-proven reputation. But for us it was an opportunity to be honest with our pre-order customers, show them what went wrong, and assure them that we would take care of them. The 3.0 debacle remains one of my most proud chapters in Rodeo’s history because what could have been a disaster defined us as a customer oriented brand. Our delays in 5.0 are not on the scale of the 3.0 difficulties but any time I have to tell our customers that they are going to have to wait more for a bike they paid for months ago it very much weighs on me. I wish we could make this bike faster, but I can sleep well knowing that we made this bike as awesome as possible.
But on that note I return to my earlier statement: The wait is most definitely worth it. Having ridden every generation of every Rodeo bike since day one I can easily say that Flaanimal 5.0 is the most versatile, capable, and innovative bike we’ve ever made and moreover I think that in a crowded and often uninspired adventure bike marketplace Flaanimal 5.0 stands on its own in terms of innovation, capabilities, style, and overall value.
Thanks again for all of your amazing and continued support.