I’m not going to lie. It’s been a nail biter around the lab the last few weeks. Or if we’re really honest it’s been a nail biter since early January.
At the turn of the year we found ourselves waiting. The Lab was stocked with boxes of parts allocated to two new prototype framesets that were overdue. We nervously answered emails and tweets kindly requesting a status update on the project. We set up meetings with videographers anticipating the coming need to show what we’ve created. And still… we waited.
Straight away we started reading and listening to peoples’ reactions and impressions about what we’ve created. Some people were all-in from the start, with the first order coming in no less that five minutes after we launched. Thank you!
Other people were more skeptical. What is so great about our bike? Why should anyone pay attention? Could anyone trust our claims that a single frameset can be suitable for road biking, gravel riding, cyclocross, city riding, or trail riding?
Skepticism is fair. No harm no foul. But as I read through the comments one comment struck me.
“Yeah you can build a mountain bike with it, but is it a GOOD mountain bike?”
We promised we’d do this on January 31st, so it is time to spill the beans on the production spec Flaanimal 3.0 adaptable frameset.
Let’s start with an overview and recap. The Flaanimal adventure bike project has always been a bit of a younger sibling project to the Traildonkey. Insomuch as we never intended to release a carbon adventure bike, and then we did, we also never intended to release a steel adventure bike, but now we are.
Today is almost exactly the three year anniversary of when we started Rodeo Labs in 2014. On that day Peder Horner and myself had some beer and ate some pie at Denver Bike Cafe while dreaming up the beginnings of this circus. We scribbled some names on some paper and laughed a lot as we considered the possibilities that starting from scratch allowed us.
Words by Nik Van der W00ts, Photos by Brett Stakelin (@das_guy)
Cyclocross is a niche within a niche, but there is something I love about this high energy, gritty sport. I got started grinding my gears on the grass, sand, mud and barriers on the east coast. Some would cite this as the unofficial heart and home of American cyclocross. The days spent racing and volunteering in Gloucester and Providence were cold, muddy and certainly epic affairs. Those memories have stuck with me and often are the first that come to mind when I think of cyclocross.
After a hiatus from cyclocross (prompted by grad-school and a 2,000 mile relocation to Colorado) I re-tested the waters. I was in for a shock. The climate and terrain were unfamiliar compared with my first dirt-covered memories. Gone were the days of racing in parks with pristine grass that turned to rutted muddy lines. In Colorado if a race is on grass, it is spiky unfriendly blades. All the moisture is evaporated, leaving dusty loose conditions. Many a time I have come home from racing and felt like a miner, hacking up dust for the next few days. Some of the rugged courses tested my nerves on cantilever brakes and left my hands sore from trying to modulate my speed.
[Ed. Note: Barry is a former Denverite who now is part of our east-coast Rodeo contingent. This was an unsolicited review for which he received no compensation. Actually, I still own him for the Burrito he bought me on our last ride.]
Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Trail Donkey evolve over the last year and have been eagerly awaiting the chance to actually ride one in person. So when Twinkie offered me the chance to ride a near-production Trail Donkey on my last trip to Denver, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I expected it to be a fun bike, which it certainly was, but in many ways it exceeded my expectations.
I arrived in town early on a Tuesday and immediately drove over to Rodeo World Headquarters. After a short tour and a visit with Rodeo Wife & Rodeo Kids, Twinkie unveiled the goods: a 54 cm Donkey 2.0, built with a simple-yet-reliable 10-speed Force Hydro kit and a smattering of colorful yet functional parts. As a bonus I’d be the first one to try the Donkey with an alternate wheel configuration: a set of SRAM/WTB 650b wheels shod with WTB’s newest Horizon 47c slicks. Not quite your average build, but then again the Donkey is not your average bike!
The Lab is a restless place. A lot of ideas get tossed around. Good ideas get made, bad ideas get dust binned.
The Flaanimal is an idea that we have been brewing on for a while. It’s roots can be traced back to the Traildonkey, Belgium, and Texas (affectionately known as Tejas). Conversations swirled then turned into action. We made a Version 1 design, tested it, then moved on to Version 2 with refinements, added features, new tubing draws, and reduced weight. The choice of materials that we use for the project has always been a point of discussion. 853? 725? 525? Custom? For Flaanimal the go-to option was always steel, but we kept saying “what if”. What if we built it out of titanium? Steel is amazing, but Ti has some special properties that steel doesn’t have. It doesn’t corrode like steel, it’s stronger and lighter than most steel blends, and it has it’s own lively feel that is distinct from other materials.
Enter the Flaanimal Ti. Flaanimal Ti is a continuation of the Flaanimal project. It uses the same geometries and basic specifications of the Flaanimal but keeps the conversation going.
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.
A new bike showed up at The Lab this morning. The first of 10 test Flaanimals has arrived. Originally conceived as the Unsinglespeed, this bike that we are working on was later named after the hearty animals seen when Rodeo went to Belgium earlier this year. The diversity, ruggedness, and beauty of the animals of Flanders made us laugh all week long, and a name was born.
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