Once upon a time, exactly ten years ago, when Rodeo started, it was 100% about community. There were no products, no ambitions, no balance sheets. We started a team, we invited anyone who wanted to join the team, and we had no plan from there. Whatever happened, happened, and a lot happened. In the following months an entire community sprang to life not just locally in Denver, but throughout the state, throughout the region, and throughout Colorado.
Later, things changed. Running the team was very time consuming. Organizing rides was time consuming. I started developing the Traildonkey and became obsessed with it. As time went on, and for many reasons, Rodeo shifted away from those early “anything goes” days, and veered towards the tractor beam of being a bike company. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Rodeo as a bike company has changed my life for the better, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. I think the six other people who work for Rodeo here in Denver also very much appreciate being able to do bikes for a living.
I would, however, be lying if I didn’t pine for the simplicity of the early days when more energy went into riding bikes together than went into making bikes. I won’t pretend to be idealistic enough to think that we’ll get back to that original manifestation of Rodeo, because that isn’t remotely possible. But what I have been thinking about a lot recently is returning to that original sense of community and trying to weave it authentically back into the fibers of what we express as a bike company.
One of our original community members going back to nearly the beginning is Mike Smith, who now lives in Florida. Back in the day Mike bought a Traildonkey 2 and rode the wheels off it. Later he got a Flaanimal, a TD3, and he will soon own a TD4 as well. But Mike has never been just a customer, he’s always been a genuine member of the Rodeo community. More important than that, he’s also been an organizer of that community wherever he lives.
Many Rodeo riders will recognize Mikes’ Georgia Rodeo Rallies which he held year after year. Those rowdy and inclusive events invited anyone with any bike to come ride some pretty silly and awesome routes that Mike would string together all over the region. These events were a beautiful thing, they were an ongoing expression of that core desire to simply ride bikes with friends, without any rules, and with no other motives other than sharing the experiences and making new friendships.
Last year Mike popped into my inbox with an earworm of an idea: It had been a while since a proper rally had been held, and not enough Rodeo community stuff was happening outside of Colorado. Mike wanted to change that, and wanted to host something entirely new in his new home state of Florida.
Florida? What do you think of when someone says the word “Florida”? I can think of MANY things, but none of those things are bikes per-say. Sure, I know that people ride there, and I know from friends that the local cycling communities and vibrant and thriving. But is Florida a biking destination? I asked Mike this, and he enthusiastically related to me that Florida was far more than what I expected, and due to its warmer temps and diverse terrain, it could make a great winter destination for a cycling get-together. A winter destination was a key part of this idea, because spring and summer are increasingly crowded with more and more events with each passing year. To throw an event in those months would automatically guarantee that a large cross section of Rodeo riders wouldn’t be able to attend any event we threw.
Mike and I agreed on the idea, and knew a winter date was needed. But what about a route? How would we put together a good route in an area that at least I had never been and knew nothing about? Enter Karlos Bernart, aka Singletrack Samurai. I would wager to say that Karlos is one of the crown jewels of the Florida adventure riding community. He organizes more Florida adventure and endurance events than I can count, including Florida Divide, Huracan 300, and many others. Mike invited Karlos to the conversation and it quickly became apparent that he was the man for the job when it came to organizing a Rodeo riding event. Karlos worked up a 3 day, 200 bile self supported bikepacking loop starting and ending in Gainsville, FL, and went to town making sure that all details were ironed out and anticipated. We all agreed that we wanted to cap the event around 50 riders because we wanted it to feel intimate enough that we could all potentially mingle throughout the tree days together. All that remained was coming up with a name and sending out the invite to the Rodeo community. The idea of the Rodeo community heading south for the winter was an easy source of inspiration, and the Rodeo Southern Migration event was born. Critical to our culture, one did not have to ride a Rodeo Labs bike to come to Southern Migration, all were welcome.
Skip to almost six months later, and the event sold out. A great group of riders were signed up, as was everyone who works for Rodeo Labs. That latter point was critical to me because, after much thought, it seemed that mixing all of the people who worked at Rodeo with so many people who ride our bikes would be a great way to complete that circle of what it means to make, own, and ride our bikes. I liked the idea of getting people from out of behind the curtain and into the mix. I think a fair number of people perceive Rodeo as larger and more esoteric than it really is from an operations point of view, and I think that undoing that perception could be really healthy. Everyone who works here is a passionate bike rider just like all of our community members are!
The four days of the event itself were a near constant state of bliss for me, and I didn’t want it to end. The first night began with a campfire and a food truck, and most all of the crew from Denver camped out at the start point with a bunch of the riders. That was a great icebreaker and set the stage well for the three days of riding and two nights of camping that followed.
The riding in Florida was sublime, and perfect for this time of year because of its relaxed, very flat terrain. The road surfaces felt very new to me. Not present was the rugged gravel of Colorado. What replaced it were sandy backroads packed into nearly perfectly firm hardpack leading through gorgeous groves of Live Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss.
It struck me as I rode through these new sights that I need to get out more, and I mean that on many levels. I need to get out of my introverted shell, I need to get out of my repetitive riding rut, I need to expand the community that I call friends, and I need to interact more with people who approach cycling through different styles. The Southern Migration Rally was an amazing start to living those ideas and ideals out more, and it’s something that I deeply want to lean into personally and with Rodeo in 2024.
The Southern Migration Rally was a wonderful success in every way that I can measure, and probably in many ways that I can’t. I’ll never be able to know all of the connections that were made, conversations that were had, and wheels that were shared. The weekend felt like a big wedding where you want to say hi to every guest and catch up with every old friend, but that wasn’t entirely possible in the time that we had. Even so, the fact that there were eight Rodeo staffers mingling with every person in attendance put my mind at ease that even though I couldn’t ride with and day hi to every single person, I think that collectively we were able to many times over.
I wasn’t able to capture every rider who came along on the rally. Some people were quite stealth and elusive! But here are some of the people that we had the pleasure of sharing those three days and two nights with.
2024 is the beginning of a new chapter for Rodeo. Going into our second decade, this event leaves me inspired to keep working back towards that community feeling that Rodeo started with, but in new ways and through new types of experiences that we are only now just dreaming up. If the Southern Migration rally looks good from up close or from afar, stay tuned for more events like this in our future, spread across the country, and maybe even the world!