Ah, nothing like the chirping of alligators in the morning.
A chorus of those spooky songs called out from all directions as I rode down a desolate gravel road about 30 miles west of Palm Beach, Florida. I was searching for a suitable place to take care of my pre-race pee before the 5AM start of the Sugarcane 200.
Staring down a 200-mile bike race is scary. REALLY scary.
Staring down a 200-mile bike race in January is just plain old silly.
For me the Sugarcane 200 will be my maiden odyssey into the wild world of gravel racing. I am excited for the challenge ahead, however, I really don’t have many wise things to say going into it. I know next to nothing about the competition, except that Ted King is one grade-A certified fast dude. I know next to nothing about the course, except it is longer than long and flatter then flat. Lastly, I know next to nothing about nutrition and tactics, except I need a lot of food and even more patience.
I’m just now entering the stage of the bike ride when the hang over moves from the head to the legs. The road has finally returned after dropping off sandy double track and the wind is soft as we climb into the mountains surrounding Anza-Borrego. The early morning light is splitting canyon walls and we pedal on. It’s day two of the trip and we’re already dancing with God.
Every once and a while I look back into my memory searching for the seed of it all. I can spend minutes sifting through troves of distant sequences of experience, trying to find the one – the trigger – that set me on the road less traveled that I am on today. Where oh where was my love of the bicycle born?
For those unfamiliar with me, my name is Drew. I recently came back full time to Rodeo after a couple year hiatus working elsewhere in the industry. When I originally worked at Rodeo in 2016 and 2017, I had enjoyed working here and contributing to the products and culture. But until recently I never noticed how important this brand and community actually are to me.
Bryan has been orbiting Rodeo Labs for a couple of years. He used to just ride with us now and then. Later he adopted a 2.o Traildonkey and rode it to a 5th place SS at DK this year. After that act of valor it was time to reward his strength with actual gears. Instead of opting for 11 gears, Bryan chose 12.
Rodeo is a company driven along by photographs. Documenting rides with a camera started a few years before we got going and was for me motivated by the fact that I didn’t have enough time to be a stand-alone hobbyist photographer and also a cyclist, so I merged the two by always having some sort of camera in my right rear jersey pocket no matter what sort of ride I was on. It started with just my phone and the Instagram app. Then I added external lenses to the phone, then I got a gopro, then I got tired of the gopro so I experimented with various point and shoot cameras. Eventually I sometimes even lugged around a full size DSLR on a specially made strap or I brought along my small drone to try to take compelling aerial photos. Taking a photograph on a ride is not hugely challenging and it is quite common these days. “If you didn’t take a photo did it even happen?” is a common joke that has an edge of cynicism. Are we taking photos of rides as a desperate cry for attention or to brag? I’ve certainly done that at times, more often in the earlier years of my cycling photo life. But more often than not I’m taking a photo on a ride because I’m so excited about the moment or the place that I’m experiencing and I want to capture that moment for later and pass it along to others. Sharing the thrill of a ride, the landscape, and the company is a wonderful challenge to take on with a camera and most of the time I actually fail at that attempt to share. 97 out of 100 photos I take go directly to the trash on my computer. Of the three that I might keep only one has the chance of being a photo I’m genuinely excited about, a photo that has the potential to communicate through a tiny phone screen or larger computer monitor what it felt like for me to be there. I think anyone who has attempted to take and share a photo has experienced this challenge. At the peak of a sublime moment of a ride or at the crest of a hill we’re overcome with how good a moment it is and we reach for the camera. We take the photo and review it later only to be deeply disappointed that the photo captures almost none of it, none of that magic that we felt when we were THERE. But when you somehow by some miracle capture that moment and it isn’t dismembered as it filters through a lens, a camera sensor, an image processing chip, and a storage card you feel a pretty huge sense of satisfaction. That’s it! That is what it was actually like to be there! That’s a special image and in Rodeo’s case those are the images that in a large part have built this company and community.
This past week sure was a good time with little work, many family and friends, lots of good food and a bunch of riding. Being Thanksgiving and a time for family traditions, we at Rodeo Labs have a southern tradition of our own, the Black Friday Rodeo Rally. This tradition started a few years ago between Jeff Thayer and me looking for an escape from Thanksgiving activities, the need for being outdoors and training miles for the upcoming Snake Creek Gap Time Trial Series.
While we were in Silverton this August we had an incredible brand partner on the trip with us in the form of the CBD recovery brand IKOR Labs. Ikor brought along Nicolas Tapia who shot and edited these partner / profile pieces on a number of riders who were along on the trip. We’re excited to share them here, and keep an eye out for our full short film on the trip to be released in 2020!
In April of 2019 we packed up and headed to Sea Otter Classic for our first ever expo / trade show. Over the course of that week in Monterey we had such a good time showing our bikes, meeting owners and new people, and sampling the local riding. As soon as we returned to Denver we set out looking for which expo we would attend next. With such a large contingent of owners located on the East Coast the decision was made to look for an expo on that side of the country. It didn’t take long to single out Philly Bike Expo as the show to attend. Philly has been a show we’ve enjoyed reading about in previous years and the vibe always seemed upbeat and friendly from afar. We asked around a bit and our thoughts were confirmed. Everyone said that Philly was the show to be at, so we quickly registered and pinned it on the calendar.
We didn’t have a plan for what we wanted to show or talk about at Philly initially but as the show neared we started gathering our thoughts. The show’s date on the calendar coincided pretty well with the development of our next generation Flaanimal 5.0 and we set a target for having a prototype preview ready to show, and we also asked ourselves what would be cool to do with the TD3 as a concept build. Two bikes began to take shape in our minds…
Also taking shape was the design of the booth itself. After our experience at Sea Otter we left with the sense that a lot of companies are entering the gravel / adventure space to cash in on the growth and opportunity. If you’re a corporation with a primary objective to sell as many bikes as possible then that is fine but for Philly we wanted to bring a booth along that showed that we’re equally interested in bikes, culture, and community. We decided to build a booth around our library of photos that we’ve collected over the last six years of riding, exploring, and making bikes. We asked owners to send in photos as well and we combined it all into a visual backdrop for our bikes that told our story without using many words.
For the Traildonkey 3.0 that we brought we wanted to do an out of the box build in a way that we hadn’t previously built one before so we worked with Fox to spec out an AX 40mm front suspension fork. A PNW Coast dropper / suspension post in the back provides 40mm of travel in the rear for a balanced feel. We asked Archer Components if they could build a drop bar specific version of their D1x wireless shifting intermediary. This allowed us to combine TRP Hylex RS levers with a Shimano XT 12 speed drivetrain which would otherwise not be do-able on a drop bar bike. Exile Designs created special matching frame bag / top tube bag / and Fannie Packer with custom printed local Table Mountain Topograhy on the main panels. The finished bike is pretty bonkers and started a lot of fun conversations. How far can a gravel / adventure bike go before it becomes a mountain bike? That seems to be a recurring question these days but to us it doesn’t even matter. Bikes are bikes. To us pushing the Traildonkey 3 platform about as far as we could was a blast, and the eventual owner of this bike is going to have quite a party when they throw their leg over it. (This bike is now available for sale, but with a GRX drivetrain instead of the pre-production Archer prototype shifting. Shoot us a note if you are interested)
By the time Philly arrived we were extremely excited to preview the Flaanimal 5.0 prototype and we barely finished the frameset in time. It was built only 24 hours before the show just like those hot rod shows that I’ve seen on TV. I always wonder why everything comes down to the wire on those shows if they know that they have months to prepare for the show but now I get it. Developing a bike is difficult to begin with but developing a bike and trying to get it just right in time for it’s public debut is another level of difficulty entirely. This new Flaanimal we showed at Philly is a bike we are extremely proud of. We’re advancing the core Flaanimal feature set by integrating creative solves for tire clearance, strength, and weight and we are not leaving behind the adaptability that the bike was originally about in the process. If you’d like to read the full exposition of what is new with Flaanimal 5 then head over to the exclusive preview that they have posted here.
Flaanimal 5 will be available Q1 2020. The bike we showed is just a preview and we are making final tweaks and locking specs as I type this. I couldn’t be more excited to show the final product when it is ready.
Thanks to all the people who came out and said hi at Philly Bike Expo. We loved visiting the city, shaking hands, talking bikes, meeting Rodeo owners, and sharing what we do. See you in 2020!