I’ve never done research on a place I’m traveling to. I’ve never read the top 10 lists and taken notes or looked into the history or geography or culture. I’ve always followed my gut and shown up jet-lagged and blind and let the bike and whoever I meet along the way lead me through discovering a place. I don’t often regret not making it to the most known places. I’ve found stumbling through a place is how to really get to know it’s charm.
Most of the bikes we build here at Rodeo Labs are customized to one extent or another. Some minimally, perhaps with different component sizes or a decal color we don’t typically use. Other are maximally customized, like for instance this build we just completed for Jason.
I wrote recently how I feel like I’m using this bike ride from Milan to Armenia as a dress rehearsal for the ride around Armenia. I’m excited and nervous and desperate for everything to go right for us when we’re there. I want to fall in love with Armenia more than any other place I’ve ever been. The history of the land there makes me want to go and just give it a long, aching embrace. I’ve done research and thought about it and now that we’re here, in the final stages of transit, riding a train across Turkey and only a couple days of pedaling from the border, that excitement is ready to burst. But this dress rehearsal is not yet over, and unlike an actual dress rehearsal this ride has been very much real and unscripted. The last 3,500 kilometers have been an adventure indeed.
While we wait impatiently for Traildonkeys to arrive we’ve been quite busy building and delivering Flaanimals. Lately Flux customs has been completing our Cerakote and custom painted frames in waves so we’ve had some great looking bikes leaving. Below is a gallery of builds and details.
How do you compare and contrast an effort, especially when one is by foot and the other by bike? That wasn’t the driving question when Stephen and I sat down with Sam Martin, but we couldn’t help ourselves and asked anyway. Sam is fresh off of the Tour Divide. From the outside looking in, he was unfazed by the preparation and inevitable supply chain delays. So drastic, that Sam rode the Tour Divide on a demo Trail Donkey while awaiting his Flaanimal pre-order. He took it all in stride. Good, bad, who knows? While on the trip, he would post to photo updates and amazed us with stunning, moody, and in my mind, images that represent a love letter to bikepacking. I saw the Tour Divide in a way I haven’t seen before. However, Sam’s path did not start here. During the summer of 2018, Sam thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. It became clear to Stephen and I that much of Sam’s “being unfazed” was due to his experience (gear and mindset) to prepare for an undertaking of this size. In some senses, while the medium was different, a lot could be translated.
This is the second dispatch sent in by Evan and Bo from their ride across Europe to Armenia, on assignment for Rodeo Labs.
The Balkans. Have you heard of them? Can you point them out on a map? The Yugo and Burek and Rakija. Do you know how important these things are to modern day Europe? Have you heard of Tito? A leader, peacekeeper, hard nose, and uniter of nations that stood up to the US and the USSR during the ColdWar. Six weeks ago I knew none of it. In my advanced placement world history classes I never heard the slightest whisper of it. But these mountains and nations stood in our way between Italy and Armenia, so through the Balkans we went.
Where do you live? Were you born there and if not what brought you to where you live today?
Living in Boulder, Colorado. Moved here from New York when I was a kid thanks to my dad’s job
. What would you like to share about what you do for a living?
I work for a media company based in Boulder focusing on outdoor adventure sports!
What was your entry into cycling, and how did that ultimately lead you to owning a gravel bike?
I started cycling in college around 4 years ago just as a way to get around. I needed to upgrade my hybrid bike, with the only goal of getting a new bike with disc brakes. One of the guys at the bike shop I went to recommended looking at a gravel bike instead of a hardtail like I had planned. I wound up finding cycling quite fun while getting to class so I bought a pair of clipless shoes and some cheap kit. I evidently got really into the sport, and eventually found myself working in the industry at Rapha and meeting some of the Rodeo crew!
Do you have a go-to route that you hit when you want to have a sure-thing good ride?
Marshall Mesa and Flatirons Vista is a good mix of easy road to get there, mellow, flowing single track, and some technical rocky sections that really challenge your bike handling skills. Great pretty much all year round too. I’ve lead some folks around the loop too, and it’s a great way to get your friends into some kinda silly gravel.
How do you keep cycling fresh? How do you challenge yourself?
I like to avoid planning a route as much as possible, especially if I’m in a place I’m familiar with. Less structure to the ride let’s me follow whatever road looks like it could be fun. I’ve found great trails between houses, out on the plains, and of course, a few dead ends. But it’s always fun to explore somewhere you’ve never been.
Do you like to ride alone, solo, or do you like a mix of the two?
I mostly ride solo, but I do love riding with my friends and shooting photos of them while we ride.
What is the most sketchy ride or ride situation that you’ve ever experienced?
Recently I was in Grand Mesa, very unprepared for the altitude and the rain. The only communication I had was a walkie talkie that I just had to hope was in range of my friends back at the cabin. I found myself on some super sketchy 4×4 roads where the off roaders were having issues in the mud. I had to bail out after my wheels kept getting swallowed by it, and I’m thankful it was a cooler day out, otherwise I probably would’ve run out of water really quickly and been stuck at almost 11,000 feet and a long walk ahead. It’s always ok to say “nope”!
Do you have a singular favorite ride experience?
I think my favorite ride experience was the first time I was able to climb up Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. At that point, even the smallest hills felt like a huge challenge, so being able to check it off the first time without having to walk really boosted my confidence and helped me prove to myself that I could actually be a serious cyclist, and even consider myself an athlete. Especially since I always thought of myself as a kinda wimpy kid in high school. Goes to show that you can always work at something and get better and prove to yourself that you can do it.
What would you like to see change about cycling as a sport, a way of transportation, a community, or a lifestyle?
I’d love to see other cyclists try to expand from their boundaries. There should be more mountain bikers on the road, more roadies trying gravel, gravel riders on track bikes. Sometimes we get too in our own niche, and the best way to improve as both a cyclist and a person is to try something new. Be bad at something for a little, you can only get better.
Tell us about your Flaanimal build? How did you narrow down the incredible amount of build options into what you are riding today?
My Flaanimal started as the most basic GRX build you could get when preorders opened. I was pretty bummed that I graduated in 2020 so this was my consolation prize, on a college budget. I wanted a bike that I could throw around and not worry about. Big rock in the trail that I hit? Oh well. Fell off the rack in my garage, no worries. It has a bunch of metal parts, big 700×45 tires, Silca titanium cages and a Silca X RCC frame pump (everyone deserves a treat) and of course the awesome steel frame. Bikes are meant to be ridden after all, and scratches just mean that the bike is personalized.
Is there anything you would like to change about the frameset or the way that you have it built?
I plan on keeping this bike for years to come, so the best part about it is that there will always be something that will change on it. But the frameset will stay the same throughout, though I may get some custom paint on it to give it a bit of a refresh when the time comes.
Any final thoughts, observations, or points of inspiration that you’ve had as a cyclist or a person that you would like to share?
I’ve met so many cool people just because they stopped to talk about my bike or the fact that they’re also owners of a Rodeo or they ride too. There’s such an awesome community in cycling, and bikes are a great way to make friends, see cool places, and push yourself farther than you ever thought you could.
Do you have any social media / strava profile that you would like to share if people want to follow along?
Before 2021 I had really only ever had one singular ride on Campagnolo components. It was during a cyclocross race in Portland, Oregon more than a decade ago. My bike was disabled with a flat tire so a friend lent me his Campy equipped steed for my race. Having spent the majority of my drop bar riding life on Shimano components the instant transition to this new Italian groupset was quite jarring. In short: I just couldn’t get the shifting right. The Campagnolo controls were somewhat reversed from the Shimano controls that I was used to, so throughout the race I repeatedly went to shift to an easier ratio for a hill, but instead the reversed controls had exactly the opposite effect: I dropped into a more difficult gear and stalled out. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. It wasn’t love at first sight and there weren’t any immediate plans to try Campagnolo again any time soon.
If you have been following the Rodeo Labs stories on Instagram you’ll likely have caught onto a theme. Every week stories get posted of smiling faces on Flaanimal’s. Better yet with captions noting you, yes you, can demo the Flaanimal 5.0 directly from Paper Trail Bike Cafe. While Stephen has met both Paul and Mark, I had some catching up to do. Therefore it was only natural to get on a call and hear the ideas they have been concocting throughout pandemic quarantine. They had plenty of time to ideate and now in full swing is the Gravel Travel arm of Paper Trail.
Note from Stephen: In late May may dad, who lives with my mom in Armenia told me that the country was overly ripe for exploration by bike, and that Rodeo should put on a bikepacking race there. I was at first skeptical. If the riding there is so good why haven’t I heard more about it? But after I flew over the country in 3d on Google Earth and looked at some of my dad’s photos I was convinced that further exploration was at least necessary. The only problem was that it is quite difficult, nay close to impossible for me to get there any time soon. As life would have it Evan Christenson had just finished a bikepacking tour of the the Baja Divide with his girlfriend Bo Shan. Evan was looking for what was next in life and was in no mood to settle down for anything mundane. In nearly no time at all the idea hit me: Perhaps Evan and Bo could be sent ahead to scout the country and report back? I pitched the idea to Evan, and then Evan pitched me back a more rounded out concept. It was decided that Rodeo would create its first ever On Assignment For Rodeo Labs project, and Bo and Evan would be the first to undertake an expedition such as this under such a title.
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