He’s into obscure Welsh rock. I’m into hip hop, I think. He went to law school. I was done after high school. He leans to the left, I lean to the right of whatever left means. I don’t think he’s religious at all. If I didn’t have faith I think I’d be dead. Tom likes a very tall riding position with an absurd stem because ergonomics. I like a low, sleek position, because vanity. Tom was a pipe smoker once upon a time. I’ve literally never smoked anything, ever, not even the tires on my car.
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.
After months of prep and a whole lot of hush hush, I’m excited to finally spill the beans and offer a full breakdown on the Traildonkey 3.0 that I’ve built up to race next week at Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco. This bike is a lot of things to me. It has layers like an onion. So to simply put up the photos and list some gear would be to short sell the effort and consideration that it took to bring this build into existence.
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?
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.
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!
Travis is not a guy who moves impulsively on things. When we met him in 2018 at Belgian Waffle Ride he just like us had traveled there from Colorado. He recognized the Rodeo kits that we were wearing and struck up a conversation. He had been watching online and knew all about what we were up to. We rode the bulk of BWR with him that year and made plans to reconnect in 2019 for some riding in Durango. In the mean time Travis kept watching what we were up to and set his eyes on eventually adopting a Traildonkey. He didn’t do it quickly though. Every month or two he would ask about a detail or compare some notes on how he would build it. Eventually he ordered up the frame and made a special request. He wanted us to create an homage of our 2015 Elektrobunny kit on the frame. Elektrobunny is a kit we only made and released once, so you really had to be paying attention to even know that it existed and more so to remember it.
It was April or May when I registered for Unpaved Pennsylvania. Jason Malec, a friend and Flaanimal pilot form Philadelphia had invited me to the ride, or was it a race? I wasn’t sure. What I did know was that Jason said that the day would be super challenging, beautiful, and would fill up quickly. There wasn’t much time to consider whether or not to go so I made haste to put my name on the starter’s list.
I remember seeing this ride pop up on Nick’s Strava in 2018. Phantom Canyon? Where is that? Out of nowhere he took off on a bike ride with some friends and came back with a huge load of beautiful images and a ride title to the effect of “So beautiful my eyes hurt”. I got that sort of bike envy that we all get when friends go off and do awesome things without us.
It is about 4pm on Friday (Date). Nick and I have just completed a seldom or never ridden dirt and gravel ride over three remote Colorado mountain passes approaching or exceeding 12,000 feet above sea level. We’re smashed. Smashed, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is a word that the kids these days use in place of “exhausted”. I think it’s a great descriptor.
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