Summer has transitioned to fall, and with the change of seasons a lot of change has also come to Rodeo Labs, even more than I had anticipated, it seems! So before we dig into any product or event news, let’s talk about the biggest news at Rodeo Labs right now:
I hinted at the moving news in the last newsletter, but at that point the deal hadn’t quite been done and I was, quite frankly, still in a phase of massive indecision about the whole thing. We’ve been consistently outgrowing our previous space in the last couple of years, and while it was possible to operate there for a little bit longer, we had also been keeping our eye on the real estate market for the last two years without seeing almost any spaces that fit our unique requirements for location, function, accessibility, and even aesthetic.
When a building popped up just a few miles from our current location in June, we knew we needed to seriously consider snagging it or be left waiting for something similar for possibly a couple of more years. For two months we negotiated lease terms and made a huge list of tenant improvements for the space, before finally getting the price tag for it all near the end of the conversation and realizing that who were we kidding? We didn’t have a budget for that. Instead of having contractors update the building for us, we signed the lease and rolled up our sleeves, for 4-6 weeks Rodeo Labs turned into a tiny remodeling / construction company.
On September 2nd we got the green light to get to work, and wow, what an incredible and incredibly exhausting month it’s been for everyone here! In addition to moving and remodeling we still needed to allocate a part of our time resources to painting, building, and shipping bikes, and customer service duties also never sleep. Greg, Ryan, and Cameron burned the wick at both ends to keep up and any able bodied person who wasn’t busy with those responsibilities was over at the new place sawing, painting, cleaning, and reconfiguring the raw warehouse space into something that speaks to our future intentions as a company.
I myself became a master painter, unleashing more than 25 gallons of bright white paint onto nearly every surface. I may or may not have also pressure washed our old couch, which everyone told me not to do, but I did anyway with great success.
Pancho fired up the welder to make desks, security bars, and other esoteric metal creations. Cade created partition walls for the engineering area and CNC room. An entire dusty, dirty loft has been absolutely transformed into a wood lined, warmly lit office work area. Our main bike build area in particular is a labor of love. In the old space I sometimes marveled that five to fifteen thousand dollar bikes could roll out of such a humble garage shop area. In the new space we have wall to wall shiny new white cabinets and clean counter tops set on a bright white epoxy floor.
Tools are stored out of sight, and the walls will soon be adorned with art, not visual clutter. We want to project a much more precise and confident image with the new space that better reflect the love and attention that goes into each bike and product we offer, and we’re well on our way to that goal! I don’t have complete photos to share yet, hopefully by the time I write the next newsletter I will, but in the meantime here is a gallery of work in progress images from the past month to give you a sense of what we’ve been up to!
A number of people have asked if we will have an open house party once we are fully moved in, and the answer is of course yes! We can’t wait to share our new space with our customers and community.
High Level, how’s it going?
Even though we’re in the midst of a big push forward as a company right now, we’re doing that in one of the least settled periods that I’ve ever been through for the bike industry in general. It has always been obvious to me that the very intense boom time of 2020-2022 would eventually come to an end, but I don’t think anyone knew exactly what that would look like or for how long this period would last.
I think the falloff began right about this time last year, but it was hard to pinpoint because fall in general is a time when all bike related activity slows down in the northern hemisphere for the colder, darker winter months. We launched TD4 at the end of October last year, which in a sense created an artificial spike in activity for us around the excitement of the new bike, so while we heard about industry trends and layoffs going into the end of 2022, we were still riding a wave of energy into early 2023, and I couldn’t tell if Rodeo was simply going to experience a delayed slowdown or if we would avoid it entirely because we are a small, niche brand that has a different type of customer than the average for the industry at large. 2023 has been a good year by any measure, but I think I started to pick up signs by early summer that there was simply less energy in the global bike party overall. When I speak of this I’m not just talking about bike sales, but really I’m sensing it across the cycling experience.
For example, in previous years it seemed like every gravel event that sprung to life sold out almost instantly. Of course I’m speaking in generalities here, but I remember a number of events that I tried and failed to get into. Grinduro, anyone? Larger events were so overwhelmed with participant demand that they went away from open registration and switched to lotteries. Every gravel event seemed like a well attended community party. Contrast that to 2023. Larger events are still full, but I’ve seen some do away with the lottery and go back to normal registration openings. Instead of selling out instantly they take a day or two, or twenty. Smaller events, even significant regional events don’t sell out at all, and really had to hustle to stay visible and interesting to increasingly selective participants.
What does this add up to? Is the market saturated with too many events for the core number of riders?
But I also think that there just isn’t as much interest in “events” as there was in previous years. People seem less prone to spend money to go on a ride with a bunch of other people than they were 12-24 months ago. Maybe people want to ride “smaller”, with friends, for fun. Maybe some people want to sit on a beach and not ride at all. Rodeo doesn’t have the scale to be able to analyze numbers across the industry as a whole, but I can absolutely feel the mood in the air, and the mood is quieter. I even see this in our sponsored athletes. A couple of years ago we had a full fledged 10 person gravel race team, and 5-10 privateer supported riders all over the place.
Now the gravel team is long gone, and a number of our sponsored riders who compete at the highest levels of the sport have simply stepped away from events and competing to focus more on their non bike careers. (Shout out to Ashley who is still hitting it hard!). In the cases of other athletes we’ve simply wound down the professional relationship to trim our sails..
Even my personal riding friend group has a much different type of energy this year. We’re all still friends, but the number of big rides that we get out and do together has fallen to about 10% of what we were doing together in 2021. Some of my friends have taken a break from riding all together, and others still ride, but only rally to one or two events or big adventures per year, compared to five times that in previous years.
Cycling seems to just be taking a big exhale. I don’t think there is any single factor that has created this situation, I think the highs and lows of a number of different waveforms have lined up to create a larger dip, and what some times feels like a zero gravity situation.
Outside of events I see these factors affecting bike companies directly. I met with a brand rep a few months back and he said “in the next six months you’re going to see a number of bike companies fail”. Unfortunately, he was right. Here in Denver we recently lost the beloved Guerilla Gravity brand, which to me was a beacon of hope that proved that it is (was) in fact sane to want to make bikes in the USA at scale. I don’t have any specific information as to why they closed doors, but I know that a lot of brands at all sizes built up huge levels of steam and inventory in the past couple of years, only to have the rug ripped out of under them in 2023. Many of them were caught holding the bag on a lot of expensive inventory financed by equally expensive loans and lines of credit. Again, I’m not saying that this is what happened with Guerilla, but the industry talks, and I have heard other brands named explicitly as suffering from those factors. Other legacy brands that I admire are keeping their doors open, but are laying off, selling equity, or are pivoting to different business or supply chain models as they hunt for ways to recover sales and balance income and expenses. Everyone in the business wants to keep the lights on and ride out the storm, and different companies are adapting in different ways, some of which have raised eyebrows and surprised their customers and community.
So, what’s up at Rodeo? How are we doing?
Currently Rodeo is holding water and doing okay. I think we make very personalized, versatile, and desirable bikes, and we have a creative and entertaining story that keeps us on people’s radars and wish lists. I think that has helped buffer us against the worst of the industry contraction, (if that is indeed what it is). But I know deep down that it’s absolutely chilly outside, and we’re not invulnerable to that cold that many others are facing. One reaction that I have to this new mood is fear, because I’m responsible for the company, and I’m responsible for our employees livelihoods. Forget the prospect of profit and growth, I care most about holding down the home base and keeping the core of what we are about healthy. I think, since June, my level of stress and anxiety has risen almost non-stop to levels not felt since Rodeo was still trying to become profitable and pay me (and my family) my first ever paycheck in 2017. Those were dark, scary days for the company when survival wasn’t guaranteed, and failure on an economic level felt almost certain. Things certainly don’t feel like that right now, thank God, but it is amazing how quickly you can be humming along at a hundred miles an hour, absolutely crushing sales and shipping bikes like crazy, to wondering if your business model or entire brand is obsolete and irrelevant.
But wait… if things feel off, and there is danger in the air, what in the world are we doing moving to a larger, more expensive facility, and what are we doing making an considerable investment in a remodel and retool of the way the company is run?
Short answer: YOLO.
Longer answer: I still believe strongly in the fundamentals of what Rodeo is, and even more than that I still believe even more in what Rodeo will evolve into next. So even though it feels very counter intuitive to keep my foot on the gas, hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel, and even though I am in fact scared sitting here in the driver’s seat at all, we are in fact proceeding into the unknown with courage, if not outright certainty. The industry may be slowing down, but even if we sell fewer bikes this year than last year, we’re speeding up in other ways.
Rodeo hasn’t stopped being creative. We haven’t stopped innovating based on the inspiration that comes from riding our bikes. We haven’t stopped telling stories. We haven’t stopped building new relationships. Perhaps most importantly we haven’t stopped treating our customers with genuine care. If we keep doing these things I think we will stay relevant, and we will stay at the front of the pack in the things that we are passionate about. The bike industry will experience any number of cycles and storms, and we will weather them by staying vibrant.
So yes, many brands are necessarily hitting the brakes right now, but my hope is that we have the courage to keep our foot on the gas and that we double down on the ideals that brought us to where we are over the past ten years.
I hope we get this right, and I hope that our community stays with us and helps power the dream of where we want to go: A dream of a vibrant, creative, prolific Colorado bike company that innovates non-stop, tells great stories along the way, inspires people, and maybe even helps chart a course for what it means to make better bikes in the coming years and decades.
On A More Personal Note
In mid-September, as I felt the overwhelming task of moving and the stress of business economics getting the best of me, I decided to point my bike at the hills for a bit of a solo vision quest. I pulled up an enormous one day ride route that I have made with my friends called the Breck Superloop, and decided to attempt to ride it solo as a way to create time for me to process everything going on at Rodeo, at home, and beyond. The 242 mile loop through wild and beautiful parts of Colorado took me from Denver to Breckenridge before boomeranging back to where I started.
I was up at 3:30am, and pedaled into the dark with the full weight of life already challenging me mentally and causing me to want to turn around, but throughout the day the sublime moments that I experienced out there, by myself, allowed me to leave almost all of those feelings behind and to be fully immersed in an experience that reminded me what all of this at Rodeo is all about. Ride, Explore, Create is a thing you do, not a contrived slogan or a marketing gimmick.
Going back to the act of doing and experiencing the joy and even therapy of a long bike ride can go a long way towards restoring a sense of optimism and creativity that is delicate in the face of the cold, hard demands of running an economic entity.
The ride itself was a massive physical challenge, and full disclosure I almost didn’t finish it were it not for a critical bit of encouragement from my friends Bryan and David who met me with hot pizza at midnight for the final 40 miles to home. But the satisfaction of finishing was spectacular, and was so strong that for a time literally nothing else from the long list of work concerns or stressors mattered at all.
Lastly, on many rides such as this I record stories for my Instagram friends and audience. This ride was no exception. I’ve finally uploaded those stories into a single youtube video here:
Onward and upward!
Thanks to Cameron for setting this up: We’ve got a Rodeo Labs Reddit channel now, so if you are an active Reddit user you can swap notes, ask questions, and get some behind the scenes info and images that nobody else gets to see. Check it out here.
Myself and Logan headed out to Gravel Worlds in late August for one last hurrah of gravel racing for the year. I had long wanted to do this race, and the stars finally lined up for me to attend. I kept the theme of singlespeed TD4 racing going because it had been such a successful one for the 2023 racing season, and that streak continued with a singlespeed category win at the race, which I guess in some universes means that Traildonkey 4 is now singlespeed world champion! We have a nice jersey to hang at the office, and I came away with a number of thoughts and stories, which I shared in my Rodeo Journal recap of the day which you can read here.
Rebecca’s Private Idaho!
I’ve also always wanted to attend this event, and this year wasn’t the year that I was able to make it for the first time, luckily Edyn, our newest supported rider, was able to go on his brand new TD4 and had a fantastic showing. I think Edyn doesn’t love it when people make so much of his age, but c’mon, he’s only 14 and he scored a top 10 in the stage race and put in some incredible showings on individual stages, including the hillclimb. Edyn wrote up a recap of the long weekend of racing, which you can read about here.
PS, shout out to Chad from Canada who also raced the event on his TD4, and who has been sending really helpful ongoing feedback about his experiences on the bike, which he is now racing in his local cyclocross races like a boss.
First Ascent / Dispatch / Titanium mug bundle
One collaboration that we worked on over the spring and summer was a titanium mug and coffee bundle that roped in First Ascent Coffee x Dispatch Bike x Tarek Penser to create a unique, functional titanium double wall camp mug, wrapped in a bespoke art piece, and a stash of delicious instant Colorado born coffee. We had quite a lot of fun working with new friends on this one, and I like that we brought into existing such a high quality, useful object. The bundles are available now and are perfect for that Rodeo fan or cyclist who enjoys the finer things in life like great coffee and camping.
50mm Offset Spork 3.2
If you blinked you may have missed it, but we’ve added a 50mm offset Spork 3.2 to our offerings in order to make it compatible with not only our smaller TD4 sizes, but also bikes from other builders across the spectrum. The 45mm offset Spork stays in our lineup, but having an option to better dial in your own bike geometry is something that we love being able to offer to customers and builders.
Southern Migration Rally
With winter is coming, I start to think about how cold and dreary the coming months can be. Planning a warm bike escape with friends into those months seems like an incredibly good idea, so we’ve done just that! Check out this three day adventure that we’re hosting in January in the warmer climate of Florida. Registration is open, and we’d love to ride with you!
The UDH derailleur standard introduced by Sram has forced every bike maker to either join the spec or sit it out. We’re split down the middle. TD4 will sit it out because honestly our sliding dropouts are too functional and sexy to give up for something that is still not a standard across all brands. But on the Flaanimal side the less compact slider system was easier to adapt to UDH, so we had some fun with it and named our UDH adaptation the UGH: Universal Gravel Hanger. Production is complete on the hangers, and the axles that are required because of the unique UDH thread pitch will arrive in Denver next week (by Oct 20th). You can order the upgrade kit now, or if you’re ordering a Flaanimal steel or Titanium you can select the UDH option when configuring your frameset or build.
TD4 integrated taillight mount
TD4 is designed to be an extremely functional, elegant bicycle, and we’re still working on ways to improve and increase its capabilities even after launch. The frame features full dynamo routing for front and rear lights, but as far as attaching a rear dynamo light, we wanted to create something that seamlessly integrated into the frame itself, we worked with Sinewave to integrate their class-leading dynamo taillight and a beautifully formed, ultra high quality part that makes rear lighting a native part of the frame instead of an afterthought. The mount bolts specifically to the TD4 dropout eyelet and fits all frame sizes. Dynamo power wires run fully internally though the stay out of the way of danger and eyeballs both. The part is available now for all TD4 owners either incorporated into new builds or as a stand-alone item should you chose to add a dynamo system at a later date. You can find it on our store here.
3.0 rim development is essentially complete, and the feedback is very very positive from our test riders who have them. They’re lighter so of course that affects the feel positively, but the deeper (38mm) and wider (25mm) profile also makes them more predictable in hard cornering based on the feedback that Drew our product development lead has supplied. I’ve been on one variation of these rims or another since last November, including having raced them at Mid South, Unbound, and at Gravel Worlds, and my best review would be that they’ve been utterly reliable, and that the lighter weight is a nice sensation that I notice in a number of riding situations. Everything beyond that as far as ride impressions starts to lean into hype, if you ask me.
Why make our own rims at all? For me it goes down to being able to control the fundamentals of what I want in a rim: Very high durability, light weight, a smart rim profile. We also want very consistent quality across batches, and tightly controlled tolerances on details such as spoke hole angles and reinforcements. I know we’ve accomplished that with our 3.0 rims. So when will they be available? The first batch is in production now and should be complete in about 40-50 days. We’ll unveil the final product asap, but expect a beautiful, naked carbon rim that is so perfectly molded that it requires no sanding or clear coat after production. It The raw rims is then laser-etched with distinctive yet classy graphics that should pair well with bikes of any style. We’re also working on 24 hole sets which have a target total wheelset weight in the 1350gr range. 24 spoke won’t be for brutalizing under bigger riders or subjecting to the mega impacts of bikepacking per-say, but for gravel racing or road riding, or under lighter riders they should feel extra quick and feathery.
I mentioned in the last newsletter that we were working on new jerseys, and I’m pleased to say that they’ve just arrived and gone on sale. Yes, it is a little late in the season for the new short sleeve we have on offer, but there are warm days left in Colorado, and spring and summer will come back around eventually. We released two jerseys in this small batch, which is in line with my current thinking of less is more. In 2021 we did a huge kit release with five different jersey designs and four different bib designs. That was way too much and honestly a bit foolish and wasteful. This time around the number of designs is smaller and the batch sizes of each style are also smaller, which will keep each jersey design special, and will also prevent us from making excess stuff.
The short sleeve Dot Matrix jersey is, in my opinion, a huge leap as a technical garment over what we offered previously. The cut is better, the weight of the fabric is spot-on, and when you put it on it just sort of feels “right” in a way that we hadn’t yet nailed.
The long sleeve Merino wool jersey is a much loved item from our garment menu. It is so versatile you can wear it in both chilly and warm weather. I had found a vintage Rodeo 3.0 jersey in my kit drawer earlier this year, and when when I re-discovered it I thought to myself that the design had aged incredibly well, so I decided to reissue it on the new lightweight Merino canvas. The 3.0 era was a special one for Rodeo. We were just discovering bike camping and bikepacking, we weren’t yet fully up to speed as a bike company, and the rider community that we had created was sounding off all around the world. Rodeo will turn ten years old in January, and it is pretty wild to me that at this point we have enough history that we can go back and mine those earlier themes to recall where we came from.
Aside from these kits, we’re also riding around in prototypes for new articles of clothing that we will release next spring. Instead of doing more of the same, I think I’ve hit on a really versatile approach to our future garments that I’m really excited to share when it is ready, but that’s all I’m going to say for now.
As we head into fall and winter almost all of our previous styles and designs are discounted quite a bit, and could be fun items for your friends or yourself as gift giving season rolls around.
I don’t see everything that happens in the Rodeo community, but of the things I caught, here are some rad people and rad bikes that I’ve spotted recently.
Albin Brokhorst qualified for and raced the UCI Gravel Worlds race in Italy on his Flaanimal 5.0
Lucas Clarke raced and won SBT Gravel Singlespeed on the black (longest) course on hisTD4. He’s unstoppable!
Ashley Weiddiech is riding 1000km for kids in her next ultra race in Chile. You can read all about it here!
Thom Day has been putting in a bunch of rides and adventures on his TD4 and I just love seeing these bikes all loaded up for a good time!
A whole bunch of people completed Tour Divide (GDMBR) on their Rodeos this year, including Sarah Gates who completed a 54 day epic. So awesome Sarah!
Chad Grice has been hitting Cyclocross season hard on his TD4, which I especially like because Traildonkey geometry started with cyclocross bikes and still retains some of their characteristics. That reminds me, I really need to do a cyclocross race this year!
Samuel Martin and Jess Powell took an amazing trip to Iceland, each aboard a Flaanimal, and I’m dying to find a recap of it SOMEWHERE!
And with that, I think it is time to wrap this newsletter up. If you’ve made it this far you are a TRUE endurance reader, and I thank you for your time and your support on behalf of the whole crew here at Rodeo Labs. I’ll see you in the next edition.