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Feb 5, 2019

Rodeo Adventure Labs Website
Trail Donkey 3.0
A Slow Company Blog Post
Rodeo Adventure Labs Instagram
The Gravel Ride Instagram
Bike Index: Free Bicycle Registration

Welcome to the show today.

Thanks Craig. I'm excited to be here.

I'm really stoked to get into a little bit more about Rodeo Adventure Labs and the new Traildonkey because I think it's a really exciting looking bike and the company has a really interested in the background. I'm excited to get our listeners to learn a little bit more about what you guys are doing.

Cool. Yeah. Look forward to giving a little bit of background and explaining what we're all about that for a little bit of context.

What's your background as a cyclist?

Aside from the writing around the kindergarten. I'm sorry, the, the neighborhood, you know, all the way back until I can't even remember. I started getting really into cycling and mountain biking probably in about junior high school. Uh, and when would that have been? The nineties, I guess the early nineties. And right about then I think mountain biking was sort of coming into the mainstream a lot more. It may have been a big thing before then, but I was only just now old enough to sort of do it on my own. So I had a paper route all my brothers and I did and we would deliver newspapers on our mountain bikes and then immediately spend all of the proceeds of our paper routes on our mountain bikes. And we just, you know, I started with a fully rigid giant. Oh Gosh, I can't even remember the model.

It had like marbleized splatter paint and in really, really low end Shimano on it in part by part. I just started buying handlebars shifters do railers cranks wheels. I just became really obsessed with the bike, was super fun. I wanted to upgrade it. And then I wanted to get into racing. Um, we had, I lived in Washington state near Portland, Oregon. There's a series of mountain bike races on Mount Hood, uh, that were downhill races. And back then downhill was very different than the modern day version of downhill racing. It was more like ride your bike, your mountain bike, maybe even fully rigid mountain bike down a fire road as fast as you can. And it was, it was Kinda like a fitness thing and it took a little bit of guts, but it wasn't anywhere near, you know, drops skill, bigger things that you see nowadays. So yeah, I, I started racing downhill.

Did, you know as a junior did some NORBA a national races when I could get my parents to drive me out there. We used to, my dad used to drive us up into the hills in the logging roads in Washington and Oregon in our van, me and my brothers and he was just drive us to the top of the mountain and we would bomb the fire roads, logging roads all the way down to the bottom, maybe pick us up and shuttle us back up to the top again. And I just love mountain biking. And then suspension, you know, caught on Meg, 10 meg 21 and then full suspension and like, you know, I got, you know, I just kept iterating with the sport. Uh, I was never really that great at it, like once, towards the end of when I was mountain bike racing, the sport started getting more moto and I realized like, I can't get big air, I can't do big drops, I'm scared, uh, and I think I throttled back a little bit and then I took a break for awhile where the job became more important.

And uh, I moved to La around 2000 and is at the time I was in Hollywood it was difficult to mountain bike in la because you had to drive for a while just to even get to the mountains. Uh, so for there there was a pause and a. and then I actually saw eco challenge on TV. I don't know if you're married eco challenge. It just blew my mind that people were just just, you know, seven days in the middle of nowhere. I'm crossing, you know, islands somewhere off in the South Pacific. And I thought that looks like a really fun sport. I know I can at least ride a mountain bike pretty well. So I, I kinda got into that sport more than just mountain biking by itself and it was big in California. There were know sprint level all the way up to expedition level, um, adventure races happening quite often in that state.

So that got me back into the sport and got me a Kinda a motivated to get back out on the bike and then learn how to trail run and paddle and rock climb and all the other things. Um, I did that for awhile, uh, in, in cycling was always the best discipline for me when I was out adventure racing. And then, uh, eventually I kind of realized like it's just really difficult to be good at three to five sports, uh, and I, and it was also again, difficult to get to the good mountain biking in California for me living in sort of right in the middle of Hollywood. So I actually bought a cross bike when I lived in La and I thought, well I don't want to be a roadie for sure because roadies are super lame and I'm definitely not wearing Lycra and um, but if I get a cross bike then it's not a road bike and it's still kind of cool.

So I bought a cross bike, puts like tires on it and immediately started doing road road group rides with a bunch of people and realize that the sport wasn't laying. I had a lot of fun. There's a lot of comradery there and I could do it from my doorstep instead of no driving for 45 minutes or an hour, whatever it took to get across the San Fernando Valley to the Saint Gabriel's to the Santa Monica Mountains. Um, and you know, for awhile it was just me on the cross bike with slicks. And then finally I kind of upped the ante to get a real road bike. I'm in my mind was just blown and how fast they were and how efficient they were. And I just kind of shelved the mountain bike. I think logistically it just wasn't easy to do a for a long time. It just sat there and I did a little bit of still continued mountain biking in Orange County with friends, but we got really into road biking and then got into road racing and racing and I loved all of it.

It was like this whole new thing to learn how to do and you definitely went fast and it was definitely like a dog fight and uh, especially headed, headed back up to Oregon and Washington and got into more. Cross racing is just such a big deal up there and so much fun and, you know, still road competitive road racing for a long time. I only really ever just kinda got up to the acat three and I, I don't think I ever really had any aspirations beyond that with life getting increasingly complex and how many kids but enjoyed competing a lot. Uh, and uh, started sort of exploring be roads and logging roads on my cross bike while I was there because I lived right at the foothills where the cascades sort of lift up and uh, never really got into it that much. It was always just a bit of a novelty if I was cross training you're training for a cycle cross that would hit some local local parks and hit the single track trails.

How a lot of fun doing that. Then we moved out here to Colorado just for really a change of weather and scenery. Um, and it was just back to just road racing. Like I had my best road racing ears ever out here when we moved to Colorado in 2011 and I train harder and more disciplined than I had ever done it. And then, um, I guess things started just getting too serious in my local team, even though we were amateurs, were really structured, had like recruiting policies and in minimum race policies and started to feel a little bit too, you know, rule it too many rules for an amateur sport that was supposed to be fun. Uh, and through a series of events, um, decided to part ways with that team, uh, and that's about when Rodeo started. Uh, and about that time we were just continuing to play around on our cross bikes more and more aggressively. So that was 2014 and um, and yeah, I guess that kind of brings, brings us to the genesis of Rodeo labs.

That's a great overview. It's amazing how we were living parallel lives because I came into the sport of mountain biking with a similarly paint speckled trex 7,000 model. Yes. In about 1989. And I remember my first mountain bike race, I signed up for all disciplines on that plan. So I rode observed trials, Downhill slalom and cross country because I figured that's what you do if you were attending a race weekend. Yeah, yeah. Oh Man. I remember dual slalom, which is that even a thing anymore? I don't know. I think it is. I think it is. And then it was fun. Yeah. That was a great sport. I was never good at it by the way. Yeah, me neither. Like clear. I clearly like cross country and the technical stuff was really my forte, not going super fast at all and I jumped. I like you jumped into the road racing scene.

Not as much it sounds like as you did and actually later got into adventure racing scene. Oh cool. Do you have small. We were out there at the same time. Yeah. I tended to race in northern California, which was a lot of fun, but to your point it was really eye opening just to the notion of going out for an adventurous experience. Yeah, and I think that for me is what has resonated so much about the gravel scene because it became less so about beating the guy next to you and it became more about the adventure and much like those early days of mountain bike racing, you went out there to explore new terrain, so the fact that you got in a car and someone was putting on a race three hours away in a place you'd never ride it, never written before was just this great opportunity to go explore.

Yeah, I, I, I feel like the adventure isn't, was probably responsible for a lot of my mindset nowadays. I just remember like we did a race in Downieville, um, before I knew that Downieville was even a thing. Um, and I just remember one night we were on this kind of like single track trail along kind of a knife edge ridge. I don't even know where it was. I'd love to go back and find it in a full moon and I'm hiking trail running, whatever it was with my team and I just thought I wish cameras, digital cameras were good enough to capture this moment, which, you know, if you cut cut to now they are. But even back then I wanted to, I was seeing all these places that adventure racing would take you that, that weren't on the normal beaten path and thinking like, how can we bring this, how can I bring this back and show people what I saw while I was out there. I just couldn't believe what's out there that you would never see if you didn't have a reason to go. So that got that. That was a formative sport and a, you know, whatever it was, three to five years of adventure racing definitely reshaped how I think. So having all those options,

variances is a long way from launching here on bike company. How did read a of adventure labs come about?

Uh, well. So when, when I left the team that I was racing with the road road and I guess cross racing team that I was racing it didn't really know what I wanted to do next. Like should I just join another road racing team and kind of keep doing what I was doing and I think I just realized like I had been on instagram for a year or two or three by then and I was just kinda watching how like a lot of the local team mentality was race locally. Go try and find a bank to sponsor you are a dentist office or a car, a car dealership, uh, and then put their logo on the Jersey and then try and coax your friends and family to show up and watch a race. And it seemed, it felt small. It's not bad. I get it like I loved, I loved it at the time, but when I was getting into social media I realized like we can cyclist can find each other on here and talk to each other and we can, I guess, interact and build a community here.

And I think I realized like we could start our own amateur team. That's what Rodeo started out as, was just a big group of people who wanted to ride bikes together without having any rules. No recruiting policies, no race minimum snow. You have to ride a road bike or a cross bike or mountain bike. It was like anybody who wants to wear wear this Jersey anywhere you are in the world. Um, I put up a website about a, a, you know, a Wordpress template and wrote some core values and the about page just like, this is literally only going to be fun and that's enough. That's enough reason to be here is just to have fun and yes, take a ton of pictures and show other people what we're doing. And that was it. That was, that was all Rodeo was supposed to be. It was kind of like, if we could get 10, 10 of my buddies to do it than we would have enough people to get kits made a so we could all be on the same team, but there is no membership fees or even an official roster.

It was just really loose knit, let's just go have fun on bikes, uh, any way that we want and there's no right or wrong way to do it. Uh, so I thought it would be small and I thought it would just be us, but I knew we could at least reach a lot of people with what we were doing because of essentially really instagram and, you know, I guess having a website and a blog, but it just, it just blew up and took over my entire life. Like people would write long emails saying they really loved what we were about. And finally somebody saw the sport the same way they did it. And why did it need to be so serious? I was really caught off guard by that because we weren't really recruiting like the guy in Belgium. Uh, but, but he wrote us and said, can I be on Rodeo?

And of course I just said, sure. Like, yeah, I guess I guess to be on our team it just means you own ar kit, uh, so uh, or even if you don't and you just want to like share photos with us or write something on our website, you can be one of us to like, I don't really need to sell you a kit, but we sold a lot of kits that year for, for someone who had no real goal or plan for what we were doing and I think it was like 350 kits or some number, which blew my mind. I realized like, wow, there's this thing here. Um, and, and I came from a, like a design and branding and advertising background. And I think when I put the site up it all looked bigger and more organized and professional than it was. And I think people kind of expected it to be more than it was.

So they took us seriously and like rodeos doing is really interesting. We want to be in part of it. So all of a sudden there's a bunch of people around the world wearing our kits and stoked on what we're doing and you know, we're just taking a lot of pictures and our audience is growing and we're having a lot of fun, but it started to take like 20 hours a week or 30 hours a week. I'm like, just answering emails, talking to people, going riding, taking pictures, making a video, whatever it was. Um, it was, it was too much to just be a hobby at that point. You know, after a few months I realized this is eventually going to take over my life and either this is just a really irresponsible hobby or it needs to end up going somewhere. Um, so I think I just started to think about if it's going to be more than a hobby than what is it.

Um, and I had started working on the trail donkey right when rodeo launched. Uh, I just, you know, we could kind of maxed out what we could do on a cross bike. We were taking him to all the local mountain bike trails, the really technical trails that are pretty challenging I think, and we were writing all of it and doing it on cross bikes, but, but you know what, that, that 32 to three or cassette isn't, isn't really ideal for getting up a 25, 30 percent single track trail and cannot leave her brakes are not good for descending and 32 millimeter cross tires aren't, are not compliant enough, don't have enough grip. Um, all of these constraints started to crop up and I, I realized like I want to just, I want a different bike that I have. It's not very different than what I have, but it doesn't, I don't know.

It doesn't exist in the way that I want it to. And, and I think maybe I could have looked around and found somebody making something like I wanted. But having just launched Rodeo and decided like I don't want to join another team. I just want to make my own. And, and I, I think I just decided like, I don't want to buy somebody else's bike if it exists. I just want to make my own. So I found a completely generic Chinese frame, pretty sure it was on Ali Baba and, and said, Mike, can you modify this frame and like add ports for a dropper posts and, and um, and, and then paint it like our kit, you know, so I mocked up the paint and then I needed a name. Uh, so I, I, I was Kinda, I thought like this needs to be self deprecating, like we need to have a sense of humor with everything that we're doing here because it's not that serious.

We're talking about adults doing amateur sports in their free time. So my inspiration was just the guide donkeys that you see in the grand canyon that either carry gear or people kind of up and down those single track cliffside side trails. Uh, and you know, they're just trail donkeys and I thought that's kind of our bike. Like I get that it's not a good mountain bike or a good road bike or a good anything. It's just like this really humble little animal that gets you to the top or the bottom of the trail reliably. So I made it for me, I'm, I made one, uh, and then I told my friends that I was working on it and for other people, you know, in the inner circle wanted one. So I said, all right, hold up, we'll just make five. So we did five and then we just, we just wrote them for the 2014.

We just wrote them a lot and took a lot of pictures and we were showing people everything about what we were doing. Like here's this frame we found we're going to paint it, here's how we're going to build it up. And then I was like, I'm going to take it to a mountain bike race. So I wrote, you know, a story about how that went and it was all very all on the table. Like I didn't, I wanted people to know, like the successes and the failures of what we were trying to do, which was essentially just have fun and experiment. And people started asking if they could buy them. And uh, and definitely the answer was no because I was like, I'm not starting a bike company with a generic Chinese frame and, you know, a paint job, like I just didn't want to be a sticker company.

I didn't want to be at decal company that, you know, it, it just doesn't feel authentic to me. So, so I had no interest. I had a good job and a good career and I didn't. I knew that like starting a bike company was going to end in, you know, financial disaster, uh, because even the good, you know, a lot of really good cool by companies that I admire don't make it. And that to me it was just a word of caution about, you know, even if you do this you're probably going to fail. So maybe maybe don't do it, just do it because it's fun. But once you get to 20 or 30 hours a week and it's just eating your life and you're having a ton of fun, you start to think. And then people are asking, you know repeatedly if they can buy it and you're like, maybe maybe.

I started a team, but maybe we accidentally made a brand and a company and I can do this for a living instead of it being a hobby. Uh, so there was this really big pivotal month or two where I sat down with sort of business type friends and said, look at what it looked, a lot of breakfasts and lunches and coffees of liquid. Look what's happened with Rodeo and here's where it is. And I either need to put the brakes on it and kind of like, not kill it, but just like, you know, get back to the fact that I'm a grown adult with a job or I need or I need to like push all the way into it and turn it into my job, uh, to justify being able to do it as much as I was spending doing it. So everybody said like, wow, it looks like you've really built something special in.

You build something people are paying attention to and you don't even have anything you know you're trying to sell. And when you're starting a company, let's just say we had come out of nowhere with a bike, getting people to pay attention to the bike probably would have been a little bit difficult or a product, but we had a culture and a community and the story. And then we also had this bike over here and I think I, I think I thought I'd done the hard part actually, of creating something that people are interested in. And um, now they just want to buy it. So it seems like I have a better chance of success of this because there's already so much interest. So we decided to go for it. Um, we being my wife who gave me her support and understood that the chances of failure were really high.

Uh, she just said, you know, if you don't do this, you're going to always wonder, like, if you could have done it, uh, and if you shut it down, you're always going to be kind of disappointed that you didn't take the risk to try and will probably fail. But in two or three years you can back to your career. You know, I could probably pick up the pieces and do what I was doing. So is a good time of my life to have like a career wipe out and still be able to recover. So, um, so we went, I went for it and we started developing, you know, trail down to. But I, you know, again, going back to that, like I'm not putting stickers on other people's stuff. I really want to own what we sell. So we started from scratch and redesigned the entire bike, which by the way, I didn't know anything about that process but I, I, I just networked and connected with people who did and told them the bike that I wanted to build.

Um, and we've made, you know, a list of goals and specs and functionality and geometry and all the other things about this is what a trail donkey, this is what I want the trailer to be. You tell me if I can't do any of this stuff and I'll push back because. And we developed a really good rapport with a core group of designers and engineers and manufacturer and took 18 months to, you know, develop the bike. But in the meantime I kept doing my day job. Uh, that was where income came from. Rodeo was not self self supporting until probably 2017. Uh, so there was an intermediate period where you're kind of in this weird, I still do this for a living, but I'm starting a business over here. I'm trying to launch this bike in this brand. Uh, so that, that kind of took me through, takes us through the, just the basic development of the bike and turning a team just to a fun party team and do a brand.

What did that, that's amazing journey just from an entrepreneurial perspective and, and I just sort of hit it at the right time where you could take inputs from social media channels and have this wonderful experience of bringing like minded individuals from around the world around this basic community that riding your bike off road and getting dirty is fun. And this is really cool story. I like that suit you. It sounds like you've come to 2017 at this point and you've taken a lot of inputs and notes about your original trail donkey and put it into trail donkey to when you ultimately had that design baked. Did you go out there and accept preorders from the community at that point or did you bring some inventory in first?

No. Well, so, you know, there's no massive pile of capital behind any of this. Uh, so, you know, our first production run was 25 frame sets and I thought if we can pre sale, you know, a certain number of those, it'll pay for the whole order. Um, because I didn't have the money to pay for all of the trip. I had paid for tooling, which is absurdly expensive and all of the engineering and testing. But okay, now it's time to go into production and I don't have money sitting there. So, so, you know, I don't know how many followers we had on instagram and online at that point, but let's just say it was 5,000 people, you know, we said, all right, here's this bike that you've watched. You know, it went from not existing at all, all the way we showed them the prototypes and all of the rides that we were doing on it.

And, and you know, we took it kind of all over, you know, we took it to Moab and white rim and slick rock and Belgium and Perrier Bay. And um, as just a part of our story as much as it was testing the bike out and some people knew what the bike was and they saw it a long time before it was finished. And so finally I said, all right, this is it. We're taking preorders. And then you just sit there and you wait and you're like, is anyone going to buy this bike? Because a bunch of people, as you know, online will be like, oh my goodness, got a habit that things so beautiful that things fire and then, but who's really going to open their wallet and buy a bike from a company that has no history and no, like, you know, street cred, you know, like, are we going to be around next year?

Do we have a warranty? But people did, enough people did, you know, I think there were probably like 15 or 20 people that just stepped up straight out of the blue, you know, some of who I knew and some I didn't know at all and just just said, yeah, I'm in. I'm in for a two point. Oh. And then, you know, uh, it was so grassroots. I had a local shop that I worked with a elevation in Denver. They, you know, they were as much my advisors as they were people that I was hiring to build the bikes. And it was like, all right, we've got frames coming in, uh, I need to figure out a system for inventory and build sheets and parts tracking. Uh, and it was not elegant at all behind the scenes. Like I really worked hard to be careful and it's very important to me to deliver what I was promising people.

But learning how, again, I didn't come from the industry. I didn't really know any of that at the very beginning. Any of how a bike gets created and then assembled, parts are accounted for. All of that had to be created on the fly as we went. So we learned as we went. But you know, the, the frame showed up. We had parts, uh, we build bikes, we delivered them. And I think the one thing I never doubted was that the bike was good because, you know, I'm not a professional writer, but I'm, I guess I'm pretty good at riding bikes and I wrote this thing for almost two years before anybody could have one. And I just trusted my instincts that, yeah, we built a good bite and if we can get these things, you know, designed, engineered, manufactured, tested, landed, built correctly when people finally get the bike, I think they're going to like it when people did.

Uh, and we, you know, we sold all of the bikes that we made a and then we sold out and then we realized we should have been making more. Um, and so, you know, there was tension go on availability, you know, there's no debt involved in Rodeo. We don't have bank loans and financing, uh, we just do things, cashflow. We grow with the profits that we made on the last round or whatever. So you know, we took the profits from the first round and frames and ordered the second round of phrase and told people, yeah, you know what, it's September and you can't get your bike until December, but we've got, you know, we're going to make more. Uh, and it was just, I guess a repeating cycle and people trusting us that we were going to make them a good bike and take care of them.

And you know, a lot of the earliest customers of our bikes, you know, I don't know them super well, some of them, but I would consider them all like family in a way because they, these are people that spent let's just say four to $7,000 on a bike across the country from a company which just know, again, street credit or track record and they just, I still can't believe that they couldn't touch it. They couldn't see it. He couldn't test ride it. But they trusted us. And on the flip side of that, we took care of them and built the bike. And you know, we delivered, we've always of done that. Yeah. I think that's a, that amazing. Yeah.

Relationship in ECOMMERCE, it's journey I've personally experienced as well. Just the notion of like building that trust, getting customers to open their wallet and give you money and then feeling an obligation to make sure the product that you're putting out there is the very, very best that it could possibly be in and really exceeds their expectations because I imagined from there you started to see, okay, now I've got 25 of these trail donkeys scattered around the country. More riders are actually putting eyeballs on them at events and local rides that the trust factor has begun. Begun to build a little bit more.

Yeah. Yeah. It's, it just, it just builds slowly over time. Uh, and, and you, it's funny how your notoriety or your, your profile grows. Um, you know, a lot of people who buy our bikes when they go out and do a ride or a gravel event or whatever it is, you know, there'll be in a group of people and someone will look over and say, oh my goodness, that's a Trail Donkey roughly animal. I'd never seen one. Do you like it? Oh my goodness, you know, there's like, you know, people that, someone, the guy next to me freaked out when he saw the trail dog. He wouldn't stop talking about it for 15 or 20 minutes. And he was like, you know, I didn't expect that. And so, uh, you know, yeah, they do. They get out there in the wild and word of mouth is, is a really big deal.

Um, yeah, I'm, you know, we don't, we don't send bikes out for review, generally speaking. I think we sent one to men's journal last year, um, but other than an then we, we sent a frame to a bike rumor as well, but there isn't, you know, we don't send them to all the magazines. We don't send them to all the online sites. Uh, and so whereas our reputation, our reputation comes from the people who actually own the bikes. Um, and if they, if they don't like the bikes, people are gonna hear about it. Uh, and we're gonna hear about it.

Yeah, I think it was a lot. I think it was a lot like that early nineties mountain bike period that you were describing where, you know, you bought the eastern hyper light bar and some Ringle flash, flashy ringlet hubs and you'd go out there and people are like, oh, those actually ride as good as they look. I gotTa have my purple neon hubs. Right. Everybody knows the Kooka cranks break. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. That's interesting. Yeah. Can destroy you. Absolutely. And then so, so now it sounds like trail donkey three is coming very shortly. What was that step change to the next iteration of the model?

So, you know, Gosh, we launched our bike. I think people could finally get one in the latter part of. Yeah. I'm, I'm losing track of my timeline a little bit here, but I think when people could finally get one in 2016 at some point and right about that time there were a bunch of other bikes landing and I think open is notable and worth mentioning because they, I think we kind of arrived at a similar time, but they went a little bit further and sort of what they wanted out of the bike in terms of aggressive specs in terms of bigger tires and clearances and things like that. And uh, our bike wasn't built to that spectrum but we wrote it to that spectrum and I was always really stubborn. Uh, I don't think to a fault, but maybe to a fault about like, no, we can do everything we want to do on this bike the way that we built it and we're not going to chase competition and try and play the arms race of having the best features were, you know, unless the, that evolution is driven by our writing and where we're taking the bike.

Um, I really do believe in like at some point we'll be ahead of the curve and in some point maybe we'll be behind the curve if the curve is whatever is trendy, but if we, if we genuinely ride the bikes super hard and take some really cool places and do read things on them, then we should decide how the bike should be designed in the buck kind of stops here with me. But then also kind of a close inner circle of other people who've had the bikes in neuron. Our test team, you know, is the bike do what we needed to do. So it, the bike was what I wanted it to be all the way through most of 2017. I was as I was happy, like we were making a good bike but I finally we went on this trip to the San Juans and a w, the San Juan mountain range in Colorado or just kinda like more brutal and more severe and steeper and everything about them is bigger than the other writing that I've done in Colorado.

And I remember I was on I think 38 millimeter g ones on 700 seat wheels. But then the other guys on the ride, we're on donkeys but they were on 47, 6:55, 47. And every time we hit descent they dropped me like a rock so hard and I was getting kind of beat up, uh, on these descents in the. And then they were just letting go of the rigs and ripping down the hill. Uh, so then on day two of that trip I took one of those bikes and I wrote it and I thought, wait a minute. Like I think the bike might need to evolve because I want to come back and I want to ride this stuff. This is the most interesting writing maybe that I've ever done in my life. And, and I finally come to the point where I want more out of this bike.

And when I got back from that trip, I rewrote like reprioritize, like, what do I want the trail, I don't qtp and I, I got with, you know, the engineering team. And I said, it's time to evolve. And that's when trail donkey three started, it was probably, you know, August of 2017, uh, and, you know, we, we didn't need to throw the whole bike out, we only needed to iterate the parts that needed to be, to be pushed. So priority one was we'll priority one is always durability and strength. But then priority two was we want more tire clearance out of this bike. I want to be able to run bigger tires and do more aggressive a terrain on it. And so the rear triangle, the bike needed to be completely random, re engineered and then we needed a new fork to, uh, to match those specs on the front end.

So, uh, you know, I had one guy working with me at the time and he and I, you know, got down and cat and just roughed out the basic ideas and basic concepts of what the redesign would be. And then I pass these along to the, you know, the engineers and we all put our heads together and we started hammering away. At first, you know, you start with your written, your sketches and then your cad. And then you have to check everything in cad, you know, does it line up and then you, at some point you have to commit to tooling, which is always horrifying because it's so expensive, you know, like with steel you get it wrong, you can just make the next one different. But with a carbon, you know, you did, you designed the bike, but then you design the tooling. The tooling is like a, it's almost like a machine.

It's got sliders and different pieces that need to interact and put pressure on your, your lay up in the correct way. Um, so you have to design that and then pay for it. And then at the very end of it, you know, you put your fabric in, you know, your carbon and your residents, your lap a bike pops out of the mold. Um, and then, then you get to find out if your ideas were good or not at the very end in a way, uh, you know, you think they are, you have, you know, you have some experience to work off of, but you don't really know until you finally get your first prototype. Uh, like is this bike going to be any good or did I make the right decisions? Or I did, I just fully missed something that I should have noticed. Uh, which by the way, I've done where you tool an entire frame and then you realize like, whoops, like we should've done this better and you either, you either stop and go back and retool and spend many thousands more dollars or you kind of just say, we can't afford to catch that one on this revision.

We'll, we'll do that next time. But on trail donkey three, I don't know, I mean I'm biased, but I am pretty ecstatic with just we made the bike that we wanted to make and it does exactly what we wanted to do. I'm in it. Donkey two's good. We still have a few left and there are some people that only only really need that much bike. And um, we're still pointing people in that direction. When they get in touch with us and say, I want a three, we'll say, hey, we still have some twos. You're going to save money on to and you don't, you don't need to run at two point one and you're not 250 pounds, so your frame doesn't need to be a bit stronger so it saves some money just by normal gravel bike. But um, for the way that we're writing and the core group, the three point zero is kind of that answer to that question of where do we want to go next and what kind of writing do we want to do now. So now I really appreciate the honesty of it,

your journey. It all makes sense and it's logical and you know, in many ways that journey from kind of the carbon smaller tire clearance bike to the carbon fatter tire clearance bike is something I think a lot of gravel riders go on because like you, I started on the sort of cyclocross side. So my first gravel bike was 700 see wheels and probably couldn't go more than say a 38. And what I quickly recognized with the type of writing that I wanted to do and the limits I wanted to push that moving to the open in my case and a six slash 50 b one nine tire was just opening up the things that I wanted to ride. That was gonna push me to the place I wanted to go from an adventure perspective.

Yeah. I love that. You know, with a new, the newer frame, of course it can, it can let you do more if you choose to go there. I try to remind myself that most of the people who are buying a gravel bike right now are doing pretty much straight average gravel riding that gravel road gravel path, a hitting a little bit of pavement in between. Like there aren't a lot of really, really, really aggressive gravel riders in of the main customer demographic. Um, but, but if they do want to go there or they find out they're having a lot of fun on mainstream gravel and they want to push themselves a little bit harder, it's cool that, that, that option is open to them. Uh, and it's their decision I think. I think right now there's, there is a specs, armory, arms race where everybody is assuming like more is better. And I think, you know, when people talk about gravel hype and you know how hot it is right now, if, if anything is doing a disservice to the category right now, it's everybody is obsessed with bigger and bigger tires all the time. When for a lot of writing that's just a bad, bad spec decision, you should scale it back a little bit and make your bike a little bit more efficient. It doesn't need to be a monster truck all the time. So you know, yeah. I think as I've,

as you've seen, there's gravel bike is a super broad category. You definitely had your kind of tore divide rigs that were essentially dropped bar mountain bikes. Yeah. Occupying a little bit of airspace in the category. And then on the other side of the spectrum you have your all rode bikes that's just slightly fatter tire available road bike essentially. And, you know, at the end of the day, I mean, it's something that I try to tease out every episode of this podcast. It's just, you're going to sit somewhere on that spectrum and it may change over time and you know, the important thing is getting out there, but everybody's, everybody's neighborhood is different, right. I'm, I'm interviewing some people from, um, New York later this month and, you know, I suspect what they're going to tell me about their gravel is it's, you know, short, steep climbs on fire roads. But, you know, it's, it's wide open. But you compare that to the San Juan Mountains. You need a totally different bike to obtain the same level of appropriate performance.

Yeah. Yeah. Or at least. I mean, I would, I would say, uh, you know, the San Juans force us to change our gearing. Uh, so, you know, we ended up with a full mountain bike gearing drive train and then we got to upsize our wheels. But the platform of the bike is, is unchanged. You know, you just, when we engineer our frames and design, we know what they should be just like that's just, that's the module, that's the foundation of the House that you're building and then how you sort of decorate the rooms and that that's always going to vary from person to person. But um, you know, we were going over to crow a 10 for the Cro, 10 buck 50 race in North Carolina. We were there last year where you to go back this, that, that gravel race is like a 25 mile an hour, 150 mile, like drag race.

It's mind blowing how fast it is and you know, they put, you know, 50 tooth one buys on their, on their gravel bikes with 35 millimeter slicks. And I think, wow, that is a really different bike than, than writing up. Know 30 percent grade on baby heads in the sand won. But all you really need to change between those two bikes is a, you know, your friend Shane ring and your tires. Um, and you know, that that's the component change that we made there. So as long as your basic frame module is capable of kind of either end of that spectrum, you're probably, you probably bought the right, you've got a good bite, a capable bike.

Yeah. And that's where I'm at personally. I think I want my chassis to be as flexible as possible. So if I want to go bike packing on it, I've got all the appropriate islets. If I want to race it with the dropper post, I can rock or anything in between those, those endpoints. Um, yeah. It gets me super excited about owning the bike and looking at it in the garage and thinking about whatever the next adventure might be.

Yeah. Yeah. I think it's, I think it's fun. You know, the, the bike kind of opens up like you get to reinterpret your local terrain. I think that that's the biggest virtue of any of these types of bikes is that I used to just go on road rides and I used to do the same route three times a week, four times a week. And now I, you know, I can write up the road at downtown Denver and then hang a left and beyond some single track for five or 10 miles and then catch a gravel road and then another street and then back onto the bike path to my house. And I just like made up a new ride and had a totally fresh experience. I think that that's, that's why I think that's where the category is growing and it's going to continue to be super healthy is because that's just fun.

Uh, and when you can sell a bike and just tell people we make a fun bike and then they buy your bike and go out and have fun on it. You've, you've, you've made a promise and then you've made good on the promise. Um, you know, it's come full circle. So it's cool that adventure bikes, you know, sell and they make an honest proposition as opposed to like maybe a road racing bike where it's like, Eh, you know what? This isn't really gonna make you approach. You are a writer. Um, but an adventure bike or a gravel bike is gonna make you, you know, that writer and you're going to go out and have fun doing it. Yeah,

absolutely. Well, I know I've taken up a fair amount of your time, so I want to say I appreciate what you guys are doing over there. Is there, how's the best way for customers to find out about what you guys are doing?

Well, definitely our website, um,, uh, and that kind of has the overview and it has the long form journal entries about what we do. And then, you know, on instagram just at Rodeo labs were, were active on Instagram, we'll post two or three times a day sometimes. That's kind of the most in the moment, you know, what are we up to place to see? Okay. So those are the two avenues.

Great. Well, I'll put links to those in the show notes and I definitely want to encourage everybody who's listening to go over to the website and read one of the journal entries entitled Rodeo is a slow company because I honestly think it's a manifesto for why gravel riding is so exciting for everyone who's participating in it. And I was struck by one of the things you wrote which says which that die, if correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't want to be faster. I want to be happier. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that was just an amazing sentiment and it just, it just gave me goosebumps because it really underscored why I got into gravel, why I got into podcasting, because it is, it's just the most fun I've had in a bike in a long time.

Cool. Well thank you for reading it. Uh, appreciate the feedback there. No worries.

Thanks again, Stephen.

Thanks for the invite. Craig was great talking with you.