Like a lot of folks in the past few years, I had turned my attention to gravel... not because it was the cool thing to do... but because I live beside a massive National Forest with miles and miles of pristine gravel roads. When I first moved here to coastal Carolina in 2006, my first ride was out into the Croatan at night... it was a zero traffic serene experience that had me hooked. Fast forward a few years, and myself and a few locals started to explore all the connecting gravel in the Croatan on road bikes, mountain bikes and eventually my Custom Crux that the wizard of Bicycle Gallery helped me build up... it was my first Di2 bike and for two years I rode it everywhere on our local gravel secrets... but something was missing from the Crux... or maybe a few things.
I've been riding Specialized for a while (over 15 years) and our local shop in a Specialized Concept store and one of the best in the country... so it always was easiest to land on an Epic, Venge or Crux for the next ride... Specialized does a lot of things very well and their bikes are, in my opinion, an incredible mix of substance & style in an affordable package... but they lack that uniqueness that I was craving and also the grin inducing ride that only a custom bike can bring. I want to create a Ridge Supply themed gravel specific bike, and the first folks I reached out to where Specialized... I loved the build on the new S-Works Diverge, and I had wanted to maybe get Made Rad by Tony to paint up a couple bikes just for Ridge Supply... but as all things in the journey of Ridge Supply this didn't go according to plan. I reached out to an industry connector, who put me in touch with the right folks at Specialized, and that connection went nowhere... no reply and no follow up on their end. Honestly, I can't blame them and I just turned my attention elsewhere.
So I started doing my research to find a possible partner for a bike collaboration... and I kept seeing the Trail Donkey in my research... but couldn't find any mainstream reviews on it... there was one review that I read a bunch and there was a BikeRumor multi-part build that had lots of details to keep me interested... but I did know someone that had a Trail Donkey... Jered Gruber... Jered and I have been in communication since the super early days of Ridge Supply and he has been a supporter of the brand, but still someone I have yet to meet in person. Normally, if I email Jered, it takes a while for him to respond... he is a busy world traveling photography savant and all... but I sent him a simple email that said "I wanted to chat about Rodeo Labs Donkey and your experience with it, just wanting to know what you thought about it?" I was expecting a reply, but a brief and simple one and probably a week or so later (as mentioned Mr. Gruber is a busy & important man)... what I got was a very long and passionate email response back almost immediately that started: "LOVE IT. I love it, love it, love it... there's soul in Rodeo Labs...I ride it because it's a sick bike to ride, and I'm always happy when I ride it." He said a bunch of other stuff and even got geeking on tires, gearing, and other bike nerd stuff which I appreciated... but in the end he said all the right things, and it was because HE said them and without any hesitation, sponsorship, or influence that spoke volumes. I wasn't sure what would happen, but I was sure that the Trail Donkey was a rad bike and that Rodeo Labs was worth getting to know better.
So an email intro from Jered to Stephen @ Rodeo Labs and I... and we were on our way. Stephen Fitzgerald is the brains and beauty behind Rodeo Labs... in my limited knowledge of Stephen I knew two things: He is a beast on the bike and he has style. After talking with him for a while on the phone, it was clear we were both trying to do the same thing in our businesses... just live a good life filled with the right stoke and do what we love while still being family dudes... who else to better collab with?
That was in early September of 2017... we decided pretty quickly on what would happen, we would get unpainted frames from the factory and Stephen was gonna paint them himself and we were gonna just build them up here in NC however we wanted... well, that didn't happen.
I could go into the play by play of the past 5 months journey of these bikes, but no one wants to read that or care to revisit the speed bumps... I can say that it was all worth it. We decided to bring four frames in, send them to Eddie at Epic Customs in GA to paint them all in the Dawn Colorway... One for me, One for Oz, One for Phillip & One for Kyle... what happened along the way was meant to be... as three ended up Dawn and Kyle's ended up Autumn and both colorways look amazing and represent the vision of what we had in mind all along. Kudos to Eddie for making the dreams reality and doing an excellent job bringing the colors to life.
In the chaos of the the holidays, I sold my Crux and was without a gravel bike for a while, which added to the anticipation of the arrival of the Donkey... I had never ridden the bike before or even seen one in person, but everyone who had one seemed to love it, and everyone who knew about it seemed to lust after them... and they are all correct. The bikes arrived a few days ago and after a couple rides, I'm gushing with stoke.
What makes the Trail Donkey unique in a sea of super specific bikes... the number one thing is that is has it's own place... it is so incredibly versatile that it really can not be put into a category... it can handle road, gravel, single track, touring, adventure, and anything short of Time Trailing.... why is that? Every little detail is thought out and executed with that versatility in mind... you need rack mounts, check, you need bottle mounts underneath, check, you need dynamo lights, check, you need stiff and fast, check,, you need comfy geometry, check... the list goes on... but the ride...
The ride is just incredible... I have been trying to describe the difference between my Crux and the Donkey... Two Things: The Crux was nervous at speed, it tended to just thrash over rough stuff and had a bunking bronco vibe to it when things got hot.... The Donkey just stays true, it tends to sail effortlessly over chatter and handles with confidence and poise. The Crux also was lacking identity... it is a cross specific frame that is designed for cross racing and nothing else... hard to translate a 60minute cross race with a 9hr ride like Croatan Buck Fifty... The Donkey has soul. It knows who it is. It knows what it is. You feel it when you ride it, and that is a thing you can not fake.
Along the way, during the thousands of texts, calls, emails etc... I'd like to think Stephen and I became friends, and soon we shall meet face to face and ride together which will make it official... but the lessons learned on the journey were deep rooted in patience and the long game... anything worth having is worth waiting for, they say... and the Dream Donkey is worth the wait.