Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Ten Years Of Tamlanding: Part 1

Ten years ago last week on March 21st, I brought home a new bicycle. It was, at that time, a rare 'gravel specific' bike. Of course, you long time blog readers may have already guessed that I am referring to the Raleigh Tamland model. 

Since it has been ten years, I thought I would celebrate the fact by sharing the back-story in one fell swoop instead of piecemeal, as I have over the years. Many of you know bits and pieces of the Tamland story, but hopefully through reading this you might learn something new. 

To tell the story properly we have to go back a few more years to around 2009 or so when I was seeing bicycles at Trans Iowa that were a bit more adept at gravel than my drop bar converted Karate Monkey. By this time I had already had two custom frames made and I had a frame builder that I was happy with. Also, I had my friend Ben Witt, who was on a similar trajectory as I. He was a bit more influenced by Rawland Bikes and was thinking of a fat-tired road bike with fenders that would have the grace to go on any road anywhere.

At this point, around 2009, Ben and I had almost fine-tuned a custom bike idea and we were about "this close" to pulling the trigger on having the bikes made by Pofahl. But then some developments occurred that put that idea on ice. 

First off, there was the crowd-sourced idea from Rawland for an "any-road" bike. The Rawland blog kept drawing ideas for a new bike from its readers but when I saw that the proposed idea, dubbed the Nortvind, was veering into rando bike territory, I bailed on that ever being a solution. 2010 rolled around and I still didn't have the bike I was envisioning. Meanwhile, I knew (because I saw the prototypes at Trans Iowa) that Salsa Cycles was well on its way to producing a gravel "racing bike" and that it probably wouldn't have the 42mm tire clearances I wanted. Well, let's be honest here. In 2010 there were no 42mm gravel tires, so I get why Salsa was not into bigger tires for that reason, plus there were other factors involved in their decision making process as well.

Prototype La Cruz Ti by Salsa Cycles as ridden by Joe Meiser at T.I.v5 in 2009.

Brands at this juncture were hedging their bets on gravel bikes by making them with cyclo-cross geometry so that they could also be sold as cyclo-cross bikes. However; this was also not my cup of tea, but until I saw the Warbird in 2012, my thoughts were that this cyclo cross thing was probably where we would land for gravel bikes and that I was stuck with that being the reality. 

Tired of waiting: I bought the Orange Crush in 2011.

By late 2010, after getting strung along by Rawland, and finding myself in tighter financial stead, I decided that I would have to get a gravel bike from a company that sold value oriented frames and forks, like Surly. The Cross Check was an early 'no-brainer' choice as it was relatively inexpensive and was already a staple on the gravel scene, as far as bike choices went. 

However; late into 2010 Black Mountain Cycles hinted at a frame and fork that would bear their brand and be pretty competitively priced. It was, of course, the Monster Cross frame. It compared very favorably to a Cross Check in may ways, but there were details I liked better than I found on a Cross Check. So, in 2011, I took delivery of the "Orange Crush" and that was my gravel bike for the time being. Done and done! Right?

Well, first of all, while I like the Monster Cross it is not what I really wanted in a gravel bike. Someday, or so I thought, that old idea Ben and I had would be something I'd have to get on and have made. But along about 2012 I received a phone call while I was at work in the old bike shop I worked at then. Strange. I never got phone calls unless one of my children were sick or Mrs. Guitar Ted had something important to relay. 

It turned out to be my contact at the time for 29"ers at Raleigh. Brian Fournes was on the line asking if it would be alright if I was put on speaker phone to speak with Raleigh's development team. They asked "If you could design a gravel bike from the ground up, what would you include. Anything is on the table as long as it is reasonable and saleable."


Off the top of my head, I repeated all the stuff that Ben and I had fine-tuned over the course of our brainstorming up an all-roads bike in 2009. I listed everything I could think of, but I did change a couple things. First, I listed that it had to have disc brakes. Originally I wanted Paul Components "Racer" brakes, but I knew that the market was heading toward disc brakes. I also stated that the bike had to have full-run brake housings as a result, which was also a change-up from the original design. But everything else I stated in 2009 with Ben's help was included including:

  • Slacker than 72° head tube angle. I hedged a bit and asked for 71.5°. 
  • 73° seat tube angle.
  • Steel, curved blade fork.
  • Bottom bracket drop of more than 70mm. (Raleigh went with 72.5mm)
  • Steel tubing. (I asked for 853 Reynolds but Raleigh said in the end 653 was a better choice)
  • No severely sloping top-tubes. 
  • Rack & Fender mounts
  • Clearance for 42mm tires with fenders
  • Standard threaded bottom bracket
  • 1 1/8th steer tube
  • A chain peg

The Raleigh Tamland breaks cover in 2013. (Image by CXMagazine.com)

I got off the phone, marveled at the occurrence, and pretty much promptly forgot all about it. I mean, was any of that really going to happen? No way, right? I mean, this sort of stuff happens all the time. Bike companies ask random people what they want and something totally different ends up happening or nothing at all happens. I've had that experience before this phone call and after it with the cycling industry. No big deal.

But then in 2013 a bit of buzz happened as Raleigh showed a Tamland bike which was supposedly 'gravel specific'. Now, I had no idea if this was THAT bike. Raleigh never told me a thing about the project's name, nor did they breath a word about it after that 2012 phone call to me. So, I was completely in the dark as to which, if any, of my ideas were applied to the Tamland. 

Meanwhile a debate sprang up about whether or not gravel bikes even needed to be. "Just use a cyclo cross bike!" and my favorite anytime something new comes out, "They are just finding new reasons to make us have to buy a new bike!" I really love that one! As if the bicycle industry forces people into purchasing new stuff. Ha!

March 21st, 2014: The Tamland is on my front doorsteps.

I grabbed anything that mentioned the upcoming Tamland to see if I could learn about its features, but all that was really mentioned was that it would have 40mm Clement MSO tires on it, which were a new gravel tire at the time. It wasn't until just before Interbike 2013 that I learned that yes- at least a few of my ideas were on the bike. I was both thrilled and horrified. Thrilled for obvious reasons. Horrified because what if this flops and then people find out it was because of my ideas that the Tamland failed.

Finally, I arrived at the Interbike indoor floor show and I went to Raleigh's booth straight away. I ran into Brian Fournes just outside of their space on the floor. He asked if I had seen the Tamland yet. I replied that I was just on my way to check it out. I asked him what, if any of my suggestions Raleigh used. Brian replied, "All of them!"

The Tamland Two as it looks today

 I was instantly horrified again. I told him that if it fails it probably would be my fault and that made me feel uncomfortable. But Brain instantly reassured me by saying that the first run of Tamlands was sold out to dealers already! 

So.... At that point I was thrilled about the existence of a bicycle I had an influential part in. I was happy that it was met with acceptance and seemed to be well on its way to becoming a success for Raleigh. But how could I get one? 

That will be answered in my next post.


Phillip Cowan said...

Would love to see the brand revived to it's former glory. I've bought several new Raleighs over the years and several more used. Last time I looked at the website they were selling bigbox junk made in India I think. Very sad.

Tyler Loewens said...

That really was a handsome bike! Like Phillip mentioned, it would be great to see Raleigh come back to its former glory.

Guitar Ted said...

@Phillip Cowans @Tyler Loewens - Thanks and Agreed.

I'm not 100% sure what happened, but I do know that Brian Fournes left the company shortly after Raleigh introduced the carbon Tamland (Not the name of the bike, but essentially what it was), and then the management went to online bicycle sales, one of the first well-known brands to do so.

That really alienated the Raleigh dealer base. In my opinion, when so many dealers abandoned Raleigh, it essentially made the brand start a race to the bottom, in terms of pricing and investment back into what was once a rather forward thinking brand.

MG said...

That bike is so cool… it’s amazing that Raleigh couldn’t ride the Tamaland wave and keep it going, but ineptitude at the management level must have been too much of a challenge, regardless of how good the bikes were.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Yeah, something went pear-shaped there at Raleigh and I believe it was the reason Brian left when he did. But maybe we will never know.....

Pedro said...

Nice post!!! Really interesting. Personally this kind of post, Transiowa… where you explain the evolution of gravel, etc. are my favorites.
Do you think that Genesis croix de Fer can be something similar to this Raleigh?
Keep riding & writing!!

Guitar Ted said...

@Pedro - Thanks for the kind words. I am glad to know that you have enjoyed the more historically related posts.

The Genesis Croix de Fer is a similar design. I have looked at that bike favorably.