Leo Rodgers posted up next to his Crust Bikes “Florida Man,” Leo’s limited edition frame. Photo by Alex Colorito.
The energy surrounding cyclist Leo Rodgers is infectious as most everyone in the well-known dirt jump area of Sheep Hills in Newport Beach, California either recognizes him and waves, shouts his name or rolls by to hit a joint. Rodgers is grinning from ear to ear returning bright smiles and high fives as riders cruise by at this unofficial contest, a setting he’s not only familiar with but one that ties together a community of pros and misfits simply by the bikes they ride. Leo is perched on the crossbar of his gravel bike which serves not only as his sole means of transportation but also a prosthesis, for he is missing a leg after suffering a motorcycle accident fifteen years ago.
Old Pal Provisions x Dangle Supply’s limited edition TiCobb Pipe, inspired by Leo Rodgers vibrant color palette. Photo by John Watson.
“I was always active when I was growing up, especially on bikes,” he recounts when asked about his vibrant youth back in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I was always building something as a kid but as I got older I’d cut a few yards here and there, grab some cash and head to the bike shop. That’s where it all started for me.” His story has roots in the DIY scenes birthed in the 80s bookended by both coasts with rich histories in making things up as you go. He was a kid in the 90s so movies like ‘RAD’ weren’t too far in the rear view where the neon dreams of freestyle BMX collided with urban shredding as a precursor to emulating skate tricks on two wheels. Rodgers explodes with enthusiasm while remembering every little detail of his first street BMX build ranging from the custom spoke nipples to the tricks he was learning at the time.
“We were out jumping gates…thrashing…and even a buddy of mine loved riding backwards; that’s what he did!” he laughs fondly remembering that time in his life. “Most of my other friends were into shoes, fast cars and playing football. I was the only “bike person” riding everywhere, even when I had two legs. That’s what I was known for.” Rodgers is a born athlete so cycling fit seamlessly into his already active lifestyle of running cross-country, track and playing basketball.
Leo chillin’ at Golden Saddle Cyclery, LA. Photo by Dustin Beatty.
It’s common for this type of passion to cross over to power sports which put Rodgers on a motorcycle in high-school riding wheelies through the streets of his hometown. In 2007, one unfortunate landing combined with a loose headset caused him to lose control and collide with guardrail launching into a man-made canal. The accident was nearly fatal resulting in an induced coma and fears from his family that he may lose the ability to ever walk again which at some level was true, as the doctors elected to amputate his left leg. When asked about this terrifying moment in his life, Rodgers offers only a few comments and moves through the details with a smile as swiftly as someone recalling a bad break-up only to emerge stronger, optimistic and intent on adapting to a new life where being held back by a disability wasn’t even an option.
Crust Bikes “Florida Man” frame blinged out with parts by Paul Component, Velocity USA, White Industries, Chris King, Ritchey Logic, and Brooks England. Photo by John Watson.
Where many might shy away from getting back on the horse, so to speak, Rodgers returned to cycling as a means of recovery. What was once a cross-training activity, was now something endemic to his movements and also a magnet for like-minded cyclists. “The same tool that I was using before was now a part of me—actually part of me,” he recalls with youthful energy. After bouncing back, he worked as a cab driver and started noticing group rides while driving around town. “Seeing people have such a good time as an adult I thought, ‘Yo, that’s it right there! I can feel like a kid again!’” For him, hitting those group rides felt like joining a family and things just exploded from there eventually leading to work in a bike shop and training for Velodrome racing. “I didn’t want my accident to defeat me,” he confidently adds.
Reconnecting with his passion for cycling wasn’t the only thing vital to his recovery. Cannabis also played an important role. “I started smoking before I started riding again because I’ve always hated medicine—Percocets and all that shit; it’s terrible,” he remembers. “Someone handed me a blunt at one point and after I hit that I was chillin’ and could actually eat. It’s exactly what I needed to help me ween off my medicines and also helped with my phantom pains. The pills I was taking weren’t even working. I didn’t even care if weed was illegal; that was it for me. It was also more sociable. I was always just riding and chiefing away—at peace.”
Leo at Golden Saddle Cyclery, LA. Photo by Dustin Beatty.
The combination of cannabis and a new lease on life through cycling led Rodgers to dip into his skills as a trained motorcycle mechanic and apply those in bike shops. Those group rides he vicariously spotted from his cab window also became de facto training for a dream to race in the Velodrome as part of the Paralympics. The streets aren’t exactly a replacement for banked turns so he naturally found his way to Southern California where he’d hoped to officially train in Carson—then Covid hit.
Rodgers is no stranger to overcoming adversity so when things felt safe again, he quickly reconnected to giving back to the bike community and joined a shop as a mechanic in Costa Mesa, California. As luck would have it, cycling exploded during the pandemic as a favorite socially distant activity with some media reporting a 150% increase in bike sales. However, an omnipresent level of uncertainty still existed with the looming question by some cautious cyclists thinking that even riding in a peloton wasn’t considered safe by some standards. As a result, that ignited an already burgeoning interest in gravel riding, a hybrid between road cycling and mountain biking with new gear, skills and routes opening up a whole new world for responsible recreation.
Old Pal 5-Gram Ready to Roll in Sativa with an Old Pal Provisions x Dangle Supply TiCobb Pipe on top. Photo by Alex Colorito.
Central to this scene are shops like Golden Saddle Cyclery and The Cub House in Los Angeles that not only host group rides for all kinds of cyclists but embody a punk-rock attitude that’s endemic to gravel riding. It’s an energy that Rodgers also shares attracting sponsors like Crust Bikes that aptly lean heavily into the dirtbag nature of bikepackers, tourers and muddy racers who suffer only for the glory of crossing the finish line.
Crust Bikes “Florida Man” badge. Photo by John Watson.
More recently, Crust gave Rodgers the opportunity to design a signature frame appropriately called the ‘Florida Man’ merging all the challenges of the drivetrain on a track bike with the accessible geometry of a street masher and gravel bike; in fact, it’s modeled after The Bombora, one of Crust’s best-selling gravel grinding frames. Watching Rodgers ride his build is a mixture between his time racing Velodrome, a nod to flatland BMX tricks, white knuckled street riding techniques all punctuated by a shit-eating grin because he’s constantly in a flow state and having the time of his life.
It’s no surprise that the outpouring of support for Rodgers has quickly made him a fixture in the cycling world tearing it up all over America at events like Mid-South where he conquered the whole frigid ride on a fixed gear as part of the Crust team. He also participates in bike-centric events like Sea Otter where people travel from around the world to ogle new builds, technology and gear. Naturally, Rogers stands out at those events with infectious exuberance.
This momentum hasn’t gone unnoticed as Rodgers returns to Florida somewhat of a hometown hero. As we reflect on our first interview at Sheep Hills and the last two years of incubating this project with Old Pal, Leo and Dangle Supply, we’re humbled by his hope, optimism and growth. He’s a beacon for others to follow in a similar path to view both cycling and cannabis as shareable experiences that can heal and connect others in an authentic way. “When it’s all said and done, you just want to have fun,” he adds with a smile, as always. “That’s all I’m trying to preach to people.”
Rodgers standing tall next to his Florida Man bike, Downtown LA skyline in the background. Photo by Alex Colorito.