While many startups launch in a basement or garage, Dan Timmerman launched his ultralight, outdoor gear brand Timmermade in his 500-square-foot, off-grid, solar-powered cabin in the woods outside of Ithaca, New York. “We didn’t have any rooms,” Dan said of his humble abode, “so it was basically just a sewing machine set up with fabric and gear lying about.”
But, before Dan dedicated his days to off-grid living and Timmermade, he was an accomplished and gifted professional cyclist. Over the span of 20+ years, Dan raced mountain bikes, went pro as a road racer, and eventually became a distinguished cyclocross racer with over 40 podiums to his name.
As a hobby, in between training and racing, Dan began making himself clothing out of anything he could find — most notably, old, wool surplus blankets. “Strangely, this led me to building ultralight gear,” he said.
Before long, a “very tall and skinny” friend of Dan’s, who was into all things ultralight and could never find gear and clothing that fit, convinced Dan to build him some custom, lightweight gear.
At the time, Dan was still racing cyclocross and his custom creations were making their way onto his social media channels. In time, friends in the cycling community were placing orders, primarily for his down jackets.
“It went on like this for a while,” Dan said. “Posting, selling, posting, selling, until I decided to make it official.” When asked about his witty, play-on-words brand name, Dan said a clever teammate thought it up. “I wondered if it was cheesy, but for lack of a better option, I went with it!”
In 2016, Timmermade launched and Dan officially retired as a pro cyclist. He found himself turning to hobbies that aligned with ultralight gear, and took to trail running and long distance hiking. “Foot travel has always spoken to me. It’s our own natural form of transportation.”
What makes Timmermade unique? Dan claims he’s not driven by market forces. “That’s probably one reason why I’m not a great businessperson,” he said. “But from a gear standpoint, I think it’s a real benefit.”
He spends a lot of time using the gear, and even more time just thinking how it could be made better. “When I think of something, I can jump on the machine and create it, try it, break it, decide it sucks, or occasionally, when it’s successful, turn it into a product.”
His work is innovative and well thought out. The brand’s popular Waterbear Hood is designed to be used with a hoodless sleeping bag or quilt. Dan incorporates a unique adjustable tube of breathable, quick drying mesh that insulates your face so you can breathe warm air.
Timmermade’s sleep systems offer features like a draw cord foot box, which helps with temperature control, and allows you to “wear” and walk around in your bag. He also implements a technical “differential cut” in his sleep systems, ensuring the down fill stays lofty and warm.
Dan admits much of his gear is created primarily for personal use. “Not gonna lie,” he confessed, “thinking up new stuff I want and making it so I can go use it on the trail,” is a clear bonus of the business. “That’s how the whole thing started and it’s what still motivates me today.”
“Second to that is building gear for people with stories. I love building gear for customers with cool adventures and becoming a part of that by building the gear that suits their needs.”
Sometimes it keeps him up at night, too. “When I get thinking about a new piece of gear or a tweak of an existing piece, I’ll stay awake thinking about it. When I dive into a project like that I’ll work like a madman at it until it’s finished.”
Currently, Dan is content letting Timmermade roll along on its own. “I’m happy to let it take its time, build a user base, get gear out on the trails, and just let it catch when things are right.”
He prefers not to rush his creativity. “My strategy is to try and have everything really dialed before I introduce a new product. I have plenty of things I could put up, but a lot of them I haven’t built enough of to feel confident about putting it out there. The wheels are always turning.”
Literally speaking, the wheels take Dan to southern Arizona each winter. Escaping the New York chill, he schleps his sewing machine, fabric and notions down south and sets up shop. “Ironically, I don’t have access to solar power down there.”
But, new visions and ventures are in the works for Timmermade. Dan recently bought a retired mini school bus and is setting it up to run on vegetable oil, and have a solar-powered sewing shop and living space.
With low financial demand, Dan likes the part-time flexibility of Timmermade. “I could park at a trailhead and take orders — even take an order, build it on site, and meet someone down the trail and deliver it,” he said. “Grand plans, but they are moving along.”