Forget Sponsorship – There are Better Paths to the Inside of the Mountain Biking Industry
Have you ever desired to be sponsored? Be honest. In my adolescent years I was a ‘fruit-booter’. If you are unfamiliar with the term likely you didn’t spend the late 90’s hanging out at your local skate park. ‘Fruit-booter’ was a derogatory term used for aggressive inline skaters. To this day I maintain that aggressive inline skating never got the cred it deserved. I’m in the minority about the respectability of inline skating. In those skating years I also began a forgettable stint racing BMX. One thing that was common to both the BMX and inline scene among young skaters and riders was the desire for sponsorship. If you are looking for an article on how to get sponsored The Mountain Bike Life is probably not the site to come to. A little Google work will serve you better. However if you are looking for an alternative take on sponsorship that might benefit you, read below the break.
Let me start by asking you this – Who gets more free bikes from more companies, the Pinkbike.com crew, or the top riders at your local scene? Who tests more products before they ever hit the market, the guy who stole your Strava KOM, or a contributing writer to Bicycling, Mountain Bike Action, Bike, and so on? The answers here are obvious. People don’t often realize this little secret, but you have more value to a cycling company as a writer than you do as a rider. Your odds of getting free gear are far better if you use your pen than if you use your legs.
Before you get carried away and head over to WordPress to start your new blog in hopes of getting free stuff let me give crucial piece of advice. You should write about things you love for the sole purpose of sharing passion with the world. You should ride your bike because you love to ride and write because you love to write. The desire for sponsorship is a misplaced desire. If I don’t get a free piece of anything over the next 10 years writing here I still plan to continue writing because it is not about getting free stuff, nor should it ever be. Nonetheless my point here, especially for our younger readers, is that the work you do in your high school English and reading classes, and your college composition classes will have a far greater impact on the cycling industry than your riding ever will.
Recently a number of TMBTL contributors have received sunglasses from Ryders (reviews will be coming soon.) I was one of the lucky recipients. They are pretty awesome pieces of eyewear, at least that is my first impression. We didn’t pay a penny for them. Why would Ryders send them? It makes business sense. They gain targeted exposure for their product that will show up in Google search results and among our daily readers. It’s a no brainer. In fact I would contend that they would gain more positive exposure from our relatively small blog than they would if they had a World Cup Champion wearing their gear. They only thing we care about with champs is what bike they are riding, nobody is going to rush over to buy a set of Ryders based on a YouTube clip from the Olympics or UCI World Championships.
When I was a fruit-booter I focused on my craft, I was one of the best skaters in our local scene but K2 or Rollerblade would never notice me. Even if they did they wouldn’t waste their time offering me skates. Boneless was not going to send me new pads, and Senate wasn’t going to hook me up with wheels. However if I wrote a blog (they didn’t exist at the time) or if I wrote for a magazine they would gladly send free stuff even if I couldn’t do a basic stair gap. Business drives companies to give away product, not the skill of the users.
So what is the point? Simple, we all spend a lot of time online looking at MTB stuff. We enjoy reading articles, learning about products and places, and seeing what is going on in the MTB world. If you want to be on the inside of the industry (which we do not claim to be here at TMBTL) your best bet is to contribute to the conversation. Write, share your stories, your experiences with products, do something that adds value to the MTB community and you might just find yourself on the receiving end of perks which you thought were reserved only for elite riders. If you are a young person still in school and have a desire to be on the inside of the industry, then spend your time reading classic authors so that you can become a better writer. Take the writing prompts your teachers give you seriously. Learn everything that you can about everything, not simply biking, but all things. It is said that next to sex the most exhilarating human experience is learning something new. Immediately following learning on that list of great human experiences is teaching. Your value to the mountain biking community comes not from your ability to rail a berm with a GoPro getting the footage, but instead it comes from your ability to tell the world why you do what you do, and why you love or hate the gear you are using.
I hope you don’t read this article with some starry eyed expectation of becoming a writer in order to get free stuff. However I do hope that you would see that you have something of tangible value to offer the mountain biking community by your participation with blogs like this one. For 99.5% of you, your value to the industry as a writer far outweighs anything you may accomplish on the racecourse or at your local dirt jumps. Let’s be real, I probably spend 10 hours or so a month writing my bi-weekly posts here. The glasses I got retail for $70. If you add up all the articles I’ve written it amounts to somewhere around about a buck an hour for my time. In other words write to contribute because you love it, otherwise just go work 2 hours of overtime if it’s all about free stuff.
I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Please contribute in the comments here and at other sites. You just never know when someone will be looking for new contributors, and intelligent discourse with blog authors is a great way to find yourself in a position to become a contributor yourself. You don’t have to be a great writer, God knows I’m not. Even if writing is a struggle realize that the mountain biking community is a pretty forgiving group. We all love fresh takes. Start stroking the keys and giving the world your fresh takes. With a little persistence and a touch of luck the industry will reward you for it. More important than any reward, you’ll find it’s fun to put words together and share them with the world.