My wife likes to entertain herself with a little running joke. Every time I have to spend money on anything bike or bike racing related she quips, “I thought you were sponsored.” Ha ha.
I had to buy some cables the other day at the local brick & mortar because I completely trashed my bike again in Maine last weekend. So on my wee Tuesday pre-work spin I headed down to the shop and ordered up a handful of cables and housing to stock my toolbox with for the next mudfest. Now I’m not exactly a skinflint, in fact I have been accused of being a little too free and easy with my finances, but I am also immensely fortunate in that I have had the privilege in the last few years of being supported by some great companies and a truly fantastic bike shop. As a result, I don’t have to buy a lot of stuff, and when I do, I get it cheap. Lucky me. And guess what? Cables are friggin’ expensive! Holy crap, I nearly had a heart attack when I signed the receipt. Who knew the damned things are 7 bucks a pop nowadays? I just threw my expense/profit spreadsheet off for a month.
If you’re wondering how it is that I can ride bikes 300 days a year and not know the price of a cable, or if you’re rolling your eyes at the mention of an expense/profit spreadsheet for racing, well, that’s my point. I’m spoiled rotten. But I’m not the only one. “Elite” riders all over the place are infamous for taking their sponsors for granted, wanting everything for free and doing little in return. Little that is, except for getting totally awesome results every weekend that are way better than all of those un-sponsored riders. Hehe. Oops.
The reality is that most of us who are fortunate enough to have someone else even partially underwrite our racing lifestyle/hobby/addiction/avocation will never attract enough attention to ourselves on the merits of our results alone to justify the outlay of sponsorship dollars. During Cyclocross season it gets a little bit easier to be Kind Of a Big Deal due to the increasing number of UCI races and the spectator friendly nature of the discipline. The photographers have an easy time of it and the sponsors actually get some reasonably good exposure to their target audience. This exposure, however, is hard won, and it only partly makes up for the rest of the year, when anyone who has invested their money in semi-professional-elite amateur-fulltime-expensive bike racing has to satisfy themselves with blurry images on Facebook of their athletes proudly flashing the team colors around industrial parks and roadside parking lots out behind the 12th acre of nowhere. We American bike racers really do put the “semi” in semi-professional.
Ok, so it’s no secret to anyone reading this that I am a human governed most immediately by my emotions. I can throw a wobbler with the best of them, I have been known to cry after bad races, and sometimes I’m a needy little cuss, just ask Joe.
But these days, as I meditate on how it is that I am going to salvage this ‘cross season that looks increasingly to bystanders like a hippopotamus drowning in a mud bog (“My lord how ever are you going to save that poor beast?”), I am trying to remind myself to be humble, and grateful for the opportunity to pursue my goals and simply do what I love to do. And not for nothing but people who sign the checks to support bike racing teams are, in large part, the people who keep grassroots racing alive in North America. So to my fellow self-obsessed, well-supported athletes I say: hug your sponsor today.
Seriously, if you’re fortunate enough to be a sponsored athlete, remember that the best way you can show it is to represent your sponsors well both on and off the bike. This means try to refrain from giving cars the finger when wearing the logos of people who spend their hard-earned money paying your race entry fees. It means say nice things about your sponsors’ products, even if they are only partially true. Help out your teammates at races, work the pit for club riders once in awhile, and if you have a benefactor or three who still actively race themselves, then for god’s sake take an interest in the master’s race or the B race or the C race or the women’s race or whatever race they’re in. And above all, just don’t be an asshole on someone else’s nickel.