I’m a Grassroots Racer – Do I Deserve a Deal?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Oct 3, 2016

Dear Uncle Dave,

Just a bit of background about myself so you know where I am going with this question. I am a 35 year old CAT 1 DH and Enduro racer. I do about 12-15 races per year and I achieve a mostly respectable results. In some cases I even lock down times that would put me on the Pro box (usually only happens once a season). That being said, I am hands down a tried and true Grassroots racer with a full time job and I don’t and probably never will race bikes for a living as a Pro. However, I still like racing for the competition and comradery and I still see progression in my results and general riding ability.

Anyway, I read some comments the other day about how guys like me are taking money out of current or would be professional racers by partaking in some of the grassroots incentives offered by bike, component, and equipment manufacturers…because we essentially rep the product for free. I mean, I don’t have to tell you that…this sh!t is expensive and to be competitive at a CAT 1 level I feel like your bike has to be on point. Not to mention that, this year alone I have over a grand wrapped up just in race fees. So…every little bit helps and it keeps me racing. When I can pay 4000 bucks for a 5500 dollar DH bike, that 1500 dollar delta is money I can put toward racing…ya know?

In any case, these comments really had me thinking…Should I just hang it up?  I mean riding is fun, but so is competing and it took me a lot of hard work and injury to get to where I am today. Should I be ashamed for asking manufacturers for help?  Am I really taking that much out of the Pro’s pockets because I get a 30-40% discount on a handful of items while repping the product to the best of my average joe ability?  Is me wanting to continue racing an example of a mid life crisis come 5 years early?   

The Never Was

Dear Newwave:

Because it’s far easier to laugh at others than it is to laugh at ourselves, let’s consider an example that we’ve probably all witnessed at one point in our lives. It’s a Sunday morning. We’re in our car, heading out for some Dim Sum. We drive by the local coffee shop and there’s a large group of road cyclists lounging around in front. They’re all decked out, head-to-toe, in matching lycra ensembles and each victim is astride the latest and greatest from Trek/Cervelo/whatever-the-hot-bike-company-is-that-year. They probably have some silly name for their club splashed across their jersey, and more than a few of them have a fancy gut, muffin-topping out over their shorts. What do you do when you see a group like this?  Do you rush out to support one of the “sponsors” they’ve so kindly provided an advertisement for?Do you rejoice that Trek/Cervelo/whomever-the-hot-bike-company-is-that-year is finally showing evidence that they have their testing/R&D shit together?  No. You laugh. You laugh and you laugh and you laugh and you make a joke about dentists and drive off shaking your head because who do these idiots think they are, pretending to be people that we might actually care about?  And then you eat some Dim Sum and you never think about those guys again.

On a similar note, I’ve always wondered how a Vancouver bike shop makes it these days. Between the pro rider garage sales, the gray marketers, the journalist hacks, the pro photographers, the old school bros, the racers, the new school bros, the groms and the Internet ordering cheapskates (don’t take that as an insult, by the way), who is left to pay retail?  Everybody wants…no, scratch that…expects a deal!  Deserves a deal!  Just the sheer bro-ishess of our existence as a magical Shore rider entitles us to some consideration! As a business owner, how on earth do you cope with that?  How do you even manage the paperwork?

So. Back to you. First off, that’s awesome that you race, even at your advanced age. I’m a little bit concerned that you say that you “probably never will race bikes for a living”, but otherwise, all of your points and ideas seem relatively free from delusion. The key thing that you need to take away is that nobody is discouraging you from racing and you’d have to be an idiot to pass up a $1500 saving on a DH bike. Keep doing what you’re doing.

But, and I think this was the point of the article…assuming this is the piece that caused your world to crumble …and, if we’re being honest, at this point we probably have way more questions than we do answers, so speculating on a “point” is probably me getting ahead of myself… which should not in any way be taken as a complaint or criticism, because that’s the actual goal of any such article, when you get right down to it…anyhow…the point seems to be, what the hell is any company gaining from selling you stuff at anything other than full pop?  Is anybody, at all, swayed into a purchasing decision based on the gear choice of a mid-pack Cat 1 DH racer? What up and coming wunderkind with a real future and an actual ability to push our sport in a new direction is not receiving support because you and a dozen other middle-aged nobodies sucked up the remains of a marketing budget?  When was the last time an engineer made a product advancing decision based on feedback that you provided to them?  In other words, are you anything other than a parasite, sucking resources away from streams of actual value?  Why are you such a terrible person?

Of course, this isn’t all on you. If we worried about the long term/big picture effects of our actions we’d all probably have killed ourselves before the week was over. And that, my friends, is the challenge we’re all up against. We’re so stuck in our own little bubbles that the second somebody points out that the sky might actually be falling and we’re the ones shooting hairspray cans into the atmosphere, well we start flipping over tables, mixing metaphors and creating a general ruckus. So, really, the mistake you made was listening to somebody on the Internet.

Which brings us to…trolls.

Since we’re talking about a specific article, which you hopefully went back and took a look at, I’m going to insert some commentary on the commentary on that article. Because it distressed me. And as a fellow contributor to Cam’s Series of HateTM, I feel motivated to speak up.

Because I have a weekly soapbox to complain about whatever I want to complain about, when I received Cam’s e-mail urging me to talk about “What do you hate about the bike industry?” I kept it simple and assumed my throwaway lines would just blend into the weeds. Because there is always danger when you explicitly talk about things that you don’t like or that you think need to be fixed. There is always somebody who won’t agree and the very fact that you are talking in negatives opens you up to criticism. This is a thing that I have learned.

As I wrote this, we were two rounds into that series and six people had chimed in to express their opinions. I took the easy way out and talked about nothing. Four other dudes provided…I don’t know…something. And one person dug deep and provided something worthy of discussion. And you could tell that thoughts were provoked. This was not something that a lot of people had thought about and it was exactly the kind of thing that I wish I could produce on a consistent basis. Not everybody agreed, but it was a well thought out opinion and people appreciated its expression. Except for one foul-mouthed troll.

It was difficult to know how to respond in the moment. Something needed to be said, but it became obvious that engaging wasn’t helping in any way and it degenerated into terribleness*. But something needs to be said. To respond to various things that were said…

 1 – I speak for myself, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that nobody at NSMB thinks it’s funny when any commenter attacks anybody on a personal level for any reason. Nobody at NSMB wants this and nobody thinks it’s funny. It’s no different if it’s a man or a woman.

 2 – If you don’t like the opinion, attack the opinion. If you resort to personal attacks, you suck and you shouldn’t be a part of the conversation. You ill-mannered skid mark. (Sorry. It just gets out sometimes.)

 3 – I don’t think any man would ever have to go to such lengths to defend their opinion and justify their having one. This makes me sad.

I hate having to wade through bullshit like this. I can’t imagine having something so pointed directed right at me, due to my ambition to express an opinion. I appreciate that the NSMB community stepped in to try to reason through this episode. But there is no reasoning with somebody like this. I think all you can do is point out that the person is being disrespectful and let them hang by their own words. And then in an article a week later, tell them to go fuck themselves and explain that you wish there was a way that you could prevent them from fouling your beloved website with their dirty little troll eyes and their shit-covered fingers. If this is how you choose to argue with somebody who has something to say that you don’t like then fuck right off because we’re not interested in hearing from you or your ilk.


Uncle Dave

*I must say, though, NSMB.com terribleness is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. So…good job everybody?

Newwave – you win a prize! Loam Coffee Travel Pouches (perfect for race weekends!) – Our travel pouches are 3-packs of coffee featuring the Mystery DH (Guatemala), Boondocker (Colombia), and Bike Park Blend (Guatemala + Colombia). At 28g of coffee in each pouch they are perfect to throw in your pack, for bikepacking, traveling, and more. Drop us a line to collect your prize!2016-07-04 15.05.08-1-1

Trending on NSMB


Humanpowered  - Oct. 5, 2016, 2:23 p.m.

When I read Amanda's comments I was a bit bothered. There was an implicit assumption that a certain portion of the marketing budget exists to support pro-athletes. That is not the case, the marketing budget exists to sell more product. If those funds are being diverted that strongly suggests that there are doubts about the returns obtained from professional sponsorship. I'm not saying brand ambassadors are the right thing to do (honestly it strikes me as cheap and lazy), but if Amanda and other pro-athletes aren't able to demonstrate their ROMI (return on marketing investment) they should expect the marketing budget to go to investments that can.


Nat Brown  - Oct. 13, 2016, 9:24 p.m.

Your first two sentences are my concern also, and very well stated. I suspect we come from very different perspectives as usual though. I appreciate that.


49%  - Oct. 4, 2016, 10:31 p.m.

I don't know man, I'd argue that very talented locals, possibly like Cat 1 above, may have even more influence on us than the pros. These guys/gals are among us, they're the fast ones at our local races and we are exposed to them in real life. They're the ones that beat us by a long mile after we gave it our all. They are our gods. And all of us look longingly at the gear they're on. (We know it's not proprietary tweaked prototype pro stuff too- it's the same gear available to us).

Now float those muffin top club riders a small discount on said gear and watch them vacuum it all up…

I remember my buddy and I watching Wade ride a gnarly trail in person, and then taking his bike for a quick spin after a little chit chat. My buddy and I then bought 4 high end Rocky Mountains between us. Now that is influence.


49%  - Oct. 4, 2016, 10:29 p.m.

I don't know man, I'd argue that very talented locals like Cat 1 above may have even more influence on us than the pros. These guys/gals are among us, they're the fast ones at our local races and we are exposed to them in real life. They're the ones that beat us by a long mile after we gave it our all. They are our gods. And all of us look longingly at the gear they're on. (We know it's not proprietary tweaked prototype pro stuff too- it's the same gear available to us).

Now float those muffin top club riders a small discount on said gear and watch them vacuum it all up…

I don't know Uncle, I'd argue that very talented locals, possibly like Cat 1 above, may have even more influence on us than the pros. These guys/gals are among us, they're the fast ones at our local races and we are exposed to them in real life. They're the ones that beat us by a long mile after we gave it our all. They are our gods. And all of us look longingly at the gear they're on. (We know it's not proprietary tweaked prototype pro stuff too- it's the same gear available to us).

Now float those muffin top club riders a small discount on said gear and watch them vacuum it all up…

I remember my buddy and I watching Wade ride a gnarly trail in person years ago, and then taking his bike for a quick spin after a little chit chat. My buddy and I later bought 4 high end Rocky Mountains between us. Now that is influence.


Nat Brown  - Oct. 4, 2016, 3:40 p.m.

I don't see the significance of this ambassador Vs professional issue. I've read the original NSMB article, the longer blog post from Amanda, as well as some of her other writing on it. Is it because I 'only' ride bikes and my living doesn't depend on them that I don't get it? Because I don't have much at stake? I'm not saying I don't feel a degree of compassion for someone who has talent and worked hard to put themselves in a position where they would have been a shoe in to be pro 5 years ago, but the goal posts have moved and now a different kind of person gets that chance. I can see the personal disappointment in that, but from a larger social perspective I don't think it rates even a slight blip. Is it something else? Are existing pros not getting paid enough, and is that because other people are leeching the funds? (That's a broader problem.) Is the industry in peril because this issue is rendering their marketing ineffective, perhaps most particularly in the longer term? Why should I care about that? I'm not being rhetorical here, I'd really like to understand the perspective.


t.odd  - Oct. 4, 2016, 11:32 a.m.

no one cares who non-pros are 'sponsored' by…hell, most riders barely care who pros are sponsored by either.


Pete Roggeman  - Oct. 4, 2016, 3:10 p.m.

I disagree on the second part, however the degree to which people care is the crux of the discussion, isn't it?


Cam McRae  - Oct. 4, 2016, 3:17 p.m.

I had this conversation a few times in Vegas, with several marketing types suggesting that peers are the most effective purchase influencers.


Christopher Borgert  - Oct. 5, 2016, noon

That's not necessarily true… friendly, knowledgeable riders who are routinely involved in and giving back to their communities DEFINITELY sell bikes and products. I know some old dude xc types who have kept and improved their small time pro sponsorships because they coach, build trail, help with events or whatever else that puts them in a position of authority and respect in their bike communities. and you can 100% see this when you look at regional products trends. A good example is industry 9 wheel in the southeast. They originally sponsored a few pros and some grassroots riders/teams and soon enough, everyone from WV to FL was on I9s.


peterk  - Oct. 4, 2016, 8:44 a.m.

I saw a food company offering up $25000 to an adventure blogger next summer. The kind of money that could fund racer(s). That might be what Mme. Batty was talking about.


Amanda  - Oct. 4, 2016, 1:41 p.m.



Christopher Borgert  - Oct. 5, 2016, 12:09 p.m.

This is what I understood from the article. E.g. the girl in a sports bra on top of a mountain, looking thoughtfully into the distance or the guy with a luscious beard, down puffy and sunglasses on, in which you can see the reflections of some mountains and the "brand x" logo on the frames. Peruse instagram and you will find hundreds of these "brand ambassadors", who sit in hip cafes and upload pictures of their "adventures". They do not include pics of "shredding the gnar" and their gear is always fresh-out-of-the-box-no-way- it's-been-used looking. These people are just "looking cute"; they are not participating in the sport, they are participating in an ad campaign. Arguably, they can't even attest to how well the product actually works, because they aren't really using it or coming close to putting it through it's paces. I could be wrong (please correct me if I am, @disqus_tfypbLK26X:disqus), but I don't think she was begrudging the guy who's on the 30+ Cat 1 box every weekend his "cost+5" discount.


Tehllama42  - Oct. 4, 2016, 8:23 a.m.

I think there's a significant difference between somebody who does go out and race, and the kind of lifestyle-ambassadorship Mme. Batty was harping on that takes away from the ability to support grassroots and elite level racing. If it's a mix of both, that's a lot more reasonable, but I think the best sort of thing with that is having a supported grassroots racer who spends their time giving back to the younger age groups in the same scene - to me that's the kind of brand appeal I'd be searching for as a marketing manager for a brand who wants to support that whole scene.
So: what's the worst case for asking a manufacturer, supplier, or local shop to support a grassroots racer? Getting an answer that they don't have the resources to support you right now. As long as a rider is willing to accept that 'no' answer (and not be a dick about it), then pursue it. The level of support may not be what you've dreamed, but business can be tough and it's hard to demonstrate that the impact of just racing can bring them sales; but if one isn't asking for the moon and willing to try some wider audience type of stuff, sometimes it works great.
To the OP - ask and see what you get. In a lot of regards, the feedback from a Cat 1 racer who knows the value and opportunity cost of the hardware they use and run would actually be valuable if you can package it in a way that makes sense - might have to invest some time in deliberate back-to-back run testing and some writing for reviews/summaries/race diary type stuff to help make that value package make sense.
Essentially, I think you could make a good value case for a sponsorship type deal where a sweet deal on stuff is possible (probably in the near-cost bro- deal range, not boxes of bling shipped sans questions side of things), but figuring out ways to make that media friendly work. Probably won't have the most success with big manufacturer support, but a local supplier, local shop, or supplier of ancillary gear or other stuff might be excited to get your feedback and have you as a value-added publicity conduit.
…and if not, you get to keep racing, keep progressing, and keep having fun. That is still the beauty of grassroots racing, you're not beholden or reliant on anybody else to go out and have fun, and don't have the pressure from either of those things on your shoulder.


Michael Paeplow  - Oct. 4, 2016, 8:05 a.m.

You compared a muffin-top weekend cycling club with a cat 1 downhill racer? That's just disrespectful and a poor basis for argument!


Bagheera  - Oct. 4, 2016, 1:30 a.m.

This article
confuses me, and I’m not sure it’s my lack of English causing the confusion. First
off: I like the way Amanda Batty has of putting things, and I usually agree
with her. If I don’t, well, shucks. Now to the point:

grassroots racing really the same as this „brand ambassadorship“ everybody got
their chamois in a twist about? This guy is racing, at a respectable level. You
need a racing scene for talent to be able to emerge, no-one is going to organize
a race for the top-ten riders alone (stuff like RedBull Hardline being the
exception). So, if he gets a deal on a bike, does that really undercut
the pro athletes? He’s no teenager scraping together funds for a bike, but
still, DH racing is expensive. Plus, the deal he describes is nothing huge.

2) I’m pretty sure Richie Rude could
have won the EWS on a Reign, a Nomad or an Enduro, just as Danny Hart could
have been world champion on a Glory, a V10, a Session or a Demo. So
their wins prove the bike is capable, not much more. Now if some fast guy at a race (or on the
trail) who still has to pay for his bike explains to me why he has chosen
exactly this bike, and maybe even lets me take a spin/exchange bikes for a lap,
i twill influence my decision which bike to buy a lot more. Yeah, I like the Syndicate, but I also like the
fact that SC sponsors some local riders, and they’re far more likely to
influence me than Steve Peat. And yes, I’m sure the Syndicate is way more
important for the development of bikes and our sport than these locals. But can’t
both have their merit ? But, to get back to point one, I’m convinced the « grassroots sponsorship » is
not quite the same as the « sports ambassadorship », though there is
some overlap.

Side note: Bike guides: If a guy (or gal) has shown me awesome trails
all day long and handed me my a** while doing so, I’ll listen when he/she
speaks favorably about his/her bike, especially since these bikes usually work
hard ond don’t get racer-level TLC. So, yes, it makes sense for
companies to give them deals on bikes. These are hard-working people, and quite a few racers support themselves
by working as guides.


Amanda  - Oct. 4, 2016, 1:45 p.m.

Well said, and thank you for aiding in the distinction. For the record, I wasn't talking about 'grassroots sponsorship'. I was specifically speaking about the 'sports ambassadorship' that is often portrayed as an athletic sponsorship, despite the ambassador not being an elite (or otherwise competitive) athlete. My apologies for not making this clear. A dear friend of mine actually linked me to the following article, which provides a good general context for 'ambassadorship', despite skipping over the 'athlete marketing' side of things. However, Lacy Kemp really said it well in Cam's most recent 'Hate' piece -- brands have to tell stories.

Overall? It's been a fascinating conversation and one I'm happy to have been part of moving forward into a positive and productive direction.


Bagheera  - Oct. 5, 2016, 2:25 p.m.

Thanks for the replies, Amanda, Pete and Drew (and the other commenters above). Methinks I understand the issue a little better now. Happy trails.


Pete Roggeman  - Oct. 4, 2016, 3:17 p.m.

You are raising a couple of very valid points, Bagheera (and there is exactly no lack of English on your part). I think Amanda has done some clarifying, and we've all learned that for this discussion to be clear, clarity is pretty damn important. She also likely (I'm assuming - tell me I'm wrong if so, AB) had a few specific cases in mind, which isn't to say that there aren't several out there. In fact, the blog post that her words were drawn from led off with a very specific case. On the other hand, I can point to a half dozen 'ambassadorship' programs that fall into the category she's targeting, and very easily make a case for both why they deliver great ROI, and why they also do a good job of supporting the sport and encouraging positive participation.

So, for your first point, I absolutely agree. For your second point, I would say "spot on, sir".

And as for your side note, I have known of brands in the past who specifically target guides for the exact reason you lay out. Sure, they may not get the media exposure, but when you consider that in any outdoor sport, guides are the ones who both exemplify a certain type of excellence and experience, rely on their gear more than most, and have daily contact with the people who are generally the most likely consumers of high end gear (namely, those that can afford to travel and pay to be shown where to go and how to get there), well, maybe a follow-up question should be: why aren't more brands pursuing sponsorships of guiding outfits more aggressively?


DrewM  - Oct. 4, 2016, 5:11 p.m.

I think by way of a local example Rocky Mountain, Fox, and Shimano (and POC, and…) would argue they support Endless Biking pretty heavily and I've seen similar in Moab for example. If you don't take an Endless class you may not notice (as you note re. media exposure) but I know from working across the street from them that they expose exactly the right people (excited new and advancing riders - not bitter old jerks like… well… me) to those brands and you can tell that they influence purchasing decisions when you note how heavily Rocky, for example, is represented in the new and shiny (vs. used & starter) rigs their patrons ride.

I think another great example - although the ride leaders are volunteers in this case - would be Mudd Bunnies. Here it's LIV/Giant supporting selected brand ambassadors from the club but you can definitely see how powerfully represented LIV is among their membership if you watch a club ride go by and just focus on the new rigs.


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