I did not have any sponsors when I started my
Round the World trip in 2002. Like many travelers about to set off on a big
trip, I thought that bicycle and camping gear companies would be leaping at the chance to sponsor
After all, I planned on a seven-year trip through some exotic and
challenging places. I was shocked when the twenty-five or so companies I wrote and called
turned me down. Were they crazy? I bought my bike and gear at full retail price and left,
still scratching my head. It wasn't until I'd been on the road for two
years and my website was receiving substantial traffic that I started getting
contacted by prospective sponsors. The mystery of sponsorships and bicycle
touring is intriguing and I have not totally figured it out, but I keep
trying different things.
Currently, I have a few sponsors for my
bicycle tour. My arrangements with these businesses are win-win for both parties:
I get free gear and they get
exposure and direct sales from my website. My sponsors have earned back
the cost of their investments and commissions several times over through the
sales they make through my website.
Sometimes I write to manufacturers of equipment
I use and get zero response. Laptop computers are high on my list. I push a computer to its limits, know a lot about
traveling with one and I think I could probably sell them from my website.
They never answer my emails. I've had a touring bike sponsor in the past
where I bought the bikes at manufacturers' cost (a pro deal, in bike shop talk) and
sold them on commission. I ended this relationship once I
discovered problems with
a poorly designed headset and felt I couldn't ethically promote these bikes.
I have a pretty good track record of selling bikes off my site, and there are a
few companies that I think would be a good match. But it's hard to convince
them. As you can see, I'm still learning how to find good sponsors and
business partners. Below is a summary of some of the things I've learned.
Prospective sponsors always ask these two
1)How much traffic do you get on your web site?
will you be traveling?
They seldom ask how difficult a trip will be or
through which exotic places I will travel. I could be riding in circles around
my neighborhood as far as they care, as
long as my website generates enough traffic to promote their products. Sponsors also do not
want to invest in a bike trip if it is short-term. They know that it takes
a lot of time for these relationships to be profitable. If the trip ends
quickly, the website traffic and exposure disappear with it. When dealing with businesses, always
remember that they are primarily interested in turning a profit. Instead of
concentrating on what they can do for your trip, think about what your tour can
do for them. Offering to put their corporate logo on your jersey or bike
is not going to cut it. They need far more eyeballs than that to make a
I am picky about my gear so there are only a
few companies with which I can potentially work. I do not carry much, so what
I do have in my panniers is critical for the
trip's success. My own personal rule is to only accept
sponsorship for gear that I would buy anyway.
Other cyclists and travelers are relying on my experience so I can't endorse equipment
that I don't like. I do not think these standards are uncommon
in the cycle touring world. Touring cyclists are a notoriously picky bunch,
for very good reason. Our safety depends on having good gear. For me, this is especially true for touring bicycles
because there are only five or so mass-produced bikes I would feel comfortable
taking off the shelf and riding through the developing world or remote
Real sponsorship is not common in the bicycle
Bike touring sponsorship should not be confused with affiliate programs. Anyone
with an accepted website (not porn, hate or illegal)
can go to an equipment company's website and sign up for their affiliate program
if they have one. Normally, you can earn about 5% of sales originating from your website.
Anyone with decent computer skills can make an account, create the ads, copy the
code and insert it on their website. This isn't a sponsorship. It's an
affiliate commission program. With a few exceptions, most of the gear sold on
DownTheRoad.org is through various affiliate programs.
Discounts are not sponsorships. If a
company is making a profit on the items you buy then they are not sponsoring
you. They are giving you a discount. This might explain why so many cycle
touring and extreme sports websites appear to have
such impressive sponsor pages filled with corporate logos linking to the
manufacturers. Sometimes I think there are people out there more interested in
"looking sponsored" than anything else and the slightest discount warrants a banner
and a glowing review on their website. I have seen these reviews
appear even before the bicycle tour starts or just a few months into a trip.
I believe that no piece of bicycle touring equipment can be put through its
paces until 9 - 12 months of continuous travel are completed.
This last one probably goes without saying.
Warranty replacements are not sponsored gear. Any reputable company
will replace gear with manufacturer's defects. I have worked in many
bike shops in the past and have come to believe that if a customer contacts a
gear company regarding a new-ish broken piece of gear, the company will usually
replace it with few questions asked. While this is a good business
practice and shows a dedication to customer satisfaction, it is not an equipment sponsorship.
My current sponsors
Ortlieb has been working with
me for years
supplying over a dozen items including all my panniers (saddle bags), handlebar bags and
more. I would definitely be buying all these Ortlieb bags even if it were not
for their generosity. This was my favorite brand of pannier long before
Agnes supplies me regularly with new tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads.
I used several different brands of camping gear before settling on Big Agnes.
They use me as a field tester to work with their design engineers. I guess
I make a decent tester as I've camped out at least a thousand nights in the last
four years. I've ridden out lots of intense storms while camping and the
equipment definitely gets thoroughly tested. Their sponsorship saves me a
lot of money on gear I would have to regularly buy.
Touring Racks and Luggage Carrier Systems I used Tubus
Racks for the first seven years of the trip. They never broke.
Tubus sent me a stainless steel set just so I would have the latest and greatest to
show the world but I'm sure I could have used the original set for another twenty-plus years.
Phil Wood gave me
four hubs several years ago. I have yet to wear these out so no replacement has
been necessary. They are a great company to work with.
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