Mountain biking ambassadors are we over saturated? Are we taking it the wrong way?
Most mornings I get up, then straight away I have a coffee.
When my eyes are open after that glorious doppio, often the next thing I do (if I’m not having a fight with my five-year-old about putting on her school uniform) is maybe have a sneaky look at the socials. You know - Insta, Facey, those ones!
Recently it has become more and more bland and vanilla as the choreography of ordinary people has been amped to the max in the name of ‘brand building’. If you ride bikes or follow a lot of bike riders, you’ll know what I mean. The personal is no longer political - it’s business, as people hashtag their 12 sponsors on the daily, in exchange for small discounts that help their cause towards Cat 3 greatness.
Bike brands have cottoned on to the fact that ambassadors can have a big pull in the community. People like to be a part of something and many people will refer to their mates when looking at new bike options. And while elite athletes have visibility, they lack relate-ability.
Watching Nino’s unorthodox balance and core-based workouts is inspiring and motivating, but most people I know struggle to get out on the bike more than a handful of times a week - and getting to the gym for some kooky cross-training just isn’t going to happen when the school pick up is at 2:50pm, you have a dentist appointment and groceries to do after that, then dinner needs to be cooked. When the kids are in bed, you have the option of doing some planks or drinking wine and watching Netflix on the couch… which one do you choose?
No one here is Nino. In fact, how many professional mountain bike athletes do we have in Australia? I am going to wager it’s around 10, maybe 15 - and they’re pretty much all in the downhill and enduro crowd. But the Instagram posts would suggest far more, a few thousand at a minimum.
So many amateur cyclists peddle their bikes (see what I did there?), themselves and local businesses in a weird social ‘playing-pro-but-not-actually-pro’ social media front. There are 13-year-old kids who have set up Facebook athlete pages. Can you imagine a kid of the same age who plays a lot of cricket, or who has made it to regional or State level in swimming, creating an athlete page?
Any sensible coach of this pre-adolescent kid would clip them around the ears and get them to keep practicing bowling or butterfly and tell them to stay in school - and both cricket and swimming are sports that actually have some financial incentive if you’re really good. You’re good at mountain biking? Well given the fact there is very little money in it until you’re consistently going top 10 at world level, that’s an even better reason to stay in school.
It’s not just kids, though. This quasi-pro mentality affects expert riders, non-pro domestic elites, and local masters riders. If you didn’t know better you would think these guys had a full-time factory supported gig, rather than a full-time job and some local industry discounts.
In this way, many quasi-pros illustrate their entire existence purely as related to bikes and racing. While it is the ‘highlight reel’ effect of social media (no one wants to post that they’re clinically depressed, stuck in a dead end job or haven’t had sex for three months), it doesn’t give credit to the interesting, fully-formed humans we are.
While pros are inspiring, we don’t have to aspire to be them to enjoy bike riding. We don’t have to peddle someone’s wares and get a 15 per cent discount just to go and do some efforts on the bike, or hashtag a component company to ride fast downhill. It just exasperates those of us who have been around long enough to know better.
So be an ambassador – but more importantly be a good human. Be a friendly mountain biker. Take newbies riding. Practice your skills and do some efforts if you need to get fit, but don’t forget to be human. Share things that are important to you; you’re not a business, you’re a person. You’re not pro, in fact you probably pay a lot of money to have a nice bike, so why base your existence around something that, in reality, is just a hobby that is important to you? You’ve worked hard to afford the bike and have the time to ride it – so enjoy that for what it is, and share the joy that it creates.
And kids, stay in school.
Words: Anna Beck Photo: Robert Conroy