Performance is just part of the question. Just as important are personal relationships and the value you can bring to the business. If you’re well known and liked around your local scene your results matter less.
The deals I had though were 50% based on personal relationships. Small business owners, bike park owners, LBS with whom I had a solid relationship. I would represent them on my gear and in the team bus and would refer customers to them as much possible. In return I received discounts. Free bikes were extremely rare, almost everyone I knew would pay something for their stuff.
So if you want something, you’ve got to give something. It is not as simple as getting free stuff in exchange for good performance. You have to think long and hard what you can offer the business in return. Social media plays a big role nowadays. Maybe you can also support a LBS or bikepark more directly, for example our team would offer beginners DH and EN lessons in our local park at no charge.
I have no cycling competition skill, know nothing about sponsorship or the world of paid sports, have no social media presence to speak of and the last time I was ‘sponsored’ for something was in primary school.
So in the long-standing tradition of internet forums I feel well qualified to opine on this topic
Options aside from 1 & 2 already noted:
You say you compete against these guys so that means (making a bit of an unjustified leap of logic here) that you are in the same ball park fitness (4+ W/Kg) - armed with this information approach a LBS that isn’t yet represented and explain to them they are missing out. Offer to rectify this oversight by taking up their name and services as part of your racing (how soever you may be allows to, for example decals on your bike / Instagram and other social media endorsement / Strava pics etc) - in turn for ‘sponsorship’.
Perhaps begin small - they give you some free tubes and tyres etc but have an agreement if the activity and promotion you do brings in business then the level of free stuff goes up - clearly you can scale it so a ‘win’ or podium or top 10 placement merits a reward - obviously it will help your argument if you have a big Strava and social media following and are capable of doing reasonably well at these races
Just go straight to the other guys who you have highlighted as examples and ask them how they did it - then shamelessly copy them
Team up with a couple of buddies who are fellow racers and seek to adopt option 3. As a ‘team’ - a slight twist in the advice in option 3 but because you’d be a ‘team’ then it’s a more attractive prospect for the LBS - get some jerseys made up - share the burden of social
Media and Strava promotion, maybe actually work hard as a team to put one of you on the podium - this has the added benefit of actually creating something fun and worthwhile for you and some other riders, as opposed to just being about you getting some free stuff. Also the LBS would have more to gain as there is a scalability to a team effort and the resulting marketing and exposure opportunities that will arise - plus how cool will it be to be part of a bike racing team
All the excellent comments by the previous poster about ‘relationships’ apply to all of this though - the quality and authenticity of your interactions with people are suuuuper important.
On reflection, option 5 would be my preference if it were me (it’s not so I’ll shut up now)
Finally - Good luck and if you actually do well and get some free stuff - then consider passing some of it on - maybe there’s a young kid in your bike club who’s got some talent so you could throw him or her a few spare tubes and stuff - create some good Karma along the journey
As above, need to be an influencer who’s going to get publicity/sales for their product/shop. If not through winning races then through social media presence, being highly visible in the local cycling community as a group leader, or a coach, or a race organiser, or even just the guy who everybody goes to for advice on equipment (every cycling group has one!).
I’d also be very surprised if regular local riders are getting free top end bikes. Probably discounted. Possibly loaned. Almost certainly not given. There’s a lot of wannabe pros out there who want to project an image of themselves as sponsored riders and will either exaggerate how much stuff they’re getting, or at least not correct you if you mistakenly assume that their shiny new bike was a freebie. I know LBS-sponsored teams where if you’re on the team you’re expected to ride a bike provided by the shop, and the discount is less than the gross margin on the bike. I.e. the shop is still making money off it’s “sponsored” riders, just less than it would for a regular customer. Not saying it’s a bad deal, if it’s a bike you wanted to buy anyway and you can get a ~25% discount then who cares if the shop’s margin is 30-40%.
To add to the above I am sure Alex Dowsett said that the Katusha Canyon bikes were loaned for the season and the riders had the option to buy at the end, same in his previous tenures.
There are regular pro bike clearouts (Cannondale recently) at the end of racing seasons, so expect the loaner is the norm.
I think it is easier to get discounts or “sponsorships” if you’re putting together a team. There are quite a few companies that will put together a discount for those who say that plenty of people will be buying the product. Companies and shops ultimately need make money, and could not care less if someone is winning the Wednesday night business park crit.
I’ve seen some really good deals in the past but it was all through asking, saying what you’ll offer, and then acting like you’re a sponsored athlete (but getting somewhere between a 20-50% discount). I would say if you’re looking to do this make sure you really want the product, otherwise you’re just buying something you wouldn’t have bought without the deal.
Race results are a great way to add visibility and a positive success story for your team/sponsors but I would be surprised if winning local amateur bike races is a game changer for any local businesses that might sponsor riders or a team.
Nobody has to sponsor bike racing and it isn’t like there is a pool of money out there that you can command a share of by your sheer watts/kg. Focusing on what you provide to sponsors and delivering value is what will get you financial and in-kind support for your racing.
There are a lot of good points raised here about being respectful/respected in the local scene and having a strong social media presence. Volunteer work at races, leading clinics, hosting group rides that are open to all members of the community are some of the things that I see teams around here doing.
Sponsorships make sense in the context of a team and I am fortunate to be part of an organization with some really good support. But nobody is handing out top shelf race bikes and it takes a lot of work on the team side to earn the sponsorship. If your main goal is free stuff, you are barking up the wrong tree. Creating an organization that is able to support riders/races in your local scene and (hopefully) break even at the end of the year is a pretty significant accomplishment for amateur racing at the local or regional level.
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