Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The MTB Front Derailleur Needs To Die


After selling my trailbike frame in September, I was on the road a bit and decided to borrow a few random 'enduro' bikes in order to prevent the oncoming insanity resulting from my lack of riding. I decided to see what current bikes were on the market demoed each bike from a different, local shop in three separate states (UT, NM and CA).  With the daily demo rate ranging from $65 to $95, it seemed like a great way to jump on a different set of wheels without committing to anything (my biggest fear).

Upon renting and picking up each 'high-end demo bike', I was shocked to find that all three bikes had been outfitted with a two-ring crankset and *gasp* a front derailleur.

Now, I rocked a FD for a long time. As someone who pretty much despises climbing and wants to do it as easily as possible, I was always a big fan of the granny gear. In fact, I rocked a FD until I was nearly forced to stop by the mockery of my fellow bike dorks at the last bike place I worked... In 2014. But I held out for a really long time. As early as 2009, commenters across forums were remarking on the simplicity of 1x9 and discussing the race results on such a setup... Three years later, SRAM would bring their first 1x groupset to market with XX1, a 10-42 cassette. I, however, didn't jump on the train until two years after the bike media gods had named it the next 'big thing'. By that time, SRAM had already come out with their expanded line up of one-by drivetrains (along with moving up to 11-speed), including CX1, X01, X1 and they were getting ready to release GX, a solid one-by groupset that retailed at similar prices to their lower-end two-by offerings like X5 and X7. Shimano began selling their own 1x drivetrains mid-2014, with full expansion in 2015, and had a seriously competitive response to SRAM's headstart for 2016 and '17.

Whew. Needless to say, it's all been around a while. As it stands, we're looking down the barrel at 2017 right now, with websites across the globe being updated, next year's offerings being shown off, and bike nerds chomping at the bit to get their proforms in before Turkey day.

So the question is (the questions always bring me back), with alllllllll of this technology that's now five years old, why are Giant and Trek and Specialized still selling $5000 mid-travel enduro bikes with front fucking derailleurs?

Every single bike in a rental fleet shouldn't have a front derailleur. A shop shouldn't be forced into buying entire ranges of bikes that are spec'd with a front derailleur. And an intermediate, advanced or expert rider shouldn't have to walk into a shop and be confronted with the ghostly spectre of a front derailleur. Why? Because they suck. And because, for one reason or another, shops aren't equipping mid-travel enduro bikes with chain guides. Technically, should they? Sure, if customer experience was first priority. But technically, penguins should also be able to fly. They're birds, right? Yeah, well, they don't. And expecting shops to front the cost for chain guides is just dumb -- that's extremely cost prohibitive.

But expecting a $5000 bike to have either a chainguide or some semblance of relevance in the applicable componentry spec doesn't feel very dumb. In fact, expecting a Trek that retails at $5300 in the US to actually come with a drivetrain that makes sense seems very realistic.

"Well, Amanda, what's your beef with the front derailleur? You ran it for a long time. Why do you hate it so much?" Well, I'll tell you why -- because, on every ride I went on with these demo bikes in September, I lost a chain... Multiple times. Every ride. Do you know how frustrating that is?!  To be riding along, just having a blast, then WHAM! You can't pedal, you can't rotate your feet, you basically can't do anything because, yup! That damn FD has thrown the chain again and now it's in knots around your crank arm (true story. It happened. And then I almost threw the bike off a mountain.) Now, when I was young and dumb and full of... stubbornness, I think dropping a chain probably seemed fairly normal. Actually, I don't really remember dropping chains all that often, nor do I recall being so enraged after dropping a chain. Come to think of it, I also sucked. As did my bikes by today's standards. I also went over the bars a lot more. Hmmmmm.

However, this isn't 2012. This isn't even 2014. It is, as I angrily told my shell-shocked boyfriend, two-thousand motherfucking sixteen. (His shock wasn't really at the front derailleur situation, but rather my (second) enraged tantrum over the repeated chain retention failure. But I digress.)

It's 2016 bearing heavily down on 2017, and we still have high-end, purpose-built mountain bikes built with front derailleurs. More specifically, we have high-end enduro bikes being spec'd and sold with front derailleurs. That is crazy. Those bikes aren't built primarily for climbing. They are 'enduro' bikes. They have six inches of motherfucking travel, people. YOU DON'T PUT A FRONT DERAILLEUR ON A BIKE BUILT WITH SIX INCHES OF TRAVEL. Why? Because anything with more than five inches was built for rallying, often towards lower ground. Usually over rocks and trees and other rough stuff. What happens to a front derailleur and chain when you rally downwards over rough stuff? The front derailleur cannot retain tension on a chain and you lose chains. And losing chains makes people (aka, this person) into the big green angry Hulk monster.

Who don't throw bikes. Ever. Nope. Not ever.

With this in mind, after three experiences riding three different bikes from three separate (and equally clueless) companies, I must ask: are you people demented?

No, but really. What is being smoked in that office back there when going over future bike specifications and componentry setup? Are you doing this because it's cheaper (can't possibly use that, because GX is pretty fucking cheap)? Are you doing it because you think the US has all that many $5K bike buyers who want front derailleurs? Do you spec these monstrosities because you think we have the Alps? Or are you building these shitty combinations because you never tire of the YouTube videos where we're all throwing these $5000 rigs into the air and screaming wildly, like wounded bears?

Here's the thing: I know product directors who are smart and careful about this stuff. And I have spoken to these product genii, and they spec builds with chain guides and work ISCG mounts into enduro frames because they ride bikes. They seem to genuinely understand and appreciate the nuances of a bike built for a specific data-set. These same product directors and managers also know that their decisions will directly influence how a bike rides -- for an entire year. And as often as they are meticulous basket cases who obsess over the smallest details, they're the unsung heroes of the end-user experience. Why? Because they know better than to build $5000 enduro bikes with a front derailleur, especially in the day and age of NX 1x/SRAM Eagle (1x12), and the reasonable sanity of demo-bike borrowers everywhere.

For the love of pete, people... Stop putting front derailleurs on anything with more than 4.5" of travel. Please. Can I propose that the FD be relegated to special-orders only? Can we just shove those fuckers into the back of a storage room somewhere in Italy? Let's be honest: the front derailleur is dead.

Stop trying to resuscitate the zombie.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I'm Coming Out...

I've an admission to make: I have been ashamed of who I am. 

BUT NO MORE! Today, I announced my undying love to the world, consequences be damned! If it's estrogen that makes me feel this way, so be it. If it's the beautiful autumn weather, crunchy fall leaves, or scent of wood smoke in the air, I will acquiesce. 

I love pumpkin pie spice with all of my soul. 

It's gotten a bad rap over the last few years as Starbucks has, essentially, glossed over what exactly it IS in that wonderful flavored coffee-type of drink (coffee is black... And that's a different matter entirely), but PUMPKIN PIE SPICE IS MY LIFE. I don't really love pumpkins, either, which is a great thing because pumpkin pie spice has nothing to do with fucking pumpkins. 

It's simply a beautiful combination of delightful spices that, when added to anything (or even just snorted when one is running short on time), makes the eyes twinkle and the sun shine. It's what gives car commercials their 'oomph' in the fall, it's what makes decomposing leaves smell so wonderful (because hello, those are just some dead plants, folks) and it makes kitchen everywhere smell like a page right out of Martha Stewart's most recent release, 'How To Be Awesome And Not Kill People'. 

I know these things because I have secretly and selfishly hoarded them to my pastry-making self for too long, and now I am unveiling my closeted love for Pumpkin Pie Spice in a desperate hope that everyone, everywhere will rush to get some of their own super-secret fairy elixir. 

Pumpkin Pie Spice is the unicorn dust for food. Don't like meatloaf? PUMPKIN PIE SPICE. Despise salads? Throw summa that magic right on top. Can't cook, just lost your boyfriend/dog/house? PUMPKIN PIE SPICE CAN FIX THAT. No, it's not 'pumpkin spice'. I don't even know what the shit that means. Pumpkin Pie Spice is what we put in pumpkin pies, but someone much smarter and efficient than I decided to make large batches and put it in tiny little jars (pretty sure their last name is McCormick) in order to make a baker's life much, much easier. 

What's in it? 


"Wait, that's it?"

Yeah, that's it. Notice how there's no pumpkin anywhere? 

Good. Now i'ma go get me some nice black coffee to drizzle over this here pile of fun. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Don't Feed The Trolls

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster." - Nietzsche

As a regular internet contributor, you could say that I've seen my fair share of trolls. As an outspoken female writer, industry critic and professional athlete, I've also had the pleasure of experiencing the worst of them. From the laughably weak personal attacks to the truly deranged death threats, the insanity spectrum is wide, deep and often colored with different shades of psychopathy.

I've learned to laugh. My sense of humor has become sharp, my perspective truly macabre. I often assume that every engagement will turn sour, and a disagreement is never a disagreement. I await abusive messages in my inbox with a mix between trepidation and rage, then laugh at the expectedly rudimentary and simplified criticisms from (mostly) men who delight in not only telling me how to do my job or what to think, but also how dumb or stupid or useless I am. 

It's become the one constant in my life. 

But there's another side to this issue, on which I continually battle myself: to engage or ignore? 

Now, a lot of trolls are put in their place by simply ignoring them and deleting their comments. Their egos are crushed by the fact that I simply do not care, and they fade back into the dark spaces from whence they came, only to emerge somewhere else. A few others are easily moderated by the audience of a community, quickly cowed and put back into their place by people dedicated to keeping a certain site or page friendly and open and free of hatred or nonsense. 

But there's always one or two I can't resist knocking down myself, and there's where my personal mire begins -- I'm unable to resist. Chalk it up to a belief that bullies only respond to strength (or a firm, fact-based bitch slapping), but I often find myself pulled into some entirely worthless waste of time, explaining the truths of the universe to someone too stupid to understand them in the first place. 

Why do I do this? Why do I, despite my logical and very comprehensive understanding of the pointlessness in getting involved, still get involved?! 

I think it's very likely because 1: I'm stubborn, and 2: I'm an optimistic idiot who thinks that every monster can be fought. I also believe in defending myself. I don't think enough women do. I don't think that enough female contributors stand up, say their piece and then continue to fight for their right to say it without abuse. I stand up and continue fighting my detractors because I don't see enough of it -- I don't see enough women dedicated to themselves enough to not tolerate the bullshit. 

But I also see a dangerous double-edged sword. I see women who write something and then fade into the ether, terrified of the abuse, only to get more vitriolic hatred because they're perceived as 'weak' for not fighting back. I've been there. I've written something and then stepped away for weeks at a time with the full intention of not engaging, only to be yanked back to reality by hateful messages to my website or to be warned by one of my team managers that they've received some startlingly scary correspondence about me. Not addressing something or someone is an invitation to escalation, apparently. 

The second is the overtly aggressive tactic: go on the offensively defensive side and scare everyone enough that they're terrified I might eat them for breakfast. As you might expect, that doesn't end well, either. Escalating every situation into conflict where I end up using the combined power of the Internet and my extensive vocabulary to humiliate and break someone down just makes me look like an asshole. Actually, it makes me a real asshole. I become the troll, battling it out with the random jackass who, in other people's eyes, should have just been ignored. And it makes me feel like a jerk... Every single time. Exposing the details of what makes someone else into a bully or a troll isn't fun, and it isn't right. In the day and age of Google and unlimited information, it's always fairly easy to figure out and exploit someone's motives and weaknesses, but it's not okay. Taking what hurts them most (because that's usually the behavior behind bullying) and using it to hurt them again? That's wrong. It doesn't ever get easier to do and it never creates a better outcome. It doesn't foster positive commentary and it certainly doesn't create a stronger online community. It isolates and alienates, until the only people who want to interact are the trolls and miscreants because they haven't yet experienced someone who will shut them up. And that sucks. I don't want to be the last door to hell for anyone. That isn't my job. My job is to share my sport, promote healthy growth, spread stoke and build a sustainable, productive industry that continues to inspire people to ride bikes. 

At the same time, I can't just sit back and allow myself to be one more voice that's been drowned out by the idiot masses who would rather scream profanities than tolerate a different perspective. That's the goal -- to silence dissent and to quiet intelligent and critical thought. To troll is an effort to make others stop expressing themselves for fear of abuse or being ostracized or laughed at. And once those voices stop speaking, we get what we currently have: unproductive and unsustainable group-think that leads to the death of an industry. 

In the end, it's always a lose-lose-lose for me. As an athlete, as a professional, as someone who believes in standing up, I'll lose. As a human who believes in treating people with compassion, I lose. As someone who doesn't want to even deal with this crap, I still lose. Either way, I'm weak or I'm mean. Helpless or 'too aggressive'. Pitiful and open to even worse, or 'indefensible' because my behavior is no better than theirs, and ultimately hated, regardless of my actions.

So what's a girl to do? 

If you figure it out, let me know. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dear Trump Supporters

My dear, fine, fellow American citizen who is openly and publicly supporting Donald Trump for President Of the United States Of America, I beg of you: soldier on. 

Your solidarity, appreciation and outspoken endorsements of Donald J Trump are a breath of fresh air. I respect not only your resolve to wholeheartedly support the candidate to whom you feel so closely attuned, but your continued commitment to educating and informing the world about what makes him your candidate, too. 

I'll be honest: as an independent voter who is female, educated and probably prone to being targeted by your specific demographic, I agree that my enthusiastic support of you exercising your constitutional rights seems a bit... Suspect. But I promise you that I'm completely sincere in my deepest wishes for you to continue your valiant efforts.

'Why?!', you must be asking. We're supposed to be enemies, after all. Oh, I know. But these politics, they divide, don't they? However, I have a few reasons why I'm such a fan of your outspoken Trump-ian-ism. 

First of all, those yard signs? Probably the best invention since Christianity painted Jesus as a white, blue-eyed savior, amirite?! You like them because they shout about your deeply-held and culturally-oppressed values and I like them for the same reason! After all, they're going to make it very easy on me this Halloween as I intentionally avoid taking my nephews anywhere close to you or your house. 

The bumper stickers are similar, too -- they carry some real 'oomph'! I find them very appealing when paired with the fuzzy dice testicles or even that fancy molded ballsack hitch your cousin Jeb gave you for Christmas, but most effective when matched with an oversized truck that spews black smoke because fuck the environment! Drill baby, drill. I like that you can appreciate the business cred of someone like Trump, who not only builds entirely useless and gaudy piles of gold-slathered shit, but undercuts governmental standards in pay, health care and even the basic protections of his foreign employees. I really admire your economic acumen and Walmart habit -- not everyone can wear THAT much Duck Dynasty swag as they roar into the parking lot shouting about how Hispanics are stealing our jobs. 

You know what I really love the most, though? The thing that really does it for me? Your social media. 

Now, we all know that interconnectedness has been a thing since the late 90s when AOL messenger really exploded, but I commend the maverick cowboy style you've adopted during Trump's candidacy -- you give no fucks, and you ain't sorry. That post about how Hil is such a c**t and the feminist lesbian bitches who support her should all get raped and die and you'd do it yourself, but there's not enoughto go  around?! Uh-MAZING. Or the one (that was probably a lie, now that I think about it), describing how you physically assaulted and harassed a Muslim high school student in a parking lot?? Come ON! Crazy mad respect, you gangster you. Do you know why I hold these in such high regard? Why, because you make them so easy to capture and share, of course! Friends, family, law enforcement... You get the point. After all, it takes balls of steel to openly brag about and promote racism, hate crimes, discrimination and genocide, which is probably why that bitch from HR will wander in and tell you that you're fired tomorrow. Because you're a stone-cold badass on Twitter, pal, and you're calling it like you see it!

But GOD! Doesn't it just feel so good to get it all out? You've been holding it back for so long, and all that white supremacy truth is really hard stuff to conceal. But now, you've got a presidential candidate saying it, so who cares about how it affects you, right?! It's not like they can take your job... Or your kids... Or that your wife/girlfriend/partner/family/friends will all suddenly realize that you're a homicidal, terrified little bigot and suddenly up and leave you. That's just crazy talk. 

Because actions don't have consequences in the real world. And people are too sensitive anyway. 

So you keep flying that freak flag, you maniac...

The rest of us appreciate y'all identifying yourselves for the first time in a very long while. Out here in a well-adjusted, non-delusional society, your kind have no place. As you pine away for a time that never occurred and a culture that didn't exist, everyone else is adapting and changing and innovating as we move towards a united human front where we confront less mundane concerns (the worry about 'PC culture' amid your rising homophobia and racism) and tackle the really big issues, you know, like how our planet is dying due to continued abuse and exploitation or the widening economic gap crippling communities and stalling production around the globe.

It helps to know right off the bat that we can count you out; we're now fully aware that you'll be sitting around stabbing signs into your yard and angrily slamming on the keyboard about dudes and buttholes and bitches wearing shoes and rag heads (whatever that even is -- perhaps it's the doll that you hug at night as the specter of your own fear and woeful inadequacy tears it's way through your psyche?). 

We thank you for that. Because while you focus on singling out skin colors and building walls, the rest of us are shaking hands, building bridges and embracing science that has shown human genes to actually be race-less... Luckily for you, it's also similar science that'll save your miserable ass from kicking the bucket (unfortunately) when those cheddar chicken wings and beer catch up to your heart and liver and you're begging for an organ donation. 

So keep on keepin' on, you human pieces of waste. We appreciate you identifying yourselves and encouraging us to build a smarter, more productive society... Without you. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Your 'Sports Ambassador' Marketing Program Sucks

... And it's killing the pro athlete economy. 

But hold up.

Before I get my gears all heated up and this rage train rolling, I'm going to lead out with the following disclaimer: if you are a former pro or legend or master at your craft, this does not apply to you. To my heroes, my gods, my ever-ass-kicking MTB monsters, this does not apply to you. To the men and women who have shaped mountain biking and sports culture as a whole and who still hold important positions and play key roles in our industry, this does not apply to you. 

Y'all are invaluable assets that mountain biking (and the outdoor industry in general) couldn't replace or replicate if our very future depended on it... You are and always will be the best ambassadors of rad, Missy, ACC, Cedric, Bender, etc etc. So.

To the rest of you, as Han Solo says, 'hold onto your butts'.*

This little ode is going to be dedicated to the laziest of marketers and brand managers on the planet. My rant today goes out to every advertising director, marketing master, social media manager, and every goddamn program director out there who has given rise to the wave of mediocrity that is the plague of unproven and untested 'brand ambassadors'. 

'Brand ambassadors' are not random folks stoked on your brand. 'Brand ambassadors' should be your ATHLETES. But the entire lot of you have taken minor grassroots support as rule and law, and you've turned it into a full-fledged, lawless gig for the stupid and the mediocre.

The bike industry's rampant and unrestrained abuse of the word 'ambassador' has not only killed the progression curve inside of outdoor sports, but it's destroying the pro athlete economy and the bottom lines of thousands of legitimate pros.

This lazy marketing not only sucks. We've created the economic bubble equivalent of 'creative for exposure' inside of the outdoor industry through 'influencer marketing', and the people selected aren't even influencers. Who do they influence? Their buddies? Legitimate users? Non-endemics? Potential buyers? Likely not. We've elevated mediocrity above excellence, and maintained the cycle by endorsing and supporting unearned opportunities for those who will cannot do the job of a pro athlete. 

How has this happened? 

I'll say it again: shitty 'ambassador' programs. 'Influencer marketing'.

I'd honestly love to blame HookIt for the bubble, but the current attitude towards unpaid labor/free work for 'exposure' within the outdoor sports industry has long existed; it is only at mass capacity now thanks to social media and the human detritus populating the airwaves of the Internet, seeking the fame and glory of pro athleticism, all without the risk or the underlying cost.

These, my friends, are 'fathletes', and we have given them the unique market in which their narcissism is second only to your greed.

1: these narcissists aren't 'ambassadors'. Athletes are ambassadors. That is what a professional athlete is. That is the very nature of their job. That's why pro athletes compete, film, photo, travel, smile, shake hands and kiss babies. That's why they risk it all, and it's why they have companies who sponsor them. They have skills and personalities that represent certain brands and market segments, and they get paid to do what few other athletes can. Different pros have different styles of branding, but they all have one thing in common: they can actually do the thing. 

And yet here I am, scrolling through Instagram, looking at photos from the many accounts of 'athletes' who aren't actually doing the thing. They aren't actually doing anything, really, except supposedly marketing MTB and the brands that support them. But... It's all fake. Because they seem to have so much of this support from companies (or they actually do), but it's not really support for MTB, because this person can't really MTB at a high enough level to garner legitimate support from companies. But people unfamiliar with the sport actually buy into it. And they see this non-performance from these non-pros and say "HEY! I can do that!" but they forget that this is mountain biking, where we literally ride bikes down mountains. And thus the cycle of failed experimentation begins: they're disappointed or injured and they leave or want to change the sport to fit their ego and lack of skill because HEY! Remember how easy and cool this was supposed to be?!  

So? I notice a few things: 1, whichever companies these 'influencers' are sponsored by seem to be totally okay with mediocrity on a bike and don't actually want to support legitimate athletes. 2, that the company in question is totally fine with supporting someone who doesn't really give a whole lot back to the sport, as long as the 'sponsorship' doesn't cost said company much. 3, that most of this 'sponsorship' is actually a 'discount' because the person being 'sponsored' is so non-skilled that they can't ask for much more than flow. 4, that much of this 'pro athleticism' is advertised solely through photos, because videos and competitive efforts would unveil the 'athlete' as an unskilled beneficiary of corporate charity. 

I also observe that the follows, likes, shares and branding are rarely based around the athlete ACTUALLY loving, promoting or sharing the sport of mountain biking. Which makes me wonder -- what's the return on investment (ROI) here? Brand awareness? There can't be that many people so stoked on relatively fake and mediocre performances who actually click and buy, can there?! In fact, Forbes cautions against the number one fallacy of 'influencer marketing': lacking authenticity. 

Which tells me two things: 

The 'brand ambassador' thing is heartily overused by far too many companies, and these 'brand ambassadors' aren't connecting with their audience or engaging them in a genuine way inside of MTB (see the KTM ad above). The constant promotion, the constant push, the continued nonsense of 'hey, let me sell you on this stuff I'm getting a discount on'... It's all too familiar, and potential audiences just tune it out. 

So what's the actual purpose of all of this 'influencer marketing', if not to actually sell, sell, sell?

To influence. To engage. What are these 'salespeople' doing? Are they influencing? Or are they selling? And what are companies willing to pay for this 'influence'? How big really is a particular influence marketer, aka ambassador, aka athlete?

First, let's talk about the big picture -- the picture where a lot of companies inside the bike industry expect 'athletes' to work for free (or anyone, really). Let's take a gander at the image where companies look to cut marketing dollars by using non-athletes (or ambassadors/influencers) who claim to be able to do the work of athletes, all while the companies are cutting athlete support budgets. Much in the same way that a lot of websites curate content they don't own and ask for free articles/photos/video work "for exposure!", the outdoor industry is demanding it from athletes, and when pro athletes won't do something for free (you know, because being a 'professional' something should keep the medical bills paid when you're hucking your face down a mountain to keep said companies happy), these companies reach out to 'ambassadors' -- folks hungry for inclusion in a niche, bro industry and who will often do whatever it takes to be notorious or infamous... As long as 'whatever it takes' doesn't include assuming the risk, footing the expense, or putting in years of work gaining the skills required to become a legitimate pro athlete. 

So. In the scenario above, these cheap companies give flow to this new 'ambassador' person, to share, right? However, this ambassador, who, in their excitement to have 'support', does everything in their power to 'rep the brand' positively: Photos, amateur videos, shoutouts, bragging to friends about this 'sponsorship', wearing t-shirts until they're worn out... All for free. 

So then the brand rewards this 'ambassador' by giving them more stuff and "more exposure and more unearned opportunities" (as said by a two-time skiing world champ). Why? Well, because this person is doing it for free... Why NOT use them? Free content isn't that different than expensive, paid content, right? *eyeroll* And so the company does it again with someone else. Why not?! "If it worked for one person, we can theoretically get all the free advertising we need! They're like walking billboards, and all it cost us was a few t-shirts and some stickers." - Marketing Director from an actual company at an actual 'marketing buildout' meeting.

The only problem? These aren't young pre-teen groms we're talking about. These 'walking billboards' are fully grown adults doing free work that is undercutting the ACTUAL pros who have worked their entire lives to be a proper ambassador for a sport. Pro athletes have built legacies, raced on teams, created the sport as it is now, yet many companies refuse to pay them for their experience and efforts. 

"Yeah, but I don't need a wedding photographer. My buddy's dad just bought his 15-year-old son a new Canon and little man said he'd do the pics for free!" 

Congratulations. You're a bottom-feeder,  leeching off the work of everyone who has come before you. 

Both the users and abusers of this ambassador system have created a false economic bubble that will rob the outdoor industry of the majority of it's legitimate pros. Why should anyone bother to become a true master of their craft when someone, somewhere inside of the industry, will do it shittier and for free, then pass it off as mastery? Except for a pure love of the sport and having a total understanding that said sport will never be a self-sustaining effort, there is no point to becoming a pro. With rising costs to athletes for competitive fees, equipment pricing and personal insurance/medical coverage, there's no reasonable validation of a decision to upgrade or compete. It simply doesn't make economic sense, especially in an age where marketing directors will hire just about anyone... As long as they work for low cost or no cost.

I'm fully aware that at this point, some brilliant internet intellectual is sitting in their mom's basement thinking, "well, not getting paid by companies to be a pro athlete just means you're not good enough." 

Internet Genius, you're right -- I'm NOT good enough. That's why I write stuff like this (because I also have an education that helped me develop the critical thinking skills to recognize gaping economic holes) and only sit in the top three or four female pros in the US. But having talked to world champions and multi-decade, World Cup-level athletes across the outdoor industry, the biggest reason pros started retiring in droves is because they can't even get paid. And if even the best and the brightest can't get paid inside of their own sport, what hope is there for a new generation of athletes? I don't hold high hopes for 'making it' as an athlete. I never have. That's not my niche. But for young groms with talent and skill who need support but aren't getting it... What's in it for them? With few exceptions, there is no changing of the guard, and we've all robbed ourselves with the fake and the greedy. For what? Another mediocre promo video that nobody can stand watching longer than 30 seconds? One more fake Instagram shoot where company and fathlete pump up the product/photo/thing while everyone looks at each other, knowing that neither party in the equation is sincere? It's cost us the very realest parts of our sport, and has been replaced by insincere mockups and fake placeholders so that some schmuck in marketing can have more 'room' in their budget... Although they don't really need it, now do they? It's not like they're paying many real athletes these days. 

Edit: After being asked a few more questions about this issue, I believe there are a few things that could be done to solve this. First, I fully believe in a mandatory time qualification for pros in racing/events, with a mandatory downgrade for those who consistently cannot make the cut. Yes, it might cut down on the sheer number of total pros in the short term, but it would also discourage the false 'brand ambassador' upgrade to 'pro' and the padding surrounding the pro category. In the long run, it would likely lead to a more genuinely fast pro category when athletes know that they can't be 'pro' without actual athletic performance. It sounds harsh, but there are far too many pros who can't consistently make a pro cut off. And no, I'm not talking about crashing out, but regular 'clean' runs or races where their time is 90+ seconds off the lead in their respective categories. That's not a pro result, that's semi-pro or sport. Second, actually supporting athletes like Wil White who may not have 20k fans on Instagram, but who CLEARLY throws down. No, he's not rainbows and sparkles, but you can't whine about how 'soft' the industry has gotten and then fail to promote the badass riders inside of it. Third, cutting down the number of fake pros in any field (by mandatory 90-cut off marks) would also completely negate the pro pay scale argument and equal payout fuss -- without fathletes crowding a field, everyone knows that the people on track earned their way into that pro field. Fourth: No, the cutoff mark wouldn't be 'one strike you're out' and have mandatory downgrade. It would be something like a three-time consecutive, sixty second gap mark or a two-time 90-second gap. For instance: if a 'pro' is sixty seconds off of First place in the men's or women's field once for crashing, etc, they're safe. But three times at sixty?! Time to go back to cat one, little leaguer. If there are two instances of 90-second gaps, that's also a mandatory downgrade. Multiple chances, plenty of time for a crash recovery, but accountability where it matters most. Fifth, this all would act as a deterrent to fake athletes -- no, you're not 'pro' because you have 100k followers. Athletes wouldn't get a pro license unless they can show elite wins or ranking within the current system, etc; they can be an aspiring pro, a semi-pro, a hobbyist, an amateur or even a one-eyed-giant-purple-people-eater... Up until they throw down, they're simply not. Sixth, this would act as a checks-and-balances to steer companies and brands away from all but the best and the brightest, because the 'brand ambassador' just looks cheap. 

The issue is still that the term 'pro' has been diluted. Any step taken towards less watering down and more straight up badassery is a win in my book. 

What do you think? 

*Not actually a Han Solo quote. C'mon now.