Thursday, November 17, 2016

Equity, Equality and the Outdoor Industry

Although it may not seem like it, today was a big deal for equality in the outdoor industry. From Brody Leven's posting about his public support and love for women to the behemoth that is Trek Bikes' taking on the trolls (and handily crushing them), it felt like a banner day.

And then, there were these folks:

Of all the things that Trek Bikes and Outside Magazine publish on their social media every day, why were these the things people chose to take issue with? Why, in an industry that is so full of amazing experiences, stories, people and pursuits, are there so many people so focused on things that have nothing to do with them? Why are there so many folks that are unequivocally against the promotion of female worth?

I've pondered this question more than once. I've beat, tortured and buried this dead horse trying to figure out the 'why's, and I've asked so many different questions that it makes my heart hurt and my head spin. In all of that, I've determined the following:

1: asking why a human being refuses to see something is an absolute waste of time.
2: pondering the existence and depths of human stupidity makes my brain hurt.
3: some people suck.
4: we must stop giving space to this particular infestation in our heads, our sports, and our world.

So I've decided that today, instead of asking questions, I'm gonna lay down a few quick rules.

The first rule: if you are the type of person who believes that inequality doesn't exist, you have no home in the outdoor industry. The second rule: if you are a person who is constantly upset by the efforts of companies and media to improve circumstances for women in the male-dominated outdoor industry, you do not belong in the outdoor industry. Third (and this is really the most important rule of all): if you have a problem with women, with women/girl/female/femme-centric content and with the possibility that not every bit of content is guaranteed to be directed towards you at all times, YOU HAVE NO PLACE IN THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY.

Yes, I just wrote that. If you do not operate under the belief that women are people and deserve the same opportunities, this is your cue to exit stage left. Now, I promised myself I wouldn't curse in this post because I'm trying to make a point, but if you don't understand any of what I've written or what 'exist stage left' means, GET THE FUCK OUT. (Damn. So much for not swearing.)

Don't pick up your stuff, we'll donate it. Don't say your goodbyes, nobody wants to hear them. Don't make excuses, offer platitudes or pretend that the sexist tropes you offer up are 'just a joke'. We don't care.

We've tolerated the trolls for years. We've stayed while the 'average user' might objectify, demean, underpay, undervalue, insult and even assault us. We've tried not to ruffle feathers when you offer us subpar gear at inflated prices, or when you hire models instead of female athletes. We've even tried to be 'cool' under the immense amount of unrealistic pressure heaped upon us as we battle (politely, of course) for equal air time, for equal page time, for equal camera time, for equal _____ time. We've built programs to encourage girls and young kids, we've written books for parents navigating their way through the darkness that is girls' outdoor and sporting, and we've done our very best to (quietly) build from the inside and shed light on the possibility that yes, we have a problem.

But not anymore. Not for me. I'll stay, but you won't. I will speak so loudly, so truthfully, so angrily that you will shatter in your insecure shell and wander away. I will highlight so many women doing the same thing that you'll feel outnumbered by a million times. I will mock you. I will demean you. I will 'chick' you. And I will laugh. Not because I'm angry, but because it is time that you understand that this is not your house. We've kicked the door in, brought our friends, and we're gonna have ourselves a goddamn party.

This is not your world anymore.

This is OUR place. This is the place where people come to feel whole, to be capable, to progress and work and to do it all in the most beautiful surroundings. This is a place where capability rules, where adaptation wins, and where our willingness to work hard dictates our success, not our gender. This is a world of equality and promise now; unless you're willing to live by that code, you're welcome to see yourself out.

There is no place for you anymore.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

No Honey, No Vinegar. I am fire.

The most corrupt, dishonest, unsuccessful candidate the United States has ever seen became president-elect in the early hours of Wednesday morning. 

I sobbed as I watched the scene unfold in front of me, then curled up on the floor as the ramifications of this night would bring washed over me in oily waves and friends began messaging and calling, asking me in terrified tones what was going to happen. 

There were no answers to give.

The next morning, social media was something that can only be categorized as a digital war zone. People I loved were on both sides of the fence, some gloating, most mourning. As I read through my notifications on things I had posted the night before, I was horrified to see the casual cruelty and complacency displayed by humans I respected, revered. 

Statuses and tweets about 'grow up, stop crying', comments to my own worries, condescending and loud, about how corrupt Hillary was, about how we didn't want a criminal in office, now did we? From every angle, bragging about how they didn't vote and didn't care. One young friend of mine shared a status about the danger to women and minorities, only to be shouted down by his friends, told to 'shut up and go back to school', called a 'p**sy', and demeaned. He's 18 and one of the most respectful and curious young men I've ever met. I was floored. And I was angry. 

All of this demanding from people not at risk by this new terror-spectre, telling everyone who was how they should feel. Excoriating us for mourning in 'their' space. After posting my own emotions missive asking for space and emotional respect from these people, i received a private message from a close friend. He explained to me that he respected me, but that my negativity about this fresh situation was alienating and off-putting. He told me that he valued my voice as an outspoken woman and my ability to educate others, then advised me that my swearing and anger weren't productive. He spoke about using 'honey instead of vinegar' to make my point.

I have been told this my whole life. The only problem? 

I am neither honey, nor vinegar. 

I am fire.

I am a fire that burns so brightly I cannot be extinguished. I am fire that may flicker, but will not go out. I am a fire that can light torches, burn structure, lay waste to entire systems. I am fire, and I am a woman. 

So many of us, as women, seem to have forgotten this. 

53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. 53 percent of us voted for a sexual harasser, a business failure, a fraud, a racist, an abuser, a liar. 

We voted in a man who has publicly bragged about the size of his dick, who has bullied, mocked and directed vitriolic hatred towards women, people with special needs, Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, people of color, the poor, veterans and even fallen American heroes. 

We voted in a man who encouraged his supporters to beat up people they don't agree with. WE, AS WOMEN, HAVE VOTED IN AN ABUSER. A man who bragged about sexual assault, a man who called a convicted rapist 'a close friend', and an individual who said he would date his own daughter and who touches women and little girls inappropriately in public... ON CAMERA. 

We did this. Fifty-three percent of white American women support this. 

And yet we tell our daughters that they are princesses, that they are valued, that they are loved, that they can be and do anything they can dream of. We fight for their equality and safety day in and day out, and yet we just handed their lives and futures over to an abuser. But not just their lives... The lives of little girls around the world. The lives of little boys, the minds of the easily-influenced. We have made it okay, given permission to those who would hurt them... And us. We have given a nod to the man who follows us home, to the enraged ex boyfriend, to the angry acquaintance. We have told them that as white women, we approve of and accept this behavior, and that its's still okay to be president of a superpower even if you're a total piece of shit. 

There is a woman who has been outspoken about her rape while in the military. Yesterday, she received messages of violence and hatred from 'men' who felt emboldened and empowered by their newfound invincibility. She is one of many for whom the floodgates of hell have just been opened. 

And we did that. 

It's not about emails and you know it. It was never about emails to you, the white woman who voted for Donald Trump. It was likely an echo from society about how a woman doesn't need to be a leader, about how she should be able to control her husband from cheating. You may have voted based on pressure from your own husband or family or perhaps from your refusal to do your research, or maybe it was just your complacency, your ignorance, your unwillingness to see what and who he is. 

White women voted for Donald Trump because we are the silent controllers of society, even as much as we are victims of the system. White women voted this way because we don't care what happens to others, as long as it doesn't mess with our own families or livelihood. 

White women didn't vote for Donald Trump because they care about politics or change or what's going on in the government. White women voted because, more than anything, we want order and 'peace'. White women voted for the most idiotic and dangerous moron in this country's history because we don't believe that we can handle conflict, that we're capable of sorting through chaos. 

We voted for Donald Trump because, even after a century, we still don't believe that we deserve to have an equal voice. 

But let me tell you a few things, white women -- in the coming years, you will need your voice more than ever. As you fight for insurance benefits for your aging parents, for medical decisions for your children, for your own dignity in a climate you just radically changed, you will need your everything. 

As you grow frustrated with the economy and your tanking benefits, as you worry about education and the price of gas, you will need no honey, nor vinegar... You will need fire. Whether it's a month from now or a year from now, something will wake you up to the horror we have all ushered in, and you will either wilt or you will fight. 

I recommend doing it sooner, because you have a job to do. You have to spread that wildfire far and wide. You must ignite the fire in your daughters, so that they can demand equality and respect, so that they're able to make the right decisions for themselves when it counts most. You must light the fire in your sons, so that they want to fight for the people around them. 

Your decisions on Tuesday will affect them for decades to come. Whether it's their healthcare, their education, their societal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it has been compromised... And we did it, us white women. And like ripples in a pond, as we compromised their futures, we compromised the future of children and women around the globe.

And now? We must burn brighter to fix the disaster we just birthed. Whether you see it in yourself or not, you have to find that flame inside of yourself. Stop nodding along. Stop living in your fog of self-delusion. You are not different from the women around you because of your skin color or class... You are a woman, and you will be seen as only that when reality crashes down. You are a woman, and you can either hide the fire or use it.

But you need to decide quickly.

We need you in this fight, my sisters. We need your help to overcome the violence and hatred and economic burdens in our society. We need your compassion, your love, your ability to see the world with wide eyes and a soft heart. We need your anger, your rage... Everything you have been told to suppress for so long, we need you to free it, and we desperately need you to free your fire. Let it burn. The world needs you. 

Now, more than ever, the world needs your individual power. The grace, the strength, the kindness. We need your ability to assimilate, to identify, to share and encourage. The world needs your support. 

Women were bless with our advanced conflict-avoidance instinct to protect their young and stay alive. That sense has evolved into a supreme benefit in modern day by helping us navigate the many pitfalls. But it only works when used correctly, and right now, it needs to be used. Avoiding conflict now by supporting and enabling a sick and demented abuser won't lead to success or survival late -- we all know that only lasts for so long. So somewhere inside, find that protective instinct, and allow it to take over. 

We must burn the bridges we've built with complacency, and replace them with iron gates of equality. 

The very future depends on your flame. 

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.

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. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Get Smart

Dear god. My brain is... On fire. Yeah. The pot is boiling over.

A late interaction here on the World Wide Web has the hamsters thundering as the wheels are turning... What is mountain biking doing right now? Where are we, as an industry, going? 

More specifically, what does the financial picture that we're painting show us? For athletes, it's tenuous at best. For companies supporting athletes, it's unpredictable. For promoters and event managers, it's a shirt-losing probability. But why? Why does there seem to be so much bad juju in the MTB economy? 

Economic studies across the globe have all shown one thing: equal pay and a scalable economic financial grade is the hallmark of a stable community. Job-appropriate wages, individual income growth that matches inflation and equal wages all point to communities with less crime, better health, improved education and increased development in both the public and private sectors. 

So why can't MTB wrap it's head around equal payout for pros? All signs point to awesome, as they say, but we seem to be bumbling down that particular road. You could say we're slowly hanging ourselves with our own brake lines. 


Below is a recent payout breakdown from the organizers of the upcoming Crafts and Cranks event at Snow Summit on July 9th of this year. Notice the disparity between Pro Men and Pro Women in both DH and Enduro? [Edit: as of 10am PST and in response to multiple efforts from pro ladies in SoCal, Crafts & Cranks organizers have committed to equal payout between the pro men and women categories. However, this is a larger problem than just one race, and the image will be kept here as a reminder that equal payout should be the default decision in 2016.)

To the best of my knowledge, I don't get a 'woman card' that has enabled me to pay half price for anything. My bikes, my transportation, my lodging, my license, my entry fees, my equipment costs and my food are ALL the same price as the male racers' costs. Interestingly enough, I also ride the same courses. I practice the same days, I ride most of the same obstacles (depending on how fast I am that particular weekend) and put my personal best foot forward. 

As I write this, I know that all of the other pros do as well, regardless of gender. 

And yet, that very thing (gender) makes women half as valuable to a race promoter (unless you're the second place pro woman, and you sit at 1/3 as valuable). Some opponents of equal payout have suggested that the size of the field and their total paid entries influence payout, which is a totally understandable assumption. 

Except that it's not logical. If a race promotion business is solely basing payouts around rider entry fees, they're doing it wrong. And any MTB race promoter who won't pay the women who do attend equal to the men because of 'size of field' is cutting off their nose to spite their face. Congratulations, you've just undermined any remaining interest in returning next year from the women who DID show up. If you don't value the pros who came out, why they hell would they come back? 

And so it goes -- race promoters who won't do their jobs (promoting races) and would rather base payout on rider contribution than outside investment, and who wonder why they see dwindling race numbers year after year. And let's be honest: the 'there are less women!' payout argument is the only one that even resembles something akin to holding water. The rest of them ('the women are boring/slow/uninteresting') are just plain nonsense. Refusing to offer equal payout is a classic 'be grateful for what you get' move from promoters and sponsors, and in the end, if women can't actually make a living at pro racing, they won't race and try to become professional racers, thus whittling all of the female fields down to tiny numbers. Gratitude doesn't pay the bills. If an athlete is winning races on pro courses, they should be earning enough to cover their race expenses and a little more -- after all, it has to be able to pay for itself if it's truly a 'profession'. Currently, women and girls who see little to no reward for their work as they climb the ladder and upgrade to pro have almost zero incentive to continue progressing... Outside of personal fulfillment or a larger, lofty 'change the world' goal. 

We cannot ignore half of a market and expect it to grow. We cannot fail to plant seeds, then expect a harvest that will give you money to plant seeds. That isn't how things work.

Nobody in their right mind expects to get something from nothing. Even stock brokers know that they have to have money to play. And you can't win unless you play. 
So why does the entire MTB industry seem wholly ignorant to this fact? 

From clothing companies to race promoters to bike companies and beyond, the largely-ignored segment of the industry hasn't shown up on their own, so there's absolutely no reason to explore or invest in potential growth... Right? No. That's some crap. And brands/promoters/event managers have continued to ignore women or targeted promotion with the expectation that we'll just... Show up. 

This strategy has worked well until the last few years, when women have just started showing up because of the awesomeness of MTB, and until corporate companies have started seeing the number of women buying outdoor products, taking outdoor trips, participating in outdoor sports. And just not one sport. Not usually even two. But THREE or more, according to Outdoor Industries of America. The average 'outdoorswoman' is a multi-sport participant. 

So why now is there suddenly a plethora of female-specific products? Is it because women have, in the last five years, starting flocking outside as a whole gender? Was there a mass migration or a watershed event where every female brain on planet earth suddenly lightbulb-ed into epiphany about the existence of an outdoor world? 

I don't think so. Women have always been outside, whether acknowledged by corporate or not. I think that outdoor industry companies are big, sluggish and slow-moving behemoths that are too resistant to change... And that's the general outdoor companies. If you look at the bike industry patterns, we're five to seven years behind the outdoor industry trends... So companies JUST realized that women are leaving their kitchens? Congrats, guys. Really. It's only taken about fifty years, eh? No. Women have BEEN here, but not in the numbers that marketing executives can quantify until now. And quantify they are. There are more numbers about female involvement than ever before, but they didn't come from the brands and promoters who have ignored women -- they came from women inside of MTB who are driving outside attraction to MTB. These women have pulled themselves up, started brands and clinics and have created products they would want to ride. For a lot of women across the globe in many different walks of life, desperation breeds innovation. And so we create. Look at all of the female-driven companies in MTB. Look at what they're creating and giving back. This is driven by their deep sense of loyalty and honor -- when they get somewhere, they create a ladder. 

But someone else is desperate, too.

I believe that companies were desperate. They still are. After the wild growth of the late 90s and the economic blows of the mid 00's, growth inside of MTB stagnated and MTB had no Lance Armstrong to lean on. The dudes in MTB weren't buying. Companies tried everything -- from sexy nurses to Ken Block, the mountain bike economy was crumbling, and there wasn't enough cash in the world to stop the constant hemorrhage.

But somewhere, out of the dark mid-2000s, there was this quiet group. We were a rare sight, but we were there... In ski towns and on hiking trails. Old and young, retired racers and newbies; we seemed to emerge from the woodwork with our bright colors and ridiculous grins. The women who remembered Giove and Streb, even some who had raced alongside them, were telling stories that a new generation was listening to, and creating the products they wanted that no one would make them. From embrocation creams to hand-made jerseys and shorts, it was fed-up innovation at its finest. These women were also leaders; they began leading a new generation -- the generation that grew up watching these crazy adults on those weird bikes. And it was these children of the fat skis and RedBull, or the Dew Tour and snowboarding that began taking cues from the women out there crushing it without regard to getting 'permission' from the men. And this new, tenacious generation of women, in all of its fearless excess, grabbed on. They suddenly remembered the 'mountain' bikes from their childhoods, those clunky 21-speeders, and they remembered the weird feeling. But it wasn't called mountain biking then, to them. Now it was. So they tried this other outdoor thing again. This 'adults on bikes' thing... And they were hooked. From 2008-ish, the faucet slowly opened. 'What began as a trickle', right?

But companies ignored these women, because the older ladies had learned to make do with too-big Moto jerseys and too-big armor that bumbled around, and companies assumed it was another flash in the pan. They assumed that the women innovating would just give up and go away. Can't you see we're too busy here doing man work?! It was just one more bubble of false growth (because they'd seen so many, thanks to their marketing strategies). Brands couldn't actually see that the outside culture had changed, until one day, the women were everywhere, new and old. And we WANTED things to happen with our ideas. At first it was our jerseys, but then it was shoes and seats and grips. Then all of a sudden, these crazy women wanted things that weren't just things, but things that made sense to us! We wanted the fruition of our ideas. We wanted a reivestment into the work we'd put in while everyone was ignoring us.

And while the companies were sighing in relief that people were buying things, they didn't know quite what to do with this new demographic of women who wouldn't buy something that didn't work, and who wanted to see more business growth in their segment. After all -- we had the rest of the outdoor industry catering to us as they all woke up to the simple fact that we were humans who needed gear. From Oakley and Roxy and Burton to Osprey, Patagonia and Prana, we had companies who recognized our economic value and wanted to meet our needs. Why settle for shitty MTB gear when the ski and snowboard and backpack and climbing industries had all made room? And we didn't. We couldn't.

So MTB brands started throwing together products, and they threw it together fast (where did all of these women come from?!). They had to capitalize on it! LOOK AT ALL OF THIS MONEY! But the products and offerings were still subpar, because it was a half-assed attempt to exploit a massively growing market. Hell. Look around you -- much of it still has been until the last year. And women bought these products because FINALLY, there was something for them. And we wanted to support companies who supported us. 

Except... The companies we supported didn't always give it back. While this heavily-spending and massively-investing generation of women have been jumping in head first, that's largely been the extent of the commitment. Companies didn't know how to identify with this weird flock of birds. They didn't hire many women as consultants on gear creation, so we ended up with crazy bad stuff. And event management? Brand sponsorship? HA! What do women know about any of that man stuff?! How do you 'give back' when you don't know who or what or where to 'give back' to? 

So companies just tried to muddle along, claiming 'women specific' in the grab for the almighty dollar (because women outspend men 6:1), but without thought or plan or strategy, and they didn't invest the new cash in attracting more women to the sport. 

So then racing became more stagnant than ever and everyone scratched their heads -- after all, look at all of these women! Everyone was buying, but races were dead. Why were races dead?! Racing is fascinating! The competition! The skill! The RUSH! The animal instinct! Few members of this new audience were coming around to the events... Well, to the events that were left after the economic meltdown. And all of these companies are STILL failing to get women to races, and still failing to engage women in competitive events. These promoters have no understanding of the motivations behind why women race, and so they cannot capitalize on those motivations and build something... But they often won't hire women to help them. They don't look outside the bro culture box to find the answers to questions that have already been answered by SweetLines and Lindsey Voreis and Vida, all of which are women-owned and run companies who are getting MASSIVE turnouts... From women. 

And that's the problem: nobody knew how to sell bikes to women. A lot of people still struggle with it -- as I write this, I'm sitting in Angelfire, NM and reflecting on the interaction I had with another lady MTBer at the shop today. The guys were thrilled about her enthusiasm, but they were... Lost. I was delighted to sell her a DH bike, and I didn't even work there. I walked in, she took one look at me in my gear and laser-beamed her way into a conversation. SO WHY AREN'T SHOPS HIRING MORE WOMEN?! Perhaps it's because women get treated so terribly by shop customers? Or maybe it's even worse -- shop owners (and the majority of the bike industry) see very little value in women at all. 

And this problem, this inability to connect, the failure to communicate or identify or see the different, unique and EQUAL value women have as athletes, customers, employees, business owners, coaches, mentors, and industry heads... That's a huge problem. We have to connect with our audience, but we cannot connect with an audience we have no reflection of inside the industry. To get women in, we, as MTBers, also have to INVEST in women. 

That means we have to invest in women who know their shit. Instead of passing them off as 'overly passionate' or 'a woman', we need to look at their education, their experience, their qualifications. We need to VALUE women for the unique and amazing assets they are... And not just tits and ass. 

We have to invest in advertising, in good, solid marketing, in racers and teams and events. We have to invest in juniors and little tiny groms and parents and families. We have to stop selling and start engaging with people -- we have to share why mountain biking is so cool and we need to do it from a large variety of perspectives. We have to talk about why racing is amazing, whether you're watching or competing, and we have to draw our audiences who identify with the athletes and the event. We've never lived in any sort of world that has made it as easy to project ideas and get information as the one we live in now, but we're failing to engage people more than ever. 

As an entire sport, we are failing to attract  audiences and buyers and viewers who drive sales through advertising to increase event sponsorship that will support equal payout, and we are failing to present more than one facet of lifestyle. At EVERY point of that equation, there is a failure within MTB. And for what reason? Certainly not because it's not an exciting sport or a highly-engaging one. Despite the prohibitively expensive entrance costs, people are still picking it up. So what's the excuse?

I know this is long and I ramble. BUT STICK WITH ME. 

We're failing because we can only attract  one type of buyer: the white male between 14-45. Why? Because the MTB industry is 99.9% white males with white male ideas. That's not a bad thing! BUT... you cannot diversify revenue streams without diversifying hiring practices, promotional practices and advertising and investment practices... And when the old stream of revenue has trickled out, you have to diversify to stay alive. We have to bring those people with different perspectives inside so that they know who to engage on the outside.

Go ahead -- call your economic advisor. They'll tell you that I'm right. And they'll tell you that failing to diversify is the big killer of any industry in any walk of life. 

Adapt or die. 

So. Long and short of it -- stop shorting women. Stop exploiting the sales and economic boost, but failing to give back or reinvest. STOP ASSUMING THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO INVEST. Don't believe that 'women aren't the target market'. Stop selling bullshit women's products that fall short of technical needs, stop passing off the craaaaaaaazy bullshit because you have some weird gendered bias and you think women are dumb (we're not), and stop acting as though bikes and races and support and advertising only belong under those who are white, male, and between 14-45. Give us role models. Support racers and ambassadors who DO SOMETHING, not just act as another useless salesperson with a social media account. Invest in and give the public athletes to respect; people who inspire or challenge or encourage. Support those people. Help events grow and support local economies by engaging in your own community, and helping other communities. Hire women. Hire people of color. HIRE PEOPLE OF EVERY WALK OF LIFE WHO KNOW BIKES. Open your eyes and reach your 'target market' through genuine interaction with genuine people who understand the value of genuine connection... And no, I'm not talking about social media. For god's sake, get over the bullshit of 'social influencers' who are cookie-cutter molded athletes and personalities. Find people who have struck out on their own and who aren't afraid to speak out, try new things or even fail. Those are the people who will give you the growth. Those are the people who know very important things.

At the end of the day, we're a growing sport based around two wheels. EVERYONE is our target market. From the baby just learning to walk her strider around to the 95-year old dude cruising around on his recumbent and EVERYONE in between, everyone is our target market. Stop targeting, start engaging. 

Please. For the love of God, please. Help the women help you. Help our sport become a viable, sustainable economic force to be reckoned with, not just another trendy flash-in-the-pan. Help us. 


(Oh, and don't tell us you need our wheels present to install a bottom bracket and a crankset. We will call you on that. Whew.)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Advice currently has a forum post up asking for the one piece of advice members would give to someone racing; it gave me a chance to reflect on everything I've learned over the last three and a half years. Of course, there's always more than one piece to the racing puzzle, so I listed my thoughts that immediately came to mind: 

"Chin up, eyes forward. Two-one breath ratio is what works for me (in-in-out), and relaxed shoulders. 

Put the work in before race day. Once that beep goes, the work is over. Everything you've done up to this point will now manifest and it's time to play. Be prepared... Confidence comes from knowing that you've eliminated every possible angle that you're able to control. Now it's time to trust in your process.

Part of race weekend prep... Know the course. Once you can draw it in your mind, your brain knows what's coming. Remember the scene in cool Runnings, where they're all in the bathtub doing "turn one... Turn two..." You should be able to do that with your eyes closed. Visualize. 

Elbows out -- come hell or high water, chin up, eyes forward and elbows out will always make you a few seconds faster, even if you're scared to death. 

Race like you practice, but don't go into practice full-balls. Take it slow. Roll the course if you can, but remember that the little things you see in course walk aren't going to even exist once you're moving. Don't focus on the little shit. That said, don't forget the little shit -- know the difference between a rock that will move and a root or chopped stump that will end your day. 

Plan on noise -- if you can practice with shouts and bells and cheers in a headphone, do it (just one). The more familiar you are with race day conditions, the less they'll startle you...

Race day? Realize that your body's natural response to stress in increased heart rate, tense muscles, constructing airways. Do what you're able to mitigate that stress. Secret of Stevie Smith: nasal strips. Breathe right strips are the shit. Not only do they force your airways open, they also tend to help a ton with goggle smash. It's nice to be able to get oxygen. 

Most of all, enjoy the ride. Soak in the adrenaline. Breathe in the scent of the dirt, listen to the sound of the tires, and at the end of it all, realize that between the tape, this is your world. You have just been given permission to go as fast as you can physically handle." 

As I gave it a bit more thought, however, a few other tips came to mind for a successful race weekend. As I'm currently planning for the ProGRT in Angelfire, some of these are right at the front of my mind.

1: Have a plan for the worst-case scenario. Break a bike? Know where to rent one. Blow a wheel? Bring an extra hoop (or two!) Things will come loose and you'll break at least one part when you don't expect it. My solution? Even when I'm flying, I pack so that I know I'm prepared. Funnily enough, every time I'm perfectly prepared, only tiny things go wrong. It's when I'm completely unready that shit really hits the fan. 

2: Dial in your diet and hydration. On a hot race weekend, it's easy to get dehydrated and worn out between practice, mechanic work, sunshine, dirt and high elevation. Any athlete's body needs water and fuel to perform its best. I like to get my schedule, plan out meal times and hydration/fuel breaks, then have the resources close and available (like a jug of water at the finish line and a bottle at the gate). 

3: Prepare weeks beforehand. I know pre-race panic all too well, where I've procrastinated with parts or maintenance or jerseys or money or SOMETHING. It rarely (if ever) goes well on race day if you've spent the week up to race weekend freaking out about something you should have done three weeks ago. Trust me -- the last thing you need weighing on your brain and body during practice is more stress, especially when research shows that mental stress can affect muscle coordination and short-term memory, two of the very most important things during an MTB race.

But most of all, even if I forget one or two of these points, the most crucial thing is to have fun -- not everyone gets these moments between the tape and to be here doing this, healthy and optimistic, is a gift. It's a privilege to be able to enjoy this. 

Now tell me: 

What are yours? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Take An Inch, Lose A Mile

Just recently, the city of Los Altos Hills ended mountain bike access in Byrne Preserve, a local park.

As TGR reported on it, the unopposed bike ban on the multi-user trails was suggested based on Strava data showing MTB speeds in excess of 20mph in an area with blind turns, frequent tree coverage and horseback and pedestrian traffic. 

While most online bike commenters emphasize the importance of directional bike traffic in situations like this, I personally am wondering why the fuck riders are Strava-ing in a (presumably high traffic) public park with multi-use trails. What on earth has happened to MTB? Where are the respectful trail advocates, the humble stewards of the forest, the nod-and-smile recreational  participants who help remind everyone why we love these trails? 

What is this Frankenstein transformation?

Why are so many MTBers fanatically obsessed with internet fame based around arbitrary measurements on websites and apps that falsely inflate their egos? Why is it always 'gotta film this insta vid' instead of 'I'm so glad I left my phone in the truck'? Why must it be 'I'm Strava-ing, guys!' rather than 'Dude! Look at this view!' *high five*? 

A cultural obsession with the reality-TV Kardashians has clearly bled into a sport built around getting away from it all. More and more, the politics of Internet beef and the holy grail of bike industry social media fame has left us at risk of losing more ground and worse, completely disconnected from reality. 

Instead of arguing about one-way DH trails in publicly-funded wild parks and combatting with each other over who has the right of way, we should be discussing the current, rapidly encroaching threats from land developers and oil and gas companies. With Moab's recent expansion of mining and fracking rights, we should conversing about the future ramifications of destabilizing an entire area's shale, yet we're bickering back and forth about 'real' pedal bikes versus e-MTBs. We're so worried about turning fun into a quantifiable dick-swinging competition that we're all but eliminating the chances of getting more directional, MTB-specific trails... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? 

We're so goddamn territorial that we're too focused on who owns the trail instead of the very real fact that we're losing trail at an unprecedented rate. Our forests, deserts and all of the the wild, open alpine lands between them are being threatened and auctioned off by the very powers we've kept in office. But we're so worried about how many likes or kudos or followers we've gotten that it's fogging the goggles of our collective vision and we're unable to come across a fellow trail user without seeing them as a rail flaw in our entitled little fun train. The trails are not property owned exclusively by riders. That dirt is the single common thread that runs through an entire community, uniting all of us in one thing: our mutual love for the outdoors. The last thing any of us mountain bikers should be doing is running down our neighbors in an effort to impress random Strava users and Instagram followers. Why? 

Because nobody cares. 

Nobody cares how fast you are, how much cooler you think Strava makes you or about the entirely disrespectful behavior you had to display to get that really sweet social media edit. Nobody gives a good goddamn about the reason you're harping on people to get out of your way, or why you shouted at that parent with their kids who might've accidentally crossed in front of you. Nobody cares. 

What we do care about is the guy picking up after himself, the person who slows and then stops for the horseback rider or the uphill runner. We care about the access we all share with other user groups, and the positive relationships we have to create. We care about making every interaction being a good one, even when it seems like it can't be. We care about treating every rider, every walker, every hiker, runner, parent, friend, buddy and non-Strava user in a way that improves their outdoor experience, and one that reflects positively on our sport as a whole. So it took you give seconds to slow down, wave and smile. 

... And? You wanna be a racer? Go race. Do it between the tape, Strava your time and have a wonderful experience. But don't put the future of trail access for everyone at risk because you're looking to make a point about the size of your balls. 

We can't just demand more directional trails, either -- nobody powerful in the history of ever has looked at social degenerates and said "Yeah! Let's give these pirates more freedom and land and stuff!" That has never happened, especially when enlightened members of city councils and government agencies like USFS and the BLM are so few and far between. Looking at the history of skateparks in the US, it's very clear -- we won't get what we want if we keep acting like spoiled kids. Cities didn't look at the damaged property and think 'well, it's time to build a skatepark'. What they did was ban skateboards, rollerblades and BMX bikes, then enact heavy fines and trespassing charges to anyone who disobeyed. The only thing that led to the widespread public funding of skateparks were passionate, dedicated advocates who showed up, changed the conversation and convinced cities to take a chance and invest in a rapidly growing sport that nobody cared about. 

The same exact thing will happen with mountain bikes and trails -- we're not going to gain any ground by being pricks. We will, however, benefit from making friends and being the responsible, fun folks that everyone sees on the trails. It's not going to kill us to slow down and smile, and hey! It won't hurt to have a few equestrian and hiking advocates in our corner during those city and county meetings, now will it? 

Just think about it.