Budgeting & Finance Planning & Logistics

Cycle Tour Sponsorship: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Imagine the following entirely hypothetical situation.

Several months into your journey, you are still glowing with what you see as a victory over the whole of capitalism — when something goes wrong. A piece of equipment isn’t doing its job properly, and you need one particular sponsor’s help to replace it. So you write to them.

They don’t respond. You spend a small fortune to call them from a public phone booth. But the person you want is not available right now. And after endless weeks of being fobbed off because someone in an office somewhere is still in a meeting, you realise the sickening truth. Your sponsor doesn’t actually give the tiniest shit about you. And your ego’s ruin is smitten upon the mountainside, like an egg.

But then you didn’t give the tiniest shit about that sponsor, either. You’d fulfilled your half of the bargain, of course, but had secretly thought that they were nothing but a bunch of flailing, self-interested publicity-grubbers. Aside from demanding that you wore their sponsored T‑shirts for several years in return for what the MD’s salary would cover in less than a day, the biggest hint was the contract which stipulated that you would never mention them in a negative light.

And so, in future articles, you could only hint at them anonymously as characters in entirely hypothetical situations such as, for example, the one I am describing right now.

You never received the tiniest bit of assistance from said sponsor, and wondered why they hadn’t just said “sorry, we can’t help you” instead of spending weeks saying “hold on a second…”. Then you remembered that they’d failed to deliver on a couple of previously agreed items. You wrote to them and pointed out that they were actually in breach of their own goddamn contract.

A denial letter full of bullshit corporate-speak arrived some weeks later, which you ignored, stripping all of their branding from your site and removing their stickers from your bicycle. Then you failed to complete your original mission anyway, so the whole thing became null and void. And you never heard from the company again.


* * *

Here’s another hypothetical situation.

A small, ambitious manufacturing outfit comes into being as you plan your cycle tour. Their flagship product looks ideal for your particular journey, so you write to them. They respond immediately, and offer you a half-price deal, to ensure that you’re not just scrounging for free shit, in return for feedback on their innovation.

After some weeks, their innovation suffers a failure, and you write in to tell them. Their marketing manager immediately gets in his car, drives across three countries and sleeps on the grass outside the house at which you are staying in order to hand-deliver prototypes of a new product, which their engineers have just finished building, and take the broken items away for investigation.

The prototypes are a brilliant idea, but still prove flawed, so you write again to tell them as much. When you announce that a new and far more challenging journey is about to begin, they tell you that their new product is still under development, and that they’d prefer to send you, free of charge, an improved version of the original design, because everyone knows that it works, and they now trust you to do what you said you’d do and to give them valuable feedback afterwards.

You spend six months testing the thing to destruction — literally — and send your thoughts their way. They email you engineering diagrams of improved ideas, and you comment on them because you really want their new product to be as good as possible.

Finally, they send you a prototype which combines the best of everything they’ve made since you began your relationship with them. You take it through the most challenging conditions of all, and it not only survives, but performs better than any alternative you’re aware of.

This small company is onto a winner, and you’ve played a fundamental role in that by undertaking your journeys. And you watch as their excellent product becomes a success in the marketplace. Other riders are able to benefit from the innovation, and the small team is able to continue its work.

* * *

I’ve penned these polarised examples of cycle tour sponsorship to represent its nature as a double-edged sword. If you’re considering going down the route of the sponsored bike tour, please take heed. Sponsorship is not about free stuff.

Some of my cycling kit

Yes, you may get given a bunch of nice equipment and not have to pay money. But that privilege comes with a different kind of cost, which is to become a part of your sponsor’s operation — whether that’s publicity, product development, catalogue photography, or something else.

If you enter into an agreement with a sponsor, you’d better be aware of that. So do it for the right reasons. Find outfits whose attitudes you agree with, because they’re going to be your riding partners too. If one side shuns its responsibilities, the relationship will break down, and the all-important trust between riders and industry will be eroded.

So choose carefully, and make sure that your potential sponsor understands what you expect from them.

And make absolutely sure that you understand what your sponsor expects from you.

Philosophy Of Travel Planning & Logistics

On The Hidden Rewards Of Unplanning Your First Big Adventure

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

The words that Tolkien gave to Bilbo are true. Without a solid and meticulous plan, a journey can quickly end up somewhere you never expected.

And, for your first trip, that’s exactly what I suggest.

A couple of days ago I received emails from two people planning long cycling journeys. There seem to be a lot of people interested in adventure cycling these days, judging by the number of messages I get. If that’s true, then I’m happy. Travelling long-term under pedal power is life-changing.

But riding off into the unknown is easier said than done. It’s an utterly terrifying prospect. You know nothing about what’s ahead, and you don’t know where to begin, and you imagine that without knowing these things, you’re helpless.

The natural defence mechanism is to try and collect knowledge, to arm yourself against the unknown. Routes, logistics, equipment, itineraries, timescales, communications solutions… you build a fortress of categories, an insurmountable wall of planning. Then you feel a bit safer, and the unknown seems a little less scary.

But nobody tells you that it actually doesn’t matter. That the world is not a dangerous place. People are not bad. Nobody’s out to get you. Visas and borders are easy. Roads and routes come naturally. And you can’t just waltz into a warzone. (It’s not your fight, anyway.)

Knowing everything is unnecessary — discovery is a better teacher than a guidebook. Where you actually end up — and when, and how — is usually irrelevant to the experience you have on the way.

“Failures don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” So goes the saying. But beware of dogma. Question everything, even the wisest-sounding quotes. There’s always an exception to the rule.

I planned to be in Australia two years after leaving home on my bike. As it turned out, I would be in the United Arab Emirates, having made an unforeseen half-year detour through the Middle East and Africa. I never made it to Australia — by then, my journey had deviated entirely.

Had I not planned to be in Australia, of course, it wouldn’t have mattered. Failure wouldn’t have come into it. I wouldn’t have had to swallow my pride, accept that I’d been wrong to set myself such a distant, abstract goal, and tell all the friends, followers and sponsors I’d bragged to that my plans had changed.

One of the emails mentioned records. “I do have my reservations on whether this would detract from the journey”, wrote my correspondee of the idea of a record-breaking circumnavigation. Well, of course it would! If your aim is to have a life-changing adventure, to leave it all behind… why would you plan for it to end as quickly and predictably as possible?

If you want to learn something, leave with a blank slate. Prepare yourself, by all means, but don’t pad the whole thing out with so-called research, plans that aren’t necessary, destinations you might realise you don’t really need to reach. None of that matters.

If there’s one thing I wish I’d done differently, it would be to leave without such a grand plan for what I was going to achieve.

And if there’s one decision I’m glad I made, it was to drop that plan and to pursue the honest and ever-changing focus of my wanderlust.

Planning & Logistics Technology

How To Use A GPS Unit On A Cycle Tour

As with many of the technology and equipment articles I write, this one opens with a question:

Do you really need to use GPS on your tour?

Will a GPS unit help you significantly to achieve your goals? Or will it serve as a distraction from the experience? Could you navigate by road-sign, map & compass, common-sense and by asking for directions, and would that be more fun? Would a cycle-computer suffice to keep track of distance — and why are statistics so important anyway?

Still considering using GPS for your next bike tour? Let’s continue. 

Books & Reading Planning & Logistics Product Launches

The Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook

One of the most valuable resources I had when preparing to make the leap and begin cycle touring was the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook*.

In fact, I’d say that it’s responsible for my ideas becoming anything more than just ideas. 

Philosophy Of Travel Planning & Logistics Technology

High-Tech or Low-Tech?

There’s a balance to be struck between taking too many and too few techy gadgets on an expedition. I’m a bit schizophrenic in this area. I’d like to say I’m a natural Ludditenaturally frugal — last year I hitched home from Armenia with only a knife, phone and poncho — but I also greatly value the usefulness of certain technologies.

But some technologies become nothing but a fad, or — worse — create more problems than they solve. Over-complicated computer systems in small libraries. GPS navigation units which send drivers merrily trundling into rivers, despite warning signs and the presence of bridges. Fashion accessories, which also happen to play music; several times the price of equivalents from companies other than Apple. Phones for which 99% of the functionality has nothing to do with the act of making a call. What was wrong with those little pink library cards anyway?