Back in 2006 when I had the idea to go on a cycle tour, it was my idea, and no one else’s. I thought, that I alone would take my bike, escape from the everyday drone of my life in England and find excitement and bliss. Great. The reason I had the idea was due to a whole range of factors, not least, many pub conversations about such things with friends, a long term love of cycling and the support from different people that had given me the space to be able to create the conditions to leave. I was already supported enough to be able to have the thinking space to be able to decide I was dissatisfied with things and to leave (no one exists alone). Once I asked my best mate Tom, he had his own take on my ideas and the ideas were intertwined and multiplied.
Sponsorship for a cycle tour seemed like, on the one hand, a way to get free stuff and on the other, a natural progression to involve more people into the ‘Ride Earth’ project to enable it to gain momentum and publicity, so that it seemed more likely that it would happen than not.Involving often disinterested third parties (other than to gain exposure for products) has pros and cons. Some of our sponsors were keen to be involved in the project, read the blogs and follow the journey. Others were happy to give kit in exchange for photos, news reports and appearance of their products in videos. Others wanted to take the whole thing over (or so it seemed). There was a desire to make the trip more likely to happen by materialising it with the necessary equipment.
This sounds obvious, but once you start buying (or they turn up free) the right bits of kit then it becomes more real that it is likely to happen. This is not a replacement for actually doing it though. Being involved with sponsors felt more like we were testing out the equipment and therefore there was a technical side to guaging whether it would perform as required. This became quite a rewarding process with, for example, the Extrawheel trailers, where we tested and broke their equipment and sent constructive feedback that improved it.
The best way to approach sponsors is to first decide on your ideal equipment, which involves deciding upon and knowing what you are going to do first and then deciding what equipment you will need to make that successful. Tom and I trawled internet forums and review sites for the best bike components, and drew from previous experience from mountain biking about which parts lasted the longest. Companies, like Magura, provided us with their latest product specifically designed for touring; the Odur suspension fork, which superceded anything else on the market.
However, we already knew what we wanted from a fork - e.g. coil sprung, lightweight, short travel, so it was easier to match the company’s product with our requirements which made communication and negotiation run more smoothly. It is important to: know your trip, know your equipment, be aware of other involved parties intentions. Be realistic about what you can deliver in return for sponsored kit. Have you got a website? Are you a good photographer, writer, filmmaker? Can you provide media in which the equipment will appear that will show it working to a wider group of people? Can you weave the products into the narrative? Is there a space for the equipment in your journey? Resist the temptation to go mad and start adding non-essential items to the kit list. Do you really need a heart-rate monitor? Be realistic with the spares you will take.
At first, I took way too many spares, many because I had been provided with them by sponsors and that allowed me to over-compensate. I didn’t need the spare hub, spare gear hanger, spare Magura hydraulic rim brake. Generally, because in the West, the idea of doing something is privileged over doing it and people are so used to be wrapped up in working in their daily life for some goal in the future, then it is possible for the idea to get out of control. You don’t actually need that much kit for a cycle tour and anything you can get from a sponsor, you can work to save the money, and get off Ebay, without having any obligation to the sponsors.
Lets not forget the aforementioned benefits of having sponsors though. If you can develop a positive working relationship with a sponsor then you can usually count on them to help to support future journeys because you will have proven that you can successfully provide beneficial exposure for them. How do you approach sponsors? Now you have decided on the kit you will need, find the right person who deals with sponsorship at the company - either call up the company to find out or look on their website. Give the company a call and ask to speak to that person. Or send a mail and indicate you intention and that you are going to call. You can write a letter and mail it to the company indicating that you will call up. Telephoning is definitely the most effective way to get support because it is direct, personal and difficult to be ignored. Whereas it is very easy to ignore emails.
A website, social network following can help to allow you to refer the person you are calling to somewhere they can get more extended information about you that it would be impractical to communicate over the phone. If you can get a meeting the brilliant, otherwise state your intentions, what you need and what you can provide in return and that is more or less the best strategy. Repeat that and be persistent but polite and respectful. Overall it is probably as much, if not more work, to get sponsorship that to earn the cash yourself and buy the equipment but it can turn up beneficial publicity and other useful partnerships in the long term. Others who know about getting sponsorship:
Dear [brand name], Myself and [expedition partners] [names] are leaving the [location] on [date] to [activity], [usp of activity], [route], which we are [documenting how?] in [format] with a [usp of media - e.g. professional film company] and creating a [output]. [Name of expedition], as the expedition is known, will travel through [where?], exploring [what?]. We are supporting the [charities]. We are aiming to promote [cause]. [impact / benefit] . We need the best [feature] to keep us [benefits]. [Your org / company] has a [feature we need] for [benefit to us]. Would you be interested in sponsoring us? In return we can offer [benefits]. We hope you will be inspired as much as we are about our expedition. If you are interested in helping please call or email me, or leave a number and I will call you. Regards [Your name] [Your contact] [Expedition slogan] Visit us online at [website address] Donate easily and securely at [page]