More and more prominent (as in, widely known because of their successful blogs, YouTube channels and social media) adventure riders are getting sponsored by companies, and that’s great news. It means the industry is recognizing the value of people traveling on bikes, wants to help, and hopes to find out what works and what doesn’t.
But more often than not, those sponsored riders face a few common stereotypes: that all sponsored riders are sell-outs; that you can’t expect an honest product review from a sponsored rider; and my personal favorite, that getting a sponsorship is easy as pie.
Yours truly is sponsored with gear by three companies – Klim, Sidi, and Mosko Moto, with a one-off Seat Concepts, Sena and MotoZ sponsorship. I’m by no means a well-known adventure rider slash influencer with hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers or Instagram followers, but because I practically live on the road and because my work is primarily focused on media and content, some companies see value in what I do and have offered to help, which I greatly appreciate.
So if you’re wondering what the reality of sponsored travel looks like, here’s my take.
Gear vs Cash
Yes, some riders do get monetary support, but that’s pretty rare, and it’s usually not much. Gear is the most common form of sponsorship: most of the time, riders are offered free or heavily discounted gear in exchange for exposure. Does anybody actually get paid to travel around the world? In my five years on the road, I haven’t met anybody whose ride would be 100% covered by a company. I believe a few lucky souls out there have been sponsored by bike manufacturers, like Ana Grechishkina who is sponsored by KTM, but this is more of an exception rather than a common practice.
The “sell-out” argument is probably the most common myth about sponsored travel out there, implying that riders only post on their blogs or social media to promote a company that’s helping them with gear or bike parts, that all their efforts online are just “working it off for the sponsors”, and that if they were not sponsored, they would ride around the world happy and carefree without ever bothering to post or create videos.
The reality is that riders get sponsorships after they create successful blogs or YouTube channels, not the other way around. You have to provide value first, that’s just how it works. “Here, Random Rider Who Is Going On a Trip, have all this free gear, tires, and bike parts, then spend a year or two blogging and posting about it”, said no company ever (okay, okay, BMW might have said this to Ewan and Charlie, but most of us aren’t Ewan and Charlie).
So if after years of hard work creating awesome content all by your lonesome a company asks you to test some of their gear, are you really selling out, or just enjoying a little benefit for your efforts?
Most people assume that sponsored riders will never post realistic, honest reviews about their gear because they aren’t allowed to by their sponsors. While that can happen in some rare occasions, most riders are not bound by some strict contract, nor are they otherwise obliged to only post shiny reviews telling people the product is perfect.
I’ve been recommending the Klim Artemis suit, MotoZ tires, Seat Concepts seats and Mosko Moto luggage to people because I do honestly believe these products are great. I’ve tried and tested them during months and months of travel across the Americas on all sorts of terrain, conditions, climates, and crashes both on and off the road; and while there are some minor things that could be improved (don’t love the low waist on the Artemis Pants, wish MotoZ had more distributors around the world, my Mosko Moto duffel bag has cracked and frayed a bit after 2 years of intense use), overall I genuinely believe this is some of the best gear out there. Not one of the companies that sponsor me have ever asked for glowing reviews or sales-y posts from me: whenever I write about them or mention them, it happens organically, and I would recommend them the same if I hadn’t been sponsored.
Getting Sponsored Is Easy
People love to assume that free gear just magically appears at your doorstep one day. It doesn’t. Most of the time, you need to put a lot of hard work, creativity, long hours, trial and error, and energy into what you do, whether it’s blogging, media, vlogging on YouTube, or social media. You have to have a proven track record of serious mileage and travel, produce interesting, unique content, and more and more often, stand out in some way because adventure riding is becoming almost mainstream.
If you truly love what you do, if you genuinely enjoy writing, photographing, or videoing your adventures and do it because it’s your passion, because you’re giving back to the community and because it brings something new to the table, companies get on board because they want to be a part of it, not because they want to “buy” you or your voice. Every sponsor-rider partnership is unique, of course, and we all make our own decisions about who we want to work with, why, and how. But at the end of the day, the more companies get involved with the community, the better we can all communicate and the faster gear and bikes can improve and evolve. Surely, that’s something worth exploring.