Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Cost of Cycling

I’ve written many times about the amount of time and dedication it takes to be a great cyclist. Not accounting for genetic pre-disposition and a pinch of good luck, it’s mostly just hard graft that gets you to the top.

As I discovered this past year, staying at the top is even harder. There is always someone out there who is willing to work harder than you and who is looking to take your titles away from you. You have to make every training session count and if you truly want to be at the top, you have to remain focused and dedicated.

Training aside, the next biggest part of the equation when it comes to winning is equipment. And good equipment costs money. Lots and lots of money. I’d estimate, that I have spent over £25,000 in the past 2 years on equipment. And that is before any sponsor stepped into either provide free equipment of give a discount.

On top of the equipment costs, there are the every day costs of living, training, racing, etc. It all adds up very quickly. So how do I do it? Well – the Irish Sports Council is a major source of funding to myself and all the other elite Irish athletes. In short, the better you do, the more they fund you. But that money only goes so far (as my severely drained and stretched bank accounts and credit cards can attest to!).

What’s left is for me to hit up sponsors. It’s the part of being a ‘pro’ cyclist I hate the most and the hardest part of my job. How do you convince someone that you (and not someone else) are worthy of their attention? In these financially challenging times when so many people (men, women, disabled, etc) are all trying to get something for nothing – how do you stand out? And when they DO pick you, how do you repay their faith in you?

The simple answer is…. Win. Just win. It sounds simple, right? But anyone who has ever raced can tell you it isn’t. Sometimes just racing using their equipment is enough. I can attest to the fact that when I roll up to a race on Brand X of bike, it draws attention. People want to know what I’m riding, how I like it, where I got it, etc. Instant ‘free’ advertising for sponsors.

Then there is social media. I am addicted to Twitter – and I shamelessly will tweet about the products I use. Why? Because I believe in them! I only use products and brands that I like and never will promote a brand I don’t use. If I win a race or do a good training session because of a certain product – I will let the world know.

In the last year I have been blessed to get the support of companies and brands both big and small. Sometimes (like in the case of 3T bars and stems, Schwalbe tyres and ZipVit nutritional supplements and energy products) I get product for free. Other brands will get me their products at a discount.

Last year (and hopefully next year!) I was fortunate enough to be able to work with two of the best distributors in the UK. They compete against each other in many ways (one supplies Sram, the other Shimano), but they both are superb when it comes to serving the needs of their customers. And just as good when it comes to helping me out.

Me and my Look bikes (road and track)
Fisher Outdoor Leisure ( has been my source for all things Sram, Zipp and Look, whilst Madison ( has supplied me with Shimano Di2 and Giro helmets. I have different bikes for different events and I use all these brands. And without the help of these two giants of cycling in the UK, I wouldn’t be able to afford to kit out my bikes with the top-end parts they need. I’m stretched too thin as it is!

But it’s not just getting me parts at a reasonable cost, it’s also advice or service or help in a pinch... or pulling my fat out of the fire. Like when I broke a seat clamp on my Cervelo right before the Games…  Madison was able to get me a replacement sent to the Village and had it there waiting for my arrival. No questions asked. When I crashed in the road race in London and snapped my brand new front wheel, Fisher’s was there to rebuild it for me quickly and cheaply (not easy to do with a Zipp wheel!). These folks make my cycling life possible.

Cervelo kitted out with Di2 from Madison
My 2013 season is off to a great start. I’ve committed myself to some serious training abroad for most of the winter months (more expense – but worth it!) and I’m fortunate that I won’t need as much new equipment next year. But I will need a new TT bike and parts will always be an issue – so I’ll be once again looking to outside help to get what I need.

The suppliers and big brands often mostly support the Pro teams and it’s rare that this goodwill trickles down to the Paracycling ranks. But when it does… what a difference it makes. Thanks to all of you that have supported me and continue to do so! Let’s make 2013 OUR year.