The Professional Bike Geek—Underpaid and Loving it.

So I was chatting with an old friend this morning. He’s back in town after a stint out west working on trails for our nation’s forest. After ranting about the half a trillion dollars spent on war that could’ve been spent on building the mountain biker’s dream—the most ridiculous, comprehensive, exhilerating trail system the world’s ever seen—we started talking about retail.

It’s been 6 years since I spent time in a shop and I’ve been considering going back to work at a shop one or two days a month. My motivation isn’t money, it’s to get back to the basics and to relearn what customers of today are really looking for. It seems that spending so much time making magazines has distanced me from the core users, the newbies and the shop rats.

We talked about his shop in particular and how disheartening it is to see so many customers coming in who seek the high end, but aren’t really using it. These people are spending $6K on a bike, but ride it maybe a couple times a month.

Is there anythng wrong with this?

I used to be offended by yuppies on expensive toys, but I’ve come to realize these people really are the bankroll of not just the bike industry, but the entire outdoor industry. Think carbon fiber frames hanging in garages and custom soled boots used on on a 5 mile hike and handcrafted skis that sit on the Audi. Not every high-end customer is like this, but it’s certainly quite a few.

And the low salary of the outdoor worker is somewhat understandable—the shop wrench isn’t out saving lives (well, by providing a safe and reliable product, he’s theoretically preventing injury or death—and the salesmen and the engineers behind the product are facilitating products that might extend a user’s life if paired with a healthy diet and consistent use… you get the point). He’s not like a heart surgeon whose livelihood is so valued by society that a $150K/yr. salary is justified.

And as we began to talk about the underpaid salaries of all outdoor industry people—the trailworkers, the shop salesmen, the engineers, the executives, the non-profiters, the journalists, the reps—I realized we’re all underpaid when compared to similar professions in other sectors. Why is this?

It seems that society doesn’t value what we’re doing— providing incentive to stay healthy, a fun bonding experience with friends and family, and creating environments for lifetimes of enoyment.

So what does society valu? Software engineers, Actors, Mainstream athletes, Middle managers, Drug Reps, Commodities Salespeople, Financial Planners and Managers, Automobile Marketing Firms? Yep. All these people make a ton more than the outdoor industry worker. And all these people help subsidize the outdoor industry. And somehow, we’ve allowed them to believe that whatever it is they do is more important than what we do.

And guess what? It’s exactly the opposite. We are doing a disservice to ourselves by allowing ourselves to be undervalued. Somehow we’ve allowed our passive society to take its grip on our livelihood, forcing us to lose our self-worth in the process. Somehow we’ve been conned into believing that a 2-hour movie for four (4 tix @ 12/ticket + popcorn and drinks = $80) or a night out drinking with friends ($100 among 4 is nothing!) is worth more than a year-long state park pass . We’ve allowed ourselves to get lost in manufactured experiences, and in this process, we’ve devalued our skillset to society as a whole.

We as the outdoor industry workrs of America need to take back the control. Good family bonding doesn’t happen at a passive basketball game or during a movie—it happens when you’re out on the trail trying to figure out where you are. It happens over trail mix at a scenic overlook after a hard-earned climb up the mountain. It happens in a city park chasing a dog that got off the leash, allowing you to explore and find new trails.

We know these expriences, the ones we facilitate and promote and enhance, are te truly valuable things in life. But how do we capitalize on them? How do we increase the worth of our skillset in the American mind?

That’s my question to you…

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