For 2020, Lewis Buchanan is riding for the Canadian brand Forbidden onboard their high pivot bike the Druid. After a late contract decision from his old team, Lewis was initially left without a team for this year but after a lot of work, he found he was able to build his own program. We caught up with Lewis to talk about the decision to build his own program, finding sponsors and how he is coping with the lack of racing this season.
How was your offseason?
I had a good couple of months off where I had to figure out what I was doing for this year. Whether that was not racing anymore or building my own program. There was a lot of uncertainty as far as what direction I was going in, but yeah basically I was rammed with stuff that I have never done before. Which sounds like a complaint but it’s really not. When I say ‘rammed with a lot of stuff and a lot of stress’, sure it really was but it was also a massive learning curve for me from a kind of business standpoint and trying to figure out truly what I was really worth to companies. So yeah it was busy with a lot of sort of logistical stuff, contracts and deals.
What was the hardest/easiest part of building your own program?
I wish I could say there was a fairly straightforward part, I really struggled with getting contacts and because the deal with Ibis was such a last-minute decision on their part to not continue to sign with me. Basically, we were negotiating and everything looked good to extend for another two years and as it can kind of happen and as business goes they were obviously in negotiations with another rider at the time and they must have had a change of mind. But it was how it went down that it was so last minute that they just decided to say ‘we have changed our mind we are not going to go with you’ and for me, that was really tough to take because there was no sort of, I dunno, hint that they had another option. So maybe that’s my mistake but we had figures and everything agreed upon through email and all that sort of stuff.
When they explained they were going in a different direction that honestly left me in a panic mode to try and figure out if anyone had a spare spot. It was a really difficult situation to be in because I had a point where I was a little bit injured during the season but I rebounded from that injury and I feel like I showed the speed was there and had some great stage finishes. I was going to teams and I was finding it difficult because I didn’t want to seem desperate and be lowballed but at that point it was around Zermatt and everything is tied up.
Teams are already decided and I think I went to every single team and exhausted all of those options, there were a couple of things going with Yeti and Specialized for a bit but that just kind of diluted. As far as Yeti goes, those guys had an amazing year with Shawn and Richie so it made complete sense for them to continue that and I guess it was so late in the year they couldn’t quite make the fit happen. Once I had been to every single team, then I was in a position where I was like 'do I have to start my own thing'? I had never done anything like that, I just didn’t see it being that possible with it being that late.
How did your training go?
I managed to get the same amount of training that I normally would. It was trying to find that balance with all of the phone calls and emails, most of the companies I was dealing with have different time zones so it was a lot of late nights. It was just finding that balance of training hard and also working on trying to build brands around me. Putting the same equal effort into both and not getting burnt out.
It must be hard getting the time balance right?
It was definitely something I have honestly never done before and I have been lucky to be on some amazing teams and when you're on a team you deal with everything through one person. You don’t have those personal connections with brands that I have now. So everything is taken care of when you're on a team, at least in my experience that was the case.
So it is very, very easy when compared with having to do everything yourself. Writing up a proposal that includes everything about your plan and what you can give in return for their help and support, It was a kind of eye-opening five months. Yeah, I worked hard at it but it’s been cool to see it grow, I just wish I could race my bike right about now.
How has it been with sponsors when dealing with the lack of racing/riding at the moment?
Honestly, they have been really supportive, I have heard and been in touch with pretty much all of them. They have been understanding and I think everyone is kind of in the same position. No matter what job you have you are affected by it in some way or another. It’s really just a case of keeping them in the loop and hopefully, we can all return to a somewhat normal life at some point. We are all living day by day with a lot of uncertainty about what’s going on. They haven’t let up on anything, it’s been really good.
With a few top riders struggling to find teams this year do you think it’s a sign that there is not enough money in enduro racing?
I think that there is obviously a crazy amount of talented riders that race in the EWS but I would almost like to say that I think there is a lack of teams. There are many bike brands out there that have nothing to do with the enduro race scene. I mean, I could name five to ten off the top of my head right now that if they had some sort of budget or team in the works then they could possibly cater for a lot of the dudes that are doing it by themselves who would like a spot on a team. Brands like Intense, YT or NS bikes, if they had an enduro team that would open up spots and I just think looking at the EWS teams there aren’t that many they are all sort of the big brands like Giant, Specialized and Yeti, so it’s again that budgets could have something to do with it.
The places we are going are not easy to get to and they are usually pretty far away so it involves a lot of travel. I would definitely like to see bike brands that have nothing to do with the racing scene start up something and honestly, I think it would benefit them too. I went to a lot of those brands this offseason proposing the idea of having their bike on the race scene and you know giving it some exposure that it currently doesn’t have right now. There are some enduro bikes out there right now that are not even being raced on at the highest level. I’m not a marketing dude so I don’t fully understand the direction they are going and they are obviously doing things in the way they want to, so if racing isn’t in their interest then it’s not in their interest but it kind of puzzled me a little bit.
You have your new deal with Forbidden bikes for this year, how did that come about?
That all spurred from the idea when I just jotting down a list of frames I would be happy to race on if I was given the opportunity. So I just searched the internet and I think I just typed in 'top 10 enduro bikes 2019' and obviously a lot of reviews came up. I saw a brief breakdown and review of the Druid on Pinkbike and I just thought it looked good so I messaged them on Instagram as I had no source of contact for them at the time and basically just said ‘I have this sort of proposal in place and I’m doing my own thing I think it would be cool to bring a spotlight to your bike and bring it to the EWS’.
Owen got back I think the next day and straight away we both seemed to have the same vision and wanted the same thing. I wanted to race and they wanted their bike to be in the EWS and for them, they were already searching for riders and looking for anyone up for a contract. I know that they were doing a bit of searching and talking to other racers so we spoke on the phone shortly after that and it all seemed to come together pretty easily. There was a bit of a wait as they are a super small brand and they haven’t been around for as long so for them to meet the financial side of things that I was asking for it was quite a big thing for them to tackle I think. So that took a little bit of a while so we ended up chatting and chatting almost every single week and once they kind of figured things out on their end they sorted out a bike for me to test and I tested that out before anything was signed and done and I never really had any questions, to be honest.
The bike is super unique but I never questioned whether I thought I would have been able to perform well on it. I have ridden a lot of bikes since I turned professional and I think people can see that as being a disadvantage but I see it as being an advantage to have worked with so many brands as it makes you a pretty good all-round rider as you can kind of adapt to anything.
I was also intrigued with Forbidden as they are a small brand and I felt like I could bring a lot from my side that could benefit them on the marketing side and be able to show people what the bike is capable of and open up a new kind of design for people that are quite freaked out by the design of it and the high chainlink you know. So yeah basically just saw it as a good opportunity to talk about it as it's new to a lot of people. Also to develop with a brand like that, my plan was to be with a company that I could give feedback to and they would listen to me. Whether or not what I was saying was a load of crap or being helpful. Just someone who is looking for feedback and I think Owen and Forbidden certainly fitted that.
Once we signed a deal it pretty much all came together but there was soo much more to sort out even once I had got the frame.
Once you had the frame how did you then go forward and find component sponsors?
The components were really difficult because the way I had it set out Forbidden pay my salary and all the components sponsors I was looking for, depending on how much they supplied or took up space on the bike, was how much money I was looking for to add to the budget to allow me to book flights, accommodation etc. I broke it up with the frame sponsor providing my sort of income/salary and all the personal sponsors were chipping in to allow me to pay to go racing. Again I think I contacted nearly every single company. Some brands that I had never even heard of, it was the whole thing again of maybe we can get them in the spotlight and we can get them noticed. It could be a good thing for them. I never thought Instagram could be a tool to message a brand and sort out a deal with money and everything but that’s how it happened because I didn’t have the contacts for the people directly so I would just get in touch with them on there and if you do it in a professional manner there is nothing wrong with that.
I’m very, very surprised that the brands that are supporting me are all solid brands they are actually really big brands too so again for how late it was I think I managed to get really really good people on board and they all liked the idea I had going and it was a unique opportunity for them to be a part of something. So, for me to show the brands I was serious about what I was doing was really important and I think that really appealed to a lot fo them. It took a while to build up the whole bike, I had a frame sitting here for a long long time with no parts.
The long wait for replies to hear from people was really really stressful. I also had a target budget that I had to meet which I had calculated up as the amount I needed to race and there were points where I stayed at a certain dollar amount and it never went up, I was 20/30 thousand off what I needed. There were a couple of points where I kind of felt like I would have to call Owen saying ‘I’m this amount off and there is no one else who can help’ I could just see it all falling apart. I guess just not giving up and being a little bit pushy in a way paid off and I made a big run of it towards the end, it was middle of January where I was able to cap it all off and say it was done. I had some help from my dad but otherwise, I have done everything myself and I learned and still am learning so much about dealing with brands. All of which I never had experience of doing before which has been cool. It’s great to see it all come together after a couple of months where it wasn’t looking good. Photo: Innes Graham
Alongside good race results you also work hard on your social media presence, do you think this helps when looking for sponsors?
I feel like Instagram is a good platform but it’s such a competitive thing now there are lots of guys that have really good followings and good content. So it's not worthless but I feel like I obviously include that I have a decent following on Instagram but I don’t use it to get sponsors as there is always someone else with a bigger audience than I have so I just don’t see it as something that is crazy valuable. That’s why around January I was like maybe I will try the Youtube thing. I talked to Cathro and asked him a couple of questions and picked his brain about it and he said ‘if you’re going to do something just do it, keep it consistent with the uploads and people will start to notice you are uploading regularly and make sure you have a topic to talk about.’
By any means, I don’t get hundreds of thousands of views but I feel like from where I started in January til now its really rocketed up a fair bit. For just to be able to document my training rides and give people that sort of insight where I feel like I have found a sort of niche, I don't think there is another pro rider really who is sort of giving that full in-depth sort of look into training rides or sessions. I feel like with the deal I have now it allows me to chat about it and allows me to be a bit more honest and real than I ever have been. I have been pretty sheltered being on teams, not saying I wouldn’t go back on a team if the offer was right, but I think you have to be a little more careful with what you do and say when on a team. Whereas if you have that good relationship with brands that I have right now and they are happy with what you are doing then I’m just going to keep going with the same content. It’s definitely been useful and all the brands that are supporting me are stoked on the content and that really bodes well for the future.
I have also really enjoyed filming and editing the stuff which is again something that I have never really done before. It’s cool to sit and edit and some of my videos are just out riding with mates and people enjoy seeing that and I enjoy doing it. I’m not trying to make a lot of money off of it I’m just doing it and if it ever would spiral to the point where I do quite well from it then sure it would be amazing but right now I just enjoy it and it's a great way to connect with people. You certainly can’t connect on Instagram like you can with people on Youtube.
How are you staying motivated with no idea when or if the season will start?
Honestly, I had a chat with Olly on the phone the other day and we were talking about switching up our whole plan for the year. There is so much uncertainty with the racing and I know that the first three races have been postponed to the end of the year but in my opinion, the round after France is in Italy and don’t take my word for it but I can’t see any racing getting done there. As much as we would all love to see and it would be great for everything to start again for summer when the weather is nice I just felt that even if the numbers start to improve, people recover and it starts to look better nothing is going to return to what we were like last year anytime soon.
As far as staying motivated it’s really difficult. I have a set training program like most of riders and it’s really difficult to do a training session because usually, you have some sort of goal like a purpose. But the purpose for me was almost gone this morning when I was training. I was busting my ass but I don’t really know when or if I will return to racing this year. It’s sort of like training for the purpose of keeping busy and fit, staying in shape you know. I am just getting out to ride on the fire roads in my area as the trails have now been closed to limit the risk.
It must be hard trying to find riding content to post?
I was pretty busy last month where I managed to get a lot of videos filmed so I have a six or seven that are waiting so that’s helpful. It’s just the uncertainty and far as promoting the brands that are supporting me, there isn’t a whole deal I can do right now. I feel like I will be using YouTube a lot more now and trying to get ahead and using it as an opportunity to keep them busy and interested. A lot of people will be sitting at their laptops or watching stuff on their tv, so people will appreciate some sort of thing to watch.
It’s hard to be positive but people have to try and see it from the point that no one is really worse off right now. It’s really cool to see the positivity that people are portraying across social media, it’s really good to see. It’s a sensitive moment right now. I’m going day by day taking it as it comes.