Welcome to the 2021 Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey. This anonymous survey is designed to help shed light on key issues affecting the professional field and elite competition. We surveyed the best riders in the world to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms on mountain biking in 2021. We invited any rider who had finished in the Top 40 overall of their chosen discipline in either of the previous two seasons in either XC, enduro, downhill, or slopestyle & freeride, as well as notable non-competition riders and highly ranked juniors. We then published them in full and publicly. To read the introduction to the survey click here, and to see all the other currently published SOTS articles click here.
Riders use a variety of social media platforms, but primarily Instagram
The obvious stuff: Riders mostly use Instagram (100% of riders surveyed), followed by Facebook (73%), then Youtube with a surprising-to-me 35% of riders. The others worth mentioning are Strava (25%), TikTok (12%), and Twitter (10%).
In terms of other media projects, short edits are by far the most common form of content creation with 87% of riders surveyed, followed by podcasts (26%) and a tie at 19% for both vlogging and parts in feature-length films.Riders don't just use social media because they are contracted to
86% of riders said they use social media to make themselves more valuable to sponsors. It is important to note, however, that since riders could submit multiple answers, this being the most common answer does not necessarily mean it is the primary motivation for all the riders surveyed.
Following value to sponsors, the next most popular answer was ‘to make content with and for my fans’ with 69% of respondents, followed by ‘to use my influence in the mountain biking community' (43%), ‘I’m contracted to do so (36%), and ‘I like to be able to speak directly to my fans’ (29%). A handful of one-off responses were along the lines of ‘I genuinely enjoy it.’ A bit more than half of the riders surveyed responded either ‘agree’ (42%) or ‘strongly agree’ (11%) with the statement ‘I enjoy making content for social media.’ An additional 36% answered neutrally, leaving 11% on the negative side.
These responses speak to a type of win-win situation for many riders and sponsors – social media is, of course, a valuable marketing tool for companies who sponsor athletes, but it’s also a useful tool for athletes to build their own brands and intentionally affect how they present themselves to the bike world. Still, the broad utility of social media for riders and companies alike puts pressure on riders to compete in the ever-engaged attention economy in ways that just didn’t happen before social media emerged as a marketing tool.Riders had to produce more content due to COVID-19
It is pretty well-established now that content creation has become increasingly important during COVID-19, with 70% of riders responding positively to the statement ‘I have had to create more content because of the effects of COVID-19 on the mountain bike industry’ and only 11% of riders responding negatively.Social media has a negative impact on nearly 50% of riders' mental health
The most interesting statistic in the survey, for me, is that 48% of riders surveyed responded either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ to the statement ‘social media has a negative impact on my mental health.’ And yet, 100% use social media and are more or less obligated to do so.
Voices from all over the industry have both lamented and applauded social media for its impacts on our sport. Instagram does a great job of turning bike rides into photoshoots, but also joy into anxiety. Either way, it's clearly one of the most effective marketing tools that exists in the mountain biking world. There's a clear gender distinction in the responses too with 58.44% of women acknowledging that negative impact to some extent vs 40.83% men, perhaps reflective of the additional pressures women face when posting on social media. We'll dig into the women's specific survey section in some upcoming articles.
Professional racing has always included trade-offs and this may become an increasingly significant one as companies rely more and more on online marketing.