Top flight downhill racers are the gladiators of our sport, heroes that can ride at an ungodly speed while making their bikes do things that just shouldn't be possible, and it's not a stretch to say that they're also the most technically adept group of cyclists. And while the number of downhill bikes sold every year is an absurdly tiny drop in the bucket compared to cross-country and trail rigs, a DH racer's successful season will bump up the sales numbers across a company's entire range. That makes these gladiators worth a pretty penny, even if they're only competing at seven World Cups each year.
Let's assume that a World Cup racer who's consistently placing in the top five at each event is getting paid $200,000 USD per year, a relatively conservative estimate that's based on a bit of inside knowledge (professional mountain bikers are notoriously secretive when it comes to their paychecks). That means that said racer is making a bit over $28,500 USD during each of the seven race weekends. Yes, that's a vastly oversimplified way to look at it that doesn't take into account him busting his balls all off-season so that he can compete at that level, or sponsorship commitments that they'd rather not do, but it still sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Maybe... maybe not. Time for some perspective.
At the other end of the dirt-focused two-wheeled scale is Ken Roczen, the German-born Supercross talent who races for RCH Suzuki and is said to be getting paid around $3,000,000 USD per year as a base salary, as well as taking home a rumored $100,000 bonus for every Supercross main event win that he can tick off. Those figures aren't out of the norm for a top SX racer, either, as any consistent podium contender will likely have similar numbers on their contracts, and that's not taking into account clothing and gear sponsorships, let alone energy drinks money that might cover a new Lamborghini or two every year. If there are seventeen Supercross events per season, it means that Roczen will take home $176,470 USD per race from just Suzuki, a number that doesn't include bonuses or other sponsorship arrangements. Not too shabby, Ken.
There are going to be a load of comments below that are explaining how and why there's so much more money in Supercross, not to mention those who will be pointing out my vastly oversimplified math, but the details and math aren't the points here. The point is that a top World Cup downhiller might be making somewhere in the region of $28,500 USD per event, a number that might get a sticker on the shroud of Roczen's Suzuki race bike, which goes to show the vast wage gap between these two-wheeled sports.
We may think that our sport is the greatest thing in the world, but the truth is that there's simply more appeal - and a larger audience - when it comes to guys racing around on motorbikes inside of a stadium and passing each other over seventy-foot triple jumps. Without exaggerating, Supercross was literally made for an audience, so it's no surprise that the top participants make good money. Mountain bike racing, on the other hand, is only around because people want to race their mountain bikes, even though I'd argue that the top racers in our sport are just as talented, and in most cases just as dedicated, as any Supercross racer who makes fifteen times as much.
I'm not highlighting this lopsided comparison to make us mountain bikers feel ripped off or that we should change anything to chase television money (we definitely shouldn't do that), but just as a reminder that there are similarly talented athletes who're taking similar risks but getting paid a lot more money.
So, for the sake of this poll let's pretend we live in a world where talent and dedication alone decides how many digits and commas are on one's paycheck, and that there's enough money to pay them what they're worth. If that's the case, and you were signing the paychecks, how much money do you think a top World Cup downhiller should be making each year?