The Outside Blog

Adventure : Athletes

Adidas miCoach Smart Ball

If you still haven't caught at least a twinge of World Cup fever, then you might as well be Ann Coulter (seriously, lady, you’re supposed to be pro America!).

Personally, it’s made us want to get back out on the pitch, even if we haven’t kicked a ball around since elementary school. To remedy our rusty skills, we’ve been been messing around with Adidas’s miCoach smart ball, which functions sort of like a friendly U11 coach.

Integrated sensors built into the size 5 regulation weight ball provide almost instant feedback about the speed, spin, trajectory, and strike point of our kicks to an accompanying smartphone app. And supplemental coach notes tell us what all that data means (though some are admittedly more helpful than others. Helpful: "To get a better power kick, the ball spin should be below 150 rpm." Less helpful, but encouraging: "It takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at a task").

Adidas also thoughtfully incorporated various challenges for once we master the basics, so we’ll be able to practice bending and knuckleballing like the pros. Our touches might be slower than they once were, but we’re going to crush the competition at next week’s co-ed rec game.

$300, adidas.com 

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Aaron Gwin’s Bombproof Wheel

I like to complain about cycling gear. As the editor in charge of reviewing bikes at Outside, it’s my job to log a lot of saddle time in new equipment and separate the worthy from the chaff. 

Road bikes can be so stiff they jangle your fillings free. Chamois in brand new bibs rubs raw spots, and shoes with Boa closures fail. Rims crack, hubs seize, cranks fall off, and—my biggest gripe—tires shred, fall apart, and fail at the sidewalls.

While my friends and colleagues who are not so entrenched in the product world are usually thrilled to be using a particular piece of gear just because it’s new, I’ll often take the same sample and immediately name three reasons it’s not good enough to make it into the magazine. 

All that bellyaching makes me feel like the eternal grouch.  

But the video of Aaron Gwin racing at the World Cup last weekend in Leogang, Austria, cheered me up. Sure, you could focus on the tire that he burped and flatted 10 seconds into his run. But the real story is that wheel, a DT Swiss EX471 laced to a DT hub, which survived four full minutes of world-class downhilling—without a tire. And the EX471 isn’t even officially rated as a downhill rim.

There’s footage out there in which Gwin’s team manager, Eric Carter, while watching the run in question, says, “I won’t believe it if that rim makes it down, man.” And yet it does.

It’s testament to two-time World Cup overall champ Gwin, no doubt. The man is faster than you or me, even with one wheel. But it also speaks to just how durable and well-made much of the bike gear on the market has become. (And yes, it used to be really, really bad.)

You have to hand it to Gwin for the best run of the weekend, even though he finished dead last. Meanwhile, Gwin’s sponsor Specialized must be as crabby as a jaded gear reviewer given that their star racer was aboard DT wheels and not the company’s own Roval model.

Watch the man's heroic feat below: 

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The New Era of Low-Cost, High-Risk Expeditions

British mountaineer Ed Farrelly, 22, has a better climbing pedigree than most. (It was his great uncle Sir Christopher Summerhayes who gave Edmund Hillary the British flag he plonked atop Everest). But the young adventurer has found out the hard way that landing easy money to pay for adventure is a thing of the past.

“What’s making sponsorship more difficult is the sheer quantity of people chasing money,” says Farrelly, who sets out on a solo trek up Khan Tengri in Kyrgyzstan in July. “Everything gets lumped in together so that ‘adventuring’ becomes dumbed-down. I get through to someone on the phone and say I’ll be the youngest Briton to solo climb 7,000 metres, and the reply I get is, ‘Sorry, we’ve just sponsored someone to run the London marathon.’”

To survive in this competitive world, he’s working to perfect the art of low-cost, high-risk climbs. The goal: to give his hard-won sponsors an unbeatable return on investment, including dedicated “Ed-time” where companies can do everything from use him in product shoots to book him on a public speaking tour. He has a policy of never saying no to his investors. 

We sat down with Farrelly to chat about what it takes to secure sponsorship for extreme expeditions, and how he’s refined these low-cost, high-risk climbing trips.  

OUTSIDE: Is sponsorship the only way you fund your trips?
FARRELLY: Yes. I'm still a student, and I was determined to find a way to do some cool climbs without going into debt. I spend whole days tracking people down on LinkedIn and then calling people up, and most of the calls go nowhere.

I’m getting better at it because I do interesting, challenging climbs and I keep the costs really low, whereas a lot of climbers go through what’s basically a tour operator and that makes it more expensive. They need to find a lump sum, hand it over to a middle man, and then he sends that cash out in various directions so you can achieve what you set out to do.

While I’m not saying that’s bad, it does mean that people are trying to take too big a slice of the sponsorship pie. I can do a trip for half what some people are looking for.

How much will your Kyrgyzstan trip cost?
FARRELLY: By organising everything myself, I can do it for about $6,000. That’s a month and a half over there, all the flights, everything. The only back-up I’ll have is my dad at base camp, and he’s paying his own way.

What are the biggest costs associated with a big expedition?
FARRELLY: Transport. The Antarctic is the big one—it can cost upwards of $50,000 and most of that will go toward logistics. Insurance is a massive hidden cost when doing solo trips and can be as much as the flights, which on my next trip means about $1,000. Sat phones are another huge cost. Including upfront charges, sat phone services cost an additional $1.50 to $2 per minute. It’s easy to be stuck there sending photos back and finding yourself almost weeping as the seconds tick by.

Why send the photos back to your sponsors?
FARRELLY: It’s all part of the sponsorship deal. You have to get the information back to the very people that your sponsors want to find out about it.

Is your success rate with sponsorship money getting better or worse?
FARRELLY: It’s getting better, I think, but only because I’m getting better at it. I no longer try and persuade people who aren’t interested. I move on as quickly as I can. It’s a numbers game. If someone’s interested, I cut to the chase and tell them what I need, which is usually $1,500 to $2,500. They seem to appreciate the honesty.

Do the sponsors think they're getting a good ROI?
FARRELLY: They seem to. The value of the deals is going up, and they’re being renewed when they run out, too. I appreciate how hard it is to put a tangible value on what I can give them in return, but I take the responsibility seriously and I do my best.

What do sponsors want from their money?
FARRELLY: I would say they either want a quality story which is going to get them exposure, or content—photos, video, blog posts—which somehow represent their brand. The latter requires more work to utilize on their part but is probably better from a branding point of view. Too many companies are interested in just the first.

As far as what the stories are about, I guess the classic angles are youngest, oldest, fastest, and so on, but these are perhaps losing some of their allure as they have been done quite a bit, particularly on the classic challenges like Everest. Maybe now it's about being a little more inventive in terms of finding new challenges which haven't been overdone yet. But explaining why you're different to the press is easier said than done.

Are climbers always talking about money and how to fund their expeditions?
FARRELLY: Yes. If they’ve found it for their current expedition then they’re already talking about how they’re going to find it for the next one, and if they haven’t found it yet then they’re talking about it constantly.

It’s the one thing that stands between you and doing what you want—same as with most things, really. Some would-be adventurers never really make it, because it can be hard to get a toe in the door. There’s a ‘positive feedback’ aspect to it, so the more you do and the bigger your name, the less work you need to do to find the money. I’m nowhere near the big league, but sponsorship deals with Adidas, Rab, and Scarpa all help, and they’re obviously the names I mention when looking for new deals.

What’s your advice to budding adventurers seeking sponsorship?
FARRELLY: Don’t turn up on the wrong day! Actually, that isn’t necessarily a disaster, as it happened to me when I went to see Osprey looking for funding a few years ago and I turned up a day early. I drove two and a half hours to the meeting and I was sitting in the waiting room when the woman I was supposed to be seeing the next day walked past and seemed to recognize my face. She was good enough to do the interview there and then, although we had to change meeting rooms four times because obviously nothing had been booked.

How did your initial sponsorship meeting with Osprey go?
FARRELLY: I must have done a good job because they sponsor me now. I guess if what you’re selling is something people are interested in, you can overcome a few hurdles—though screwing up the date is obviously not an approach I would recommend.

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