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Drop In: Marketing Vehicle in the MTB Industry

“Drop-in.” To skiers, it describes those first few adrenaline-filled moments as you launch down the top of a snow-covered peak. To mountain bikers, it can mean the same thing, without the snow of course, but for producers Mike Johansen and Tim Bieber “Drop In” isn’t a feeling, it’s a way of life.

Bored with their day jobs, the two Calgary-based friends took a road trip in the summer of 2001 to B.C. where they met up with a then-little-known rider named Dylan Tremblay and the idea of a mountain bike production quickly took off. With dozens of cycling movies already on the market, Bieber and Johansen wanted to do something more significant than just a 40-minute video with loud music and lots of footage strung together.

Instead, they wanted to create a weekly TV show that would be of interest to cyclists and to the average viewer who was just looking for something cool to watch. They made a trailer out of the footage they shot in the summer of 2001, and, using that, got a commitment from SportsNET to air their show, which taped its first-ever season in the summer of 2002.

“Drop In” stars five riders and the infamous “Drop In” bus, which is a converted city transit bus. In each half-hour episode, the group travels from one location to another and rides some of the best trails, jumps, and skate parks in any given city, while also mixing in some local attractions. Seasons one and two, filmed across Alberta and B.C., were huge successes, and viewers loved the show and couldn’t get enough of the personalities.

With two seasons in the bank and the show being broadcast across Canada on SportsNET and on other networks across the world, one would think sponsors would be knocking Johansen and Bieber’s doors down to get on the show. That’s partially true “” companies desperately wanted to see their products shown on the program “” but the two men behind the show needed actual money. Two years after starting “Drop In,” Johansen and Bieber were having serious cash-flow problems, and the show was at risk of not returning for a third year.

The problem, said Johansen, was that the second season was well-produced but focused a bit too much on the Johnny-Knoxville-style gags. “Season two was a huge improvement towards that product that would show well to fund another season, however we were faced with backpedaling when sponsors were saying “˜no’ due to the antics of the second-season crew,” he said.

Johansen knew the third season would have to be different in that regard, and in the end, they were able to get sponsors to understand the value of the show. “The reason that we were able to get support for season three wasn’t based on past performance, I don’t think. It was more of a belief in the future of “Drop In.” We are now the biggest marketing vehicle in the MTB industry,” he said.

So with some major sponsors such as Kokanee, Santa Cruz, Adidas Eyewear, Progressive Suspension, Block 8, Pinkbike.com, and Drinkmilk.ca on board for the third edition of the show, shooting took place last summer with a crew of riders made up of Tremblay, Tyler Klassen, Steve Romaniuk, Cameron McCaul, and Ryan Schnepf.

To say there was pressure to perform after two successful initial seasons is a big understatement. And Johansen and Bieber wanted to take “Drop In” to the next level. “It was easier [than seasons one and two] in some respects and harder in others. We challenged ourselves to come up with something out of the unknown,” Johansen said. “We had some really great support from the show sponsors who we didn’t want to let down.”

To get a new take on the videography side of things, the two brought in well-known mountain bike filmer Ambrose Weingart and popular skateboard and snowboard filmer/editor Toni Muendel. “I filmed as well, but I generally waited until those two had the money angles and then filled in where I could,” said Johansen. “The riders had complete trust in those two guys; they would throw down hard because they knew that the shot was money. Quality not quantity.” After two months of filming, Johansen and Bieber returned to Calgary while the footage went to Vancouver with Muendel for post-production and editing.

As that work was being done, the two producers were on the phone with Canadian networks trying to find the best possible option for getting the show back on the air. Although the deal with SportsNET often got “Drop In” shown repeatedly on the same day, there was never a set schedule as to when each particular episode would be aired. But when “Drop In” season three debuted on Jan. 15, 2005, it was shown on Global Television, which meant a non-cable broadcaster was airing the show across the country for the first time.

The show can now be seen every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. local time in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, at noon in Alberta, and 1:30 p.m. in B.C. It means the “Drop In” is now available to everyone in Canada with a television, which has been a long-time goal of the show’s producers. “We wanted to get mountain biking and other action sports into the mainstream audience’s face, and we had to do it through TV. We’re still battling our way out of the “Extreme” timeslot, but that will come as the fan base grows and grows,” he said.

So what’s next for “Drop In”? To increase international appeal, the show will leave the confines of Canada for season four as it heads to New Zealand with a crew made up of season-one returnee Shawn Denny and newcomers Darren Berrecloth, Matt Hunter, American Randy Spangler, and locals Nathan Greenwood and Clinton Williams. New Zealand has a strong mountain biking culture and is also very welcoming to film crews (“Lord of the Rings” was filmed there fairly inexpensively), so Johansen and Bieber figured it would be the perfect next step. Filming is scheduled to begin there on March 1, with season four expected to air next winter.

As for a fifth season, the plans are already in the works. “There’s still a lot up in the air. It all has to do with money. We have a crew waiting to go wherever we do it. I will say this “” it won’t be in Canada,” said Johansen.

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