A version of this story first appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine. Subscribe today for more stories like this one, plus receive a $15 gift card to the Gear Patrol Store.
When the Black Lives Matter movement rose to the forefront of American culture last summer, and countless brands started issuing mea culpas and promises to get better with respect to diversity, equality and inclusion, I distinctly recall making a mental note: How many of these entities, I wondered, will actually follow through and, you know, do something?
As a cyclist active in New York City’s thriving bike-tivism community (shout-out to Riders for Black Lives), I was particularly curious how bicycle brands might evolve. Both road riding and mountain biking can be notoriously exclusive — and by that, I mean well-off and white. Amidst an unprecedented, pandemic-fueled bike boom, could things finally start to open up?
Now, nearly a year after George Floyd’s murder, encouraging signs abound. I’ve come across a number of people, brands and organizations who are pushing toward a more colorful, inclusive bike world — including some who got started long before I can’t breathe was on everyone’s lips. What follows are just a few examples worth celebrating and emulating.
Filmed By Bike
This Portland-based festival that screens the world’s best bike movies has taken two proactive steps toward more inclusive cycle cinema. First, Filmed By Bike recruited NYC cycling advocate Courtney Williams, a.k.a. The Brown Bike Girl, to coproduce the first-ever Hi-Viz Film Festival, which showcases BIPOC bike movies. “Courtney got us thinking about additional focus on people of color in the United States,” FBB creator Ayleen Crotty says. “She helped us shake out of our nineteen-year-old realm of ‘We know what we’re doing.’” (The festival is still available online, at pay-what-you-wish pricing.)
Second, FBB launched a BIPOC filmmaker grant, awarding $1,500 cash plus help from veteran bike filmmaker Manny Marquez to three emerging creators. Their projects will be screened at this year’s festival May 20th–23rd, while aspiring filmmakers have until June 15th to apply for the next round of grants.
“We’ve long thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could fund an initiative to help tell these stories?’” says Crotty. “Now we’re doing it. And we are seeing a change — more people are being represented. We’re getting somewhere.”
Adventure Cycling Association
Founded in 1976, Adventure Cycling’s claim to fame is the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a 4,000-mile route created to celebrate the country’s 200th birthday. But that route — and more than 50,000 others the organization has mapped — have historically appealed mostly to an older, white male demographic. The Montana-based organization aims to change its complexion with the Short Trips Initiative. “We want to make bike travel more accessible,” says project manager Eva Dunn-Froebig. “So we’re focusing on routes around cities, plus resources to help people travel by bike.”
The program begins this summer in eight metro areas, accompanied by educational materials and stipends to help BIPOC Ambassadors and riders pedal off on overnight trips across the country. To form authentic connections, Adventure Cycling is hiring consultants like Devin Cowens, an Atlanta-based advocate for QTIBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Intersex, Black and Indigenous People of Color) in biking.
“They’re putting money behind it, which is great,” Cowens says. “It’s nice to have these conversations even though they are uncomfortable. BIPOC folks have been saying stuff for a long time, but it’s white folks who can move the needle.”
SBT Gravel x Ride for Racial Justice
Steamboat Springs, Colorado’s upstart gravel race prides itself on welcoming everyone. This year, it’s going further, by partnering with Ride for Racial Justice to bring 25 BIPOC cyclists (including the four pictured above) to this summer’s competition. “We thought it was a great chance for us to drive inclusivity and diversity in our race,” says SBT Gravel owner Amy Charity, who says she sees this as just the beginning. “We’re really shifting what cycling culture is about, in a good way.”
RFRJ founder Marcus “Big Legs” Robinson, for one, can’t contain his excitement. “What’s about to occur on the fifteenth of August, twenty-five people of color on a start line for a major bike event,” he says, “[that’s] never happened [before].”
As the program’s driving force, Robinson is now prepping the riders with help from sponsors like Wahoo — and getting equally stoked about ripple effects. “Each athlete is gonna go home and create more programs ... using the bike as a vehicle to start conversations and be that voice in the community that’s not been heard.”
Last spring, the German brand outfitted the country’s first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) cycling team, North Carolina’s St. Augustine’s University, with cyclocross bikes and filmed a video series to promote the squad. “Most new riders have no idea who [pro cyclists] Mathieu van Der Poel or Jan Frodeno are,” says Canyon USA president Blair Clark. “But if they see something like St. Augustine's team, they begin to see a place for themselves.”
The program is the brainchild of professors (and now coaches) Mark Janas and Umar Muhammad. Muhammad, for one, draws inspiration from Major Taylor, cycling’s first African-American world champ. “One surprising lesson I have learned so far is being the first at something [makes a difference],” Muhammad says. “Even if it’s not perfect.”
The 12-member co-ed crew isn’t fazed by the challenge of starting from scratch, either. “You can’t be around the team and not develop a six-pack from laughing too much,” quips Falcons rider Brandon Valentine-Parris. “We’re a fun group that knows how to work hard and produce positive results.”
Inspired by St. Augustine’s, Cannondale has teamed up with EF Pro Cycling and USA Cycling to take on an audacious challenge: sponsoring 12-person co-ed teams at multiple HBCUs and Tribal Colleges & Universities (TCUs) for at least three years.
After the raffle of a prize package headlined by a Giro d’Italia collaboration SystemSix road bike raised nearly $100,000, the program expanded from two teams to three. Cannondale will provide bikes and gear, EF Pro Cycling will supply coaching support and input from pro riders, both will kick in some financial aid — and the sky’s the limit.
“Everybody grows up riding a bicycle, but somewhere along the way, cycling is not seen as a path for BIPOC athletes,” says Dennis Kim, VP of marketing for Cycling Sports Group, Cannondale’s parent company. “If these programs can live on for years and years, and if people out of these groups can go on to influence others in their communities, or even pursue professional track cycling, that would be an amazing win.”
Update: Cannondale has officially named the schools receiving the three-year grants, two in New Mexico and one in North Carolina. "The Institute of American Indian Arts and Navajo Technical University will pave the way for collegiate cycling amongst the Indigenous community as the first two schools to offer programs at any TCU," the brand announced. "In spring 2022, Johnson C. Smith University will kick-off the first women’s cycling team at any HBCU and in the institution’s 154-year history."
While many of us seek ways to open up the bike world, Leo Rodgers simply does it. After a 2007 motorcycle accident left him with one leg, pedaling became his salvation. “Cycling definitely changed my life, got me over my slump of being disabled,” he says. “It’s a drug for sure ... you start nic-ing for a bike ride.”
Discovering he could replace a wheelchair with a fixed-gear bike, Rodgers started ripping around his native Tampa, leading a Wednesday-night ride that welcomed riders of all kinds. Then Brooks brought him out to Emporia, Kansas’s Unbound Gravel (formerly Dirty Kanza), and he fell in love with gravel racing’s combo of off-road action and positive vibes.
Now sponsored by Crust Bikes, Ultradynamico Tires and RonsBikes and based in Southern California, Rodgers is prepping for San Diego’s big gravel race, the original Belgian Waffle Ride, dreaming of running his own shop and hoping others can follow his take-life-as-it-comes lead. “My advice is to have fun first,” he says. “It’s just a bicycle, bro, it’s not a car. Just go out and ride, go see some stuff.”
Pro mountain biker, humanitarian, engineer, anti-racism educator — Anita Naidu has been all these things for years. “Just lining up at races beside confident white guys was my first way to challenge inherent bias,” recalls the Whistler, BC-based powerhouse, who is now sponsored by Liv Racing, MEC, Troy Lee Designs, Industry Nine and others. “I was compelled to smash the narrative of what small brown girls are capable of.”
These days, Naidu runs clinics where she shows riders how to bust huge airs by day and dismantle institutional racism by night. And she finds her corporate DEI consulting services are in high demand. “During all my years of activism, this is the first time I’ve witnessed industries shift hard and fast,” she observes. “Brands that don’t embrace anti-racism and diversity as core values will become extinct.”
Still, it’s the young mountain bikers she mentors that give her the most hope. “I am moved to the very depths of my core when young dark-skinned women tell me I’ve ignited the fight in them,” she says. “Their ambition and refusal to play in margins signals [that] we have every reason to hold a bold vision for the future.”