I’m one of hopefully many people who’ve had the pleasure of hearing professional cyclist Ayesha McGowan speak about the cycling industry and how it represents people of color. Her point of view and approach to the topic is unflinching yet focused on guidance and solutions. For some background, you can visit several links at the end of this League of American Bicyclists story on McGowan for a great place to learn more.
I was inspired by her presentation, but I was sad to see that her mission looked like it would take a lot of time and education. It made me realize that in addition to McGowan’s work, there are probably ways that people of color are taking control of their own storytelling and representation, and doing it exactly the way they want to, right now. I just hadn’t seen them yet. I jumped on social media, where I found many compelling examples, and following these accounts has been inspirational, educational, very cool and a much-needed breath of fresh air. I’m pleased to share a few of them here.
A Collection of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Moving Their Lives Forward, 2 Wheels at a Time
This Instagram account was started by friends Rachel Olzer and Eric Arce in November of 2019. Olzer, a black woman in Minneapolis, met Arce, a Chicano in Salt Lake City, through Instagram about a year ago. “For me, I am in a really insular community, and the cycling community is really amazing, but there are few people of color, and so Instagram has been a really good tool for connecting with other cyclists of color across the U.S. and the world,” Olzer said.
The two began to talk about creating the account after they met in person last fall. “We thought we should start this to highlight people of color, to give people control of what they’re saying and what’s being told,” Olzer said.
Arce added, “Imagery gets shared of people of color, and that’s great, but we wanted to dive a little deeper by letting them tell their own narrative, not a diluted message, but exactly what they’ve been experiencing.”
The page highlights riders of all kinds — competitive cyclists, recreational riders, people who ride to work, bikepackers, bike polo players, people of color who work in the bike industry itself. With help from Olzer and Arce, each person tells their own story in their own words. It’s a broad, first-person view into the wide variety of people who love to ride bikes.
“One thing we really try to think about and come back to is to make sure our page is as inclusive as possible, with women of color, queer perspectives, all different body shapes, and sizes,” Olzer said. “Cycling can be really off-putting to people outside the size and ability narrative. We feel it’s important to highlight intersections of cycling, not to just focus on the pretty people, the standard of what you see in a cycling magazine.”
Arce wants them to reach out even farther. “One of the things I’d like to see more of are everyday riders who aren’t super hardcore cyclists. There are immigrants who ride to work, using cycling not as a form of leisure but as a necessity. I’d like to show how important the bike is to people of that community. It would be beautiful and needed.”
As the account grows, Olzer and Arce want to see it shape a sense of community and shared experience. “Long term, we want it to be a staple of the community, something where people say, “I felt really alone, and your page has helped me to feel empowered,’” Olzer said.
“I’ve heard this already, where so many people of color say they’re ready to quit cycling. ‘I’m so tired of the bro culture and bad experiences, and your page makes me want to keep cycling.’”
The goal of community connection isn’t just online, either. Both founders have met people through the page that they went on to meet in person, and they’ve seen the page foster similar friendships between followers. Arce added that they’re hoping to do an end-of-year or early next year meetup. “Having a group ride or a festival where people can meet in person would be really great to see, having that physical community that we all envision.”
“One of our long-term goals is to develop a history of cycling and what the bicycle has meant for people of color,” Olzer said. “People know about the Buffalo Soldiers and Major Taylor and the big stories, but it has been around a lot longer and been an important thing for people of color.”
They also plan to create a resource guide to help people manage the costs of the sport: How to bike on a budget; how to cycle tour without having to buy lots of expensive gear; how to buy a used mountain bike. And Arce, a photographer, also wants to compile a photo book of their favorite stories that they’ve shared.
He adds, “I think all of this benefits the cycling community as a whole. We can see more people riding as transportation, and in general, it will be more welcoming. Who doesn’t want to see more people on bikes?”
People of Color Mountain Biking and Exploring the World
This account began in summer 2018 with four mountain bikers who had met recently and decided to ride bikes together in Colorado — Ratapol “Snook” Waitayangkoon, Tracy Brown, Cory Anderson, and Ikhide Ikhigbonoaremen. “We were out riding around, and we noticed that it was just us out there for people of color. We got thinking, there’s so much to see, so much to explore, why don’t more people of color get out here and do this?” Said Waitayangkoon, who lives in the Dallas, Texas area along with Anderson, while Brown resides in Austin and Ikhigbonoaremen in Boulder, Colo. “We wanted to get the word out that riding bikes is for everyone.”
During the trip, Brown told the others about his idea to start the page, and they spent much of the drives between trails and on the way home figuring out the name. They finally settled on “All Mountain Brothers Collective,” and then shortened it to the current form. “We wanted to find something that represented being of color, but we wanted ours to be a little different, and it fit the bill for everything we wanted,” Waitayangkoon said.
They started by posting photos of themselves, then searched, requested, and shared photos from their own Instagram connections, later on to friends of those riders and so on. Brown wanted to feature different people each day, and the images aren’t all men, either. “We like to show different aspects of racing and riding and adventure,” Waitayangkoon said. Most of the posts include an inspirational quote, a concept added by Brown, who wanted there to be a positive message associated with the imagery. As time went on, he shared that effort with Ikhigbonoaremen. “When we found a cool photo, you could tell what they were feeling, so we would try to find a quote that would communicate that, whether it’s the challenge of racing, or just going out and riding,” said Waitayangkoon. The result is a high level of stoke for riding on dirt and the shared experience of life itself.
While Waitayangkoon has found the cycling community mostly welcoming, “There’s been a few times, for me personally at the races that I go to, where there’s a “you don’t belong” here kind of vibe. No extreme moments, but I know other people have had that kind of thing at trailheads or other places. We’re trying to let people know that this community isn’t like the rest of the world, we are here to ride bikes and have some fun.”
The page has grown quickly. “The response is better than we thought, there’s a lot of people who have really been enjoying seeing it. A lot of people felt like we did that we stick out like a sore thumb. They tell us, ‘we’re glad to see the page and know we’re not alone out there.’”
The page also serves to connect people to other accounts for inspiration and information, such as Melanin Base Camp, a website and Instagram account for all extreme sports, which gave the four founders some of the motivation to create their own page. They are now working on a website as well, and in the meantime, have created t-shirts and stickers.
One of their big goals is to create community in person. Brown says they’re working on meetups in multiple cities over the summer, as well as a multi-day, festival-style gathering (once the COVID-19 virus issue has subsided, of course).
For the time being, the four are focused on finding ways to let people know they’re part of something bigger. “We’ve received so many messages and comments with people expressing their appreciation for what we’re doing,” Brown said. “Representation is incredibly important because it shows you something’s possible, and it motivates you to give something a try. We want to help grow the sport within our community, connect with other riders, and create a space for sharing our collective passion for cycling.”
Growing and Supporting a Community of Women who Share a Passion for Cycling
Beyond media representation, the power of physical representation — people of color being seen out on roads and trails — can’t be underestimated. These two organizations focus on bringing people together to ride, train, or compete and inspire others by example.
“When you don’t see people like you, it reinforces the idea that you feel you don’t belong in that space,” said Stephanie Puello, a PEARL iZUMi ambassador and founder of the Black Girls Do Bike chapter in Denver, Colo. “Being able to disrupt that narrative, and see people on bikes — I’m a huge proponent of trying to build that representation.”
Black Girls Do Bike was founded in the Pittsburgh area by Monica Garrison in 2013, then spread out into chapters across the country. “This is really about Monica’s success. She created this on social media, ultimately, and then really has been building a movement,” Puello said. “Getting women to feel like they’re part of something — her ability to do that is remarkable.”
As with most BGDB chapters, Puello organizes monthly rides and maintains a Facebook page (currently at 157 members) to keep everyone in touch. “In some ways, it’s a social group that circulates around cycling. Sometimes it’s a kind of refuge, where you have someone to hang out with that looks like you. Once you find those people, you meet them through the lens of cycling together, but you have many other conversations, often about other things to do with black culture,” Puello said.
She’s hoping to do more on a bigger scale. Bicycle Colorado, a statewide cycling advocacy organization, has reached out to collaborate with Puello as part of a broader push to be more inclusive. Additionally, Bikes Together, a nonprofit bike shop in Denver, wants to partner with the group to do a mechanics night or big ride. And Puello would like to collaborate with more underserved, low-income neighborhoods to do a ride or provide learn-to-ride lessons for women and kids. “It’s all part of increasing our outreach and visibility in the Denver area. Cycling is such a perfect sport for people of all ages and all abilities to join in on.”
We Don’t Quit Adventure Racing Club strives to get more people of color into the exciting sport of adventure racing
We Don’t Quit Adventure Racing was started in late 2018 by Kofi Borie of Washington, D.C., who had been adventure racing for a while, but rarely if ever, saw other people of color. “Usually it was just me and my kids or some adventurous friends.” He started the group as an organized place to share information and get people into the outdoors. “One of the issues was exposure since people of color don’t realize that adventure racing exists.”
The sport generally consists of hiking, mountain biking, and paddling, all rolled together with navigation and orienteering. The event brings all of these together into a challenge that racers must complete in real-time, with no stopping of the clock.
There are races of many lengths, some lasting a few hours, others over several days, allowing people to build up to longer races or settle into a length they prefer. And for beginners, who may not want to include the race aspect yet, WDQ holds an annual Hike, Bike and Paddle event, a set-your-own-pace, checkpoint-based route where participants can rent everything they need.
Borie himself focuses on longer events and was an alternate for Team Onyx in the 2019 Eco-Challenge in Fiji. He finds that people who already have some outdoor experience are most apt to try adventure racing. “Some of the concerns can be, if I’m running around in the backwoods of Kentucky, I want some people around who look like me. Generally, the outdoor community is welcoming, but people who have already have some experience with being out there are the ones who will get interested in adventure racing.”
Although social media is a small part of what Borie does, he enjoys the feedback and followers he gets from all over the world. The group’s Instagram account “has put me in contact with other organizations and people, which has been very helpful. I was surprised at how many other organizations are out there, like Outdoor Afro, and to find that there were so many groups out there doing the same thing. It’s been reassuring for me and also the members of our club.”
Representation of all kinds will hopefully increase the groundswell of support for people of color who are interested in the outdoors. As Olzer said, “A lot of people’s stories are relatable across races and ethnicities, and when we allow people to share their stories, that’s what really humanizes people.”
How can you help?
Olzer says: “Use industry connections to highlight the work that’s already being done. Put money into the organizations that are already doing the things you want to be done. Elevate those voices, and it can’t be done enough right now. For every organization like ours, there are ten others that are only seeming to highlight white people in cycling. We need this now more than ever. For white people, the biggest way to help is to hold space and be invested in sharing, and allowing people of color to share their own stories. There’s no need to speak for anyone, but just to say that this is a valid experience, that this is a story that matters.”
Other great accounts on Instagram:
There are so many fascinating accounts and hashtags to follow that there just isn’t space for them all. But the beauty of social media is that once you start looking, many more come to light. Here are a few to get you started: