The last couple of weeks I’ve been reading numerous articles and blogs calling out the cycling industry for being elitist and predominately controlled by white males. It was never more obvious to me then when I attended my first Interbike convention back in 2016. The number of women in attendance was staggeringly low, and the number of people of color was even lower. Even today there’s been little advancement made to diversify the industry. These low numbers are also reflected in the lack in diversity in cycling clubs, participation in invitational rides, and even trade ads.
Some of the articles I came across highlighted issues black cyclists encounter when shopping at a local bike shop, riding out on the road, or finding a local cycling group to join. I’m embarrassed to say I was not aware of many of the issues highlighted in these articles. I think the one issue I was naïve to was if a black person purchased something at a store (any store) they always asked for a receipt AND a bag as not to be accused of shoplifting. It’s 2020, why are we still racial profiling?
I got to thinking about my cycling friends. How did they get involved in cycling? What have they experienced? How can the cycling community help to bring more people of color into the sport we love? I reached out to a few of my friends and acquaintances to ask them to respond to several questions and below are their responses.
My bottom line. It shouldn’t matter the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your socio-economic class… we are all cyclists, and just want to enjoy the ride.
Eufemia: 39 year old female, attorney, Atlanta area
Diana: 40 year old female, Cycling Initiative Coordinator, Cleveland, OH & Pittsburgh, OH
Eldridge: 50 year old male, works as a Network Engineer and lives in the Chicagoland area
Adina: 56 year old female, Civilian manager and lives in Germantown, Maryland
Clinton: 64 year old male, semi-retired attorney specializing in intellectual property law. Moved to the Chicago suburbs from Richmond, VA in 2007 when I took a job with a large food company headquartered here.
Louis: 79 year old male, retired, formerly managed a claims and processing center, and currently lives in the Chicagoland area.
Where did you grow up?
Eufemia: South Bronx, NY
Diana: Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio
Eldridge: Born in New Orleans 1970. Moved to Milwaukee, WI where I spent my “afro” years from ’72-79 and then moved to Waukegan, IL where I lived until college.
Adina: Springfield Massachusetts
Clinton: Born and raised in a small town in South Carolina called Aiken.
Louis: Suburb of Los Angeles, CA
When did you get into cycling?
Diana: A month after my 36th birthday
Eldridge: I taught myself how to ride a bike when I was 5. Rode a bike as a kid, but nothing serious. My interest in cycling as a sport started with spin class in 2003 and by 2010 I decided I was going to get a bike when I bought a house. Bought my townhome and moved in January 2015. The following April I went to a local bike shop and got myself a Surly CrossCheck. Put the first 500 miles on the bike in the garage on a trainer to get back into cycling and hit the road for the first time the last weekend in June. Rode 40 miles in 2:26 minutes. Been riding ever since
Adina: I had been cycling since I was a child but I ramped it up in my late teens to present
Clinton: I got into cycling about nine years ago after moving to Illinois.
Louis: At the age of 12 and used it on my paper route. But I really got into cycling around the age of 40.
How did you get into cycling and were there any barriers to getting started?
Eufemia: I was introduced to cycling by another attorney, also black, who raved about his sport. It started with a few rides on a hybrid bike that he loaned me on the trail and within a few months I was buying my own bike. There wasn’t an immediate barrier per se because I think I got lucky, but there was certainly some sticker shock. It’s an expensive sport and to do more than just ride a bike meant I had to pay more than expected for a good bike, not to mention its extras. Candidly, my first bike was a used one, and thank God it was. I wasn’t prepared for all of the items that had to be purchased up front like pedals, bottle cages, shoes, cycling shorts, helmets, jerseys, inner tubes, etc. It was not something where a few hundred dollars covered all. So, I got lucky that someone’s birthday gift to another ended up being sold to me with all the things I would need including shoes and a saddle bag!
Diana: I got into cycling because I needed an outlet. After retiring from women’s tackle football, I needed to stay active and also for mental health reasons. Being a stay at home mom is a tough job especially being one in a new city. I needed social interaction!! I found it in cycling but it wasn’t easy.
Eldridge: I have an extensive background in organized athletics. High school, college and professional basketball in another country. Track and Field (400 and 800M) and Cross Country. I’ve also been a competitive stairclimber since 2002. I’m drawn to sports where fatigue is a factor because as you already know, fatigue will make cowards out of us all.
Adina: I always had a bike so I usually rode alone and on occasion I would have a friend or my husband ride with me. I really didn’t face any barriers in my teens or early adulthood.
Clinton: It all started with spin classes in a fitness club that my wife and I belonged to. I developed a friendship with one of the regulars in the class who noticed my interest and urged me to ride outside on a real bike. This prodding led me to buy a Trek hybrid bike in 2011 that I rode for a year. My purpose was to see if I would enjoy riding a bike seriously outdoors without making a huge investment in an expensive road bike. I started out doing loops in my neighborhood to get a feel for bike handling and dealing with cars/traffic gradually moving out onto the many trails and roads in the area. I also spent some time falling down as I learned to ride with shoes that clipped into pedals – remember unclip before you actually stop the bike. I bought an Orbea road bike in the spring of 2012 and now have a group that I ride with pretty regularly on the weekends. I have also participated in several large rides put on by local bike clubs such as the North Shore Century, the Udder Century and the Harmon Hundred. I have really come to love cycling for the comraderie as well as the peaceful kind of zen thing that you experience while out on the road. It is almost a kind of meditation that leaves me very relaxed.
I had no real barriers to getting started with cycling as there is a flourishing cycling community in this area supported by a number of excellent bike shops. I have had the good fortune to always live a few minutes away from a great network of bike paths.
Louis: No barriers to get into cycling.
What was your first bike and what do you ride now?
Eufemia: My first bike was a used 2012 Cannondale Synapse – a leap from the Walmart hybrid I had when I was younger.
I still ride my Cannondale because it’s a great bike but I also now have a Fuji Supreme.
Diana: My first bike was a 1975 Schwinn Road bike aka “Ruby Rider”. What I ride now … Trek Emonda SLR 7 disc aka “Mrs. D’Mona.”
Eldridge: 2015 Surly Crosscheck. I now ride a 2017 Specialized Tarmac Expert and 2018 Specialized Shiv Elite
Adina: I had a Raleigh 10 speed blue bike with the funky pixies that hung out of the handle bars (streamers) license plate on the back of the bike (Vicki). Right now, I have three bikes. I have a Navarro, Mongoose and Trek Bike. I love all three.
Clinton: My first bike was a Trek hybrid. Right now I ride an Orbea Onix roadbike that I purchased in 2012. It is perfect for me although I have considered purchasing a gravel bike.
Louis: Centurion Elite was my first good road bike. I didn’t ride for a long time when I had young kids. Then took it up again in my 40s. Currently I ride a 2015 Trek Domane.
Do you feel you are treated any different when you into a local bike shop?
Eufemia: When I first walk into just about any bike shop the vibe that I get is that I am likely just there to look around or at best to get a casual bike. Its not usually the guess that I ride a road bike or that I ride one regularly unless I enter the shop with my bike in tow. They are never mean but it doesn’t usually feel like they expect me to do business and if they do they seem to anticipate that I will know less about cycling or bikes than I actually do. If I am with a male friend they naturally will address him first.
Diana: Yes and no. For the local bike shops that don’t know me and I’m in plain clothes… Yes, I’m treated like a small helpless black woman and I am either ignored, greeted but not helped, stalked and man-splained until I either purchase something or walk out. No, if it’s a bike shop that knows me…. they let me have my fun and annoy them by asking questions, wanting to help or test ride bikes, lol!
Eldridge: If I did, not any more because I’m always there. What really helped is that I started taking Computrainer classes during the fall of 2016. I will tell you that no one talk to me except for the instructor because he had to. Classes were at a local shop. Two rows of trainers. I sat in the back and figured out how to do this power trainer stuff on my own. It wasn’t until the following indoor season that people began talking to me, but it was because I brought my girlfriend at the time who was white.
Adina: I can say this I have been in some shops where I was ignored for about 10 minutes (and not because they were busy). I actually had to go up to the counter and ask for help so it was a bit awkward.
Clinton: No, my experiences have been positive. The store that sold me my road bike was fantastic – before I make the purchase, they let me take the bike out for multiple half hour rides to help me decide if it was right for me. The color of my skin never seemed to be an impediment to a wonderful experience. After my purchase they treated me like family every time I walked through the door. I was so bummed out when that shop closed a few years ago.
Louis: No. When I lived in the Dallas area a small shop owner invited me to join them for rides. Then when I lived in Chicagoland area, I started working part time at a LBS and spent 18 years there. Most people knew me from there.
Do you have any concerns for your safety when you are out cycling, or do you encounter any issues/comments either positive or negative from other cyclists or drivers?
Eufemia: I ALWAYS have concerns for my safety when I go out cycling. I’ve recently told a few people that I pray before every single ride regardless of the location of the ride (trail or street) and the length of the ride. I also prefer to ride before it starts to get dark because I realize that drivers don’t love the presence of cyclists. I’m mindful of where I ride; is a cycling friendly area? Do people expect us? For example, I prefer cities that have bike lanes even if just for a few short miles because that lets me know I am not the only one to ride in the area so drivers are on some sort of alert. I am also mindful of when we travel too far away from the Atlanta metro area. More suburban areas don’t just have dogs that are loose but also people who don’t always care for us. People who have tried to sabotage our rides by throwing thumb tacks and nails in the street, people who have yelled at us from their car windows, flipped us the bird, thrown water bottles out of their window into the peloton, or buzzed by us so closely on purpose to scare us. It’s not always this way but it happens frequently enough. My interactions with other cyclists have been far better. While not all cyclists are eager to make friends with us, they will at least still acknowledge me or my group when they pass with a head nod or a wave. I have also had cyclists ask if I was ok when I may have been pulled over on the roadside for a short break. I ride with Metro Atlanta Cycling Club and Velo Atlanta – both black clubs. Riding with them has been great because it’s a strong community between the two. Outside of the clubs I have learned with some groups I have had to “prove” myself before being truly welcomed.
Diana: Every day. Even before all the protesting.
Look, I am a cyclist that rides everywhere and the majority of those miles are alone. I’ve been told to go home, cat called, followed, and threatened to be run off the road, for many different reasons… holding up traffic, riding on the road, being black or being a woman, being different the list can go on and on.
When amongst other cyclists there are positives and negatives. From my point of view, the perception of a black woman in cycling is perceived by an encounter of another black woman. The community is so small, we are far and few in between and finding one with similar goals or aspirations.
There are several pros and cons to the cycling community. From what I’ve experienced, heard and seen most of the divide stems from economic status, style of bike, team/group, principle, skill level (distance, speed) and abilities… another one where the list can go on and on. Let’s not focus.
Eldridge: I’ve never encountered any trouble from a race standpoint. Comments about my physique have been made which I guess you could consider good but that’s only because I’m built to play sports that black people traditionally play. No one looks at me and would guess I cycle or stair climb.
Adina: I keep my cycling mostly on trails rarely on the street. I have not encountered any concerns that were negative. When riding people cycling by are gracious and they nod or speak. Drivers that I have encountered have been respectful.
Clinton: To this point my primary safety concerns have related to slippery bike trails and unpredictable motorists. Note that since moving to the Chicago area about 13 years ago I have lived in very nice or even exclusive neighborhoods where crimes against persons are unusual. Motorists in the area are much more likely to be a danger to you because they are staring at their cell phones as opposed to your ethnic background.
Louis: No. I get the same as every other cyclist, like yelling ‘get on the sidewalk’. I mostly ride in groups and they’ve all been welcoming.
When riding alone, do other riders acknowledge you and/or speak to you?
Eufemia: When riding alone other cyclists do not always speak. Some keep their heads down and don’t look up but often enough there is the wave of acknowledgement. I try to wave first sometimes. Then there are times like I said earlier where people will at least slow down enough to ask if I am ok when I am taking a break on the roadside. Inside of the Atlanta metro area however, most people will acknowledge another cyclist riding solo; it’s been good riding here.
Diana: Oh yeah!! 2 fingers, wave, nod. I love it. The acknowledgement is hellal
Eldridge: Not really, but what’s even more sad is that when someone does say hello, it catches me off guard because it doesn’t happen often. The majority of the cycling I do is done alone. My rides with a local club last summer were the first time I rode with a group on a regular basis.
Adina: Yes, a smile, nod or hello.
Clinton: This is an interesting question even outside the context of the current discussions going on right now about race in this country. There are always “hard core” cyclists out there who are consciously or unconsciously so into their ride that they never acknowledge anyone else on the road. That said, I have found that most riders respond positively to me when I say hello or give a wave when we cross paths. People who ride bikes seem to be friendly and very open keeping in mind that there always seem to be few people out there who can be a bit condescending to everyone.
Louis: Yes. Normally with a nod when passing or if traveling in the same direction, chat for a bit before going off in our own direction.
What can the local cycling community do to attract/encourage more people of color to take up riding and join a group? How can they be for inclusive and welcoming?
Eufemia: Metro Atlanta Cycling Club addresses this matter in discussion often. The local community has to first be exposed and encouraged. We like starting with young people – getting them bikes through bike rodeos and events then taking people out for beginner rides on the trail and easy routes on the street. I partner with the sheriff’s dept annually to bring cycling to young people. It’s an awesome event where we even meet adults with some interest in cycling. We have to as cyclists make ourselves available in a non-competitive fashion to show people that it’s not only a part of healthy living, but it’s fun – this will make it more welcoming. But the next hurdle is the expense and access to bikes. We need more organizations around that can make access to bikes for riding a reality. There are many people that would love to ride, but they cannot afford the front-end expense and don’t know about options to rent or places to have a bike donated or loaned to them. This limits the number of people that can truly be exposed. When I take out a new cyclist, I almost always have to loan them a bike or find one for them. This hurdle is sometimes the difference between that ride being a onetime thing and something that they may do repeatedly.
Diana: Sometimes I feel like this is a revolving conversation.
Instead of asking, what can attract/encourage… how about being consistent and assisting those that are trying to get POC into cycling. There are several men and women in this space trying to create a change on the grass roots level with limited resources. Inclusion and welcoming, that comes with seeking with true intentions when seeking POC.
There’s no secret sauce to communicate with people of color, just treat us with respect and dignity like everyone else. Treat us the way you want to be treated… It’s that simple!
Eldridge: Most people who cycle were introduced to the sport by someone else or simply had it available to them. Cycling, like many other things in life, is passed down from generation to generation. Barriers to entry are mostly related to money and opportunity. My interest in cycling was supported by years of planning and not everyone who’s not white is in a position similar to mine to even have cycling as an option. I’d bet you have a lot of people in the world who don’t even know that they would enjoy cycling mainly because it’s not an option in their everyday life.
Adina: So, biking is yet another sport that many people of color don’t partake in.
For many years biking has been part of the African American community it is not until recently that the number of cyclists of color has doubled. The problem for many areas is lack of affordability, location and access. Local communities can promote cycling by inviting those that are in areas (remote) to store events, rides and other cycling related activities. It is all about promoting the rides. More shops, biking organizations need to promote for diversity and inclusive to the communities in which they are in. We want to feel welcome in any sport.
Clinton: Consider setting up a booth/demonstration station at major events sponsored by minority communities. You have to market cycling just as you would any other activity. Also, consider partnering with existing minority-focused cycling clubs to provide them the resources to pitch cycling to their communities as a great way to build bonds with each other. You can be more inclusive by showing up and expressing a genuine interest in a variety of communities.
Louis: If you see an African American riding, speak to them. Be an ambassador for the sport. Offer other riders to join the group or if you are by yourself offer to ride with them. Also talk to people at work…do you ride, do you have a bike, etc. Besides what individuals can do, shops need to be ambassadors and hook the rider up with a local club. I feel if you get someone to join a group, they are more likely to keep riding.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.