Although many people use their bikes to escape the stress and demands of day-to-day life, the sport of cycling and all those who participate in it function within a society and are thus impacted by the events that shape and influence our social fabric.
Following the onset of a global pandemic, the world faced another major reckoning last month when the killing of George Floyd in police custody invigorated the discussion about racism and inequality, not just in the United States, but around the world. As organizers, activists, and concerned citizens took to the streets to speak out against racial injustice, the cycling community also got involved.
In New York City, for example, activists organized mass rides – bike-specific demonstrations that brought thousands of cyclists together in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. One of the city’s bike-sharing platform, Citi Bike, even waived rider fees in support of the effort. On another front, BikeCo, the official distributor of Fuji Bikes in North America, decided to halt sales of its bikes to police departments upon release of a video in which NYPD officers were shown on Fuji-branded mountain bikes threatening protesters. “We have seen instances in the last week where police have used bicycles in violent tactics, which we did not intend or design our bicycles for,” the company said in a statement.
Even taken alone, these actions speak to a rapidly shifting landscape and naturally open the floor for other powerful entities in the sport to step up and take action. Despite the fairly varied character of the cycling community in general, it remains true that, especially at the highest levels, cycling is largely white and still predominantly practised by those of relative privilege. At this critical tipping point though, some of the sport’s governing bodies are starting to ask themselves the difficult questions and trying to map a better way forward.
The UCI, for one, issued a press release in response to the Black Lives Matter protests advocating diversity in cycling and listing the measures it will take to make cycling more accessible. The document included a reminder that in 2025, the UCI World Championships will be held in Africa for the first time in the 120-year history of the Federation. It also acknowledged that not all nations have the resources available to help riders reach a professional level in cycling and that in response, the UCI dedicated 5 million Swiss Francs for actions to assist in the development of the sport around the world.
The statement also provided a summary of the increasingly diverse talent in pro cycling – mentioning a handful of cyclists of colour – including the Trinidadian Teniel Campbell (Valcar-Travel & Service), Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot, who wore the Best Climber jersey at the 2015 Tour de France, and Venezuelan Stefany Hernandez, UCI BMX World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist.
Yet although these stories of success are certainly worth celebrating, it also serves as a good indication of how much work remains to be done when the diversity index of professional cycling can be summarized in a paragraph. In addition to the money allocated to support cycling in the developing world, UCI didn’t explicitly outline any new initiatives to help remedy this.
Perhaps they could draw inspiration from USA Cycling, who took their commitment to equality one step further and outlined financial measures to back new programs to promote diversity and created a framework within which all staff members will undergo diversity and inclusion training. In a press release, USA Cycling stated that, “cyclists are familiar with the feeling of freedom that a bike gives you. It is important to remind ourselves that fundamental freedoms are not currently granted to all equally, especially those in minority communities.”
Informed by this ethos, they also stated they will look to elevate the position of the underrepresented in the cycling community, learn from and partner with the people and organizations who are already creating positive change, and improve representation in their organization, community, and communications to reflect everyone who enjoys this sport.
In a similar vein, Trek Bikes have outlined a six-step program to increase diversity in cycling, including staff training and making funds available for a variety of programs. In committing to a plan to address systemic racism, they released a statement saying, “we believe Black lives matter and that Black, African American, and other people of color throughout this country do not have the same opportunities that white people have.”
Their action plan to address this reality includes financial specifics and clear targets, such as investing $2.5 million over the next 10 years to create 1,000 jobs in the cycling industry for people of colour, investing $5 million over the next 3 years to establish new bike shops in underserved neighbourhoods and establishing a $1 million Community Investment Fund for entrepreneurs of colour. They’ve also dedicated resources to creating more diversity in competitive cycling by establishing a scholarship fund to equip 25 NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) teams of children from diverse ethnic backgrounds for the next ten years.
As a whole, these actions being taken by major industry players speak to a changing culture and show that many organizations see they have a responsibility to fight for a better future for the sport that we all love. The bicycle has played an important role in powerful social movements in the past, so there’s no doubt the potential is there for it to happen again.