Elite athletes might often be seen as role models for the younger generation, being that they’re in the public eye and act as ambassadors for countries, towns etc. It’s important then that these role models represent the broad spectrum of people that makes up society. But in truth, that hasn’t been the case. How easy is it then for the under-represented to find their way into the cycling world?
Long gone are the days of cycling primarily being for middle-aged men in Lycra. The pandemic especially has increased rates of cycling and encouraged those into the sport who may not have considered themselves a cyclist previously. They might be wondering why they’d never given it a go before. In a world where the most commonly seen cyclists are still of a niche variety, it can be difficult to see where you might fit in. However, as time goes on, the narrative is changing.
Often those who are fighting for equal representation in the cycling world are met with the idea or another variation of ‘cycling is for everyone, all you have to do is get on your bike’. It can be frustrating, to say the least, and unhelpful to the work currently being done. Many do, however, recognise the problem, and those who are aware of a lack of representation are paving the way of their own accord and stepping into the role of role models, almost by accident purely by having the courage to exist within that sphere.
As the cycling world becomes ever more varied, with bikes becoming more specific based on terrain and usage, different types of cyclists are popping up all over the place. The riders that we’re seeing undertaking these different forms of cycling are showing people who may have not been interested previously that they too have a place in the cycling world. They’re also getting ever closer to the mainstream. Take gravel biking, for instance, a quick search on Google Trends shows a gradual rise in interest from 2016 onwards where previously it had had very few searches.
With these different types of riding come communities of people who are just as keen to be involved. Having discovered something that they love, they will then seek out others who share their interest. Within these communities is where you might find these role models appearing. In being inspired and empowered by their community, more people from a variety of backgrounds feel that they have a place in the cycling world. This may not necessarily lead to the Tour de France; their experience with cycling may be different, but just as valid. Children, for example, just by seeing a group of younger women of different sizes out on their bikes, might be inspired to take to the saddle.
So, how then can we continue this shift towards a better representation of role models in the cycling world? The likes of Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish are great for those young boys whose families encourage cycling from a young age who might have the money, time and inclination to invest in the right gear and promote those skills. But there is a distinct lack of representation with very few ‘champions’ for those who are queer, Black, Muslim, a different size, and so on. Community groups instead are filling these gaps, with the likes of the Black Cyclists Network, Women of Colour group, Evolve Cycling Network (for Muslim women) or the number of ‘inclusive’ community groups popping up all over the UK. Brands are getting wind of this and investing in these groups.
As a result, over time the narrative will shift, with all children seeing themselves represented better in the cycling world. There’s still work to be done but these role models are so important to better cycling for everyone.