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Bike Talk: We Need More Diversity In Cycling Media & Sport

As my work in blogging about getting more women on bikes grew, so did women's specific products. While I watched fashionable and functional designers enter the industry, I have also seen women's cycling boutiques, groups, organizations, brand ambassadorships, teams, and sponsorships rise as a focus to get more women and girls in cycling. Brands such as Peppermint Cycling, Femme Velo, Specialized, Rapha, Queen of the Mountains, and Machines For Freedom have each stepped up to the market and empowered women to participate in cycling as a sport and community. Women's cycling groups and organizations such as Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, Black Girls Do Bike, We Bike NYC, EncourageHer Cyclingand Friends On Bikes have all organized to reach out to communities of women/trans/femme/nonbinary of all sizes and socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in bringing cycling to their communities. With women leading the way to empower and ease the intimidation of cycling communities for many women, the future is starting to look bright for women in cycling. 

However, while I think some companies and organizations are getting things "right" with women, there still lies a large opportunity for the cycling industry at large: making women and diversity an industry wide initiative. Allow me to be brutally honest, when I look at the cover of a cycling magazine I notice it's mostly men making front page and when I open that cycling magazine, I look for the women and count how many are featured, once I counted 2. When I  google "women in cycling" or "women's cycling kit", I look for women like me, but what I often see in images of women's cycling apparel, bikes, or gear, are faces of white, young, and thin women, lacking the inclusiveness many of women of color, age, and shape in cycling wish to see: women and girls like them.

For 9 years, I have strayed from talking about my own identity as a Mexican-Native American woman as I wanted to highlight the support women needed to pave the way for all women. It's a very personal subject to speak of my personal identity in a space such as cycling as I always believed it to be a great equalizer, however, mine and others' experiences think the climate is right for a discussion around the lack of diversity in cycling industry, sport, and media. While I have always seen cycling as a white male dominated industry and sport, I often ignored my own discomfort around cycling clubs and bike shops that made me feel invisible. Because of my determination, I was lucky enough to build my own voice along with other women while creating partnerships and relationships with organizations, small businesses, and industries who supported my efforts to get more women in cycling. 

Living in cities, diversity was all around me. When I began cycling, women's cycling groups were few. Starting out as a commuter, where style and functionality were important to me, Cycle Chic Sundays were a start to organizing rides with women in my own community to bridge the need for safer streets to get more women on bikes. Now, community organizations, clubs, rides, teams, and efforts are propping up to invite more women of all diverse backgrounds, however, the cycling industry, sport, and media lags behind. As I listened to London Bike Kitchen's Panel on how the cycling community can reflect and include more marginalised voices? I got to thinking about my own experiences. I personally never felt marginalized other than by being a woman by default. Then I got to searching for other women of my own ethnic identity and found little to none in the media. Native people are often ignored politically and socially, often steamrolled over to culturally appropriate their ideas and ways of life, so it hardly surprised me. With a political climate like today in sports and other industries calling for more women and diversity like REI's #forceofnature campaign, I wonder what the cycling industry is doing to include more trans/femme/non-binary and women of shapes, color, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Although I do see initiatives and ambassador programs supporting women in their communities to get more women on bikes, the faces of trans/femme/non-binary and women of color, age, and size are very few. Perhaps the argument for this lack is that they are not applying but one must question media outreach efforts and representation. While women are leading the way in their own right, there are a few things the cycling industry can learn from them. Here are a few things organizations, teams, media, and businesses can do to foster a more diverse and inclusive cycling industry and community.

Diversify Media
Here’s my first suggestion to the industry if you want to show that you mean it: Diversify your covers. We need more cycling women in the media who are portrayed without being sexualized. I’ve been told that there is a “model” for cycling retailers and publications—white and thin (and mostly male). The few women who make the covers of mainstream cycling magazines are equally young, white, and thin. I have yet to see a woman of color or plus size on these covers, other than in a group shot. Are there no women of color making traction in cycling who are worthy of your covers? It would be great to see a body positive woman hold kit review space or a woman of color as an individual kickass cycling enthusiast who's traveled across America by bike. 

Tell Our Stories
The cycling media has enormous responsibility to diversify the stories and images that surrounds and reflects society. Diverse people, we are here - women of color and those of different ages, abilities, sizes, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Featuring people of color, people of all sizes, and abilities who can tell their stories of crushing goals or how they were challenged in a race can inspire us to participate in cycling in new ways. We all need role models, but if the media and industry continually fail to provide images and stories of people who look, sound, or live like us, we have failed huge portions of our global population and diversifying communities.

Hire Us
While inclusive marketing campaigns are surely a great first step, making systematic change in the industry will be as important in making cycling a more inclusive and diverse space. Brands and bike shops have the opportunity to become thought leaders in the cycling space by embracing diversity in their teams, sponsorship, marketing, and advertising endeavors. My hope for the future is that we can look forward to attending a cycling industry trade show who focuses on diversity, inclusion, and education events focused on communities of color and various identities where kit and gear options embrace bodies with curves, and stories about trans/femme/non-binary/women of color who are achieving milestones in the cycling industry and sport (like the illustrious Ayesha McGowan). If the cycling industry is committed to contributing to a larger culture shift in the industry and sport- a shift toward inclusivity, embracing new and different ideas, and amplifying diverse perspective will be needed to systemically reflect it in their product, sponsorships, narratives, efforts, and adverts.
Don't Ignore Us
When an industry is short on diversity it can often co-op moments that have been carried out by marginalized communities, ultimately steamrolling those that have actually been on the ground fighting day in and day out for positive change. A clear example of this was the recent effort by the outdoor industry to protect Bears Ears and designate it as a national monument. When President Obama made the decision to protect Bears Ears, the outdoor industry and many participants virtually celebrated what was spun as a well-fought victory for the outdoors community, even though indigenous groups that have been working for 80 years to get the land designated as a national monument were actually responsible for the victory.

Because of recent issues like this, I'de like to see brands respond to the diversity of their subscribers or followers by accurately reflecting the diversity of the consumers who purchase their products. A great example of this is women's cycling kit company, Machines For Freedom, who actively features women of color in their kit and shares images of their diverse costumers and community support. While it's one case to celebrate, I recently looked at two brands' social media feeds and had to scroll quite a bit to find a person of color in the images. When I did find a person of color, it was often an image highlighting a program the brand had supported as philanthropy efforts. I was disappointed that this was the message they chose to share without acknowledging the many people of color who follow their brand and use their products that are not their charity effort. I don't think exclusion is the intent - brands just don't have inclusion or diverse enough teams to help them shift with the changing demographics and times. 

Do Business with Us
Cycling can be intimidating and exclusionary for those who are underrepresented in the industry. When the price for "appropriate" gear is beyond your scope and reality and you rarely see a reflection of yourself represented in marketing, cycling can become inaccessible and unwelcoming. I know plenty of women who are frustrated they cannot find kit that fits them, putting them off of cycling. I've had plenty of friends who also said they wouldn't get into cycling because it's for white guys and too expensive. This makes me question how much the cycling industry is doing to include accessibility and diversity in their products, businesses, initiatives, and efforts and tells me that more needs to be done to embrace a diverse market.

Earlier this year I applied to become to a woman's ambassador for a large cycling retailer. In my interview I was asked "What interests you to become an ambassador for women in your community?" My response was that companies and organizations don't create access for those who often exist in the peripheral landscape and I want to include them. What I meant by this was women of all ages, sizes, communities, ethnic and economic backgrounds are often faced with challenges in being active in a part of a cycling community. While a double bottom line is a huge investment for companies to put funds into, not every investment needs to be about bike and gear sales. What's even more important is to invest in our communities and promote inclusiveness and diversity in cycle culture, the money will come later if you keep the momentum. If that means building bike lanes in low income neighborhoods, sponsoring cycling education programs, diversifying ambassadorships, or setting up bike shops; making diversity in cycling an approach to a greater collective consciousness also means also tackling social issues with the same respect of business sales. 

Diversity in cycling is on an incline, but this is not through a collective effort by the industry to be more inclusive, it is through the effort of grassroots efforts of people from communities of color, identities, and women taking on the challenges themselves. This has been possible through social media and efforts to build a community, as they are still continually underrepresented in mainstream cycling media outlets and efforts. We can't sit on our hands and allow underrepresented communities to do all the work then celebrate our collective diversity. It's our responsibility as a community and industry to be as active making change to cycling culture. We can't expect people to feel included or welcome in cycling when they are underrepresented in sport or community, as participants and industry, we must step up to the plate and make sure it happens.

Image Courtesy @FriendsOnBikes

2 comments

Melicious said...

Yes, Yes, YES! to all of your well written points. As a newbie Latina cyclist, I was so excited to stumble across your blog as I immediately recognized you as a woman of color and was like, FINALLY, a non-white face in all of my cycling research! I've been very excited about engaging in this sport - the sense of flying and euphoria of pushing my body to do more than I ever thought I could do.

But I've been so dismayed at seeing the total and utter lack of women of color and have run into several of the issues you mentioned - bibs and shorts that is a joke in terms of fit (takes some really stretchy spandex to get over my Mexican ass), solidly-white male employees at bike shops who kinda just stare at me when I roll in with my bike and questions, and bike trails that are full of groups of aggressive men, leaving me intimidated when I venture out solo. The lack of diversity is so strange to me as one who lives in an extremely diverse community in Southern California and all my other "worlds": work, yoga, friendships, reflect that diversity.

I've come to cycling in my early thirties, when I'm more confident in general and have financial resources to really go all in. Yet what if I was encouraged at a much younger age? I'd love to see more outreach to young women and girls and POC; I truly believe that if you can't see something, you can't believe you can do it too.

Thank you for all you do to support women's cycling and for standing as a proud POC in the sport! You've encouraged me to keep getting on my bike and proudly showing my brown face :)

christina said...

Melicious,

I'm so happy to hear that you were encouraged by this post. I've heard from other women too that if they were encouraged to cycle as young girls, teens, or 20's, they would have engaged in the sport or the industry more actively. It's also one of my goals to engage young women to cycle in my community as well. Every year I get the chance to engage with the Girls Scouts in a Bike Rodeo, teaching them bike skills and safety, it's so rewarding. I'd love to see more of this at the community level as well.

I understand the intimidation you face. That's a big reason why I started this blog and my own local women's cycling group. As long as you keep showing your brown face proudly, you'll find other women with a likeminded enthusiasm for cycling too... it's a great community when you find it. Oh, since you in Southern California, there is a women's cycling group called ENCOURAGE HER CYCLING that does rides once a month. Check them out and join them if you're near the area, they are sweet and kind and would be happy to have more brown faces!

xoxo,
CGR

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