One of the reasons I started the Bicycle Adventure Club was to show that adventure isn’t just for tall, skinny, white, young men. We wanted to represent the older folks, the queer folks, folks with wrinkles and fat bodies, to show adventure didn’t have to be a million miles an hour in the furthest-flung regions of the world but it was wherever you wanted to find it.
My first big bicycle adventure was before the days of the internet. There was very little, accessible literature on women cycling around the world. I didn’t even discover Dervla Murphey until recently! There were only 2 books on women cyclists in Dudley Library. The first was The Wind in my Wheels by Josie Dew and A Bike Ride by Anne Mustoe. Those dog eared books; the stories within, the kit lists at the back and the tiny, low resolution pictures were all I had to show that people like me could adventure by bike too. They made it possible for me to envisage myself doing what they had done and thankfully, written about.
They gave me the courage to follow my dreams.
When I was approached by Bike the UKs Leisure Cycling & Travel Magazine to write about our Grand Union Adventure I also saw on opportunity to write about the importance of Representation in Cycling, especially to folks that are not aware of the issues.
I had a dream, and without being emboldened by seeing and reading about Josie and Anne, it would have been a more fearful prospect and much more of a leap from dream to reality.
These days grass roots cycling groups are leading the way when is comes to representation, diversity & inclusion. Our voices are getting louder and demanding that sport, media and the cycling industry represent reality and not the unattainable, fairytale of an elite few.
You can read the article below and get a free 12 month subscription to Bike Magazine.
Why Representation in Cycling Matters
By Sarah Round
If you ask any cyclist why they love to ride they will give you a version of this:
It is my transport, my freedom, my adventure vehicle. Be it 2 minutes or 200 miles under my own steam there is nothing so freeing or levelling, not to mention all the health and environmental benefits. I want everyone to experience what I experience when I ride my bike because of how amazing and transformative it is.
Just get a bike and ride – right?
It isn’t as simple as – well; just riding a bike. There are many barriers to cycling: financial, social, perceptions of danger, lack of suitable infrastructure to name a few, but the most fundamental barrier to new cyclists – lack of visibility.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
Humans desire to belong. It is our nature. We need to feel connected and heard. It is why cycling clubs and groups exist: and the very reason representation in those groups matters.
In the UK, in sport & the cycling industry in general; cycling is presented as a white, male, slim, able-bodied, heterosexual, neurohomogenous and elitist activity. Just Google-Image search the word ‘cyclist’. What are you presented with? – See above list.
When you don’t see yourself represented or catered for in cycling you get the message that it isn’t for people like you. At some point on our cycling journey we all search for a group or mentor that we can align with, a place where we see ourselves fitting in. Our Tribe. When you don’t find support you have two choices. Ride alone or stop.
If we want to encourage more people into cycling, cycling has to be more representative of the society we live in; all races, all ages, all genders, all sizes, all faiths, all abilities, all orientations.
Finding Your People
In the UK there are hundreds of grassroots cycling clubs that do amazing work encouraging people out on their bikes, whether they want to race, adventure or just ride socially.
It is these grassroots groups that are the true reflection of society and yet they rarely get any media attention or promotion as they are often under-resourced, run by volunteers, raising their own funding and spending countless hours of their own time sharing their knowledge and passion to inspire and encourage.
Whilst the government, sport, media and larger charities appear keen to champion grassroots initiatives their efforts often lack resonance because of the privileged, white, heterosexual, remunerated, patriarchal structure of the organisation and money is awarded to sporting endeavours & teams that, whilst inspiring, are sadly neither diverse nor representative.
The chasm between the cycling establishment and grassroots cycling is deep and wide. The seen and the unseen, the haves and the have-nots and yet we all want the same thing: to share our passions for cycling and for people to see the possibilities.
The Cycling Diversity Alliance is a new initiative that is trying to build a network of minority and underrepresented groups with a shared mission to break down barriers, inspire and encourage cycling for all. An alliance that can hopefully begin to bridge that chasm and be the visibility that grassroots cycling needs to encourage more people to ride.
A place for individual cyclists to find their group and a place for groups to support & champion each other and represent the whole of cycling because: if you can see it – you can be it!
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Thank you for reading.
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