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Three questions with Dereka Hendon-Barnes

The current club president of Major Taylor Iron Riders on getting new riders into the sport

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What are the hurdles that face Black cyclists trying to get into the sport?

There’s intimidation and fear when you’re showing up to a ride and everybody knows each other and everybody is kitted out, and that goes for riders of any skin color. But for Black cyclists, the added element is that you’re doing something that Black people don’t normally do. This isn’t a sport that we grew up doing. Most people put the bike in the garage after they grew up with it. So, for us to go back to it willingly is different. You have to have access and income, and you need to have the support of people to show you how to do that. If you don’t, cycling isn’t going to be your thing. This is a predominantly white and male sport, and you just don’t see a lot of Black people that are there due to access and availability and the financial side of it. It’s just not a sport that we are predominantly in.

Hendon-Barnes riding her bike in the city
Photo: Courtesy Major Taylor Iron Riders

How do you see inclusivity efforts fail in getting Black cyclists into cycling?

It’s the same for all cyclists, really. You feel like an outsider already showing up as the new person on a ride, but it’s really bad when there is nobody there to extend the arm of inclusion with a “good morning, how are you doing?” and the conversation just continues around you. There’s no check-in with the new person, or information on how far you’re riding, what kind of ride it is. You need to check in to let them know they’re not going to die on the ride. If it’s a new face — no matter the color — then you need to reach out.

How are new riders brought into the Major Taylor Iron Riders club?

Someone in the club sees you out riding and asks if you want to come with us. Or, we ask them to send an email to the club inbox. I respond, ask them what kind of rider they are, ask them their goals, if they’re looking to get better. At the ride, we identify the new rider, who they are, and they are assigned a person on the club. That person makes sure they are eating and drinking. We have a sweeper to keep an eye on them and make sure they have an escort back. If they die out there because of the pace, we make sure someone is there to ride home with them. We coach them along, tell them about bike fit, about proper gearing. Someone gives them guidance along the way. And then I always make sure I follow up with them a few days after the ride to ask, “how did you feel about it?” I close the loop.