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Cannondale hosted a panel of its ambassadors at the Sea Otter Classic on Friday morning for a conversation that sent a strong message about the importance of inclusivity and representation in cycling.
The panel included Marley Blonsky, founder of the All Bodies on Bikes community and a self-described fat cyclist, Dr. Meg Fisher, a multi-time Paralympic medalist and pioneering off-road paracyclist (she was the first paracyclist to complete an Xterra) and John Shackleford, president of the Smiles 4 Miles Tour, which travels to marginalized communities in cities around the U.S., with a goal of empowering BIPOC folks and kids through bicycles. The hour-long discussion was moderated by Teresa Baker, a well known figure in the outdoor industry for her work to increase representation of underrepresented communities.
The central theme revolved around what the bike industry can do to increase representation and the main takeaway was: Do something, as small as it might seem.
“Leadership can come from any level—not just the C suite,” Baker said. “The change happens on the ground.”
Donate to a nonprofit, host a no-drop ride, lobby to your local politicians about creating more safe riding routes, speak up when you see or experience a policy that feels exclusionary; changes don’t have to be sweeping, even small moves can ultimately add up to creating a more inclusive environment.
“Use your money. Use your relative power,” Blonsky said, by doing things like supporting companies that invest in apparel or protective gear that fits a wide spectrum of riders, not just those who match the mold of a slim, fit, recreational cyclist. Blonsky said she regularly breaks wheelsets, even on mellow rides, because they aren’t made to support her 250-pound weight, and she’s never found a set of kneepads that fit her legs. She urged bike companies to make simple moves like publishing frame body weight limits in the general specs instead of burying it deep within the literature on a bike, so that larger riders can easily find a frame that suits their needs.
For Fisher, who walks with a prosthetic leg below her left knee, the limitations she finds are generally around the lack of race categories for paracyclists, or poor accessibility at race and events venues. “There’s no change without challenge,” she said, citing discussions she’s had with Lifetime, the owner of the Sea Otter Classic, about creating more categories at the event to represent Para or non-binary folks.
“Lifetime told me all events would be inclusive next year. They lied. They keep saying they’ll do it ‘next year,’” Fisher said.
Another thing brands can do is create a grant program, said Shackleford, whose tour pays for volunteers to travel to cities to host community events and rides in the name of exposing more people to bikes who may not otherwise have the means or opportunity to experience how they can be a positive force. And, Baker added, companies that do create grants should do away with the requirement that people have to be part of a nonprofit to win one of them, since that prevents those who need it most from applying.
“Be persistent,” Shackleford said. “Bug these big companies.”
The biggest thing everyday cyclists can do is be aware of the people they aren’t seeing—BIPOC riders, ability impaired riders, riders from low-income communities or riders whose bodies don’t “look” like the cyclist typecast because they’re out there, and if the industry doesn’t widen the lens of what bikes are about (i.e., not just racing), then it will never feel inclusive.
“Allies lead from the back, we need people to stand beside us,” Baker said.
Baker said that surfing and cycling have been the two most difficult industries in which to try to effect change, but that she’s finally hearing from bike brands, and they’re reaching out in earnest.
“We are making a difference, but it’s not time to take our foot off their necks; we have to keep going,” Baker said.
From Fall 2021