Race & Accessibility in the Mountain Bike Community
You’re not on Pinkbike for current events, but the violent death of George Floyd and so many others is a catalyst for reflection. This is bigger than mountain biking.
Some have criticized us for not talking earlier, and rightly so; silence is an implicit endorsement of the status quo. Every time I tried to write something in the last few days, I was frustrated by the inability to formulate a way forward, and I was embarrassed by the lack of understanding. The truth is that we are not late because we do not care; we are late because we needed time to study; to listen. And while calls are cheap, the first step is simply to acknowledge the problem. So that
Mountain biking has a problem with accessibility. This is just one of the symptoms of racial inequality and systemic injustice that are currently provoking protests around the world.
The lack of diversity in sport is seldom as simple as blatant racism – although the stories I’ve heard over the last few days have had a lot of that as well. It is also unequal access and systemic barriers for people of color, including economic barriers, geographical barriers and a shortage of MTB characters.
Our sport requires access to expensive bikes and trails to ride, and people of color have disproportionately low access to both. It is challenging to tackle inequality in an industry that is as privileged as this one. It is a difficult sport to deal with communities that have on average ~ 41% lower household incomes, especially when they are geographically limited by access to trails. I grew up in the middle class, saving on mowing lawns and doing housework for my first real mountain bike, but thanks to generations, it allowed me to.
You cannot be what you cannot see. I can count the number of black professionals in one hand. I started driving because I saw Wade Simmons doing impossible things on a bike, and I identified with him. Of course, driving like Wade is still impossible for me, but this inspiration has led to a career in the industry. I could take a Bike Mag issue in 1998 and see myself as a professional freerider, but the same can’t be said for colorful young people.
The response from the mountain bike community to athletes and industry expressing support over the past week has been discouraging. There are countless comments that actively reduce black athletes’ experiences of racism, knee irritation, and false equivalences of robbery and extremists. We know that this community is made up of many amazing people, so there must be a gap in understanding somewhere. It is tempting to be cynical about waking up and activating hashtags, but much of our community is unwilling to admit that there is a problem at all. And this is a problem.
Whose responsibility is this?
Why should brands care? What’s wrong with marketing just for the people who are most likely to buy your current products? Won’t a business there make money instead of dealing with social issues?
Everyone’s responsibility is because it’s the right thing to do. Continuing to support a system that excludes people is wrong, even if it is easier. And I know that’s why a lot of people in the industry and the community are getting more active.
What can the community do to address the problem?
In talking to a few colorful people in the cycling industry, it is clear that we do not have all the answers today. They won’t come from me anyway – a white middle-class kid from a small farm town in Canada. But here are some of the suggestions we’ve received over the last few days.
• Listen to people who say they hurt, educate, and reflect on our own biases and behaviors
• Participate in the civil process, vote and make donations to organizations and in efforts to combat racial injustice
• Get companies to support the inclusion and diversity they say they want
• Give the industry some time to understand what this support looks like – it takes time to make good plans for lasting change
• Be persistent, don’t let us or anyone else step down to keep pushing for change
What will Pinkbike do?
Pinkbike supports POC communities and everywhere in protest of racial injustice. We want to see the removal of systemic barriers to mountain biking and we will support efforts to remove them. We are open to suggestions on how to move forward and I hope people will turn to me personally with their ideas. Here’s where to start.
First, we will continue to listen. There are almost not enough diverse voices in the industry and we will make sure to hear them. We reflect on our own biases, doing what we can to educate ourselves.
Second, we will amplify the voices of groups that are poorly represented in mountain biking. We have a responsibility to use our platform to tell stories and share the perspectives we are currently missing.
Third, we will put our money where our mouth is; we will announce an initiative for donations and resources in the coming days.
Finally, we will look hard at how our community interacts with each other. One thing I’ve heard a few times this week is that some of the diverse voices we want to hear more from are afraid of not performing there because of the feedback from the comments.
Our platform is not good for people if they do not feel safe to get on it. Obviously, we have not done enough to protect these diverse voices, and that needs to change.
We will absolutely remain a place that encourages uneven, critical discussion about bicycles – where misleading marketing is called, where bad bikes don’t get a pass and where you can make stupid jokes for days. But comments that are so toxic that they stop people from participating are unacceptable.
We will develop and release new community guidelines next month, as well as provide resources for their implementation.
In practice, here is the first new direction. No #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter comments. While they are technically including, they are designed to undermine and delegitimize the movement. People who get hurt are told, “The status quo is good, your suffering doesn’t matter.” #blacklivesmatter there is an inclusive subtext: “Black life also matters” and not “only black life matters”. To say “everything alive matters” is like going for a walk against AIDS and shouting “All diseases are important!” This is interpreted as a thinly veiled racist statement. Please don’t.
Advocating for social change in a privileged hobby such as mountain biking may seem insignificant, but the lack of accessibility of our sport is a reflection of the inequality and injustice faced by millions of people. I’ll be honest, we’re not sure what to say or do. But we feel uncomfortable with the silence, and I hope you are too. We have some ideas and we understand the tools we have. Mountain biking is our sport, let’s make it better. We have a little work to do.
Black lives matter.