Race and accessibility in the Mountain Bike community
You’re not on Pinkbike for the news, but the violent deaths of George Floyd and so many others have been a catalyst for thought. It’s bigger than mountain biking.
Some have criticized us for not having spoken earlier, and that’s right; silence is an implicit endorsement of the status quo. Whenever I have tried to write something over the past few days, I have been frustrated with the inability to articulate a way forward and uncomfortable with my lack of understanding. The truth is, we’re not late because we don’t care; we are late because we needed time to learn; to listen. And while talking doesn’t cost a lot, the first step is just to recognize a problem. So this is it.
The ATV has an accessibility problem. This is just one symptom of the racial inequality and systemic injustice that is currently sparking protests around the world.
The lack of diversity in sport is rarely as simple as overt racism, although the stories I have heard in recent days have plenty of it as well. It’s also uneven access and systemic barriers for people of color, including economic barriers, geographic barriers, and a shortage of mountain biking heroes.
Our sport requires access to expensive bikes and trails to ride them, and people of color have disproportionate access to both. It is difficult to fight inequalities in an industry as privileged as this one. It is a difficult sport to play for communities that have an average family income of around 41% lower, especially when they are geographically limited by access to the trails. I grew up in the middle class, saving money by mowing lawns and doing chores for my first real mountain bike, but it’s the generational wealth that allowed me to do it.
You cannot be what you cannot see. I can count the number of black pro riders on one hand. I started riding because I saw Wade Simmons doing things that were impossible on a bike, and I identified with him. Of course, riding like Wade is still impossible for me, but that inspiration led me to a career in the industry. I could take a Bike Mag issue in 1998 and consider myself a pro freerider, but the same can’t be said for young people of color.
The response from the mountain biking community to athletes and industry expressing their support over the past week has been disheartening. There have been countless comments actively diminishing the experiences of black athletes with racism, thoughtlessness, and false equivalents about looting and extremists. We know this community is made up of many amazing people, so there must be a lack of understanding somewhere. It’s tempting to be cynical about lip service and hashtag activism, but many in our community are not ready to acknowledge that there is a problem with the hashtag. all. And that’s a problem.
Who is responsible for this?
Why should brands care? What’s wrong with marketing only to the people most likely to buy your current products? Isn’t there a business out there to make money rather than tackle social ills?
It is everyone’s responsibility because it is the right thing to do. To continue to support a system that excludes people is wrong, even if it is easier. And I know that’s why many people in the industry and in the community are coming together.
What can the community do to resolve the problem?
Speaking with several people of color in the cycling industry, it’s clear that we don’t have all the answers today. And they won’t come from me anyway – a white middle-class kid from a small farming town in Canada. But here are some of the suggestions we have received over the past few days.
â¢ Listen to people who say they are in pain, educate yourself and reflect on our own prejudices and behaviors
â¢ Participate in the civic process, vote and donate to organizations and efforts to fight racial injustice
â¢ Hold companies to support the inclusion and diversity they say they want
â¢ Give the industry time to figure out what this support looks like: it takes time to develop good plans for lasting change.
â¢ Be persistent, don’t let us or anyone else get off the hook from continuing to push for change.
What will Pinkbike do?
Pinkbike supports POC communities and protests racial injustice everywhere. We want systemic mountain biking barriers removed and will support efforts to remove them. We are open to suggestions on how to move forward, and I hope people will contact me personally with their ideas. Here is where we will start.
First of all, we will continue to listen. There aren’t enough diverse voices in the industry, and we’ll make sure we hear them. We reflect on our own biases by doing what we can to educate ourselves.
Second, we will amplify the voices of under-represented groups in mountain biking. We have a responsibility to use our platform to tell stories and share the perspectives we are missing right now.
Third, we will put our money where our mouth is; we will be announcing a donation and resource initiative in the coming days.
And finally, we’re going to take a close look 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 are afraid to come forward because of the comments in the comments.
Our platform is not good for people if they do not feel safe to access it. We clearly haven’t done enough to protect these diverse voices, and that needs to change.
We will absolutely remain a place that encourages unvarnished critical discussion about bikes – where deceptive marketing is exposed, where bad bikes don’t get passes, and where you can make silly jokes for days. But comments that are so toxic as to prevent people from participating are unacceptable.
We will develop and deploy new community guidelines over the coming month, as well as resources to apply them.
For practice, here is the first new guideline. No #alllivesmatter Where #bluelivesmatter comments. While they are technically inclusive, they are designed to undermine and delegitimize the movement. This is to say “the status quo is good, your suffering does not matter” to the people who are suffering. #black lives matter has an inclusive subtext: “black lives matter too”, not “only black lives matter.” Saying “all lives matter” is like going to an AIDS march and shouting “All diseases matter!” This is interpreted as a thinly veiled racist statement. Please don’t.
Advocating for social change in a privileged pastime like 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 don’t know what to say or do. But we are uncomfortable with silence, and I hope you are too. We have ideas, and we understand the tools at our disposal. Mountain biking is our sport, let’s make it better. We have some work to do.
Black lives matter.