Non-Zero Sum Gains

I have been thinking an awful lot about cycling advocacy and inclusivity. Why? Because I dream of a self-powered world, one in which all citizens glide around on a bicycle of one flavor or another. I don’t care what flavor. I don’t care which citizens. All of them. Everyone.

And I don’t care that much what the obstacles are, the prejudices, the lack of infrastructure, the zeitgeist. As soon as we begin to admit excuses into the party, we end up exactly where we are. Where we are isn’t the worst, but we all know it can be much better.

But this is going to get nettlesome.

As a middle-aged, white guy raised to ride bikes I recognize my perspective is skewed. Everything looks easier to me than it really is, because it was easy for me. I never showed up to a ride or a trailhead and felt unwelcome. I always had the means to have a bike I wanted to ride. But let’s start from the premise that cycling does NOT have a middle-aged, white guy problem. Cycling has nailed my demographic. Great. We don’t need guys like me off bikes to get more people on them.

It seems like, in most debates about inclusion, my cohort get their backs up because they feel accused of being part of a problem, and they can’t countenance that possibility. Personally, I’m willing to be part of the problem, if I can also be part of the solution. My ego does not require blamelessness as a prerequisite for planning a more inclusive future, but I can understand some guys are sensitive about that. People are sensitive. Fair enough.

And I recognize there is some level of hypocrisy in every letter I type.

Currently, TCI isn’t doing the best job of representing the panoply of people who ride bikes. We, the founders, are three straight, white guys of a certain age. We have put some energy into courting contributors with other viewpoints, but with only limited success. We can do more. We will do more. It’s a challenge we’re all bought into.

(As an important aside, if you are a cyclist and writer who doesn’t look or think like we do, we want to hear from you and share your voice with our readers. Hit us up now. We do pay our contributors. This is not an idle threat.)

Because part of inclusion, or growing the party if you will, is representation. You want your daughter to feel comfortable taking her turn on the jump line at the nearest MTB park? Then she needs to see another girl who can and does take a turn. You want people of all ethnicities, skin colors, sexual preferences, etc. on bikes, then you have to give them a voice in the community.

There is some chicken to the solution, and also some egg.

Friendliness is nice. Waving to other cyclists. Encouraging kids to ride. But we don’t get more people on bikes by friendliness alone. We who are already in the pool need to invite people who don’t look like us to ride. We need to give bikes away to people who need them, if we can. We need to support bike communities we don’t live in, and join advocacy groups that serve the total population. Advocacy isn’t just words; it’s actions, too.

We have to try, if what we want is a world on bikes.

For me, this isn’t about righting a social wrong, although that is a very attractive side benefit in my mind. It’s about more bikes, which is about more joy, and also about less pollution, and also about more ways to meet people who aren’t like me, and also about better infrastructure as we reach larger tipping points in bike traffic, and also about learning things about cycling that I don’t already know, and also about having my wife and kids feel more comfortable on bikes, and also about less car traffic, and also about communities that interact face-to-face more, and also about thriving bike shops, and also about a healthier general population and lower healthcare costs, and also about, yes, in the end, fairness and equality.

Again, if yours is a voice we are not representing currently, get in touch now.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    The sport/pasttime of cycling has come a long way in my lifetime with regards to inclusion. There’s room for the mamils, hipsters, shredders, etc, even those urban dudes doing wheelies everywhere. It’s a big tribe. There’s no bigger issue for society or cycling than inclusion. I know the heart of TCI is in the right place. Keep trying and the voices will come.

  2. khal spencer says

    Have the founders of TCI reached out to PoC or underrepresented cyclists? Bicycling recently did a whole issue on Folks Who Don’t Fit the MAMIL Stereotype. I’ve not seen many contributions from them here. Take a look at the faces here:

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      Khal, the short answer is yes. We have. The not much longer answer is, we need to do more. Thanks for the tip.

    2. khal spencer says

      Thank you, Emlyn. I agree this is really important and thank TCI for diving into the issue.


  3. Barry Johnson says

    I found I’m not much help in getting people to the sport yet almost (or sometimes more importantly) I am well versed at keeping allies in the sport. We all dabble, what we stay with is a much smaller subset. All cycling disciplines have their entry level challenges, be a mentor and help these folx stay in the game and enjoy it more than fear and loathe it.

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