Tuesday 16 June 2020

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 30: Elle Linton

I first got to know Elle Linton through the women's facebook chat group, Velovixen, when the women were discussing taking part in the Velobants CX in the City Cyclocross race last year. Cyclocross was relatively new to her, but she was really keen to take part. She has enjoyed it so much that she wants to get more involved, and is even hoping to become a cyclocross commissaire. Elle talked to me about how she got into cycling, and her views on having a more diverse population involved in cycle sport.

credit: Josie Copeland

Elle Linton, aged 35

From: Barbados

Lives: Loughton, Essex

Fitness professional

I always cycled as a kid. In those days it was very much a sense of freedom and was a way to get to people’s houses to hang out and just enjoy being outdoors. Then as I got older it wasn’t fashionable to be cycling so it kind of went by the wayside.

As an adult, when I was about 28 I found myself in a new role in retail and one of my colleagues cycled. Realising I was living quite close to work I figured it would be more reliable to ride than to get public transport, so eventually I got back into cycling, as a commuter.

My colleague then told me about a track day at Lea Valley Velodrome. At that point I’d never even seen a track, so when I went there I was scared because I didn’t know that it went on an incline. Although I enjoyed the experience, I can’t say that I loved it. Then my friend suggested we ride to Richmond Park. I was like, "Why would I want to do that? What’s at Richmond Park?" We we,nt anyway, but the ride didn’t go to plan as we got punctures and pedals broke, though we made it there in time to do one lap and come back. However, that sense of sharing a common interest, and having someone to guide you to explore cycling was what got me back into cycling as a sport, three or four years ago.

Our next cycling challenge was a ride to Paris by ourselves over three days, and so I needed to find other people to train with. I joined Breeze and did some of their rides.  

At a cyclocross race in Milton Keynes

I am not in a traditional club. That’s probably an area where I’ve struggled with in cycling – finding a club that I felt confident enough to rock up to and join. The closest I've got to riding with a club was when I joined Dirty Wknd, which is more like an on-line cycling club. As their rides took place in East London close to where I live, I did some rides with them, and led a few too. 

Dirty Wknd is an exception to the rule, as on my first ride with them there were more women than men. That was not something I was expecting, and everyone I met on those rides was welcoming and friendly, so it was a really great first experience. That’s probably what makes it harder for me to attempt to look for another club. 

Dirty Wknd attracts a diverse, non-white crowd of people, though not really any black people. I don't really know why. I guess to start with, I live in a very white area in Essex. My friends are of mixed cultures and races but the majority of the people I spend time with are not black, and my black friends do very little exercise - so cycling is not something that we would talk about.

I felt comfortable riding with the Dirty Wknd group because there were many women. I never really focussed on whether they were black or not. 
It was only when I went to organised events, where I would be the only black person there, and sometimes the only woman that I would wonder if I had turned up at the wrong place! 

Then when I was going to other similar events I became self conscious because everybody knew me – not because I was a great rider, but because I stood out so much.  It wasn't such a problem for me. In a way, I feel lucky that I have come from a background where this is completely normal for me. Being from very much a white area I think I’ve just become used to that feeling of being the only black person in the room, so I am desensitized.
credit: Josie Copeland

However, I imagine, though I can't speak for everyone, that a person of colour who is used to hanging around a lot with other black people or in an area where there are a lot of black people around them would feel a bit strange.

I enjoy the cycling world, but there have been times when I felt certain feelings after particular situations and I don’t know whether what I was feeling was because of the colour of my skin or if  I was being paranoid

For example, last September I did a cyclocross race and the whole event was amazing. The only downside was something that happened while we were doing warm-up laps and we were going over the hurdles. Not being very experienced, I got off my bike, lifted it over the hurdles and got back on. I was on the very left of the lane, this guy came careering around the corner, tried to bunny hop over the hurdles and came off his bike. His reaction was to verbally abuse me. I was obviously a little bit perturbed. I realised later that if I had reported him, he could have been disqualified.

There was an incident in another cyclocross race where they started the women one minute ahead of the men, and inevitably I got overtaken by them. This guy was coming up behind me and shouted, "on your left" so I moved to the right but he came up on the right and knocked me off my bike. 

This was my first crash in cyclocross. He jumped up off the ground, pulled me up and asked if I was okay. At the end of the event, while I was standing with my friend, the guy came up to me and asked if that was me that he knocked off the bike. And I was thinking, "well yes that was me – you mean you couldn’t tell, given I was the only black woman in this race and there were only 10 women in the whole thing?" I just don’t know what’s behind why he came up to me like that; I’m certainly not one to say he was racist, but I found it strange.

Overall, I enjoy cycling and I like doing cyclocross, especially in the winter when the roads are cold and wet. Cyclocross seems like a fun way to stay active during the winter months without having to spend hours on the bike. Last year I did a race in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes which had a record number of women - 160+ - on the start line. It was something magical. I had never seen that many people on a start line for a 'cross race, never mind a women's race. The course was challenging, but had just the right balance of technical stuff. I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line, but happy to have been involved in the day, and to have surpassed my goals.

I think with cycling, people just take it very very seriously no matter what level they’re at, and that doesn't always make it an inclusive space for others to learn or improve.

Elle is determined to be what she didn't see

What keeps me in cycling is that I’m determined to be what I didn’t see. I never had many women around to show me that cycling is for me, and that’s women on the whole – not specifically women of colour. Cycling has now become more popular with women, but I wonder why BAME women have not taken up the sport.

At school I was heavily encouraged to do athletics. I was just pidgeon-holed into athletics. Even when I tried to get into rowing there were situations that told me that rowing was not for me. It was the same with cycling, though I did pass my cycling proficiency test. 

I think one of the issues is that with cycling, and especially in areas of deprivation, schools may not want to encourage this sport because it would just highlight the inequalities of families who don’t have the money to buy their kids a bike, while those families with money can buy a brand new bike every year for their children. 

Also I feel that part of that comes down to the stereotypes that we have of what sports black kids should do, or what sports black kids are good at. I grew up thinking that me not being able to swim well was because I as black. I’ve seen all the jokes about black people being too heavy to swim. So that was not a sport that I considered doing until I was 30.

Mind you, I relaxed my hair for over 20 years and I didn’t want to get it wet when swimming. So the minute that I had natural hair, and could wash and let it dry by itself, swimming became completely feasible. So really, it’s not always down to the fact that there might be bias or racism that stops people doing cycling. There are also cultural things that are impeding black women from doing certain sports.

I became a Liv Cycling UK Ambassador after doing a collaboration with them, testing out some of their kit. Then I borrowed a mountain bike from them when I first got into cyclocross in 2018, which I really enjoyed. This was after I had approached them and said "I like your kit and I really feel that if you’re going to stand for women you also need to stand for diversity. I am willing to work with you guys to do that." 

I am one of those people who doesn’t mind putting myself forward like that. I recognise that not everyone is able to do that and I also don't expect everyone to even care about representation. But for those who want to see it, I am willing to put my face out there and start the conversation. 

I also started training to become a cyclocross commissaire last September. I might be the first black cyclocross commissaire in the country, which is slightly funny. Volunteering and giving back to sport had been one of my goals for last year as I realised how many volunteers give up their time to make these things happen. So becoming a commissaire seemed like a way to do that. It also just allows me to be there for any women who want to have conversations about race. The official side of cycling does lack representation from women, especially BAME women.

They say you can’t be it if you can’t see it, so I just kind of feel like there’s no reason why, especially in London there aren't people doing organisational roles in sport. I saw a statistic that showed that of the top 12 sports in the country there’s only one black person on the leadership board of all of these sports in the whole of the UK. I really want to know what is stopping a non-white person from getting there.

One of the comments raised in response to that is that people should be awarded these roles on merit and experience. I agree with that. I am not saying to just give roles to non-white people for the sake of it, but I think the deeper question is why are people not able to get into a position of having the experience or expertise? 

credit: Josie Copeland

I think that it has to start with grass roots stuff. I think if you have more kids who are transitioning to teenagers, and to adults who are cycling and encouraged to cycle, eventually you will have greater diversity in adult cycling and hopefully more people willing or able to have opportunities above just participation. I don’t think this is a quick fix. It'll take a long time to change things. 

These days I work as a fitness coach, something I am really passionate about. It all started after I graduated from university with an Exercise Science Degree in 2006. A friend and colleague encouraged me to get the practical qualifications needed to take part in a project to get university aged women active. Through that project, I found I had a passion for delivering fitness classes and it became a staple in my weekly life alongside my full-time role at the time.

My classes are varied and include kettlebells, core stability, foam rolling, HIIT, etc. I also have a blog about healthy living.

While doing my job as a fitness coach I also studied for an MSc in Management & Business Innovation at Birkbeck College. It was really difficult to juggle everything, so I had to be ruthless with my schedule and prioritise. My own fitness just about made it onto the list, and cyclocross kept me ticking over. 

Coronavirus meant that I lost my face-to-face work, but I took the initiative early on, and created my own on-line offering of fitness classes. It's meant I've been able to bring in income whilst enjoying what I love. Also, I have finally made peace with Zwift, and love connecting with riders from further afield than where I would normally meet people. 

I did get sick for a while at the end of last year, with something that felt like coronavirus. It wasn't, and I feel more normal now than I did during those months. Lockdown has given me the space and time I needed to think and allow me to go back to basics with my cycle, running, and general fitness training.   

I've had some tough moments these last few months, but overall, I'd say I've thrived in what has now become a digital world. 

Elle's blogKeep it simpElle 

Twitter: X_eLle_S

Instagram: ellelinton

Other Cycling Voices

Claire Floret

Adeline O'Moreau

Monica and Paola Santini

Yewande Adesida

Alex Davis

Helen Wyman

Annia Modlinsky

Ayesha McGowan

Geraldine Glowinski

Emily Chappell

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