Monday 20 September 2021

Photo of the day - 20: As featured in Rouleur magazine


Since the start of this year Rouleur magazine has been producing issues that are based around themes. For example, they had one about women, one on mountains, another on innovators. The current issue is themed Empower, and features different types of people in society - particularly those who are different from the traditional image of a cyclist that people have had in the past.

Editors Andy McGrath and Ian Cleverly were interested in including a piece on my views and experience in cycling, so I was happy to put down my thoughts.

I think that when looking at society or groups of people in society it is important to include the whole spectrum of views and experiences. My feeling is that in recent times there has been far too much talk of black people in cycling "being made to feel unwelcome", or saying black people don't cycle because they don't see "anyone who looks like them" doing it. (I must admit that is a term that still baffles me.)

The thing is, I can't concur with that sort of talk. I first rode a bike when I was under 10, and I got into cycle racing more than 20 years ago. It is true that I didn't see many black people cycling when I was growing up in Yorkshire, though in London I do see quite a lot of black people on bikes nowadays. 

When I got into cycling it had nothing to do with how many other black people there were on bikes. I just began bike riding because I enjoyed it. In fact, the people that inspired me where the white European guys toiling up mountain passes during the Tour de France when I first watched it on Channel 4 in the 1980s.  

As for being made to feel unwelcome, that sounds alien to me. I have never experienced that. If anything, it is probably white, middle class, middle-aged males that helped me get more into cycling. I have no idea whether or not they were privileged. In any case I didn't feel any less privileged than them! I just saw them as kind, encouraging people who were willing to give up their time to coach us in club cycling and bike racing.

I don't see myself as any sort of trailblazer or breaking down barriers as I never actually perceived any barrier in the first place. Whatever barriers I might have encountered were more down to my bouts of lethargy, or getting the heebie-jeebies before a bike race - and that's not a racial thing.

I have noted that a few events have taken place where panels of people talk about diversity in cycling (in this case read race/people of colour), and I have tended not to be invited to speak on these panels because I get the feeling folks don't perceive me as being "on message". It just won't do for me to say, "I've had a great time in cycling - everyone has been really friendly and welcoming!" I'm supposed to talk about the struggles of being a black woman in cycling, the mistreatment, the microaggressions, the privileged white male that made a bigoted comment, how I didn't see anyone who looked like me and I felt unwelcomed when I joined a club....

The fact is, I can't say these things because it's just not been my experience. In fact, I think it would be quite wrong to portray cycling in this way knowing that many people have been good to me in the sport. I must say, I was glad to be able to write the column, and give mention to some of those people in my article.

Marco Faimali and Andrew "Monty" Montgomery from my first club, Addiscombe Cycling Club, were mentioned as were Dulwich Paragon. Also mentioned were John Leitch, Glyn Durrant and Keith Butler (RIP) who got me into road racing. Then there was also Mark and and Stephanie Wyer who helped me in cyclocross, plus Dave Creasy (RIP) at Herne Hill Velodrome. Maurice Burton of De Ver cycles also got mentioned as I got my first "serious" bikes from him and he invited me on their charity bike rides. The final edit of the article doesn't have all these people mentioned, but the fact is there have been loads of people who have shown good will towards me in the cycling world over the years - and from this short list of names, a significant proportion of them are white males. 

So for that reason, speaking as a woman of colour, my experience is that cycling is a welcoming activity for different kinds of people, and I am happy to spread that message.

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