You’re not on Pinkbike for current events, but the violent deaths of George Floyd and so many others have been a catalyst for reflection. This is bigger than mountain biking.
Some have criticized us for not speaking sooner, and that’s fair; silence is an implicit endorsement of the status quo. Each time I’ve tried to write something over the past few days I’ve been frustrated by an 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’re late because we needed time to learn; to listen. And while talk is cheap, the first step is simply to acknowledge an issue. So here goes.
Mountain biking has an accessibility problem. It’s just one symptom of the racial inequality and systemic injustice currently spurring protests around the globe.
The sport's lack of diversity is rarely as simple as overt racism—although the stories I’ve heard in the last few days had plenty of that as well. It’s also unequal access and systemic barriers for people of colour, including economic barriers, geographic barriers, and a dearth of MTB heroes.
Our sport requires access to expensive bikes and trails to ride them, and people of colour have disproportionately low access to both. It’s challenging to address inequality in an industry that’s as privileged as this one. It’s a hard sport to get into for communities that have on average a ~41% lower household income, especially when they're limited geographically from access to trails. I grew up middle class, saving up by mowing lawns and doing chores for my first real mountain bike, but it was generational wealth that allowed me to do that.You can’t be what you can’t see.
I can count the number of black pro riders on one hand. I got into riding because I saw Wade Simmons do impossible stuff on a bike, and I identified with him. Sure, riding like Wade is still impossible for me, but that inspiration led to me having a career in the industry. I could pick up an issue of Bike Mag in 1998 and see myself as a pro freerider, but the same can’t be said for young people of colour.
The mountain bike community’s response to athletes and industry expressing support over the last week has been disheartening. There have been countless comments actively diminishing black athletes’ experiences of racism, knee jerk whataboutism, and false equivalencies about looting and extremists. We know that this community is made up of many amazing people, so there has to be a gap in understanding somewhere. It’s tempting to be cynical of lip service wokeness and hashtag activism, but a large number of our community aren’t ready to acknowledge that there’s a problem at all. And that’s a problem.Whose responsibility is this?
Why should brands care? What’s wrong with marketing only to the people who are most likely to buy your current products? Isn’t a business there to make money rather than address social ills?
It’s everyone’s responsibility because it’s the right thing to do. Continuing to prop up a system that excludes people is wrong, even if it’s easier. And I know that’s why many people across the industry and community are stepping up. What can the community do to address the problem?
In talking with several people of colour in the cycling industry, it's clear we don't have all the answers today. And they won’t come from me anyway—a middle class white kid from a small farming town in Canada. But here are some of the suggestions we've gotten over the past few days.
• Listen to people who say they’re hurting, educate ourselves, and reflect on our own biases and behaviours
• Take part in the civic process, vote, and make donations to organizations and efforts to fight racial injustice
• Hold companies to supporting the inclusion and diversity they say they want
• Give the industry some time to figure out what that support looks like—it takes time to make good plans for lasting change
• Be persistent, don’t let us or anyone else off the hook to continue pushing for changeWhat is Pinkbike going to do?
Pinkbike stands in support of POC communities, and in protest of racial injustice everywhere. We want to see systemic barriers to mountain biking removed, and will support efforts to break them down. We’re open to suggestions on how to move forward, and I hope that people will reach out to me personally with their ideas. Here’s what we’re going to start with.
First, we’re going to keep listening. There aren’t nearly enough diverse voices in the industry, and we’re going to make sure we hear them. We’re reflecting on our own biases doing what we can to educate ourselves.
Second, we’re going to amplify voices from groups who are underrepresented in mountain biking. We have a responsibility to use our platform to tell the stories and share the perspectives that we are missing out on right now.
Third, we’ll put our money where our mouth is; we'll announce a donation and resource initiative in the coming days.
And finally, we’re going to take a hard look at how our community interacts with each other. One thing I’ve heard several times this week is that some of the diverse voices that we want to hear more from are afraid of putting themselves out there because of feedback from the comments.
Our platform is no good to people if they don’t feel safe to get up on it. We clearly haven’t done enough to protect those diverse voices, and that’s got to change.
We'll absolutely stay a place that encourages unvarnished, critical discussion on bikes—where misleading marketing gets called out, where bad bikes don’t get a pass, and where you can make dumb jokes for days. But comments that are so toxic that they stop people from taking part are unacceptable.
We will be developing and rolling out new community guidelines in the coming month, as well as putting resources towards enforcing them.
For practice, here’s the first new guideline. No #alllivesmatter or #bluelivesmatter comments. While they're technically inclusive, they're designed to undermine and delegitimize the movement. It’s saying “the status quo is fine, your suffering doesn’t matter” to people who are hurting. #blacklivesmatter has an inclusive subtext—“Black lives matter too,” not “only Black lives matter.” Saying “all lives matter” is like going to an AIDS walk and shouting "All Diseases Matter!" It’s interpreted as a thinly veiled racist statement. Please don’t do it.
Advocating for social change in a privileged hobby like mountain biking may seem insignificant, but our sport’s lack of accessibility is a reflection of the inequality and injustice faced by millions of people. I'll be honest, we’re unsure of what to say or do. But we're uncomfortable with silence, and I hope you are too. We have some ideas, and we understand the tools at our disposal. Mountain biking is our sport, let’s make it better. We’ve got some work to do.
Black Lives Matter.