Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peloton Pageantry?

(left, Gavin joined us for the Conte's ride Saturday.)

I wonder what can be done around here to get more blacks and other minorities involved in competitive cycling, or in performance style cycling that is distinguished from riding around the block. I can think of half dozen things immediately and all involve a time investment. I think the first part of the investment should be to start talking about it.

Part of it (part of it I say) has to do with lack of role models in our ranks. I miss Super Joe and Rocketman Dave who competed for years before moving on to other things. I can think of 3 guys I have seen on local group rides this year. Women? I have never ridden with a black woman at all who lives in this area. Has there ever even been a black woman from Hampton Roads to compete (duathlons perhaps, but what about pure cycling which requires lots more skill)?
It’s not like we live in a rural Midwestern town—we live in a region that is roughly 30% black. The little bit I know about social dynamics is that it's fair to ask "what can we do better" when a group that is huge part of our community has hardly any representation within a subgroup.

Gavin from Brooklyn does the Saturday rides when he visits his Virginia Beach family on holidays. His jersey reminded me of Major Taylor, a bike racer I had never even heard of until I saw his picture on Gavin's team jersey last Christmas. 100 years ago, Major Taylor broke world records in cycling long before Jackie Robinson and Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in their respective sports. Here is an excerpt from his biography:

August 1896 -- Taylor unofficially breaks two world track records, for paced and unpaced 1-mile rides, in Indianapolis. But his feat offends white sensibilities and he is banned from Indy's Capital City track.

December 1896 -- Taylor finishes eighth in his first professional race, a six-day endurance event at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1898 -- Taylor holds seven world records, including the 1-mile paced standing start (1:41.4).

Aug. 10, 1899 -- Taylor wins the world 1-mile championship in Montreal, defeating Boston rival Tom Butler. Taylor is the second black world champion athlete, after bantamweight boxer George Dixon's title fights in 1890-91.

Nov. 15, 1899 -- Taylor knocks the 1-mile record down to 1:19.
September 1900 -- Thwarted in previous seasons by racism, Taylor finally gets to complete the national championship series and becomes American sprint champion.

Read articles about Major Taylor.

A collegiate cycling team in Indiana also draws inspiration from Major Taylor. Team Major Taylor worked to break into all-white Little Indy 500 bike race, a competition made famous by the film “Breaking Away.” Five guys pushed to be the first minority group represented in Little Indy and they worked against a school history of tactics to keep them out. (Example: the school organized a picnic for blacks that took place at the same time as the Little Indy. How many bike racers would rather attend a picnic when the most famous collegiate bike race in the country is happening 2 miles away??)

Anyway, these guys got into the race in 2002, but not without police escort, and yes, they even endured jeers from some in the crowd who did not want them there. (Yes, 2002, not 1902) Best I can tell, TMT's best finishing place was 2nd in 2003 and I assume they have fielded a team each year since then.

Read about TMT in the
magazine links.


Anonymous said...

If they ride like Gavin, we're in big trouble!

Liz Schleeper said...

Ok, who the poser? I know this is not the real blog bully. Let me see, I have narrowed it down to 2 of you :)

The REAL blog bully and I actually had a conversation about signaling just this past Saturday. I think we could assist out of town guests with better signaling on the Sat ride. It seems we all know the ride and each other so well that it is not easy for a guest to interpret. It is hard to set up for a turn that you don't know is coming. Things like the sidewalk we cut over on Constitution are not being called out since the regulars know it so well. So then guests adjust best they can--and god knows they can't sit on the back and expect to keep up with the ride so they have to get in the mix to survive. Think of how it feels to do a group ride out of town.

Chris said...

The best way to get people in general involved in competitive cycling is to have a well done weekly event. We have a Thursday night criterium in Austin and I know that Dallas has a Wednesday event as well. Get the support of local race teams and shops. Find a closed course where people can relax and have fun. In Austin we race on the Driveway, which is a closed circuit car racing track. It is 0.8 miles long and has 10 corners. Regulars include Jen McRae who was 2nd at Downers Grove, Christian House of Team Navigators and a whole host of strong regional racers. In just a few years the event has grown into a "big deal."

SpeedyChix said...

Even here, it is a very white sport. Always trying to get more minorities into cycling. More women too. Some would say its lack of role models, others the high cost of the sport. More 'ball sports' attraction. Not sure what the hook is.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Liz. It is worth wondering why more African-Americans don't ride. Cycling in the U.S. is predominantly a disposable income sport. The barriers to entry are high and getting higher from an economic standpoint. But there's no doubt that more and more African-Americans are entering the middle class and enjoying more disposable income, so it must also be a matter of role models and the exclusivity of the predominantly white cycling community. I'm not sure how you even begin to do outreach to bring people into the sport. But one promising area where I see more and more African-American participation in a sport long dominated by white Americans is in distance running. The barrier to entry there is much lower - just a pair of shoes and running kit. Perhaps as those younger runners age they may turn to cycling as many of us did since it's as much about the aerobic engine as it is about cycling-specific skills.

It's also cool to note that during the last European cyclocross season, an old Belgian pro organized and sponsored a team from either Zimbabwe or Kenya that was the focus of a reality TV show in Belgium, if I remember correctly.

I think we'd see more participation locally if there were a track here. African-Americans from Major Taylor to Nelson Vails have excelled at track cycling. Such a track could have an organized outreach program, encouraging youth participation.

Anonymous said...


Brian Pace said...

Liz, I don't know you, but that was a great post. I live down in South Florida, and I'm practically one of the only Afrian-American that races on the road. And South Florida is a melting pot of races. There are some blacks that are from the West Indies and the Caribbean that race, but no African Americans.

And I'm the only African-American that races on the mtn bike and I have given myself the title of "Last of the Brohicans".

It's nice to see that there are other African-Americans that are competing at the higher level. I'm a Cat 3 on the road, and Expert on the mtn bike, and I wish there were a core group of African-American racers that would show potential for growth of the younger generation.

I played professional table tennis for 21 years, where I retired the best African-American in the history of US Table Tennis. I also was the only top ranked African-American in that sport.

I went to cycling as a way to stay competitive without having to travel the world like I did for table tennis, and it would be nice to see more African-American cyclist at the elite level.

I don't think that it is a matter of genetics like most people think, it's a matter of exposure to the sport. I'm 190lbs, built pretty much like a football player, and I compete in crits, Expert level 2hr mtn bike races, and 6hr Endurance races and have done extremely well in all. So if a black kid can understand the fundamentals of endurance training like most understand that of a free throw, then we have something to look forward to in the future.

It would be nice to see the creation of a black cycling team. Not that it needs to be exclusively black, but if the goal is to get more African-American involved with cyling at the grassroots level, it would be a start. This would really take off if cycling had a African American like Tiger Woods.

Again, thanks for such a great post.

Brian Pace