Role models for change: the 2 pros aiming to make cycling more inclusive
© Jeff Clark
Katie Holden and Eliot Jackson set up the Grow Cycling Foundation to increase diversity and inclusion in cycling. They tell us why education, access and opportunity matters to promote cycling for all.
Grow Cycling Foundation was established to create new avenues for inclusive community building and career development in the cycling industry, as well as empower existing programs working to tear down the barriers to entry in cycling for marginalised communities.
Founders Eliot Jackson and Katie Holden, two elite mountain bikers, know the biking world is not immune to the explosion of hurt, anger and pain people are feeling demanding change, peace and an end to systemic racism. Together they've started the nonprofit to help focus the call to action within their own community – the mountain biking community in the United States.
Phase one of their plan is already underway and involves building a Velosolutions pump track in Los Angeles, with the ambition to host the Red Bull UCI Pump Track World Championships there in 2022. By creating a cycling ecosystem in an area that's never had one before, the aim of Grow Cycling is to help introduce a new community to the world of bikes.
The two co-founders sat down with Red Bull to talk more about their organisation, what brought them together and how they're going to change the cycling world as they push it towards inclusivity and diversity.
Provide a quick background on yourselves and your involvement in the mountain bike industry.
Katie Holden: I've been in the mountain bike community for about 20 years. The first 10 years were spent racing and from there I branched off and pursued freeriding, ultimately transitioning into a role as a brand ambassador. I feel like at this point in my career I can dig my heels in – with more confidence and experience than the twenty-something version of myself – and put time and energy into the things that are really important to me. It's allowed me to focus and move those things forward.
Eliot Jackson: I got involved in the mountain bike community a little later, when I was 18 or 19. I found out about the World Cup downhill series and all I wanted to do was travel to these amazing places and compete at the highest level. I did that from 2010 to 2018. After racing, I took some time to explore what cycling meant for me, going places and doing things you don't get to when you’re a full-time athlete. I was able to experience the culture of places and travel without an agenda. I felt like I got a more holistic view of cycling and what it means for more than just World Cup racers.
How did you two meet and what made you want to work together?
Jackson: When I first started racing downhill, Katie and I met and became friends. There aren’t a lot of Americans racing at the highest level, so there's a lot of camaraderie. We were able to become friends and stay close.
Katie is the perfect partner for the Growing Cycling Foundation. She's been passionate about its aims for a long time. She has unique skills and has done this kind of work in the past and really created change for women in mountain biking. Working with her fits my personality. I get to work behind the scenes and do what I’m passionate about: putting sustainable infrastructure in place, building companies and inviting new people into the space.
Holden: We met through racing. Our skill sets complement each other and we really push the other. I've learned an immense amount from Eliot these past few months – his talent runs far beyond that on the bike or on the mic [Jackson is part of Red Bull TV's UCI Mountain Bike World Cup coverage]. He has this perfect combination of skills, drive, experience and compassion to bring Grow to life.
I'd never seen all of these parts of him until we started this – that in itself has been such a gift. [To Eliot] You’ve made me step up. You challenge me every day. It's really fun – talking it out, trying to figure it out. It makes my head hurt thinking about the complexity of it all. Fun maybe isn't the right word, but we really want to figure it out. This is definitely the hardest thing I've ever done on a lot of levels, but I will always choose to lean into the uncomfortable because that's where the important work lies.
What does Grow Cycling aim to leverage in the cycling space?
Jackson: There are three areas: Firstly, creating entry points and community hubs. We don't want to import cycling culture into a community, but import a community's culture into cycling.
Next, career development. How do you source talent as a company? If we can meet people where they are (hubs) and then cycling companies where they are and say that we can get you a person of colour who's directly qualified through the programs we have, then we can help get people careers in this industry. There's education that needs to happen on both sides to see the opportunities that bicycles can provide. They can take you places around the world – figuratively and literally.
Lastly, storytelling. I've heard so many times that cycling is a white person's sport. That's totally valid if we're only speaking to white people. What if we tell stories beyond just those that speak to one subset and include everyone? Bikes are a universal language, [bicycle industry] marketing is not.
Why do you think there's a lack of diversity and inclusion in cycling?
Jackson: There's a narrative that [people of color] don't cycle, because bikes are too expensive. I don't believe that at all. It's one barrier, but not the only one. I grew up riding a BMX in my backyard every day, but I never knew things like mountain biking or road cycling existed. There were no bike lanes. No mountain trails. How would I get there? And if I get there, how do I keep the bike safe, where is the community to ride with?
I think the question that doesn't get asked a lot is why would someone new want to be here in the first place? The kid in Baltimore doing wheelies down the street is just as much of a cyclist as me when I was on the starting line of a World Cup race.
Holden: Eliot is right, there's this idea that there is a specific way to ride a bike, but all it really is, is a creative expression, in one form or another. Give people the tools, opportunities and the space to paint on their own canvas.
What's your goal for the cycling community?
Jackson: Historically, people of colour have been largely under served in the outdoor industry. So we're starting there with the understanding that the same systems of power that exclude people of colour, exclude other marginalised groups as well. Our ultimate goal is for the world of cycling to be representative of the world around us, full of all genders, colors and backgrounds. We want to work together with everyone to make this a possibility.
Holden: We both want to make the cycling community reflect the world at large at every level.
Anything else you want people to know about Grow Cycling Foundation?
Jackson: Two things that are really important:
Changing racism in mountain biking can feel really big and disconnected from our day-to-day lives, but we can all have empathy. We can relate to showing up at group rides where people make fun of your socks for being too long or too short, or having a bike that's too old. Let's create a space where that doesn't happen. Being empathetic to [people of, or from] other backgrounds, races and sexual orientations can literally change the world, one person at time.
Secondly, if racism feels like something you can't understand, think about grief. While we can never experience someone else's grief, we know better than to tell them that it doesn’t exist or that they should get over it. Doing so would be the least empathetic thing we could do. But we do this all the time when we tell people of colour that racism doesn't exist, or that it's over. We have to work to update our views on what people are experiencing. Each and every day.
Holden: I challenge you to try. Try to do better, each and every day. These may be the smallest of steps, but progress is progress and if we all take steps, that adds up. Show more empathy towards your fellow humans. Commit to learning and having an evolving point of view. Stand up tall if something doesn't feel right. Amplify stories that speak to you and share things that aren't within your point of view. Donate your time, money and/or expertise. Show up. Invite someone new to go ride. Be okay with making mistakes, because you will make mistakes and it's uncomfortable.
We all fall on our bike, but we get back up and keep going. I feel nervous and uncomfortable every single day. I'm so nervous that I'm going to mess up and say the wrong thing, but I have to keep reminding myself that it's not about me. The consequences of my inaction are far greater. I will always show up and try.
How can people get involved and support Grow Cycling Foundation?
Jackson: You can always donate on our website. There's no involvement that's too small or too large. We'd love to leverage people's unique skills.
To learn more about or donate to the Grow Cycling Foundation please visit here .