Growing Diversity and Inclusion in Cycling
© Jeff Clark
An interview with Grow Cycling Foundation co-founders Katie Holden and Eliot Jackson.
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 marginalized communities.
Founders Eliot Jackson and Katie Holden, two elite mountain bikers, know the cycling 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.
Phase 1 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 has never had one before, the aim of Grow Cycling is to help introduce a new community to the world of bikes.
Last year, the two co-founders sat down over Zoom to talk more about their organization, what brought them together, and how they are 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 (MTB) industry.
Katie Holden: I’ve been in the MTB community for about 20 years. The first 10 years were spent racing, from there I branched off and pursued freeride, ultimately transitioning into a role as 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 has allowed me to focus and move those things forward.
Eliot Jackson: I got involved in the MTB community a little later when I was 18 or 19. I found out about the World Cup series and all I wanted to do was travel to these amazing places and compete at the highest level. I did that from 2010-2017/18. 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?
Eliot: When I first started racing MTB [Katie and I] met and became friends. There aren’t a lot of Americans racing at the highest level so there is a lot of camaraderie. We were able to become friends and stay friends. Katie is the perfect partner for this. She has been passionate about this 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 MTB. 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.
Katie: We met through racing—those were fun days! [It's] true our skill sets complement one another, and we really push each other. I have learned an immense amount from Eliot these past few months—his talent runs far beyond that on the bike or on the mic. He has this perfect combination of skills, drive, experience, and compassion to bring Grow to life. I had 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. [laughs] It’s cheesy! It’s really fun—talking it out, trying to figure it out, hours upon hours. 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 have ever done, on a lot of levels, but I will always choose to lean into the uncomfortable because that is where the important work lies.
What does Grow Cycling aim to leverage in the cycling space?
Eliot: There are 3 items:
1. 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.
2. 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 we can get you POCs who are directly qualified through the programs we have then we can help get people careers in this industry. There is 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.
3. Storytelling: I’ve heard so many times that cycling is a white person sport. That’s totally valid if we are 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 is a lack of diversity and inclusion in cycling?
Eliot: There is a narrative that [people of color] don’t bike 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 biking 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.
Katie: Eliot is right, there is 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 is your goal for the cycling community?
Eliot: Historically, POCs have been largely underserved in the outdoor industry. So we are starting there with the understanding that the same systems of power that exclude POCs, exclude other marginalized 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.
Katie: 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?
Eliot: Two things that are really important:
1. 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.
2. [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 POCs 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.
Katie: 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 ok with making mistakes because you will make mistakes and it is uncomfortable. We all fall on our bike, but we get back up and keep going. I feel nervous and uncomfortable every single day. I am so nervous that I am going to mess up and say the wrong thing, but I have to keep reminding myself 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?
Eliot: You can always donate on our website. There is no involvement that is 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 go here .