Bike Racing, White Privilege and the Corona Virus

Today we’re pleased to share a wonderful essay by Cinthia Pedraza on bike racing, white privilege, and the Corona Virus. In these trying times, it’s important to adjust our optics, listen, and most importantly, learn from these experiences…

Bike racers have been sitting at home watching the increasingly violent protests happening around the nation thinking “What can I do to help support Black communities?” In my local Austin community, I have seen donations in support of Black Lives Matter on my teammates’ Instagram stories, racers (including myself) protesting in support of an end to police brutality, and a massive outcry for justice that includes cycling voices like Machines for Freedom and Tenspeed Hero. That being said most amateur bike racers are likely to be white upper middle-class liberals who have a work from home setup where they are not at risk of exposure to Covid 19 or the struggle of the Black community caused by Covid 19.

Recently USA Cycling has lifted its ban on cycling events starting June 1st. The lifted ban has been followed by announcements from local as well as national race and event promoters about events starting as soon as the first week of June. Some of the events being promoted will bring together hundreds of cyclists. Bike racers in a peloton will be touching elbows, breathing hard, sweating and spitting within inches of each other during an international pandemic. After rubbing elbows with their friends in the peloton bike racers may go grab a beer at their now opened local bar. They will also head to their local grocery store and maybe call their maid to restart the weekly cleaning routine. With these interactions, the cyclist is directly impacting lower-income families who are likely to be from Black or Brown communities.

Is the hobby of amateur bike racing worth the risk that it poses to vulnerable communities during a pandemic? Many bike racers will venture to say “yes”. Racers may believe bike racing is crucial for their mental and physical health. Those same cyclists will be covered by USA Cycling’s event insurance that extends to “bodily injury including disease.” The racers are also likely to have employer-provided health insurance. In a recent USA Cycling survey, 78% of respondents wrote the financial impact of Covid 19 would not prevent them from participating in cycling events. Meaning most of us are still employed and are not being directly impacted by the financial strain of the economic shutdown.

The grocery store worker, the bartender and the maid will be grateful to be employed and to have patronage but would they prefer the bike racer opts out of their weekly crit race that exposes them to 150 sweaty heavy breathers? YES, THEY ABSOLUTELY WOULD. Bike racing is a privilege. PERIOD.

Some bike racers may not know a single impacted low income family because the people most impacted cannot afford to be in their network of friends. People of color are dying, they don’t have health insurance, they don’t have a safety net and this is a direct result of years of oppression caused by structural inequality ingrained in our society. Most cyclists directly benefit from structural inequality and it is the same tool being used against people of color. Will you personally be contributing to that oppression if you choose to participate in a luxury optional event where you unnecessarily expose yourself to hundreds of possible carriers of Covid 19? YES. We will be directly reinforcing inequality by continuing to race our bikes.

It’s not all bad news. The cycling community is growing exponentially during this pandemic. Entire families have taken to the streets on two wheels and bike shops can’t restock bikes fast enough. In Oakland the slow streets movement has opened up 74 miles of roads to pedestrian and cycling traffic only. There are similar streets in Austin, LA, Vancouver and all around the world. Post pandemic this means more bike racers, more cycling infrastructure and more sympathetic car drivers.

So how can bike racers use their privilege to help black and brown communities? Don’t race your bike during a global pandemic. Avoid large group rides or any large event that is not necessary to the progress of society. Research White privilege and structural inequality so that you can understand your own implicit bias and the depth of racism in our society. Understand that racism is not only about individual actions but is about social inequality.

Support Black folks on bikes by giving or volunteering with organizations like Black Girls Do Bikes and Major Taylor Bicycle Clubs in your area. Support Black-owned businesses. Consider donating or volunteering with Black Lives Matter. Donate to a bail out fund for protesters in your area who have been arrested during the protests. Support the National Police Accountability Project. Help clean up after protest events.


Contributing editors:
Alicia Danze
Cathryn Merla-Watson
Jake Boone