Conversations About Gravel and Change, Part Three: Kristi Mohn


Conversations About Gravel and Change, Part Three: Kristi Mohn

Kristi Mohn is something of a legend. A native of Emporia, KS, Kristi started cycling in 2004. In 2008 she became the co-director of the Unbound Gravel event, which was run for the first time in 2006. Since then she’s been the driving force behind gravel cycling’s drive for inclusion. She’s worked to secure equal purses for women, pushed for non-binary event classes, and driven efforts to engage communities who have otherwise been ignored by the cycling industry. Corey Godfrey and Jason Strohbehn, the co-organizers of Gravel Worlds, cite Kristi’s “200 Women Riding 200 Miles” program, as well as their conversations with her, as inspirations behind their own efforts. Kimo Seymour, President of Events & Media at Life Time Fitness, says that Kristi’s work is what attracted Lifetime to buy Unbound Gravel in 2018. I interviewed Kristi in Stillwater, OK at the 2022 edition of the Mid South, but have been fortunate enough to have known her for close to 10 years.

Kristi Mohn, Unbound Gravel & Marketing Director, Lifetime Fitness. Co-Host of “Girls Gone Gravel” podcast

Gravel and Inclusion

It’s all so amazing. I guess truthfully, in my headspace, I’ve always thought of gravel as inclusive. But also, when we launched the “200 Women Riding 200 Miles” campaign, back in 2016 for the 2017 event, it was kind of my wake up call, so to speak, where I understood that you needed to invite people. That the invitation itself was something that wasn’t a given. That whole experience has helped my mindset grow. Somebody asked me one time why I was doing all of these things that I’m doing. I think it really came from my perspective as, for lack of a better word, responsibility. I understand and appreciate more than ever, the privilege that I’ve had, the safety nets that I’ve been given, the opportunities that I’ve been given, and really, the best thing I can do is to try to pay it forward as much as I possibly can.

It’s not always easy. You make mistakes. But the bottom line is that I’m here for the long haul, because I believe that we actually have an opportunity, specifically in gravel cycling, to make some big changes in the industry. If we can do it in cycling, then we can move it out of gravel and move it into the workforce and push it elsewhere. We become a leader by example, and hopefully, other industries follow suit with that. I think having grown up and living in my hometown with the opportunities that I’ve been given with Unbound, it really feels like we’ve got to seize that moment and take advantage of where we are. All of this awareness has come and we can’t waste this opportunity.

One of my biggest fears is that we don’t push it forward far enough and fast enough. Before a shift happens again and we lose focus on the diversity and the equity piece. I mean, as critical as some people have been of the Lifetime Grand Prix, how amazing is it that it is pushing an equity position? I understand there’s definitely a privileged piece to it, too. But the fact that we are making sure that the women’s race is covered just as much as the men’s race, that they’re getting the same prize money? And watching the disparity in our industry between the male racers who haven’t had problems paying their entry fees, and the female racers trying to figure out how to get their entry fees covered in other events?

A USA Cycling motorcycle official waits for the start of the women’s Masters circuit race

I think it’s so cool to see. In gravel cycling, we know who the women are. I think I’ve played a part in that. When we’re talking about media coverage, I’m asking, “What are you doing for the women’s race? Are we doing the same thing for women as for men? How are we covering the women?” Because it’s such a natural thing for us to slip away from that. In our piece of the things that we’re doing in our industry, or at Lifetime anyway, for the DEI? In my mind, it’s always been about making sure that we’re working with groups that are doing the work. It’s important to have players in the mix that are willing to get people to these events, so we can make a difference.

I think that what Unbound does is great. I also think those little grassroots events are so critical. You know, I get that the event, the main event, I put on is expensive. It’s why we keep the 25 and 50-mile rides. Those are inexpensive, like 50 bucks to enter. They are really designed to be an entry level point. Later if you want to come to the big stage and see everything, you can.

I really think it’s a whole ecosystem of events from small to large. It’s the whole thing. Gravel has been fortunate enough to have some founders at the beginning who felt that way. It’s an ethos. It’s gonna change, it’s gonna grow, it’s gonna do all those things, because that’s just a natural progression but if we can maintain the fiber of that ecosystem, I think we will come out better.

The conversations that I’ve had with Bobby (Wintle, Mid South race founder) and with Cory (Godfrey, Gravel Worlds race founder) I said, at some point, Unbound is gonna have to be done by other people. How do we make sure we protect it? How do we protect the ethos, the core of the event? It’s gonna grow up, it’s going to change but if we can keep the core beliefs it’ll be OK. I think we’ve done that, largely speaking. I think we’ve empowered the right people. Somebody was saying to me the other day that Unbound only focuses on the pros. I’m laughing, and I said, “Look at our social media.” We actually don’t focus on the pros. It’s the cycling media that focuses on the pros. We focus on the journey-person athlete. That’s who’s important. We’re out there till 3am hugging the last person that comes in and if we can continue that sentiment I think went in the right direction.

Emily Joy-Newsome answers questions at the end of the Women’s Pro Fuego XC 80k

On the Impact of Gravel Races on Local Communities

Emporia is obviously a conservative town. But we’re also a college town. We have cycling events, we also have disc golf events. When people roll in for disc golf it smells like weed. It’s hilarious! Of course you get the “Get off my lawn people” but largely speaking, those events have made the community more open.

My son Mason is now on the Lifetime team. The way he presents himself, I can see the change. He thinks differently than his Dad does. Tim (Mohn) is a very open-minded person, but Mason thinks differently in a generational way. It’s amazing to see. Generational change is the slowest shit. But it works. That’s the kind of change that I want. I want the long haul change.

Looking at the new friends I’ve made, looking at our start line in 2021, there was so much diversity. So much diversity in spandex. It was amazing! It was absolutely mind-blowing. I didn’t think it was going to hit me like it did. To see that in real life? Just to know it was coming but then to look around and see it in real life? It felt like we have got to celebrate. We had a little win. But it’s not as if we won the battle.

So much of gravel cycling is in the Midwest. That’s the opportunity, that’s a really big game changer if you ask me. You’re bringing people to these communities, and it’s not a matter of whether or not you like someone of a different color or a different background. It’s “Do you know them? Do you know somebody like that?” Being able to see that diversity comes into these typically middle-class white communities? You can really see the impact of change there.

The Sea Otter Women’s Masters circuit racers descend the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

The Cycling Industry and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

I think they’re coming around. I think some of them are more committed to the changes, like in the long haul. What I think is going to be interesting is where are we in five years? Did we make an impact in equity and inclusion? Because just like everything, you know, there are cycles of things that we’re paying attention to. That’s my fear, that the (cycling) industry and society will stop paying attention to this. We’ve got to strike this hard. Talking to Molly Cameron, she’s tired. I’m like, “You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got the stage right now.” It’s a big responsibility, but we’ve got to! Marley (Blonsky, All Bodies On Bikes), Abby Robins? The fact that Abby won the first 100-mile non-binary category at Unbound? That’s groundbreaking stuff.

I want to see a bit more diversity in the (cycling) industry. We have a ton of women on our event staff, but we still don’t have a lot of diversity. That is the next big hurdle everywhere. It will come from growing those people, having them at events, having them take on leadership roles in their organizations where they can then look at working in the (cycling) industry. In that cycling space where they’ve got the passion for it, they’ve got the love for it, they’ve got some of the training from running events. I’m hoping that the next thing with this is we start infiltrating companies and seeing that change take place in the industry, behind the scenes,

Grant Armstrong makes his run on the downhill course at Sea Otter

It’s tricky because you need to be in a position to make change happen. A lot of times, that means that maybe you’re aligned with company values that you wouldn’t necessarily want to be aligned with. It’s looking at it from a greater good perspective. As a 20 year old, when I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on the world, it was hard to understand that.

When I was working in California, I was working with a lot of migrant communities. This teenager asked me why I was helping them get scholarships to college. Why was I doing it? I said to her “I’m doing this because at some point, you should be replacing me. The person that is in this position should look like you. Not like me. I’m just blessed enough that I’ve been able to do this. That I could go to college, I could do all of those things, I could learn to speak another language. In America we know that that’s not always the case. I’m here so that I can hopefully see that change happen at some point.” That’s kind of how I feel about the bike industry. I’m trying to inspire more women, trying to get people to work with these diversity groups so that they’re empowered and can make real change.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity