Bicycling, like most human endeavors, has multiple levels. Few Americans grow up without learning to ride a bike. It’s something of a rite of passage, the beginning of personal accomplishment and autonomy outside of mastering the balance of the body. For the most part, that learned balance never leaves us.
Many Americans retain some fondness for bicycles, and it’s common to see a mid-level (in price and components) bike–or more–in most suburban garages. Most do not go beyond that mid-level bike, usually a pseudo-mountain bike in style, with somewhat off-road tires and a less aggressive riding position. When they ride, they ride more for fun than exercise, more to reconnect with those first heady feelings of motion, speed and freedom, and sometimes, as socialization, riding with spouses, kids, or friends on relaxed rides of a mile or two. Mostly, such bikes gather dust, and not from endless miles and hours on the trail.
Then there are those that go beyond the mid-level.
In the upper levels of bicycling are people who will never win even state championships, to say nothing of national and international races, but approach bicycling with a similarly single-minded purpose. These are the people who spend many thousands on their bikes (check out the MSRPs on the mountain bike above and the road bike below), adding new accessories and components that might shave a few grams of weight, or let them keep up with the bicycling Joneses.
Whether they choose mountain biking or road riding, it is possible to spend an incredible amount of money on contemporary biking technology, like the examples provided here from the most recent Trek catalog. Trek is arguably the biggest bike manufacturer, in terms of overall sales, in the world, and surely in America. They have models in virtually any style and price range one could possibly imagine.
Bicyclists at all levels, however, share certain common traits. Among them is an acceptance of all to their ranks. True, in the upper levels of competition, some competitors can be rather snooty and full of themselves, but perhaps that’s to be expected when one’s worth and earning power depends on the results of their most recent race. Even locally, informal to formal riding groups tend to sort themselves out by intention and speed.
But now we learn, through the good graces of one P. Khalil Saucier, writing in Bicycling, a primary media source of the conventional bicycling world, bicycling and bicyclists, as diverse a lot as one might imagine, is/are systemically racist. What parent knew, when they removed the training wheels on their daughter’s little bike and watched her wobble valiantly down the sidewalk, they were unleashing the KKK?
When George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others were killed by the police in 2020, forcing the nation into a racial reckoning, the cycling industry responded with promises to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Fuji announced it was suspending the sale of their bikes to police departments, while various other industry leaders committed themselves to increasing diversity in the sport of cycling.
Fuji, gentle readers, is a bicycle manufacturer. Will refusing to sell to the police accomplish anything? Is cycling non-diverse? Do bike shops refuse to sell bikes and accessories to “people of color”? No, no and no. What Saucier is talking about are the athletes and organizations at the pinnacle of profitable bicycling.
Yet, looking at the actions of some cyclists at the top of the sport, along with their sponsors, I see how the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people remains strongly rooted both inside and outside the sport of cycling.
And what would those “actions” be, precisely? Notice Saucier, like the rest seeing racism under every bed and behind every tree simply demand everyone accept their premises without example or proof, or be labeled racist. Sorry, but the race card has always been expired at this Internet ATM.
It’s time for cycling to think beyond white fragility, white privilege, implicit bias, and microaggressions, and begin to think about its root cause. Cycling must reject interventions that continue to individualize anti-Black racism, and work to break down the structures that allow whiteness to retain power in the sport.
What, exactly are “interventions that continue to individualize anti-Black racism”? Actually, what the hell does that mean in the English, or any other, language? And what are “the structures that allow whiteness to retain power in the sport”? Where is there any evidence the sport of cycling is in any way racist, that it refuses to allow Black athletes or other POC to compete or otherwise be involved? By all means, gentle readers, take the link and read the entire thing. You’ll find plenty of buzzwords—as in the preceding and next paragraphs—but no evidence whatever of what Saucier demands all accept as systemic racism.
Anti-racist efforts within cycling must move beyond the trite euphemisms of inclusion, diversity, sensitivity, and allyship, and begin to seriously consider the dimensions of power at play. Yes, control of cycling resources are important, as are safe spaces to ride one’s bike, but the power of whiteness within cycling remains unsullied.
And what, pray tell, is “the power of whiteness within cycling”? Competitive cycling, like a variety of other sports such as swimming, is not known as a sport in which Black people generally engage. Culture, and personal choice, matter. It, like soccer, has primarily European origins, and enjoys a popularity there it lacks in the United States.
In late September, many in the sport turned a blind eye when it came to light that world-champion Chloe Dygert ‘liked’ several racist and transphobic tweets. One tweet said ‘white privilege doesn’t exist,’ while another suggested that if football player Colin Kaepernick ‘realized that if he grew an afro and played the part of victim, he could scam the Black community out of millions.’
Millions, certainly tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Americans would agree with the sentiments Dygert “liked.” Of course, we’re taking Saucier’s word on all of this. “White privilege,” particularly as self-imagined elite opinion would have it, does not exist, and if one rejects the premise of its existence and demands evidence, much red-faced sputtering and name-calling ensues. Colin Kaepernick is a mediocre ex-football player who has indeed played the race card for personal enrichment, and has damaged the country in the bargain. He is not an admirable person, no one to be emulated.
It took six weeks for her new professional team, CANYON//SRAM Racing, and Rapha, the clothing sponsor of CANYON//SRAM, to publicly condemn her actions. TWENTY20 Pro Cycling, the team she was with when she reacted to those racist tweets, and Red Bull, another sponsor, have yet to weigh in on the matter.
Notice the assumed premise. Anyone “liking” a disfavored tweet must be destroyed. It is the natural order, the only moral course. There can be freedom of speech only so long as it is the right–left–kind of speech. White privilege, like systemic racism exists and must be obliterated, and saint Colin Kaepernick is a moral paragon, a national treasure who must be venerated and protected.
Dygert, who has since unliked the tweets, has faced no real consequences that we know of, so far. She hasn’t raced since crashing at the 2020 UCI Road World Championships in September of last year, but she has returned to training with Team USA ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Such public respect and civility toward Dygert, no doubt aspects of white privilege and power, allow her and her corporate sponsors a path to redemption, a means to restore or even reshape their image, build character and come out on top.
Dygert is, from all I can discover, a decent human being and a gifted athlete, a world champion, able to beat even men at a grueling sport. There appears to be not the slightest evidence of racism in her life, not that evidence matters anymore. The crash to which Saucier refers severed about 80% of her left quadriceps and did damage to other connective tissues, by any measure a horrifying and commonly crippling injury. She has been working hard at recovering and rebuilding her abilities, with great success (her website with links to Twitter, etc. is here). But of course, if she wishes to survive in the current racist atmosphere, continue to get paid and receive the support she needs to travel and race, she must prostrate herself at the altar of BLM and anti-racism. Sadly, too few understand such racist barbarians can never be appeased:
To me, Dygert’s apology was out of context in that it lacks sincerity and does not refer to her transgression of liking racist and transphobic social media posts. CANYON//SRAM Racing released its own statement alongside Dygert’s, but neither apologies attend to the root of the problem—the white privilege and power that feeds anti-Black racism.
And once again, one can search every word of Saucier’s screed without finding a scintilla of evidence of the “anti-Black racism,” the existence of which all must accept despite harboring none and seeing none in their daily lives. If pretty much everyone but certain favored minorities is racist and privileged, wouldn’t we have noticed that before now?
What are we to make of this? Cycling of, course, like every other human endeavor, must be systemically racist. Joe Biden and P. Kahlil Saucier say so. I’m only surprised it took them this long to get around to attacking cycling. What’s next? Baking pizza, or is that cultural appropriation instead? Cross Country skiing? Curling? Bobsledding? Have we truly become so weak, so borderline insane that when any race hustler cries “racism!” an entire industry–manufacturers, distributors, retail merchants, accessory manufacturers, men, women and children across America–suddenly accepts that lunatic accusation and looking in the mirror, discovers their inner racism for the first time? Doesn’t racism require some affirmative act? At least an intention? Apparently, merely riding a bicycle is sufficient evidence of racism, particularly if one is white. Will the race police begin, like Saucier, indicting people for bicycling while white?
In all my years of participating in cycling events, never have I seen any person of color in any way discriminated against. All have been as welcome as anyone else, engaged in lively, convivial conversation about bikes, accessories and training methods, and all have had the same opportunity to participate, but not to win, of course, as anyone else. Ah! There it is: equity instead of equality, equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity.
That’s why they’re attacking cycling. Not only because it’s there and they can, but it is a meritocratic endeavor—few can compete at the highest levels; very few can win–and recognition of merit is inherently racist. Where little counts but speed, and not many can achieve its highest levels, the only causes must be white privilege and racism.
I never really got into competitive cycling. I adopted riding for training and maintaining fitness primarily due to injuries and degeneration that made running no longer viable. But even in my younger years, I realized I just didn’t have the genetic endowment to be a truly competitive cyclist. I was too tall, too heavy, had too much upper body mass, and most of all, didn’t have the will to win at that sport, nor did I want to spend that kind of time and money. I had other things to do. Even today, young women consistently kick my aging white ass, even more so because I usually ride a trike, whose weight alone relegates me to “also ran” status. Upright road bikes, particularly those like the $12,499 model depicted above, are featherweights compared to any recumbent, and in competitive cycling, a few grams here and there do matter.
What is anyone, Chloe Dygert or not, to do when the chance genetic endowment and single minded focus necessary to win at cycling is prima facie evidence of racism, of the exclusion of everyone else? Dygert is 5’9”, 147 pounds, and has the musculature and physiology that allows her to excel. For this, and the accident of birth that covered her with white skin, and for the years of effort, dedication and will, she is racist and somehow privileged, a symbol of all that is wrong with cycling and America in general?
I’ve little doubt Dygert, as well as every other American that enjoys riding, wants nothing more than to be left alone to enjoy their lives. We enjoy everything about riding, the speed, the little accomplishments, the fitness, tinkering with our machines, the sheer joy of remembering those first wobbly, solo rides as our parents cheered and applauded, hoping we wouldn’t crash and road rash ourselves senseless.
There is no racism in that, in the machine or in the freedom it provides. That, I suppose, is why racists like Saucier have to invent it. One wonders why Bicycling supports this kind of race hustling? Don’t they realize the damage it does to the sport, to those that practice it, and to their own publication, or are they, like so many in our society, afraid of race hustlers? People like Saucier are miserable wretches. They want to make everyone else miserable, to drive the joy out of life.
Dygert has nothing about which to apologize, unless of course, we no longer enjoy free speech. Until we reject racist premises, demand proof, and heap much deserved scorn on race hustlers, it’s going to be difficult to be left alone, to enjoy the simple pleasures of riding. They want us to be as angry and miserable as they are: don’t fall for it.