One of my crowning accomplishments in my short cycling history is completing the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin. I felt so proud coming in from the east and ending up at the capitol. While training, I conquered hills and I rode to many of the rides because I stopped owning a car in 2013, when someone totaled my personal vehicle. My father rode bikes, and it was also pleasing once I completed a century (100 miles) ride from Austin to Shiner, Texas, just like he did. When I was six, my parents got me a bicycle, and I rode around the neighborhood with and without other kids. Suffice it to say that I have grown up around bicycles.
As an adult who looks at demographics, I am appalled by how the dominant narrative in the United States has decided that people of color are afraid of or do not ride bicycles. Even when searching for stories about cycling and communities of color, the most popular results are European countries, bike shares, and predominantly White areas in the United States. The most common refrain is that “people of color are afraid of biking” and we “cannot afford bicycles.” Another common search response is the frustration of enticing cyclists of color, which is less about actually engaging with communities of color, but looking at us as abstract demographics.
The reality is that Asia, Africa, and Latin America have extensive bicycle usage, to the point where bike shares make little money because almost everyone already has a bicycle. A Ghanan company manufactures bicycles out of bamboo because it means that if people have bicycles broken or lost, they are able to acquire new vehicles for much less money. Bogota, Colombia has not only built some of the most famous cycling highways, but the city actually closes a great deal of its roads on Sunday to reduce car usage and be more pedestrian and bike friendly. Bike sharing has diminished in some Asian communities because people already have bicycles, and do not need to rent their own vehicles. These are but a few of the examples of how cycling exists in countries that are not predominantly White, but get little coverage.
However, in the United States, the country is managed mostly by industries, and the most buying power is not in marginalized communities, regardless of who is actually riding bicycles. Countless immigrant populations use bicycles, but because they are not wealthy, they are not seen as true cyclists. Also, infrastructure, such as protected bicycle lanes, rarely exist in communities of color regardless of whether people ride, forcing residents to bike on the sidewalk or unsafely battle congested streets. Finally, because bicycles are vehicles, there are laws for operating them, and people of color receive some of the most stringent punishment for not following those laws, which is not dissimilar to criminal treatment among other circumstances.
The obsolete mindset that people of color do not bike is based on a lack of exposure to life outside the United States. Because I live in the city of Austin, I originally felt really isolated when I first started cycling, especially since I dislike stares. However, living in East Austin, joining several groups, and seeing people of color biking everywhere, I realized that only through changing our perceptions of behavioral assignation can we truly make activities like cycling enjoyable for everyone. No one wants to get outside, ready to ride, and have a passerby state, “Oh, I didn’t know y’all did that.”
Links to articles about cycling communities of color: