Black men embrace cycling
It’s just like riding a bicycle.
Dru Ryan, lives in Washington D.C. started riding as an adult as a way to reevaluate his life.
“I got back into it after my divorce and it became my nirvana,” he said.
Ryan’s first bike was a hybrid, nicknamed Turtle, but after a couple of years he moved up to a road bike. As he has put in more miles, Ryan has increased his goals. Now in his fifth year of cycling, he has set larger goals as he hopes to participate in L’Étape du Tour, which is a stage of the Tour de France that allows amateur cyclists to race over the same route as the professional riders. But his lofty goals are not uncommon.
Don’t call it a comeback
While higher profile athletes such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been profiled in their love of cycling, there are thousands of people of color who have been riding their bicycles. Some are even doing it at a high level, including elite cyclists Rahsaan Bahati, and Williams Brothers, CJ, Cory and Justin, who in July of this year swept the podium at the Ontario Grand Prix.
Across the country there are a number of cycling clubs that are named after Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878-1932), who in 1899, became the second African-American to win a World Championship in any sport when he won the mile in cycling.
From these groups, The National Brotherhood of Cyclist (NBC) was formed in 2008. It serves as a grass roots collection of cycling clubs around the country made up of predominately African-American cyclists. Developed more out of a sense of camaraderie than competition, it was formed in the same vein as The National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS).
“There is a very natural instinct for African-Americans to connect with one another,” says Anthony Taylor, age 54, who is the Vice President of the NBC and President of Major Taylor Cycling Club of Minnesota.
“[The NBC] is a unique movement in that a lot of drivers [of the organization] are men but the growth and new energy comes from the women.”
Everyone has their reasons for getting on a bike for the first time. For Bruce Taylor, age 54, President of the NBC and President of Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club, he needed a healthy alternative to running in order to preserve his knees. While riders such as Taylor and Jeffrey Keller, age 51, they have always been cyclists since they were kids. Keller is treasurer of the NBC and President of the Major Momentum Cycling Club in Nashville, TN,
“Once you are out there, and you see what you can do, you just want to get better at it,” says Keller.
The NBC acts as a bridge between those that are in the know and those who are just starting out — not just for African-Americans, but for all who want to learn more about cycling.
“We are proud of our diversity in our group. It’s not just Black males but also women and other people of color out there riding together. The face of cycling should be multifaceted,” says Woods.
The Seagull Century is one of the biggest century rides for African-Americans across the country, taking place in Salisbury, Md. on October 5, 2013. What attracted African-Americans to this race were the members of NBS who took up cycling as a way to train in the offseason. They decided to do the Seagull Century ride and, from there, other events were spawned.
While some are looking at this ride as a social event there are others who are looking at it as a challenge.
“There are riders who are training to do this 100 mile ride in [just] five hours,” explains Royston Taylor, the administrator of Facebook group The Black Cyclist, which has over 1300 members and is the owner of Knight of Mo’Bay Cycling Apparel.
“African-American cyclists are coming into the sport [as adults] in their early 30s up to their mid- 50s or 60s,” Woods adds.
Cycling gives almost an immediate returns on people’s health and their confidence, according to Anthony Taylor. By the time people are finished with a ride they are amazed at how many miles they have done and they want to go back and do more, he adds.
“Once you invest in it, it gives back years and years down the road,” states Ryan.
“To the average person 20 or 30 miles may sound daunting while to a cyclist, it’s really pedestrian,” states Anthony Taylor.
One of the bigger fears among people just starting out is being on the road riding with the flow of traffic, which makes some people very hesitant to get out there with the cars but that reduces with experience.
“Nothing is 100 percent safe, but once people learn how to ride on the road and then try it, they gain more confidence to get back out there,” says Anthony Taylor.
A good piece of advice from Ryan is if you are on the road, the less safe you feel, the more you need to be in the middle of the lane to make sure that drivers can see you. However, the more you know about cycling, the smarter you are about planning rides.
“Cyclists who ride a lot know where to find the safer rides and they share that information with other riders,” adds Keller.
The NBC is active in fund raising opportunities to raise money for causes that they believe in. For instance, according to Keller, The NBC has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the American Diabetes Association in the national Ride for Diabetes as well as through local rides. It’s the causes themselves that really helps people stay out riding.
“The AIDS ride was an amazing way to get people into cycling, because people found something to get behind and believe in,” adds Keller.
As technology has improved, so too has the price of bicycles and equipment. But, with the right knowledge you can end up getting a great deal on a bike. People are always willing to help.
“One of the things you can’t do is learn on your own, best thing is to go to your local bike shop and talk with someone,” says Ryan.
Because cycling is a sport that people of all ages can enjoy, you often see families riding together.
One of the biggest cogs of programs like the NBC and their local affiliate groups is the effort to develop youth cyclists. Which has not only strengthened family ties but has also fostered the next generation of cyclists. As Royston Taylor explains, organizations will help kids get scholarships to help in their training and help fund their way to national cycling teams.
No Money, No Problem
From the outside, biking can be daunting due to the expense of equipment. However the cycling community is always willing to share information about how to make affordable purchases, how to make cost-efficient repairs and how to ride with the proper technique.
For people who can’t afford to purchase a bike, there are bike co-ops all over the country where people volunteer, and in return they can learn about bike maintenance as well as building their own bikes for a reduced price.
The real cost of cycling is not in the monetary value but in something else.
“If you wanted to go running, a good pair of running shoes is about $150. But the real obstacle is getting over the mental hurdles of distances,” says Taylor.
Craigslist as well. “Most bikes will get ridden for a few hundred miles and then people will put them in a closet and they tend to stay there after that, so you can get a great deal there,” says Ryan.
After all as you improve you will want to reinvest in your improvement, Anthony Taylor says.
“Get a bike, any bike, and get started,” he adds.
Dr. Terrance McGill is an aspiring family physician with a passion for writing and increasing health awareness in the community. He recently completed his master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.