When I Started Riding, I Was Treated Like I Didn’t Exist

Erica Elle
Photo credit: Jeffery Salter / Redux Pictures
Photo credit: Jeffery Salter / Redux Pictures

From Bicycling

I have been met with racism in various roles as a bike rider, from being the average mom cyclist to being a professional rider agent. The subtle and often not-so-subtle actions communicating, “You all do not belong here” are recurring.

Five years ago, as a new female cyclist I understood the chance of returning home safe was higher if pedaling with a group. In search of a place to learn and—most importantly—not get left behind in the middle of the road alone, I visited different group rides. Club members, always middle-aged white males, sometimes one or two females, would engage in friendly morning chat amongst themselves while getting suited to pedal. Not once was I welcomed. Eventually I dropped any expectation of being acknowledged. I also learned that getting abandoned on the road during the no-drop ride was part of the territory. How could something so innocent as riding a bicycle make another human being feel discarded?

I’m a woman, a mother, an executive finance professional, and a dedicated church member, and I was just looking to return home safely to my family after a bike ride. I wish non-Black people in cycling could acknowledge the all-encompassing Erica alongside my skin color and make a concerted effort to find reasons to connect. Perhaps they’ll find that I too am a mother who struggles with finding time to pedal, that I own a bike trailer to pull my toddlers, or that I also have a Starbucks addiction.

Photo credit: Jeffery A. Salter
Photo credit: Jeffery A. Salter

I founded Level Up Cycling Movement because I could not identify where I, nor the people around me, fit within the cycling industry. It was as if we were non-existent. Level Up was created to fill some of the major gaps necessary to begin building a place where people of color can have community, organize to address issues plaguing our community as well as build an infrastructure where the next generation can partake in cycling as an organized sport from amateur to professional.

While as a UCI rider agent, I was involved with signing the first woman of color to the world stage, my work as an agent isn’t one of simply discovering existing talent and representing. That’s the easy part. I became an agent to be a bridge between people of color and professional cycling. After sitting with a few aspiring young racers and long time fans of bike racing, it became apparent opportunities for people of color to race within the U.S. were slim and at the Continental and World Tour level, basically non-existent. The lack of access to information was a recurring issue, no one could explain, “How to become a Professional Cyclist.” I watched young people train and race with their hearts first, idolizing and studying cycling sensations like Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, and Annemiek Van Vleuten while in the pit of their guts possessing an understanding that a chance to race as a professional most likely will never arrive. Opportunities for development, high level coaching, support with equipment and nurturing currently doesn’t exist.

A message to all who are in the fight for racial justice, know we are upset. We may not be upset with you personally, however we welcome your sincere voices and most of all we welcome unity. We see and feel heightened hostility all around us, we are currently managing disappointment from family and friends who have not stood with us, but most of all we are trying to process and heal from the traumatic deaths played out before us. Healing processes differently for each of us. Some of us are confused, depressed, or angry, while others have the ability to stand up and fight. Understand we possess a certain level of mistrust due to a system that has slaughtered us. Give us time if we do not seem open to communication. Soft nudges in the right direction often work. In 2020, I am hopeful we will all band together to ensure every human is truly free, free to experience the basic freedom of riding a bicycle.

Erica Elle, 38, is a financial professional, UCI rider agent, and founder of Level Up Cycling Movement.

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