In the weeks following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, the U.S. has seen a swell of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement—and of law enforcement groups using tactics that involve rubber bullets, tear gas, bean bag shotguns, and beatings to subdue and control the crowds.
Some of the police actions used specially equipped bicycles (which are sometimes ridden for daily patrols as well as transportation in crowd and protest situations) as weapons. In reaction, parts of the cycling community demanded that prominent bike brands stop selling bicycles to police departments. The bike brand Fuji announced on June 5 that it would stop selling police bikes (at least temporarily, while it evaluates the situation). Trek, one of the largest U.S.-based bike brands, hasn’t announced plans to cease or change its police-bike program. This has led to a rift within Trek’s Women’s Advocate Program.
The company’s Women’s Advocate program was founded in September 2016 to encourage more women to bike, with a stated mission of “more women on more bikes more often.” The program has 92 members, who are selected by local stores or nominated by other advocates, and are unpaid but “receive bikes and accessories to use during their time as advocates,” according to Eric Bjorling, Trek’s Director of Brand Marketing and Public Relations.
Diana Hildebrand, who left an accounting job to focus on cycling advocacy, said she is one of five women of color in Trek’s Women’s Advocate program. (Another ambassador also confirmed that the program had only five women of color; when asked, Bjorling said he didn’t know how many women of color were in in the program.) She told Bicycling that she noticed a silence about issues of race in the Trek Advocates’ private Facebook page in the days after Floyd’s killing, as protests against police violence were spreading around the world. Hildebrand says she raised the issue and was disappointed with the response.
“I was reaching out to my sisters, and I was so appalled by the silence of these women,” Hildebrant says. “I felt like with all the shit that they said to me about being supportive and understanding [they would be supportive] … they were like, ‘if you don’t like it you can leave the group.’”
A small number of advocates reached out to support Hildebrand and wanted to push Trek to respond to police violence, including former Trek advocate Elizabeth Tobey. Tobey began her work as a Trek Women’s Advocate in 2019, and had been working on building a women’s cycling community in New York.
“When the Black Lives Matter protests started happening and police on Trek bikes were very visibly assaulting protesters, that became a problem in the community,” Tobey said.
On June 2, Trek released a statement from Trek CEO John Burke that Tobey, Hildebrand, and others felt didn’t go far enough—by not specifically saying Black Lives Matter, not addressing police reform, and not resolving their stance on police bikes.
“I was in their house, in the Burke house, dancing with them [at a party after a Trek event]. I built relationships there and [on June 2] I woke up to a slap in the face,” Hildebrand says. “To be part of a brand that is missing the whole concept of why we are so outraged and the reason we want to defund the police it is so … I don’t even know the right words to say. How can you be so disconnected from us?”
On June 5, eight advocates, including Tobey, Hildebrand, and others who agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity, wrote a letter addressed to “Trek Leadership.” This letter demanded that Trek divest from police departments, publicly acknowledge and support the Black Lives Matter movement, investigate police use of force where existing bike contracts exist, invest in athletes of color, make accessibility and inclusivity a pillar of company culture, and implement true diversity, equity, and inclusivity. The authors, including several women of color, asked Trek to listen more and speak less.
This letter was followed by a conference call, also on June 5, attended by 20-30 advocates and members of Trek’s leadership team including CFO Chad Brown. In this call, two advocates told us, Brown promised that Trek’s next statement would be a “mic drop.” The advocates we spoke with said they felt listened to on the call, and mentioned that Hildebrand did an excellent job of explaining the demands and their basis to Trek. Advocates also told us that Tobey pressured Trek on the call.
Later that day, Tobey sent a follow-up email to Brown after the conference call, urging him to release a statement on behalf of Trek before the second weekend of protests (June 6 and 7), as NYPD rapidly escalated their use of force. (This was the same day Fuji announced it would suspend sales of bikes to police.)
Trek released its next statement on Wednesday, June 10. The statement outlined what Trek calls its “all in” package of reforms, focusing mainly on how Trek’s investment in its own growth and stores could help by creating industry jobs for people of color, sponsoring NICA teams, diversity training for staff, and putting stores and money into what Trek calls “underserved” communities. It did not address sales of bikes to police.
For Tobey and the other advocates that Bicycling spoke with who opposed Trek's position on police bikes, the statement was not enough; they wanted to see the brand donate to organizations supporting the movement for racial justice and commit to including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in leadership roles.
On June 22, following her continued advocacy for reform (in the private Facebook group), Tobey was asked to join on a call with two retail marketing managers at Trek. Tobey says she was told she could no longer be part of the Trek Women’s advocacy program. She says the reason cited was that her local store manager did not feel she was “a good fit for the program” and that she “hadn’t seemed happy.”
Tobey also says it was also noted that in response to a question on her Facebook page she had recommended a Specialized bike in addition to Trek’s offerings. “I had posted an article about [Trek’s] ongoing issue, and a friend asked me what bike she should buy now,” Tobey says. “I had said Specialized and Van Dessel are great, but I love the Boone and Crockett as well, and the Checkpoint.” (The last three bikes mentioned are all Trek bikes.)
Tobey says she feels the real reason for her termination was her advocacy: “I just feel very strongly that with all the work I had put in that what Trek is doing is putting out the sign that if people want to dissent from the pro police point of view they will be kicked out,” Tobey said.
Referring to Tobey’s release from the advocacy program, Bjorling told Bicycling, “We did make the decision to release one person after her shop complained of her efforts over the past year and felt that she had advocated for competitor brands and shops.” Bicycling reached out to the shop via phone, and it declined to comment.
Later that week, two other advocates who had co-signed the letter told Bicycling they felt pressured by Trek to step down as advocates. Five of the eight signatories to the open letter are still in the program. Bicycling attempted to contact all signatories of the letter but we were only able to speak with four.
The signatories we did speak with say in part that they elected to stay in the program to help Trek continue to confront issues of diversity and inclusion. Hildebrand, a full-time cycling coach and an advocate, is among them; she says that if Trek follows through on the initiatives and steps it has laid out, the brand can help her with her work.
“I said if you want to invest your money how about you start with a Black woman trying to create change in her community instead of trying to find people?” Hildebrand said. “I reached out to them and I told them that, and I let them know where I want to be when it comes to the program.”
Staying connected to Trek is not a decision Hildebrand has taken lightly. “I am still thinking, Am I making the right move? How am I going to be looked at if Trek doesn’t hold true to their word? My first bike was a Trek bike before I became an advocate, I wanted to represent Trek. Here I am actually representing this brand that is slightly racist.”
Hildebrand also says she respects the three women who are no longer with the program, and that she’s proud of them for upholding their morals and integrity.
“I am not going to forget the people who actually made a sacrifice for the Black women in our group.”
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