A special cycling support group has been set up to help women of colour across the sport in London, with hopes to extend it nationwide.
Alison Wood, a performance and skills cycling coach and business owner for Veloqi coaching, helped create the support group within the wider Women of Colour Cycling Group, which was founded in 2018 by Jools Walker and Jennifer Gwiazdowski.
Wood, along with other likeminded women, created the group during lockdown in response to the murder of George Floyd.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the originally London-based group dedicated itself to reaching out to women of colour within cycling and discuss their own experiences of discrimination, on and off the bike with monthly zoom calls every third Monday.
Wood said: “We always wanted the Women of Colour Cycling Group to be more than what it was. We just used to meet up at cafes and began swapping our experiences, but I always thought that we could do more to reach out to the community.
“With George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, racial issues really began working to a crescendo and we were just as frustrated and wanted to do something positive during this awful time.
“In cycling, being the only woman and the only brown person is very misunderstood by the community. Sometimes that comes from the people you are surrounded with in the sport – it’s their lack of knowledge.
“In any situation where you walk in and you’re the only person that looks like you or is your gender, you’re going to feel awkward and feel like you stand out. We get that sometimes on a daily basis in all kinds of situations every single day, but specifically in cycling it is quite profound.”
The group are currently working towards becoming a charity, applying for funding with Walking and Cycling Grants London in order to put on skills sessions and group led rides across the city, including Richmond Park.
Wood spoke of her own varied experiences as a woman of colour in cycling.
She said: “I only learnt to ride a bike about nine years ago. I joined a club about six months later and it was mostly white males.
“A lot of them still see me as that novice rider that turned up in Sports Direct cycling shorts, trainers and with a rucksack on my back! They still don’t take me seriously as a coach when I suggest things or give them advice.
“On the other hand, through lockdown I got onto the virtual cycling program Zwift and was invited onto a Zwift team. I was able to coach some of the other members, a lot of who were also white males, but they didn’t have the same preconceptions.
“I ended up captaining one of their team time trials and a few of them bought training packages from me. It felt all really respectable and I formed some really good relationships. My gender and colour weren’t barriers as far as they were concerned.”
Having recently joined the British Cycling Regional Board as a Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Wood is continuing to make a difference in the cycling community as a whole.
She added: “This outdated attitude is ongoing from the very top. Some members of the regional board thought the issue was purely financial, literally: ‘Because black people are poor, they can’t afford to get into cycling’.
“That’s just one issue, just as it is with many communities across the UK. The real and perceived barriers for BAME groups are much more complex.”
Wood highlighted the need for representation in the sport, believing the lack of diversity on cycling advertisements and in the professional capacity to be a major contributing factor.
In the Tour De France this year, for example, Kevin Reza was the only black cyclist in the entire peloton.
Wood said: “Anyone can ride a bike! But seeing people like you do it changes your attitudes towards it.
“The Women of Colour Cycling Group can only tackle so much which is why I pushed myself to represent on the regional board. I want to cause as much trouble as I can and challenge people’s perceptions and the way that they approach these issues.
“But we also need more diverse people in decision-making positions to give a more rounded view when it comes to programmes and how to reach out to people.”
Looking towards the future, Wood hopes the Women of Colour Cycling Group will get more women of colour out on their bikes and integrated into pre-existing cycling groups.
She said: “We are not a cycling club. We are not about creating our own cycling club for women of colour. What we want to do is get more women of colour into cycling and make it normal and work with other clubs to make sure they are inclusive.
“We want to normalise and integrate women of colour into groups that are already there rather than separate ourselves from the cycling community.”