Inspire, empower, motivate

The Women of Colour Cycling Collective is on a mission to inspire, empower and motivate women of colour to cycle. Rebecca Morley catches up with chair Jenni Gwiazdowski to find out more

Cycling’s diversity issue is well-known – whether it’s out on the roads or at industry events, most riders are white, middle-aged and male. This is why a new charity, the Women of Colour Cycling Collective (WCCC), has recently launched – aiming to actively help and promote women of colour to cycle.

The board’s chair, Jenni Gwiazdowski, first founded the informal group with Jools Walker in 2018, with initial meetups being grassroots social evenings at Look Mum No Hands cycling cafe in London.

“We chose a Monday evening and just put the word out,” explains Gwiazdowski. “We were surprised because people actually came – we had about 15 people. I think one person even came down from Birmingham. It was a really nice surprise and we decided to do it once a month and make it a social thing. We didn’t have a website, it was all just word of mouth.

“When the pandemic hit, we were regrouping and thinking we should take it online. At the time, we just thought this was an opportunity because we could get people from across the country to join a monthly meetup – again, very casual. It became apparent that there were definitely more women that were interested and felt like they belonged somewhere. One of the biggest pieces of feedback that we got the first year was people saying they loved the group because they didn’t feel so alone.

“As an ethnic minority, especially if you’re a woman of colour, your communities are not encouraging you to ride a bike. And they found other people that look like them and could give them tips and talk freely about issues that maybe only affected them, for example, how do you wear braids and then wear a helmet – that’s been a recent discussion in our group. It’s just another way for people to feel like this is for them.”

The group doesn’t exist as a club, Gwiazdowski continues – it views itself as a hub which can point people in the right direction if they want to join a club or just need some advice. “Through mid-2020, with Black Lives Matter happening, we created a working group. We thought we could do something more and we started to think about becoming a charity.”

This was finalised towards the end of 2020 but was made official with a launch on this year’s International Women’s Day, 8th March, and the name changed from the Women of Colour Cycling Group London to the Women of Colour Cycling Collective. Trustees now include Alison Wood, Dionne Farley, Jo Chattoo, Sara Nanayakkara, Sidrah Shafaq and Victoria Hazael.

“It’s just a really nice support group,” says Gwiazdowski. “It’s a place where people can express themselves or ask for advice. It didn’t really exist before and now we’re seeing other groups trying to challenge the idea that people of colour are not interested in these things, and just providing alternative messages and images to what people are typically used to seeing.”

Cycling has always been seen as a white male sport, Gwiazdowski continues. “Some people are seemingly overprotective over that and don’t think that paying attention to diversity is important,” she says. “They just think it’s a meritocracy, you get the best person for the job and it just happens that all the best people are white. They don’t really consider that there’s a history here.

“It’s not just the history of the bike we’re talking about – we’re talking about hundreds of years of history that have played into power structures and how people have access to things. A lot of people never learned how to ride a bike when they were kids, which is a huge part of this, or even had friend groups doing it.

“There’s a whole host of factors that decide how diverse a sport becomes. I don’t necessarily see it diversifying right now, still. I’m puzzled by it because I think cycling’s great. I know a bunch of people of colour who also think it’s great. When it comes to the media, another joke we say in our bike workshop is that there’s no money in bikes. It’s a scarcity mindset and people are afraid to try new ideas.

“It’s just easier to do the tried and tested thing rather than approach and expand their market. What we started to see since last year is people were using people of colour in photos, but when it comes to change at the top, the industry is very small but until we start to see changes on boards and changes in who’s making decisions, it’s just going to remain a bit tokenistic.

“We’re fighting against hundreds of years of systemic oppression. It’s not going to change overnight, but you’ve got to keep trying and keep making mistakes because they’re the best way to learn.” Gwiazdowski says that during the first year, the group actually had some kickback from people who said it was racist – which is an absurd topic, she says. “My usual response is: if we lived in a perfect world where everyone was equal, then it would be racist.

“But we don’t live in a perfect world where everyone is equal, we live within structures where some people have more privileges than others, and we’re making up for lost privileges. These are just stepping stones for people to gain the confidence to then do this in the wider world – it’s not an exclusive club.

“It’s more identifying that there are very few women of colour riding bikes. Part of it is they feel scared, they feel lonely or they don’t feel like it’s for them. If we create a group that has some visibility, we’re going to end up encouraging people to ride more and isn’t that what we all want in the end?”

Women of Colour Cycling Collective has already gained funding from Walking and Cycling Grants London for its first project. The charity is actively seeking cycling brands and organisations who would like to fund their work, projects and offer training to the collective.

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