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‘Pushing back the boundaries of diversity in cycling’: RideFest four years on

RideFest began life on a chairlift in the Austrian ski resort of St Anton in March 2016, from a conversation between Enitan Shonibare and Richard Liston. A simple question was posed: how many people in the ski group (SkiFest) rode bikes? ‘Not many’ was the answer, and from there, the idea was hatched that we would set up RideFest as a vehicle to drive participation among the BAME community. The rest, as they say, is history.

Four years on from that initial conversation, a meeting of like-minded bike riders convened at Richmond Park on the outskirts of London. After a few tentative laps by the ten adventurous souls who had swapped their skis for bikes, we settled down for chat, coffee and probably too many cakes.

In the four years passed, we have become a diverse group of friends who get together as often as possible to ride. Our wider aim is to push back the boundaries of diversity in cycling where distinctions around gender, race or religion are absent from what we do – which is to motivate, encourage and support all aspects of cycling, from small to large, and where individual achievements are celebrated by all.

Very early on, we recognised there were many people in the BAME community who loved to ride, but were discouraged by the skinny white males on expensive bikes, all wearing manufactured, surly looks; not inviting nor welcoming. RideFest offered an alternative space; one where the mystique and the constant chatter of power numbers and reps were dispensed with, replaced by fun, organised rides to suit every ability. Guided rides by the more experienced members, but more importantly, always encouraging newcomers to join us.

The aim of RideFest now is to push inclusivity and encourage the participation of female riders who would otherwise not go near a racing bike. As a result, the near-100-strong group boasts a 50% gender balance. By chance, Liston is a British Cycling L2 Road and TT coach and runs the coaching for Islington CC Youth Section. Using this experience, RideFest put on a few skills sessions – the first in Alexander Palace in 2017 and another at Crystal Palace. Wattbike sessions soon followed, as members wanted to improve their fitness and their on-bike performance.

The latest skills session took place at Regent’s Park on Sunday 12th July. The locations also reflect the geographical spread of RideFest. Soon, excursion ideas were being organised in Mallorca, with some members tackling the challenging Mallorca 312, and training camps in Calpe, Spain.

We now have a Ladies’ captain, Shirla Poole, to drive the participation and encouragement of female members, and Poole is training to become an instructor. However, the wider aim of RideFest remains to push back the boundaries of participation among people from the black and ethnic communities and to include everyone and not to exclude.

We want to change the narrative of cycling, to ensure that the traditional barriers to participation are broken down and create a space where newcomers, especially women, who are new to the sport are encouraged to get on their bikes without feeling intimidated in what is normally a male-dominated space.

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