Sometimes, I roll into mountain bike races–and even trailheads–wondering why I am a part of such an entitled, capitalist-driven, expensive sport. I loathe the sight of gas guzzling SUVs (especially when only one bicycle and one person emerge from the SUV), and camping near shiny RVs the size of an average house (complete with loud generators and often a Mercedes or BMW in tow) is guaranteed to put me in a bad mood. I dislike these things, mostly, for environmental reasons. But I also dislike these things–this wealth–because of the horrible economic disparity and entitlement they represent. A lot of the really good mountain biking in the southwest surrounds some pretty poor communities, and when mountain bikers descend upon these communities the juxtaposition of have and have not is hard to ignore. In this post, I want to share several organizations, as well as a few individuals, who are working hard to shift this paradigm in the mountain biking scene.
THE RACE ORGANIZATIONS
In the southwest, the two biggest mountain bike race series are Zia Rides in New Mexico and Epic Rides in Arizona. Both organizations make a big deal about supporting the local communities during each race, but Zia Rides is the one making a real impact. The history of the two organizations has a lot to do with the difference in how they act as agents of change. Zia Rides is a community-based grassroots organization, originally created to bring tourism into communities in New Mexico. Epic Rides was created to bring mountain bikers together. In the words of Zia Rides, “We’re a bunch of locals working with locals to support locals,” and in the words of Epic Rides, “we gather several hundred to a few thousand like-minded folks, give everyone a bunch of high quality swag, then kick the party into gear.”
As a participant, the difference in the groups of people at these races is striking. At the Epic Rides races, not only is everyone “like-minded,” they also tend to all look a like. To put it bluntly: white males on really nice bikes. Both race series certainly have their share of RVs and SUVs, but the Zia Rides races draw a much more diverse crowd. Last weekend at the Zia Rides 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest I camped next to a couple who were both riding old school mountain bikes with spring coiled forks. They were both teachers in Gallup, and they told me they come out every year for this race, to support Zia Rides, ride a few laps and have a good time. To put this in non-mountain bike terms, their bikes would be like my slobbery, part pit bull, part blue heeler mutt showing up at a pedigree dog show. It was refreshing to be in a community that welcomed all mountain bikers. You wouldn’t see bikes like theirs at an Epic Rides event–at least I haven’t.
Zia Rides mission of “a bunch of locals working with locals to support locals” reminds me of a TedTalk in which Jacqueline Novogratz discusses global examples of organizations working locally to help communities. Although Novogratz is focused on helping communities in other countries, her theme is similar to the Zia Rides mission: empowering communities from within. She makes it very clear that charity–and simply giving people food and money–is not a sustainable solution. Zia Rides usually has local organizations volunteering at the races (from youth diabetes prevention groups to youth conservation corps groups), and then the volunteer groups receive a chunk of the net profit of the race.
Epic Rides also promotes giving back to the community at their races, but they do it a little differently. On top of the registration fee, Epic Rides asks for a $10 mandatory donation to go toward a charity they have decided to sponsor for the race, and they also occasionally ask for a canned food donation upon entering each race (to go to a local food bank). Their motto seems to be set in the more conventional, postcolonial standard of giving back–in which the person with power gives or donates to the person with less power. Debbie Lysle, the author of “Engaging the Political,” warns about “the complex rearticulation of Western authority within the most liberal and cosmopolitan gestures.” In other words, the act of donating money and canned food reinforces the power structure in our society, and reinforces the standard that those with less are dependent on those with more.
Okay, I plan to add to this list of rad people in the mountain biking community who are shifting paradigms, but for now I want to leave you with the story of one lady: Lael Wilcolx. She is racing the Tour Divide at the moment (the race from Banff to Antelope Wells, New Mexico). She is about to break the women’s record by almost a full day. She is at least a full day ahead of the second place lady. And to start the race, she biked all the way from Alaska to Banff (no plane ticket, no giant SUV shuttling her to the start line, no RV dropping her off). She road over thousand miles to race over two thousand miles. You can go to Trackleaders.com to watch her progress to the finish line over the next day or two, and here’s a link to a blog that is keeping tabs on her race.