Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Last year, there were over 200 collegiate cycling programs in the United States. But just one of those was at a historically Black college and university (HBCU). Zero were at tribal college and universities (TCU). This academic year, that changes. The first TCU and first women’s HBCU cycling programs are starting at campuses across the country with help from a three-year grant from Cannondale, EF Pro Cycling and USA Cycling.
The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and Navajo Technical University (NTU), both in New Mexico, are charting a path of their own this fall as the first TCU cycling programs. Likewise, Johnson C. Smith University, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, is blazing its own trail by launching the first women’s HBCU cycling program. Slated to get underway in spring 2022, it’s also one of the first HBCU cycling programs overall, joining Saint Augustine’s University which launched the first program in 2020.
As part of the grant, each school will be receiving several important forms of support. EF Pro Cycling will be assisting with finances, while Cannondale will be supplying bicycles and spare parts for each school’s chosen disciplines—which are wide ranging including road, mountain, cyclocross and gravel. USA Cycling will be helping with the administrative side of things, including licenses and insurance. Additionally, there are opportunities for all three organizations to provide mentorship to students.
These three groups are providing the tools and guidance to get started, but each school will be determining its own path in cycling, including choosing which disciplines to focus on and what level of competition. For NTU, that means racing mountain and gravel at a competitive varsity level, along with establishing a club for riders less focused on competition or who are getting started in racing. “I’m just so excited for the opportunity,” said NTU athletic director George LaFrance, adding that he’s always looking to provide his students opportunities to compete. “Everyone is going to be a champion because they’re competing.”
But competition isn’t the main focus for every program. “It’s for fun,” said Paul Moore, interim dean of the Institute of American Indian Arts. “That’s the most important thing.” For now, the club is focused on getting started and attracting members to ride and race mountain and gravel bikes. And with hundreds of miles of trails accessible right from IAIA’s campus, there’s plenty of opportunity for fun on mountain bikes, said Moore, who was on a collegiate cycling team himself.
And there’s hope that the program can have an impact that transcends just the club. “I think native people across the country ride bikes,” said Moore. “But we may not see ourselves being represented within the cycling community the way that other groups are. Seeing someone who looks like you makes a difference.” Students in the club agree. “I live on the reservation so it’s something people there don’t see as often, people riding bikes,” said Mayann Etsitty a third year IAIA student studying studio arts and museum studies. “Hopefully it gives them motivation to want to do it as well.”
The collegiate programs already appear to be attracting new riders and those who may have ridden casually in the past, including Etsitty, who said that cycling stood out to her the most at a campus event for clubs. “I rode a bike before, but I was never serious before,” she said.
JCSU, which will be competing in varsity road, cyclocross and gravel riding, is also hoping to attract new students to cycling by showcasing its benefits. “I plan to promote health and wellness, that is foremost,” said the team’s adviser Valerie Mickel, an adjunct professor in the health department. “But I also want to extend the idea of lifetime sports, and cycling is definitely a lifetime sport.”
Mickel is also looking forward to the opportunity to bring a new program to campus specifically for female students. There are plans to expand to male students in the future as well.
Breaking Away from Homogeneity in Cycling
Take a look around the world of cycling and it doesn’t take long to realize that there is a lack of diversity in the sport. “A lot of advertising, a lot of social media, a lot of content was pretty homogenous,” said Cannondale global director of sports marketing Jonathan Geran. “It was pretty much skinny white dudes on road bikes at the Tour, skinny people on mountain bikes racing cross country.” National unrest in 2020 played an important role in spurring action to change that.
“The real spark of [the grant program] was last year when we saw the groundswell of social change across the country and how that elevated and changed the conversation around the whole Black Lives Matter movement and inclusivity,” said Geran. The question became how stakeholders in the cycling industry could help make a change.
“If we’re trying to fix a sport that’s maybe been a little too exclusive historically, then we certainly need to invite anyone and everyone to the party,” said EF Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. Working with HBCUs and TCUs presented an excellent opportunity to reach two of those historically underrepresented groups in cycling, Indigenous and Black people.
“The HBCU/TCU project really came up through a collaboration conversation with EF and USA Cycling about the opportunity at collegiate athletics,” said Geran. Through those conversations, the groups determined that the collegiate level had the most glaring need for support compared to high school and other grassroots development programs in cycling.
EF Pro Cycling, USA Cycling and Cannondale secured funds to help launch and support two programs, one at a TCU and another at an HBCU. Auctioning off a limited edition EF Pro Cycling Cannondale team bike, made in collaboration with streetwear brand Palace for the 2020 Giro d’Italia, provided enough funds to support a third program. They then had to decide which schools to give the grants to.
The three groups’ 10-person DEI Task Force received many applications, but ultimately chose schools that stood out for their student interest and institutional support, both of which will help the programs grow and continue for years to come, long after the initial three-year grant ends.
Longterm success is on every stakeholder’s mind for these clubs. EF Pro Cycling and Cannondale emphasized that this program is just a start. Additional help will come based on what the clubs need, whether it be equipment, mentorship or anything else. And now that it’s the offseason for professional cycling and collegiate cycling is underway, EF Pro Cycling’s Jonathan Vaughters says he plans to meet with the schools to start a conversation about how they can best work with one another.
But with close to 20 schools applying for only three spots, many schools with excellent applications didn’t get selected. However, there may be more opportunities for outside aid for those schools in the future. “There is an idea and a mindset to grow this beyond just the initial commitment of these three schools and the initial three years, that we see it expand to more colleges and universities within the HBCU system and TCU system and beyond,” said Cannondale’s Jonathan Geran. “We really would love to see that happen.”
And more stakeholders from cycling can get involved. “We’ve structured the opportunity with USA Cycling so that they can bring other partners into the program, and support the program as they need, whether it’s competitors of Cannondale, or clothing partners, etcetera,” said Geran. “We really hope that it does spark the idea and the collaboration with other brands and partners across the industry.”