Ayesha McGowan cyclis

Ayesha McGowan: How Cycling Needs To Change For The Better

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About this episode:
In this week’s episode, coach Adam talks with CTS Athlete Ayesha McGowan about her journey to becoming the first-ever African American female pro cyclist, cycling’s diversity problem, and her thoughts on changes that need to happen within the industry to create more opportunity and an inclusive culture.

Guest Bio – Ayesha McGowan:

Ayesha McGowan is the first African-American female professional cyclist, ever. Ayesha started riding bikes as a commuter while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since then, she has submerged herself into the world of cycling. While living in Brooklyn, NY, she worked as a preschool music teacher, a Branding Administrator for WE Bike NYC, an organization geared towards getting more women on bicycles, and Director of Programs for InTandem, an organization that provides access to bike rides for people with disabilities.

In 2014, she discovered the world of bike racing. She won her first state championship in her third race. It didn’t take long for her to notice that she was one of the very few females of African-American descent on the scene. In fact, she discovered that there had not been a single female African-American pro road cyclist, ever. She took it upon herself to become the first.

As an advocate by example, she has dedicated herself to encouraging and inspiring other women of color to follow their dreams, whatever they may be. Through various initiatives that focus on representation like her ‘Do Better Together’ virtual ride series, Ayesha has inspired countless people to ride more, ride together, and to challenge themselves and their views of how they define the word “cyclist”.

Episode Highlights:

  • Ayesha’s journey to becoming the first African-American female professional cyclist
  • Cycling’s diversity problem
  • Implicit bias, privilege, tokenism
  • Equity vs. equality
  • Creating more opportunity and inclusive culture
  • The path forward for the cycling industry


Read More About And Connect With Ayesha McGowan:

http://www.aquickbrownfox.com/

https://www.liv-cycling.com/us/teams-and-riders/liv-racing/133/ayesha-mcgowan/1154

Instagram: @ayesuppose

Facebook: @ayesuppose

Twitter: @ayesuppose

Related Articles With Ayesha:

http://www.aquickbrownfox.com/press

https://www.bicycling.com/culture/a19702179/diversity-is-cyclings-most-urgent-problem/

https://www.outsideonline.com/2269306/there-are-no-female-african-american-pro-cyclists

https://www.espn.com/espnw/life-style/story/_/id/21962159/ayesha-mcgowan-plans-first-african-american-female-pro-cyclist

 

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform


Thanks To This Week’s Sponsors:

Stages Cycling

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Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

Welcome to the TrainRight Podcast. I’m your host, Adam Pulford.

Adam Pulford:

There’s been a great divide in our nation, in our world surrounding race, gender and culture. That goes to the weird world as well as the bike world. Today, we’re going to talk about those challenging topics with a special guest that has been vocal, opinionated and bold about racial discrimination in both of these worlds, she happens to be the first black professional women’s cyclist in the US, thus knowing a thing or two about navigating life on the bike through a different lens than the majority of the people who have already been on this show in the past. Our guest today, Ayesha McGowan. Welcome to the show, Ayesha.

Ayesha McGowan:

Hello.

Adam Pulford:

Ayesha, can you tell her audience just a bit more about yourself?

Ayesha McGowan:

I am 33. No one asked how old I am, but that’s how old I am. And I am an African-American woman and very proud of that. I really love bikes in all forms and ways of enjoyment. I like racing them, and riding, and commuting, and working on them and whatever. I think bikes are amazing and liberating in so many different ways. I live in Decatur, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. I have a husband, a dog and two cats. I can go on all day. You can stop whenever.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, this is great.

Ayesha McGowan:

I really love the color green.

Adam Pulford:

I like it.

Ayesha McGowan:

I do not like the cold.

Adam Pulford:

I hear you on that.

Ayesha McGowan:

But I’ll put up with it with good reason. But that is why I moved south. I’ve been running away from winter and I really enjoy the outdoors a lot. I think it’s a really great thing and I want for everybody to be able to experience and enjoy that without reservation. So that’s me.

Adam Pulford:

That’s so cool. I feel like I as well as everyone listening to us right now are really getting to know you well. So cool. Welcome to the show. And you know, I just mentioned a few weighty, deep subjects, but before we really get into that, I want to learn more about you and I want our listeners to learn more about you. So let’s go way back. Where’d you grow up? It sounded like it was a cold place and tell us more about Ayesha.

Ayesha McGowan:

I mean, it was colder than here. I grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey. I was actually born in Atlanta, but moved to New Jersey when I was five and I grew up there. And then I went to school at Rutgers for about a year and a half, but I can walk home, so I decided to transfer to Berkeley College of Music in Boston and it’s really cold there in the winter.

Adam Pulford:

For sure.

Ayesha McGowan:

Graduated from there, moved to New York and lived there for about five years. And then I got married. And sorry, bike racing, both in New York City, and was [inaudible 00:03:24] advocacy. That’s where I really started to find myself as a young adult, I guess. And then when I got married we moved to California and stayed there for two years. Hated it. I fled and now I’m here.

Adam Pulford:

What part?

Ayesha McGowan:

I lived in NorCal. So the riding there is fantastic. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place and a wonderful place to train and ride bicycles and be outside, but there’s a lot of other things that I didn’t like about it. And so now, I’m here hiding out in my super, super childhood home that we lived in before we moved to New Jersey. So there we are.

Adam Pulford:

Very cool. Very cool. So everything that I read and know about you, I mean, music plays a big part in your life too. Why is it?

Ayesha McGowan:

It’s also very fun and liberating. I think I just like to do things that bring joy, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

Recreation and an art are two things that bring joy to pretty much everyone.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I love it. I love it. Did you play sports growing up or what was the-

Ayesha McGowan:

For sure. I’ve always been very, very active. Well, I thought I was going to go to the WNBA, but I wasn’t actually that good at basketball, but I was very good at field hockey and I ran track.

Adam Pulford:

What disciplines and track were you running?

Ayesha McGowan:

My specialties were the 800 and the mile. So I needed a little time to get going. I wasn’t really a sprinter-sprinter and I didn’t like super long distance. It was like middle distance. That’s my jam. Right in there, 800 and the mile.

Adam Pulford:

So I’m guessing your VO2 is pretty off the chart then. That’s good. That’s good. So how did you come to the sport of cycling? When did you find bikes?

Ayesha McGowan:

I was in Boston, in college and I had a friend who was riding bikes and he recommended it as a good way to get around. And so I borrowed my mom’s bike because it was sitting in the basement in New Jersey and got it fixed up and started riding. That was pretty much it.

Adam Pulford:

Nice. So you go from pretty much riding to pretty much dominating cat 4 all the way up to two. How did you catch the bug of actually racing a bike?

Ayesha McGowan:

It was a seven-year journey. I didn’t jump right in. I didn’t even know you could race bikes just as a person. I mean, I’ve toured the Tour de France. Who hasn’t? But beyond that, it didn’t seem like a thing that just everyone could do. And so, I had a friend in Boston who was just getting into cyclo-cross and I was like, “Eh, no.” It sounded interesting, but I also remember it being like you had to go really far to get to it. Like it wasn’t just in the city and so that was a barrier for me. But then when I moved to New York, I was working with these advocacy organizations and I was already into alley cats, and gold sprints and all kinds of unsanctioned stuff.

Ayesha McGowan:

But I went to a track clinic with WE Bike NYC, which was one of the organizations I was a part of and then they were like, “All right, you know how to do this so you can just come back on Wednesday nights and race,” and I was like, “No, actually, I can’t because that also does not sound how that’s supposed to work.” But that’s exactly how it works. You just get a license and you can do the thing, which still blows my mind. And even after that, it took me a year to come back to it. And then the Red Hook Crit decided they’re going to have a women’s category and so I was super into women’s empowerment at the time and advocating for all things, women and bicycles, and I was like, “Well, I like going fast. This seems like a really cool thing to do.” And so I built myself up a track bike and decided I was going to race them it the Red Hook Crit and that’s how I got into bike racing.

Adam Pulford:

Wow. Just jumped right in. That’s crazy. That’s awesome.

Ayesha McGowan:

It was a terrible idea. It didn’t go well.

Adam Pulford:

So for those listeners who don’t know what Red Hook racing is, just Google it, watch it. You’ll know what we’re talking about. Wow. Okay, so Red Hook to what? What did you start racing then?

Ayesha McGowan:

So Red Hook went really poorly. It ended in a really terrible crash not for me, but I was involved, and so I left that course in tears. It was like pouring rain and cold, which we all know I hate it. It was just a nightmare of a day. And at the end of it, I was like, “Well, this just. This can’t be it.” I can’t let that be how this goes, so I signed up for whatever was available in New York. So I did another track clinic and I did a road clinic and that’s how I got into the sanction stuff. I borrowed road bike and did a road clinic and that was really fun. Road bikes go really fast and you don’t have to pedal all the time. It’s pretty great.

Adam Pulford:

I know. I know. That’s the best thing and worst thing about it is because it gets more addicting the faster you go. Well, that’s good. Okay, so you started racing on the road scene and I could just say fast forward to now when you’re a professional cyclist and you’re on Giant Live, is that right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Liv Racing.

Adam Pulford:

Live Racing.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Live racing.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. So where was the gap between… you started racing road bikes to now you’re on Liv Racing. Tell us the, I don’t know, five minutes spiel of that, because that’s a journey in itself.

Ayesha McGowan:

So I started racing road after the clinic, I was like, “This is great. I got to get myself road bike,” because I’d borrowed one, and it took me about a month or so to do that. And at first, I wasn’t very good, like the first couple races, but quickly, I figured it out. And so I remember I did the I think it was the Dave Jordan Classic in Central Park and I was like, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad,” because I was really nervous because I think it was 40 something miles, and I’ve done that mileage before, but it felt like such a long time to race for. But in a group, as I know now, it’s not that bad at all. You go way faster and it’s super fun and there’s a lot of things going on, so it doesn’t feel as long either because your brain is being occupied and it’s like, “This is really great.” I really enjoyed it.

Ayesha McGowan:

The next day was the state championships and so the park race was a open race, which means it was categories four through one. They didn’t have a women’s category five at the time. And so I was like, “Oh, well, I mean, I finished middle of the road,” but that felt really good. I was in 20th something or 30th something place and I was really proud of that. And my mentor at the time was trying to convince me to come to the state championship and I was like, “I don’t know about that. I don’t know if we’re ready for that.” He’s like, “Just come. If you win, you get a jersey. It’s really cool. I’m announcing,” and I’m like, “All right, cool.”

Ayesha McGowan:

It was in Connecticut, so I had to wake up like super, duper early, and go ride my bike to Grand Central Terminal, and then take the I think it was… oh no, I was in White Plains, so it was the met… no. I don’t know. I don’t remember which train that is, but it takes you to White Plains and then from there, I had to ride to the course but it was really close. So it was a journey to get there but we did it and somehow I won this race. I was, “Wait a second.” I maybe have done like two or three races before this and I was like, “All right, maybe I’m okay at this.” And so I started to take it more seriously.

Adam Pulford:

That’s awesome. For our listeners, can you describe the type of rider that you are? Are you that sprinter? Are you the grindy rider? Are you the I’m-staying-on-wheels. I’m going to come around you at the end? What style of rider are you?

Ayesha McGowan:

I have ADD, like really serious ADHD, so it depends and I’ve gone through different phases of being different styles of riders. I think because I’m usually solo, I don’t get to be as gutsy as I want to be because if I blow up, that’s it for me, right?

Adam Pulford:

Right.

Ayesha McGowan:

So I think I’m calculated. I think that’s how I am. I don’t like the sit and sprint approach either and that usually doesn’t end up in my favor. When my ADD kicks in I get bored, I’m like, “All right, let’s just do something.” It’s not the best race tactic, but it’s more fun than just sitting there.

Adam Pulford:

Sometimes you got to make something happen.

Ayesha McGowan:

Sometimes, yeah. I like the fake out approach to try and get people motivated but not blow myself up.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

Like I want something to happen, I don’t necessarily want to be the person making the thing happen.

Adam Pulford:

Yep. A good friend of mine and also CTS athlete, Mara Abbott, once told me, she’s like, “You know, I realized bike racing is like a chess game. That’s all we’re doing. We’re playing chess and sometimes it’s just faster than we really want it to be.”

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah, that sounds right. It’s super strict, but it’s super much strategy. A lot of strategy.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And if I can say, full disclaimer here, Ayesha is a CTS athlete and the first CTS athlete that we’ve had on the TrainRight Podcast, so that’s a unique thing. Can I ask who your coach is, Ayesha?

Ayesha McGowan:

Jim Lehman.

Adam Pulford:

Jim Lehman. Cool. When did you start working with him and what’s that story?

Ayesha McGowan:

I started working with him in June of 2018. I was wandering in the wind, as far as coaches were concerned, and I just gotten out of a interesting coaching relationship that I didn’t particularly feel great about at the end. And so I was very cautious and weary about jumping into another one. And so I did my due diligence. I never told Jim, but I did call around and asked.

Adam Pulford:

As you should, as an athlete should.

Ayesha McGowan:

Asked folks if this was a good move and everybody I’ve ever spoken to about Jim always lights up and is like, “Yeah, that guy. He’s the one then like,” and I’m like, “All right, well, I mean, that sounds great. I want to work with that kind of person that makes people light up.” So yeah, it’s been wonderful.

Adam Pulford:

Cool. Yeah, that’s Jimmy, for sure. For sure. You found a good coach, absolutely. I think I glossed over the after you dominating the state championship story all the way to where you’re at now as a professional cyclist on Liv. If you want to bridge that gap for us, please.

Ayesha McGowan:

It was a lot of racing in between. Some good results, some bad results and a lot of being by myself and reformatting how I approached things. But I think, eventually, I found my groove and here we are.

Adam Pulford:

Very cool. Can I ask you maybe a personal? It’s a little bit more of a personal question, but I think you’ll like it.

Ayesha McGowan:

Okay.

Adam Pulford:

Your husband, Will, how does he play a role in this story too of you becoming a professional cyclist?

Ayesha McGowan:

I don’t know. I think the thing that Will did that was actually really great was stay out of my way. I feel like a lot of partners and friends or whatever, they’ll get super, duper involved and to the point where it’s not good or healthy and even if I wanted him to get involved, he was like, “Nope, this is your thing. You are doing this thing. It’s not about me. You do your thing.” And he was super supportive and I was almost never home, and always training, and racing, and doing all the things and working because you got to pay your rent, eat and stuff.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Thank you for asking that because it’s totally off script of what we’re talking about, but I was able to spend some time with Will, such a solid guy, and that’s about what I expected the answer to because he just gets it and I think when you’re doing this whole bike racing dream thing, that’s the type of life partner that you need. So shout out to Will, I guess. But no, that’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool. So what is your mission today as an athlete, Ayesha?

Ayesha McGowan:

I’ve shut off the athlete part of my brain due to quarantine and COVID.

Adam Pulford:

Sure, yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

It was just really hard to reconcile, so I don’t know. I think at this point, I am giving myself some sort of rest because when I started in 2014, I didn’t stop until quarantine pretty much.

Adam Pulford:

Fair, yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

So I’m taking time to just enjoy bikes as bikes and not as a race machine and that’s been interesting. And in my head, things will start to settle again in the fall, which might not happen, and I’ll hit the grind and get into it for next year, for next season, hoping there’s a next season to get into.

Adam Pulford:

For sure, yeah. If I can go here, what is your mission today as a woman of color?

Ayesha McGowan:

I would like to see black women, and women of color, and people of color be better represented in the cycling industry. We always talk about the cycling industry isn’t diverse or cycling isn’t diverse, but it is. It is. Lots of people ride bikes, but we don’t see them. They’re invisible to us. There’s a huge erasure of the vast number of black people and people of color that ride bikes and I want to see them and I want people to see them. I want them to know that we exist, and we’re here, and we’re awesome, and that’s pretty much the thing.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And so if I were to say life mission as a human being, would that be roughly the same then?

Ayesha McGowan:

Roughly the same. I think the thing that’s unique about cycling is that there’s so many kinds of people that do it and so it feels like a very unique opportunity to reach an audience that normally I wouldn’t be able to reach, right? And so as just a person and not a cyclist, it feels like a really great opportunity to help bridge that ignorance divide when it comes to racial things in the world and, more specifically, in the United States, but also the world.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah, and It’s a big divide for sure. We’re going to talk about that divide here today. And I know you’ve been talking about, writing about, thinking about this not only your whole life, but especially since COVID. You have your own podcasts and you are an amazing writer of which thank you for writing things because it’s really helped me in my journey, bridge my own gap and divide of ignorance on this topic as well, so thank you for that, and also helped me in preparing for this interview too. So with that said, do you want to get deep into the thing?

Ayesha McGowan:

Sure.

Adam Pulford:

Cool.

Ayesha McGowan:

Go for it.

Adam Pulford:

All right. So the reason why I precluded that is you wrote an article and I think it was entitled It’s Awkward to Talk About Race, but Let’s Do It Anyway. And I liked it, for sure, and I loved what was inside of it. So I want to unpack that, but remind me, you had spoken to the 2018 National Bike Summit, right, and then you wrote this article as a follow-up?

Ayesha McGowan:

I can’t remember the order. Yes, that is what happened. I did a workshop for the National Bike Summit and then I turned it into this article. I think initially, I wrote the open letter that got published in Bicycling first before the workshop, before this article, before anything, but that didn’t get published until after all of this. But I did use that as the base of like, you know, these are problems. Maybe I can turn this into a workshop. Help somebody, help me help them. So it went open letter that I’d sent to my own sponsors, actually, because that’s why I wrote it in the first place. It wasn’t an open letter at first, it was a letter to a specific company. And then I was like, “This is something that I feel is pretty well-rounded for everyone.” And then, yeah, workshop and then this article, the It’s Awkward to Talk About Race, and then it got published in Bicycling, which is really cool.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Well, it’s great because in there, you talk about three main things and what those are, are implicit bias, privilege, and tokenism. Could you define each those and walk us through some examples of each of those.

Ayesha McGowan:

Sure. I’ll just make the definitions because that’s easy enough. Implicit bias is the socially ingrained stereotypes and concepts that affect our ideas of the people around us, even when we don’t know it, and everyone has them. So I think these are the definitions that we came up with in the workshop. I like to let people use what they know to come to an agreement. And the cool thing about having a roomful of people is that we can all agree and disagree, so we add and subtract from the definition so everybody agrees on it. And implicit bias is super sneaky because we all have implicit biases.

Ayesha McGowan:

For example, let’s see, there’s an implicit bias that cyclists have to wear spandex to be considered cyclists for a lot of people. But it’s based on stereotypes and concepts that might not be true. You don’t have to be in spandex to be a cyclist, you just need to be riding a bike, right? So when it comes to race, it could be the idea that black people are inherently dangerous or thugs or criminals, which sounds like a stretch, but it’s not if you’re asking the wrong person. And that privilege, certain advantages that are afforded specific groups and they have the upper hand over other groups. So it’s a power dynamic.

Ayesha McGowan:

And in race, there’s a lot of talk about white privilege, but there are all kinds of privileges like economic privilege. I guess the one that I use in my article is I have light skinned privilege, which I’m not super light skinned but I’m not super dark skinned either. Colorism, it’s a whole nother thing that expands through a lot of different cultures, but yeah, you can have all kinds of privilege. We can have a bit like if you don’t have a disability, you have a body privilege. That’s a privilege. You can have… I don’t know. Anything. It could be anything really.

Ayesha McGowan:

Tokenism. Perpetuation of stereotypes and exploitation of a person for profit. It’s this idea of using someone because of their capitalist value, right?

Adam Pulford:

Right.

Ayesha McGowan:

So for example, if… that’s too extreme. Let’s try a different one.

Adam Pulford:

We can go extreme if you want. That’s just cool.

Ayesha McGowan:

No, my head went very extreme place. Let’s think. Okay, so Aunt Jemima is a good one. It’s a syrup brand. They’ve just removed this black woman from the syrup brand and they’re trying to rebrand that. But basically, they used this black woman’s face to sell syrup and it was this idea of oh, this black woman, she’s probably a great cook, and makes great pancakes and great syrup, and it’ll make everybody feel good, and they just slapped her face on this product to make it feel like something, but it’s just using this black woman as a prop to sell syrup.

Adam Pulford:

Right. Right. And also, I mean, tokenism say within even the cycling industry, right? I remember you writing the article and there was no brand even involved, but there were people of color represented, but those people of color were not really cyclists either. When they were doing their ads and taking the video, and the content, and things like that, but they were they were doing their best to try to represent but they weren’t fully representing that. Am I recalling that correctly?

Ayesha McGowan:

Well, yeah. I mean, there’s this idea of people understand that they need to present diversity in some form and there are qualified people to do certain things. It’s not just a matter of finding a black person to do a thing just so there’s a black person present. If you need a black person to ride a bike, then find one who rides a bike.

Adam Pulford:

Seems pretty [crosstalk 00:26:43].

Ayesha McGowan:

Don’t just take a random black person and put them near a bike or next to a bike and like, “All right, good enough.”

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah. And it’s systemic in cycling. It’s a huge thing. And I think, man, I’ll just say it, this is another thing that you said, I think in your latest article, talking about the diversity in cycling, this is the question, is cycling the whitest sport ever?

Ayesha McGowan:

That wasn’t my question. I don’t think it’s the way to sport ever, but it is super white.

Adam Pulford:

It is super white. Sorry if I misquoted you.

Ayesha McGowan:

No, you didn’t misquote me. That was the journalist’s question to me, but it made it made a very good headline, I guess.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, but it’s a great question. So okay, if it’s not, it is still very white. Is there like five people of color in the pro tours and they’re all men, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Is Cylance Valcar a world tour team? I don’t even know.

Adam Pulford:

I don’t know. I don’t know.

Ayesha McGowan:

I don’t know. I don’t know if Teniel is a [inaudible 00:27:57] pro or a world tour pro.

Adam Pulford:

Well, I could probably do some fact checking before this podcast actually goes live, but let’s just agree that there are very few people of color in the pro tour and even pro domestic today.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

So why has this happened? In your own opinion, why does competitive cycling, not adventure cycling, not a lot, but more elite and competitive, even [inaudible 00:28:26], why do they have so few people of color in this sport?

Ayesha McGowan:

I think it was probably very deliberate for a while and then when it stopped being deliberate, there was no effort to equalize what was left, right? And we’ve seen that in all sports. I always hear, “Basketball is diverse,” and it’s like, yeah, once you guys let everybody in. It wasn’t always like that. Baseball used to have a lot more black folks, but before that, it wasn’t always like that. There’s a history around the world of literally prohibiting people from participating in things. In the in the States, the League of American Cyclists used to be the League America Wheelman and they literally put a color ban on the club where if you were not a white person, you couldn’t be a part of it. So there have been gatekeepers and then once the gatekeepers lowered their defenses, by that point, the damage was already done and there was no effort to remedy it, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

And also, cycling, it’s just not a very accessible sport on the upper levels. As an activity, I think it’s pretty accessible.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, and there’s little infrastructure set in place at least in the United States for that to occur, for there to be even… I mean, color aside, it’s like those pipelines are not very distinct and the way you did it in terms of becoming a pro, it’s not dissimilar from the way somebody wrangles a pro contract. You grind it out, you try to seek those opportunities, make the connections as best you can, but it’s very wild, wild west sort of thing and even more so for people not of privilege. Absolutely.

Ayesha McGowan:

Right. I mean, I feel like I just had a very particular set of circumstances that allowed for me to do that. I didn’t really have responsibilities beyond myself and so I was allowed to be selfish in that way, and not make a lot of money, and not worry so much about specific things that I could dedicate myself entirely to this the cycling journey. But that’s not the case for everyone. I mean, that’s across culture lines, but a lot of the time, in non-white communities, we are responsible not just for ourselves but for taking care of our families. And that happens very often.

Ayesha McGowan:

Generational wealth is not a thing we have. Our parents don’t always have the ability to pay for college or pay for things. And so because I didn’t have a ton of expenses in that regard, I was able to do this. But if I had any more responsibilities that I had… and even with that, it was super tough. A lot of beans and rice and a lot of sacrifice went into this. It was not a luxurious journey by any means. And that is pro racing in general. It was trash. It was not great.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s why I was about to say that. It’s like a lot of people think this pro racing thing is really glamorous and it’s really not. There are some people at the top of pro tour in the men only that yeah, sure. But most, no, not really. Yeah, it’s not that glamorous.

Ayesha McGowan:

Definitely not doing it for the money, tell you that much.

Adam Pulford:

Exactly.

Ayesha McGowan:

Not women’s racing.

Adam Pulford:

Part of your cause… I remember reading you saying that if someone could see pictures or watch a video of you and see your color different than all the other white people that it could inspire them, a person of color, to do it too, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Exactly. Representation.

Adam Pulford:

Representation, yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

Seeing yourself.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I’m sure that had to be a huge motivating thing when the next bowl of beans and rice came your way and the next set of intervals came your way and life was getting real rough.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yes, it was the driving force. So I chose bike racing because I enjoyed it and I was good at it. But I stuck with it because of what I felt I could do with the bigger picture from it. So, yeah.

Adam Pulford:

So question to you, and this is a bit changing tones a little bit here. But is there an opportunity in the industry of cycling to let the doors open? As you said, bring all the people in, all the people of color, all the people of gender and this will be a good thing. Is there an opportunity there?

Ayesha McGowan:

I don’t think there’s a possibility for it to be an overnight change, but I think we could make drastic progress, like huge progress if we would get rid of the gatekeepers. There are a lot of gatekeepers in this sport and I think some of them really just need to go. That’ll do a lot for cycling and not just for diversity, I think for a lot of things, to be honest. I feel like we’ve been holding on to tradition and legacy and the way things are for a very long time. And when I say we, I mean, I just got here what, like five years ago, but that’s not the point. A lot of people aren’t happy with the way things are beyond the diversity issue and it is because of these gatekeepers that things are like that. And so I think we just need to change all around.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. This is just shooting from the hip her, do you think COVID-19 is going to help in a positive way in terms of guiding that change? Because I mean, we’re just a blink from it or what?

Ayesha McGowan:

I think COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to reassess a lot of things because we have to do that anyway. Not as much money is being made, not as much activity is happening. And so this is an excuse to go back to the drawing board and see how we can switch things up to aid our own survival, to make it a sustainable thing for us, for everybody. So people have been making all kinds of cuts, people have been making all kinds of adjustments. So if you’re going to make necessary cuts, then this is the time to make the ones that will matter, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yup.

Ayesha McGowan:

Get your affairs in order. Look at what you want to be as a company, who you would like to be, what you want to stand for and do that. Do that thing.

Adam Pulford:

I don’t know, I sit here and just my brain explodes. Not only sit here now but like sit here for a while and say not everybody who rides a bike does it for racing. Okay, got it. And not every person of color who rides does it for racing either.

Ayesha McGowan:

Nope.

Adam Pulford:

So there’s a financial opportunity. Let’s, if we can, push morality aside here just for a minute, and that sounds terrible, but push morality aside, there’s huge financial opportunity, I think, for the cycling industry.

Ayesha McGowan:

But isn’t that the bigger picture? I don’t I don’t think it should ever be about morality.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, tell me more.

Ayesha McGowan:

Unless you’re specifically doing something immoral. There are instances where yes, it’s a moral issue. But this is business. More customers means more money. So why would you want to keep out customers?

Adam Pulford:

Exactly.

Ayesha McGowan:

That I don’t understand.

Adam Pulford:

It makes no sense to me. I love what you said about this business and it should be. And by creating diverse, new content, you can bring different people, different diverse people in the door and start making more sales in the bike shop online, at events, all the things, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Mm hmm. Yeah, for sure. I feel like from a cultural perspective, beyond the business thing, from a cultural perspective, black people are used to being afterthoughts, being erased, being ignored. And so when you have a space where you see black folks thriving, there’s almost like, I don’t use the word mob mentality, but there’s like a community mentality of let’s all flock to this thing because this is the space for us. This is a space where we are welcomed, and invited, and celebrated. And that is not as common as it should be just in the world, right? That’s why you see all of these movements to create spaces for black and brown people because the spaces that exist aren’t for us. We don’t feel welcome. We don’t feel comfortable there. And so if we could make the bigger spaces feel comfortable and feel welcome, then we’ll flock there and we will spend our money there and that’s business.

Adam Pulford:

Got you.

Ayesha McGowan:

Black folks are spending money on bikes. It’s insane. I went to the Selma Ride just before all of this, which was a historical retracing of the Selma to Montgomery March route that the Civil Rights Movement did in order to fight for voting rights. And on that ride, people are so proud of their bike, right? They invest in their bike. They want to show up. There’s the next person. It’s no different than any other culture in the aspects where you go to a big bike event like… give me a big bike event. They’re all the same to me. It doesn’t matter

Adam Pulford:

Mid South. It’s a [crosstalk 00:39:54] race.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yep, yep, go to Mid South, thank you for changing that name, by the way, and you see all kinds of crazy bikes. People invest in this because they love it and it’s an extension of them. And so you’ve got black folks that are spending thousands of dollars on bikes to make it an extension of them and they get dedicated to a specific brand like, “Oh, they’re dudes,” they’re like, “I won’t write anything if it’s not Campy. I won’t do it.” It’s like okay, but there’s been so many technological advancements with Shimano and SRAM. They’re like, “That’s great, but I want to I Campy because I like Campy.” Now you’ve got a customer for life and you’ve got whoever they brought in this thinking the same exact things like, “Well, Roger only rides Campy, so I’m going to only ride Campy.” And there’s that mentality of like around these parts, that’s what we ride, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

I know I’m rambling, but there’s just this… I guess I call it the Black Panther effect where it’s like that movie. People were coming out, and dressing up, and getting excited, and just black people want spaces that feel like they are involved and when you create those spaces, they show up and they flock to them.

Adam Pulford:

You’re spot on, absolutely. I think it happens like in every little cycling pocket, but then also within the spaces, within those cycling pockets as well. You wrote another really good article in Bicycling Magazine where one of those points I want to get into some of these is, but one of the points was include women and go beyond. And I think that’s what you’re talking about with that point is don’t just include women, right? In the sport of, say, cycling or when you’re trying to grow a thing, it’s like include women, include people of color, include people of all gender because when they come and they see that it is a safe space for them to do their thing and to create identity, it just grows, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

Exactly.

Adam Pulford:

Love that. Absolutely love that.

Ayesha McGowan:

And I think the word diversity is very vague in a lot of ways. Like I’ve spoken to people in the past and you have to be specific about what you mean when you say diversity because for the bike industry, especially when I first got here, diversity meant, including women. And in my head, whenever someone says that, I hear the word white in front of that, so it’s including white women because that’s the natural next step, right? And so, I guess I’m hearing like, “Hey, guys, don’t forget the women of color as well. People of color. Don’t forget us. We’re here,” because we’re always an afterthought. It usually goes white man, white woman, and then everybody else.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. So how do we change that? Where does it start in the cycling industry and, of course, that carries over to real world stuff, but where do we start with this?

Ayesha McGowan:

Not looking at it like an initiative and looking at it like a thing that needs to happen, a thing that has to happen, making it one of the core values and core objectives of your company, and sticking to that, and holding yourself accountable to that even if it’s hard because when you look at it as a initiative, then it can always get pushed to the backburner. But if you look at it as a priority, then it’s going to get done. You make sure it gets done.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. Yeah, just a daily priority. This is how we breathe and sleep change.

Ayesha McGowan:

Right, but that also means doing everything that comes with that. Right?

Adam Pulford:

Right.

Ayesha McGowan:

So if you’re going to make that a priority and you’re going to make that commitment, then you actually have to stick to it. You can’t make exceptions for everything because that makes you uncomfortable or because it’s challenging. And that’s where we’ve always gone wrong in the past when we have these initiatives. It’s like, well, we’re not that we’re not that committed to it, that we want to do this thing. That’s really hard for us.

Adam Pulford:

I mean, it starts with the people that are making the decisions, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Oh, yeah. You got to diversify your leadership, for sure. I mean, even when they started including women, I think when it was up to just the all white cis males that were doing it, pick it and shrink it with the move, right? That’s all that they were doing. Like, oh, we’ll make a women’s version. Just make it smaller and throw some flowers on it. And once women started getting involved in those decisions and started obtaining leadership roles, there was this wild discovery that maybe not all women just want something smaller with flowers on it.

Adam Pulford:

Shocker. Real big.

Ayesha McGowan:

It was only a shocker for the people who weren’t already women, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Okay, so if we’re trying to change this problem systemically, say even in the cycling culture, let’s talk about equity versus equality. And I’ll read the definitions and then I’ll ask you a question about the article that you wrote. So in it, you talk about equity being the quality of being fair and impartial. Actually, that’s the definition of equity. Whereas equality is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities, and what you said was, “Hey, let’s just start with equity because there isn’t any way that we’ve got equality going on right now.” Tell me more about that.

Ayesha McGowan:

Well, I mean, white folks have a pretty big head start with most things and so even if you throw the same resources at someone, it’s not going to be an equal playing field, right? So let’s take me, for example.

Adam Pulford:

Sure.

Ayesha McGowan:

I started racing when I was 26, 27 and I had no idea what I was doing. And so if somebody were to throw… I obtained a bike, but I didn’t have any understanding of how anything worked. And so, yes, while I had the same equipment, as the other women in the race, I did not have the same knowledge, the same experience, the same level of resources, I didn’t have a support team. There were varying levels of things out there. And so I was not set up for success in that department. But let’s say with the equipment. I also was given a coach, I was also given the rules of how things were supposed to work, then I would have been more on an even playing field with everybody else there. And that’s a superficial example of it because, ideally, yes, I could have looked up all of that information or whatever, but it wasn’t the same, right?

Adam Pulford:

For sure. Yeah, for sure. You almost probably didn’t even know what questions to ask even if you could have asked in terms of that.

Ayesha McGowan:

I had no idea what questions to ask until it was too late to ask them. It was like, oh, so why did that happen? And now I know.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

I think a more clear example is one that my friend, Sam, uses. So the Giant Off-Road Factory Team has Eliot on it, and he’s a black male, and Sam’s black woman and she’s saying, “Okay, if you gave both me and Eliot a mountain bike,” but Eliot’s in a place where he can actually practice downhill mountain bike racing, but she lives in Chicago, she has no access to hills. She doesn’t have the appropriate terrain. She doesn’t have the appropriate know-how. She doesn’t have all the things she needs. But you both have a bike, both have a high quality bike. That’s not enough, right?

Adam Pulford:

Nope.

Ayesha McGowan:

That’s equality. But equity would be giving her the resources to get herself to a place where she can train and have access to the terrain, and access to the coaching, and access to the resources that she would need to be on the same level playing field.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Okay, so back to equity and equality. If we are to instill change or even the thought of change, say in the cycling industry, we’re talking at least hiring people of color, different backgrounds, LBGQT, for example, to start making decisions, and creating the content, and creating the products that people are riding, right?

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah. I mean, it’s all about perspective, right? And right now, I mentioned the women’s bike stuff before, before, this perspective was always cis white men and it still sort of is, but you got a couple white women in there now as well. But there are very few companies that have people of color at the top of things or even near the top of things. So yeah, if you’re always looking at things through this white lens, that’s the thing that everybody’s always going to see. So yeah, we’ve got people of color in some of this content, but whose perspective is it? Like whose idea of what these people of color is it or whose idea of how these people of color are, how they operate or what they bring to the table? Whose perspective are we seeing?

Ayesha McGowan:

Even with some of the stuff that’s been made about me, I’ll look back at it and I’m like, “This does not feel like me.” It’s often the same story of oh, I want to be that first and the super dramatic, almost like a pity party type thing. And that’s not how I see myself, and that’s not how I feel, and that’s not the message that I want. I’m not looking for pity because I don’t think there’s anything to pity. I wish everybody saw how necessary this was, and how important integral this is, and how it won’t just benefit me and benefit people of color, but it will also benefit them. It will benefit everybody if the community is more diverse because more people more money. More perspective, more creativity. More creativity, more things to enjoy. It’s like everybody wins if there’s different perspectives brought to the table. Yeah, that means things will have to change and we won’t see all the same things all the time, but doesn’t that sound exciting, no?

Adam Pulford:

Sounds exciting to me, yeah.

Ayesha McGowan:

I don’t know. I would like to see new things. I think new things are great.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. No, I agree with you in new things are changed but, as we alluded to, change can be scary too and that’s the fear with it, right? That’s the real fear. But in order to instill change, in your article in Bicycling Magazine, you wrap up and you say, “Keep asking questions. Keep asking the hard questions.”

Ayesha McGowan:

Well, yeah. I feel like in 2018, I was writing a lot about creating content and paying attention to that. So the workshop that I did was about content specifically and how to keep diversity in mind when you’re creating content. Yeah, and so I was trying to get people to understand, and I guess if there’s people listening, what I want people to understand is that when you set those standards at the beginning of this is the content that I’m going to make, this is the thing that I’m going to do, you have to, at every step that process, make sure you’re holding yourself to that. Asking yourself the questions of is this the thing I set out to do? If it’s not, is it changing into something that’s better or something that’s worse? Is this making me uncomfortable? Why is it making me uncomfortable? Am I afraid to do this thing? Why am I afraid of doing this thing? Because usually, the answers to those questions are rooted in our own insecurities about something and not based on what actually needs to happen.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I mean, it’s living the examined life, which I think everybody could benefit from that. I didn’t say everybody should and not everybody definitely doesn’t do that. But asking yourself those questions, asking other people those questions and living that examine life to further yourself every day, to bring awareness to bridge that gap of that huge divide of ignorance as you were talking about before.

Ayesha McGowan:

Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Oh man, this is good stuff. This is really good stuff and we’re right about at the hour here, Ayesha, and I think it’s time to about summarize and take this thing home. What do you think?

Ayesha McGowan:

It’s your podcast.

Adam Pulford:

Love it. Well, in summary, I guess, race is an awkward topic. But it needs to be addressed in this country, and the world, and in this cycling industry. Covered a lot today, so thank you, Ayesha, for talking about all of it with us. And perhaps we stored some emotion on our listeners, but that’s fine. That’s what is needed to happen for bigger and better change. My hope is that if you’re listening to us today, you’ve learned a few things and something inside you will start doing something about racism in our sport. How? Well, let’s ask Ayesha a few more questions.

Adam Pulford:

So, Ayesha, the last three questions I have for you, just random scenarios and we’ll just go rapid fire through them, and the intent is for our listeners to just take something away from this section, in particular, if anything else other than the rest of this amazing podcast we just had. So first question, if a white athlete is listening to this conversation, stirs the emotion in them, and they think to themselves, “How can I start making a change in my own little world,” but they’re an athlete, they’re not in the cycling industry, how can they do that in your opinion?

Ayesha McGowan:

I think the best thing that white folks can do is make racism really inconvenient because it’s been perpetuated this long because it’s convenient. It’s the easier thing to do. It’s more gauche to call somebody out on racism publicly or loudly or just at all than it is to let it slide and then secretly be upset about it later. That doesn’t do any good. Make it uncomfortable. Make it inconvenient. Call people out if you need to. If somebody walked in a room and like slapped your mom, you wouldn’t let that slide. So why would you let racism slide?

Ayesha McGowan:

It’s not any better. I’m not going to lie to you. Make racism super inconvenient, whatever that means to you. If it’s calling out your teammates, your sponsors, your friends, your family, I don’t know, whoever, just don’t let it slide even if there’s no people of color present. I think there’s this idea we have to defend people of color and that feels more performative. But how are you behaving if there’s no black folks around or no people of color around? Are you still as consistent? Are you still calling your friends out? Are you letting them secretly make racist jokes behind closed doors? Because that’s not helping. That’s my answer.

Adam Pulford:

That’s a fantastic answer. Question number two. If a black athlete listening to this episode hears you and thinks, “I want to be more like her,” what would you tell them?

Ayesha McGowan:

I’m pretty awesome, but I bet you’re cooler than me, so be yourself and do whatever makes you happy because that’s how I roll.

Adam Pulford:

Love it.

Ayesha McGowan:

I guess that’s how you can be more like you and more like me at the same time.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, perfect. Perfect. All right, final question. What do we, myself included, in the cycling industry need to do right now, today, to help keep this movement moving forward that we have in the country?

Ayesha McGowan:

So I do not like the term ally and that is because allyship feels like it’s temporary, and it feels like something you can walk away from, and it feels like something that’s like white savioresque almost. I prefer co-conspirator. I want somebody who’s on my team. I want somebody who’s in it to win it with me and not for me. I want somebody who realizes that racism is a problem for everybody and so we are all obligated to do something about it. If we really think we care, we’re all obligated to do something about it.

Ayesha McGowan:

So don’t be an ally, be a co-conspirator. Don’t make this temporary. This is a long haul. It’s a very long haul. It doesn’t just go away when the protests die down. We have to remember that this is going to take a while. The fatigue is real and it sucks, but imagine what that feels like over the course of a lifetime. There’s folks that are just experiencing it over the past couple of weeks and they’re already tired. So imagine how exhausted folks are that have been dealing with this forever.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, for sure. We need more co-conspirators in the world. Cool, Ayesha. Well, thank you again for taking the time out of your busy life and also life talking and going over this a lot. I super appreciate it. If people want to follow you on the socials, where can they find you?

Ayesha McGowan:

I like a good pun, so my name on all platforms is Ayesuppose. A-Y-E, which is the first three letters of my name, A-Y-E-S-U-P-P-O-S-E.

Adam Pulford:

That’s very, very punny.

Ayesha McGowan:

That’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Adam Pulford:

Cool. We’ll put that in the show notes that everybody can find on the landing page at the TrainRight Podcast and we’ll have a little bit more of a write-up of Ayesha as well as maybe some links to her articles as well. So if you’re listening, make sure to go to the website and follow her a little bit more. So Ayesha, thank you again.

Ayesha McGowan:

Thank you.

 


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