By Lisa Bourne
CTS Contributing Editor
My love affair with cycling started very innocently back in the 90s during hours of sweaty, techno laden spin class (of all places) and has led me on the most beautiful, and sometimes most painful, adventure of my life. My happy place is traveling with my bike and there’s nothing better for me than waking up in a foreign place with nothing on the agenda but rides, food, coffee, beach time, and some massage time.
In 2000 I met a friend who was planning to ride 350 miles over 3 days from North Carolina to Washington D.C. to raise funds and awareness for AIDS and I dove straight in – buying my first hybrid bike, learning about tire pressure and flats, what kind of clothing to wear, how to ride with clipless pedals, how to heal from road rash and a concussion after a crash, and so on. I’m a quick learner and all the “hassle” of bike gear and tune ups quickly disappeared when I was pedaling on the open road in glorious sunshine. Since then I’ve pretty much become a self taught road cyclist who trains for the categorized climbs in Mallorca, Italy, Tucson, California – all over. This past year I was extremely proud to break my annual mileage record and ride 5,640 miles with lots of indoor help from Zwift!
It wasn’t always this way. Growing up I never knew bike racing was a professional sport, or that you could build community and friends bonded together by the love of the open road and the feeling you get from just pedaling. Looking back on it now, I’d venture to say that my race and family culture prevented me from this knowledge. I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know. No harm, no foul, right? Not so fast.
Let’s take a moment to think about why Black cyclists are not more predominantly represented in the sport. I don’t profess to be a historian, but I can tell you that the White dominant US cycling culture was born out of racism. In 1894 the League of American Wheelmen, the governing body of bike racing in the US at the time, enacted “the color ban” and actively excluded my ancestors from bike racing. Major Taylor rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century with the help of a select group of Whites who saw his athletic potential and the potential to profit financially. And I recently learned about Kittie Knox, a Black female cyclist who grew up in Massachusetts and fought to become a card carrying member of the LAW in the late 1800s.Seeing this photo sent a shock through my system and brought tears to my eyes. Throughout all the time I’ve been a cyclist and a fan of the highest levels of the sport – right up until Ayesha McGowan came onto the scene in 2013 – I never really saw anyone else that looked like me. The message I internalized, during that time, was that I did not belong – despite my parents’ relentless insistence in having me believe that I was worthy and could achieve “anything my heart desired.”
My Mom and Dad instilled in me my pride for my ethnic heritage – a mix of African, European, and Native American descent – and my achievement mindset that drove me to obtain my MBA from Harvard Business School and ultimately pursue my current dream job leading Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact for Zwift. It’s only been since the sudden passing of my Mom 18 months ago that I’ve come to realize her relentless pursuit of perfection and her single focused desire to protect me from hardship inadvertently created my own overachieving tendencies, a need for control, and all around perfectionism. I call these tendencies my ‘self saboteurs’ and have often wished that my bike could have played a larger role in helping me recognize and conquer my saboteurs.
► Free Cycling Training Assessment Quiz
Take our free 2-minute quiz to discover how effective your training is and get recommendations for how you can improve.
My bike doesn’t care that I’m a single Black woman who made straight As and one B her entire academic life, and an all around stubborn overachiever who has worked tirelessly to set a stellar professional example, and who just landed her dream job with Zwift. But maybe it should. Maybe it should take a moment to recognize all that my ancestors had to overcome just to have a shot at riding. Maybe it should consider the added pressures I’ve had to live with as a Black woman in the predominantly White worlds of cycling and business. If my bike had a heart and was empathetic to my lack of self compassion it might have whispered these things to me over all these years:
- “You’re pretty strong from all those years running and playing soccer… why don’t you try out bike racing?”
- “Don’t worry that you’re on the only person of color on the ride – you are worthy and you belong.”
- “Ignore the racist bike shop salesman who assumed you could only afford an entry level bike. Here’s hoping he works on commission and that he just lost out.”
- “Ignore the racist event coordinator who just handed you the 15 mile route map when you’ve signed up and trained for the metric century.”
- “Nothing in nature blooms all year long… you are doing great.”
- “It’s OK to be a glowstick: sometimes we need to break before we shine!”
- “Repeat after me: I am allowed to be BOTH a work in progress AND help others grow at the same time.”
- “The Universe isn’t interested in your achievements…just your heart.”
- “It’s OK to do nothing!”
Even though I know my bike can’t whisper these truths to me when I need to hear them, I know deep down in my heart that I’m my very best self on my bike. I feel connected to nature and other riders. I can take time to slow down and enjoy the sounds, smells, and beauty of the outdoors. What I’ve learned over time is things that we love to do are our calling and link to our greater purpose on this planet. You cannot go wrong if you follow your heart – like I’ve recently done in landing my dream job with Zwift which will allow me to drive more inclusion in the sport for all. Nowadays when I train for the Category 1 climbs of Spain and Italy and finally reach my goals, I feel like a phenomenal woman and know that I belong.
Lisa Bourne is the Senior Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Impact at Zwift, and an avid cyclist with 18+ years professional experience (Retail, Ecommerce, Consulting, Non-Profit), an MBA degree from Harvard Business School and 20 years on the bike. As an African-American woman and one of the only active members of her family, Lisa’s primary goal has been to try to inspire and motivate others by riding 5,000+ miles per year on her bike. She has also volunteered in various cycling ambassador capacities (i.e. Team Luna Chix Seattle, Bicycles Plus Dallas, Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, etc.) with the goal of driving diversity and inclusion within the sport. Follow Lisa on Instagram and Linkedin.
► FREE Mini-Course: Learn How to Maximize Your Limited Training Time
Learn step-by-step how to overcome limited training time and get faster. Walk away with a personalized plan to increase your performance.