Bay Area Proud

Riding Out the Pandemic: Cycling Club Looks to Diversify the Sport

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The pandemic had us all travelling some unexpected routes this past year.

For Marlon Harrison, though, unexpected doesn't begin to describe the route he and a dozen friends tackled on Saturday.

"If you asked me a year ago if I would be riding 100 miles in a day, I'm like, 'Why would I ever want to do that?'" Harrison said.

The answer to that question begins at the start of the pandemic. When gyms were forced to close and pick-up basketball, Harrison's favorite form of exercise, was no longer an option, he looked at his old bicycle sitting in the corner.

"It had been there for years," Harrison said. "I took it to the bike shop, put some air in the tires."

He then began meeting weekly with a handful of friends to ride.

As the months went by, Harrison says he got more and more into the sport. He loved the challenge, being outdoors, and the camaraderie he developed with his fellow riders. He dove into cycling, buying all the gear that identifies one as a serious cyclist: a light-as-a-feather bicycle, a cycling computer and padded shorts.

As they went for longer and longer rides, one thing Harrison and his group noticed was that there were few other Black cyclists on the road. Those that they did encounter recognized it as well.

"We would see solo riders on the other side of the street and they'd turn around and say, 'Hey,'" Harrison said. "Literally turn around, interrupt their workout, catch up to us and say, 'Who are you? When do you guys ride? I've never seen this many of us out on a ride like this.'"

Some of the riders they encountered eventually joined the group.

They call themselves the Influencers In Real Life Cycling Club and they have embraced their roles as Black and brown ambassadors to a traditionally white sport.

Harrison would love to be an inspiration for others who want to try the sport after not having ridden bikes since they were children.

"It made me feel good that we were making an impact and giving people an opportunity to join some people who look like them," Harrison said.

Still, this new group of cycling enthusiasts wanted to do even more. So, this century ride also raised money for a nonprofit run by one of the group's members, Anwar McQueen. His organization, TEAM Inc., gives young people from underrepresented communities an introduction to, and experience in, the field of sports analytics.

The ride raised more than $40,000 for TEAM.

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