Founded in October 2018, The Black Cyclist’s Network is in its infancy but has already begun to make waves within the cycling community. The Black Cyclist’s Network, BCN for short, is a project set up by Mani Arthur. He came down to the studio to check out the new gear new gear for the first time with his partner Jolin (who he said, had been instrumental in the designing of the kit). He talked about starting BCN, diversity in cycling and the collaborative process of designing a great looking set of kit.
Starting the The Black Cyclist’s Network has been something Mani had been thinking about since he first began cycling, having previously been most passionate about football.
“When I first joined a cycling club back in 2013, I always looked around and found there weren’t that many cyclists that looked like me. You don't see black and minority ethnic cyclists around. You'll see one or two...but I just didn’t see enough of them. So I thought, it would be good if we could bring together and connect minority ethnic groups. Then hopefully try and work together, share knowledge and information. By having a collective group we can also raise the profile of cycling within the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) community and hopefully get people into cycling as well”.
Increasing the diversity within cycling at all levels is something both Mani is passionate about. Contributing to a diversity report aimed at reaching grassroots by ulitising the help of larger institutions like British Cycling is a side project inextricably linked to BCN.
“A friend of mine Andy (Edwards) is working on it and we've put together a few recommendations. We Hope that it can go out to cycling clubs in the UK. We hope that cycling clubs around the country will implement the recommendations in the diversity report, which would in turn attract more people from BME groups to take up cycling and join their local cycling club.
“One of our recommendations is as very simple. We ask cycling clubs to make more of an effort to give people from BME background more representation. One way clubs can do this is by asking club members of BME background to feature on their website and social media platforms. Just showing that you have members of colour within your club is incredibly powerful. It shows the whole community that you are an inclusive and welcoming club and would make it easy for your club to attract BME riders within your community. More than a few of our experienced riders have told me that they have been riding for years but had refrained from joining a cycling club because they did not think their local club represented them. It's very difficult to get into any social activity if you don't see people doing it that look like you.
Cycling is now regarded as mainstream in the UK, whether you measure that by people commuting to work, doing charity rides, watching the Tour or joining clubs. However, from the World Tour to the club level, cycling is not as diverse as other “mainstream” sports such as football, cricket and rugby. At the higher level this is arguably down to the Eurocentric history of the sport. While the Latin American representation on our televisions has been frequent since the 1970s, Afro-Caribbean and Asian fans of the sport have had far fewer riders to cheer on. Could a report aimed at giving advice to clubs on how to boost BME involvement help on this front? According to Mani, some changes are needed.
“Another thing we recommended to cycling clubs is to have different rides for different abilities. People that are new to cycling can feel a bit more comfortable riding in a social group as opposed to a fast ride. I am aware that most clubs do this. Perhaps clubs could advertise that some more. Then there’s other things like having different time slots. There are people that would want to ride on a Saturday rather than the usual Sunday club rides. All those little things are going to go into this recommendation which will become a one to two page guide that we’ll give out to clubs to promote diversity”
“The report has opened my eyes to understanding how people's experiences are so different. For example, a woman's experience joining a cycling club is different. All you see is guys. A perfect example is someone I know. At first entry into a cycling club guys kept coming up to her and saying you’re not doing this right, you’re not doing that right. They meant well, it’s all really helpful, but when you hear it from so many people you start to think am i in the right place, do I belong here? Because even though everyone is trying to help you it becomes something else”.
An open, welcoming outlook that focuses on connecting cyclists of colour within the context of a sport they love is the ethos of BCN.
“We've got members that have been riding for a very long time but because they just don't see people that look like them in this sport, that lack of representation in the local clubs makes them reluctant to join a local club. And then they heard of us and said ‘we’ve been waiting for this our whole life’ and straight away just joined us because all of a sudden they feel connected and represented. That's the difference between us and other cycling club."
“It’s a network rather than a club, that's why I said that we don't ask people to just be in BCN. We encourage our members to be members of local clubs and local Communities so they also have an impact on setting the agenda and influencing decisions at their club."
“One of the things we try to do is to try to take a different approach from your usual cycling club. We don’t follow the routine of the same ride every week. We alternate between weeks. We switch between Regent's Park and Richmond Park. Every fourth week we do a big ride and it’s never to the same location. We do Windsor, Kent, the Chilterns, Brighton. We try and explore different places.”
The design process of the BCN kit was crucial in materialising Mani’s vision which was informed by Jolin and the members of BCN.
Mani: “It has been fabulous. When we first pitched up we came with the image of what we wanted to achieve”
Jolin: “We knew we wanted the logo to be an image of a black woman holding a wheel. The colours and the stripes were a key focus for our design. Later on in the process we realised we needed to be quite specific about where we wanted the lines to be, where it would sit on the chest so you (Mani) had to come back in”
Mani: “That's a perfect example where collaborating is so important. I had the image in my head and it was very interesting to get it from an artistic point of view where you describe to me that actually, you know what, it may not come across like the image I wanted. It wasn't going to come across the way I intended if I wasn’t careful about the separation of the lines. It had to be just right. It was really important. When I initially came in with the design I thought it was all done, we needed an extra couple of weeks of thinking and planning for it to come across right. the brightness of the colours as well. That’s where working with you was really important, to get our image across”.
That image came to life in a look that might be familiar to some but remains unique, distinctive and eye-catching.
Mani: “The inspiration is of pan-africanism, and trying to tap into that idea of connecting people”
Jolin: “The design and colours were important because it represents that pan-Africanism ideal. The red yellow and green are synonymous with countries of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.
The most eye-catching aspect of the design is the traditional West African pattern across the shoulders of the jersey and on the flip-side of the cap. This was the most important aspect of the kit and the element that we spent a long time make sure was absolutely perfect.
Hailing from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, the symbol “Ese Ne Tekrema” translates as The Teeth and The Tongue. The Ashanti use symbols known as Adinkra in clothing fabrics to communicate proverbs, often at special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
“It is what we call an Adinkra symbol which symbolises friendship and that's why we thought it would be good to have it because as you know its a network, its friendship, it's about connecting people. The reasoning behind the symbol is that it depicts a tongue and teeth and the idea is that in order for a person to eat your tongue and teeth need to cooperate."
Touches like that add greatly to something as simple as a cycling jersey, it is a signifier for a cultural tradition deeply personal to Mani and Jolin but easy for everyone to understand and take forward, encapsulating what BCN is all about.
“I think the next thing we want to do is reach out more nationally. Next year potentially do a training camp abroad. This whole project started in October last year and within that time we've gone from having 12-15 members to having 90 and 138 on Strava and counting. Our reach goes beyond the UK; people have bought the kit in the USA. So when I’m done here I’m going to be a bit of a delivery man”.
You can find The Black Cyclist’s Network on Strava, where Mani posts rides and group information. If you want to get in touch directly, the best place is via Instagram @blackcyclistsnetwork where Mani can answer your questions directly.