Active Travel Academy | Still I Ride: How Women of Colour are challenging discourses in and through cycling

Dulce Pedroso

For a woman of colour, cycling can mean a double cloak of invisibility. Her experience is already often erased in society, which privileges whiteness and maleness, and she is not seen in cycling representations, which has tended to peddle narrow narratives about cycling and cyclists. If you already experience othering because of your gender and race, the decision to cycle in a car-dominant culture may seem like choosing to be further marginalised.

The ‘Still I Ride – How Women of Colour are challenging discourses in and through cycling’ project by Dulce Pedroso, funded by the Justice in and for Active Travel initiative and supported by Beryl Bikes, applies a critical discourse analysis lens into representation, gender and race in cycling. The research was based on ‘rolling ethnography’, a go-along method which meant riding and speaking with nine women of colour cyclists in five UK cities. The interviews focused on representations of cyclists as well as on how material things – gear and kit, for example – and activities – such as training trips to Mallorca – reinforce dominant discourses in cycling and how these entangle with discourses around gender and race. The project uncovers how gender in cycling is often experienced in fairly material and practical terms (when and how you cycle and what kit and gear is available or considered appropriate), while race and ethnicity-based exclusion may manifest in a feeling of not belonging (based on who you are). When the two compound with the dominant cycling culture, this can lead to discursive exclusion encapsulated in the comment Shu, a road cyclist in London, received from a white male cyclist: ‘is your hijab even aerodynamic?’

The project borrows from cultural, intersectional and black feminist theories to account for different ways women of colour, as an underrepresented group in cycling, challenge dominant discourses. At the project’s heart is the belief that narrow narratives do not just exclude groups of people but also serve the status quo that normalises driving and helps make sure that the dominance of cars in cities is never seriously called into question. It is therefore not just for women of colour or other underrepresented cyclists to do the work, because challenging dominant discourses bene ts everyone – except those who are bene ting from the marginal status of cycling.

Shu [© Dulce Pedroso]