Cycling With Virtual Summit Offers A Counter-Narrative of Diversity
The bicycle is a tool of freedom, expression, and ultimately, empowerment.
This week, 14 cyclists from across the country will be sharing their narratives on the transformative nature of bicycles in the inaugural Cycling With Virtual Summit taking place September 18-20.
From depression to PTSD, topics addressing discrimination based on race, appearance, gender, apparent and non-apparent disabilities will be addressed during this unique pay-what-you-can (suggested donation is $35; 10 percent of proceeds go to Adventure Cycling) event.
The idea for a virtual summit emerged from a blog post pitch for Adventure Cycling.
As the coronavirus pandemic continued into the summer, Cycling With Virtual Summit event director and Miles of Portraits founder Annalisa van den Bergh realized the proposed blog content had enough generative promise to merit its own event.
Said van den Bergh, “I hope this summit raises awareness about what it’s like to live (and cycle) with the various conditions represented and to show that everyone’s got something.”
From her perspective, the cycling industry has a bit of a problem (glaring, actually) when it comes to representation: cyclists from diverse backgrounds are virtually nowhere to be found.
Instead, images of presumably financially stable (because who else could afford such expensive bicycles being ridden in exotic locations) MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra) dominate the print and digital landscape of cycling-specific marketing; representing the “ideal” cyclist.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” said van den Bergh, 28.
“Throughout my bike travels, I’ve met people who not only cycle with all kinds of conditions but have been transformed and freed by riding a bicycle. We are not tokens for our respective conditions; we are very much out here –– just underrepresented,” she maintained.
The reliance of MAMILS by cycling industry marketing is problematic because it creates a fixed and oversimplified mythology of who cycling is for by subliminally informing consumers who can/cannot participate.
Furthermore, the belief that cycling is a sport reserved only and for a very specific population hinders potential participation by those who could benefit from cycling.
According to van den Bergh, the more cycling is presented as a sport for one particular audience, the more discouraged potential cyclists become. Why participate in a sport that you cannot envision yourself doing? Especially if physically, you do not represent the ideal?
Through projects such as Miles of Smiles (think Faces of New York) and Cycling With Virtual Summit that present a realistic rather than idealized depiction of cyclists, van den Bergh uses media to advocate for those cyclists who remain unseen and largely ignored.
In fact, van den Bergh’s gender and condition helped compel her to share her story. A type 1 diabetic, she was featured on the cover of Adventure Cyclist Magazine during a 1,000 mile bike trip she and her partner, Erik Douds, embarked on in 2019.
The story garnered attention from T1Ds around the world because the unconventional cover showed her injecting herself with insulin before hopping on borrowed Surly.
The importance of the cover and its imagery, she maintains, is that it demonstrated her disease could not completely prevent someone from experiencing spontaneity and adventure.
Furthermore, it depicted a cyclist who did not resemble someone who just stepped off the Tour de France peloton. Instead, she was relatable. She didn’t have to have a certain body type, equipment, or expensive bike to enjoy bike touring across the country.
Cycling With Virtual Summit
A Virtual Summit for Everyone
A storyteller and writer, van den Bergh understands the power of personal, passionate and participatory narrative.
Origin stories are important. Her love of cycling and adventure began as a teenager when her late mother signed her up for an organization called Teen Treks.
“I was immediately hooked to the freedom the bicycle brings and the idea that we can travel ridiculous distances using just the power of our legs. It’s something that hadn’t occurred to me before,” she said.
She attributes her mother’s death six years ago as a wake up call to find a way to get paid for what makes her happiest- riding her bike and advocating for cyclists who remain unseen.
“I want our attendees to be inspired by our speakers who come from all walks of life to get outside in whatever way they are able to,” she said.
This sentiment is echoed by Cycling With The Voiceless presenter and Mountain Dreamers board member Javier Pineda.
“The narrative to who belongs in the outdoors or what activity counts as being ‘outdoorsy’ must change. It is cool to see individuals summiting a high peak, but it is also cool to see a multicultural family in fellowship by the river or park,” he said.
Pineda, 26, is among the presenters of the virtual summit that represent only a fraction of the hundreds of interviews conducted and connections made by van den Bergh while she was bike touring across the country.
Prior to meeting van den Bergh in person, Pineda had followed her Miles of Portraits: Alaska vlog on Youtube. The video was inspirational, but meeting in person sparked a desire to use personal experience and media literacy as a catalyst for change; a change he hopes to emphasize in the Cycling With Virtual Summit.
“The first take away I want attendees to have is mainly to understand that cycling is for everyone. The current narrative is that you must be fit to bike, instead of demonstrating that biking can be an adaptive sport,” he said.
“The common ground we all have is that cyclists share the same feeling of freedom. Cycling is not only for the privileged. Cycling is for everybody,” he continued.
Cycling With Virtual Summit offers a counter narrative that accurately portrays the diversity of the American experience; particularly among cyclists.
“Our races, conditions, abilities, and causes, are a huge part of who we are and why we ride and that’s part of the story we’re telling,” van den Bergh finished.
The September 18-20 Cycling With Virtual Summit tickets are now available online. Donations to participate are encouraged, but not mandatory. The virtual summit kicks off Adventure Cycling’s Bike Travel Weekend (September 25-27) and Bike Your Park Day.