Radical Adventure Riders: Enhancing gender inclusivity and racial equity in the bicycle and outdoor scene
What does it mean to be part of a team in a Covid world? Like most of us, the Radical Adventure Riders (RAR) gravel bike racing team struggled to adapt to the new world order of a global pandemic. Before a joyful reunion this past June, they had met in person only once. They formed in February 2020, a month before coronavirus shut down the world.And they’re a new kind of team, based on cooperation and collaboration, not competition. “We are a team that allows for all different levels and experience,” explains member Natalia Cortes of San Jose. “We are all about people doing what they feel best about.”
Formerly called WTF (which stood for Women Trans Femme), RAR embraces gender inclusivity and racial equity in the bicycle and outdoor adventure scene by providing education, resources, and support for the community and industry.
Their gravel team, local chapters and scholarships strive to create a welcoming, inclusive space for folks to develop their love of off-road riding – by excluding men. “We realized there was a need to create a space for cyclists that was free of CIS-dudes telling folks what to do,” explains founding member Everett Ó Cillín “So we focused on creating that space.”
Ó Cillín was one of a group of six non-CIS dudes who kept seeing each other out riding local trails in Santa Cruz. In 2017 they began having conversations about the lack of gender diversity and inclusivity out on the trails, and decided to do something about it.
“First we started organizing a grassroots ride series,” explains Ó Cillín. “And then we hosted a summit in Whitefish, Montana in the summer of 2018.”
They found a women-owned mountain bike camp, arranged for female caterers, and accepted workshop proposals only from women. “It’s like adult summer camp, with camping and riding trails and skill sharing,” Ó Cillín says with a laugh. “We sold out fast.”
Their second summit, in 2019, sold out in less than two hours. “Those summits were amazing!” Ó Cillín gushes. “But they take so much time, energy and resources, and we got some push back about our limited capacity and accessibility.” So the group re-grouped and decided to expand their focus.
RAR shifted their leadership, with some founding members stepping aside to provide space for new leaders. “Most of the original cohort was west coast and white, and we wanted to expand to be more representative of the folks we were serving,” says Ó Cillín.
They also decided to support the development of local chapters instead of an annual national summit. Atlanta, the Bay Area, Reno, Santa Fe, New Haven, Philadelphia, Richmond and Salt Lake City now all have RAR groups that host rides to foster gender inclusivity in their local bike communities.
Through dedicated community-based fundraising and outreach, they started a scholarship program to provide gear and resources for BIPOC folks who might not otherwise have access. And they developed a gravel team to encourage trans and femme riders to travel together to events.
Cortes is a recipient of the scholarship and a member of the gravel team. “That scholarship launched my ability to be involved with RAR, and biking, at this level,” says Cortes.
Cortes was a bike commuter at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, along with co-worker Ó Cillín. When Ó Cillín invited Cortes on a four-day three-night bikepacking trip called the Big Sur Ramble, Cortes happily accepted. “I might have been under-prepared,” admits Cortes. “But that trip taught me how resilient I am. And even though most of it was on pavement, I fell in love with the unpredictability of riding dirt.”
Two weeks later Radical Adventure Riders announced the formation of their gravel team. Cortes won a scholarship to attend gravel camp in Arizona in February 2020. She got a travel stipend, food, a bed in a cabin, a sleeping bag, a camp stove, a rain jacket, a tent and bike bags. “I still use a lot of that gear today,” Cortes says with a laugh.
“We weren’t timed during the gravel camp,” explains Cortes. “It was more about different interests and strengths. It was super-relaxed.”
Cortes was among seven folks chosen for the original gravel team; four more were added later and one dropped out. “If you made the team, you got a bike and all this sponsorship gear that is often only available to elite athletes,” says Cortes. “To have all that high quality stuff available for amateurs was life-changing.”
And then a month later the world shut down. “We stayed connected through bi-weekly Zoom calls, Instagram and a Slack channel,” explains Cortes. “We took place in on-line panels to introduce our team to the world. And honestly quarantine gave me more time to train, to learn to be an athlete and find local trails when I moved to San Jose.”
“I’ve never been an all-star athlete, but I love being part of a team,” says Cortes. “A training regime is not really my style, for me it’s all about how connected do I feel with the folks I’m riding with, who can I ride with?” So during the fallout from the global pandemic Cortes has gotten involved with local groups and found a riding buddy.
“Our Bay Area RAR chapter is focusing its outreach to BIPOC folks, who are often not comfortable in big group rides,” explains Cortes. “So we just did a full moon ride in San Francisco. It was a chill six mile ride along the Embarcadero, a chance to get together and build community, be social, create a space for folks to connect and build trust.”
After over a year of Zooming and on-line meetups, the RAR Gravel Team was eager to connect and build trust in person. “We finally found a weekend where we could make it happen this past June!” Cortes gushes with excitement. “It was all self-planned, each of us cooked and provided, feeding each other and biking together, all wearing the same striped jerseys. People on the trails were calling us Team Zebra.”
Four folks from Specialized, one of their sponsors, showed up and they contracted a photographer to document the weekend of joyful riding through Wilder Ranch State Park and the Marin Headlands. “The folks from Specialized kept saying what a fun, relaxed and silly team we were,” laughs Cortes. “We don’t really care about being the fastest team, but we hope to be the funnest!”
RAR’s Gravel Team will have a chance to put their fun to the test when they meet in Colorado for their first in-person race at the Steamboat Gravel August 15. On September 18 they will meet again for California’s Grinduro race. “And for our third race of the season, we are encouraging all our members to do a local course,” Cortes explains.
Cortes’ athletic development and love of gravel riding would not exist without the nurturing and support of RAR. “This group has really created a space where we can accept ourselves for who we are, where we are,” says Cortes. “As soon as people do that, we invite more diversity.”
Cortes doesn’t think about the CIS-men who dominate the sport and events much. “But sometimes I feel bad for bros,” Cortes admits. “There’s so much pressure to be the shreddiest, and perform at such a high level. RAR riders are there to remind them they don’t have to do that. We are taking the time to accept ourselves and hope they can too.”