Mani opened up by explaining to Bradley, Dan Lloyd and presenter Graham Willgoss what BCN is and how it came to be.
"Black Cyclists Network is an inclusive group. I set it up back in October 2018 to just be a space where black and brown riders can come together and ride, a space where they can feel comfortable, a welcome space where they can learn about cycling. For those that are new to cycling, it’s sort of breaking down the barriers for riders who have some trepidation of joining a regular cycling club. It’s an opportunity to come to a space, to join people who look like you.
"The idea really was to connect with experienced riders and then create pathways through them for people who are interested in taking up cycling. A lot of people that join us, they are more experienced than me. They’ll say they didn’t join their local cycling club because they didn’t think they’d belong. With BCN we’re giving them the opportunity."
Bradley Wiggins Show - Mani Arthur explains vision and importance of Black Cyclists Network
Here are some of the other notable segments from a fascinating chat with Mani that opened the latest Bradley Wiggins Show podcast.
Why does cycling need a Black Cyclists Network?
"There’s a cultural element – I’ll compare it to football. You know cycling and football, there’s a slight difference there. When you’re from my community you understand the culture of football, you know what the dressing room looks like, you know what happens there, but with cycling it’s not necessarily at the forefront. It’s not discussed much, so you don’t really know what to expect, and I think that’s what holds a lot of people back, because they fear how they’re going to be perceived when they enter that space.
"I liken it to that whole thing about building the infrastructure. When we were discussing segregated cycling lanes, the reaction was: ‘people aren’t going to use that, why are we trying to build a mini-Amsterdam in London, it’s not going to work’. But as soon as it was done, you saw people flocking to it. So we’re just trying to create that space; a lot of people just want that cue to do what they want to do, but unfortunately it’s not been out there for them… that’s where we come in."
The BCN race team
"I’m trying to get sponsors for the Black Cyclists Network race team. It’s the first Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic race team, we’re going to launch in a couple of months and we’ll be racing next year.
"At the moment we’re going to be racing on the amateur circuit, but the plan and ambition is to become pro-conti and go up to pro level. The whole concept of Black Cyclists Network is to really create pathways for riders of colour, from the grassroots all the way up to the elite level, and that’s what the main mission is."
Listen to The Bradley Wiggins Show podcast:
Wiggins on snobbery in cycling
Following an anecdote over a group of riders from Hackney who weren’t comfortable being seen in lycra, Wiggins opened up on his own views around what he perceives as the snobbish culture of cycling.
"I know what’s that like,” Wiggins said. “Obviously it’s a bit different now to when I was younger, but kids from Hackney are dealing with different social environments. A lot of it is peer pressure and fitting in. Without something like Mani’s doing they would never have tried cycling probably, because of not fitting in.
"With certain elements of the sport at the moment, surrounding certain clothing labels and things like that, there’s quite a snobbery and it’s very exclusive, and it’s not for everyone. I think that’s what’s so brilliant about what he’s doing, it’s another option for people who wouldn’t normally get access to cycling."
Why is it called the Black Cyclists Network?
"We’re an inclusive group. The whole idea of the name is that our mission is to try and get more people of colour into cycling, that’s why we call ourselves the Black Cyclists Network. In terms of who we are, we’re a very mixed bunch – we’ve got white riders, we’ve got black riders, we’ve got Asian riders. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere. Anyone can join us, man or woman, it doesn’t matter what religion you believe, but the main focus is to try and get more people of colour to enter cycling.
"If anyone at home was thinking of creating a White Cyclists Network then good on you. But my question to you would be: ‘Why do you want to set up a White Cyclists Network?’.
"Because that’s something some people ask, why we call ourselves that. It’s a question of, so now you’ve set up a club called the White Cyclists Network, what’s the purpose of it? Is it just to be exclusively white?"
It’s a stupid thing (to talk about a White Cyclists Network). White people don’t feel there is a barrier to cross to get into a club already. The demographic of cycling is, and always has been up to this point, a white sport. So it’s a stupid point to put across.
"It’s like when people say ‘why do we need a black history month?’" Arthur added. "It’s because every other month of the calendar is white history month."
What immediate action can cycling clubs and brands take?
While organisations such as BCN will help, Mani also offered his thought on how clubs and companies can help make more sweeping changes.
"When we talk about promoting visibility, what does that mean? Well, one quick fix is to make sure that if you have members of colour in your cycling club you put them out there on your website, you make sure they have influential roles within the club, you make sure they’re an ambassador to recruit other members of colour. Something as simple as that has a huge impact, being able to see another person of colour… it makes a massive difference. When I used to go to cycling websites and I saw a person of colour, I’d think ‘yeah, this is a welcoming space’. That’s one aspect of it.
"And for companies it’s a matter of trying to get more BAME people reflected within your organisation. Quite often what you find with companies is that a lot of them are happy to put black people on their websites, but internally there’s not much diversity there (amongst the employees). I think it’s really important to have those diverse voices within your organisation."
How big can BCN become and is it only for London cyclists?
Mani Arthur also spoke to Eurosport's Tom Bennett about how the network hopes to expand in future, using the race team as a platform to attract fans across England, and the option of overseas affiliate clubs being created .
"The idea for the racing team is to start off in London circuit races at amateur level, so the fundraising we’ve been doing has been to fund that – particularly race fees, it costs for each rider to enter.
"But ideally our plan for 2021 is to race in road races outside of London, targeting cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds for example, cities with large BAME communities.
"The idea to show riders who feel alone that this network is for them too. I’m trying to get sponsorship for a team car so we could go and race in other parts of the country. We’re hoping to head out into other parts of the country to try and inspire people.
When we're racing in different parts of England, we’re hoping to do massive group rides with our followers when we’re there, really try and engage with lots of communities and not just London.
"We’ve grown really quickly because there is traction. People really believe in the message and because what we’re trying to do resonates with people all over the world, people are getting in touch asking if they can set up chapters elsewhere in the world.
"And that’s the plan, we’re going to get there, we have the capacity to become a global thing because there’s a demand for it. Within communities of colour, when you see a team or athlete representing, we really gravitate towards that.
"Back in the 1970s West Brom were one of the first teams in the country to have one or more black players – they actually had three players known as the Three Degrees. And that was massive, because every person in the Windrush generation was like, ‘West Brom is my team!’.
"And it was the same in the late 80s and 90s with Liverpool and John Barnes being a superstar. Growing up I never understood why the generation before me were all Liverpool fans, but it’s because of that connection.
"And that’s what BCN are trying to give people in the cycling world. I would never have imagined setting up something like this in football because there’s no need for it."