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Carving out Space with Austin Killips

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating women who are currently shaping cycling history. One such figure is Austin Killips, who holds the title of being “the first transgender woman cyclist to win a professional road stage race sanctioned by the sport’s international governing body, the Union Cycliste International, when she was victorious at the 254-mile, five-day Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.”

We caught up with Austin as she traveled through her recent high-altitude training ground, the mountain passes of Colorado. Through tunnels and valleys, the conversation persisted despite patchy service and several dropped calls. Read on to catch a glimpse into Austin’s experience, her take on inclusion, and her favorite memories of bike joy. 

Austin Killips wearing a helmet and a soft smile against a sunny orange backdrop
Austin Killips’ nice bikes team photo

To start, we always like to ask people about their bike journey. What got you into biking?

I found a job at a local bike shop when I lived in Chicago, and it just snowballed from there. I started riding a lot during a period of existential crisis. I found my bike to be a powerful tool for self-discovery. 

What made you want to go pro?

Finding success was something that happened, more than something I sought out. The opportunity arose where I had tons of support, with sponsors in my corner and a wonderful team. It seemed like something to jump on while I had the chance and ability. 

In the wake of the UCI’s decision to exclude trans women competing in women’s cycling, what are you doing these days?

I’m spending time putting together an ultra-endurance program — chasing goals on the bike that are pushing the limit, chasing challenges, and training. I’m thinking a lot about my relationship to the sport, what brought me here, and what keeps me here, if it’s worth continuing to pursue. It’s a multifaceted challenge and a very difficult, weird moment. Literally an uphill battle.

I’m so glad this experience hasn’t pushed you out of the bike movement. For LGBTQ+ people, your success in the face of exclusion has been an inspiration. 

Everyone should have access to elite racing. It’s important to continue to carve out spaces and show that trans and queer people — all underrepresented people — have every right to be here and pursue the sport to the highest level. It’s also valuable to consider that domestic cycling is in an interesting shape. The landscape is shifting with a lot of energy towards efforts that aren’t bound up with traditional sanctioned racing, like gravel racing and bikepacking. Racing doesn’t have to be all I am or all I do. 

What would you say to LGBTQ+ people, specifically trans women, who are looking for their place in the bike movement? 

It’s important to consider – why do you like riding your bike? In what ways is your bike an important tool for you? Because it’s not about winning. Showing up in the bike movement is to be connected, to be in community with others. Carve out spaces, and hold space for yourself and peers who are underrepresented in the sport. For me, what really brought me in was a positive and nurturing local race community. Just show up at local races or events and engage. Once you find or build your community, be intentional with your time — make plans to ride bikes with your friends, and do it in a way that’s enjoyable and fulfilling. 

What’s been the best part about your bike journey so far?

It has to be the relationships I’ve made and the friendships I could have never expected. There’s been lots of unfamiliar territory, and so many new friends on this journey. I love being in community with all these wonderful people — lots of kind people who I never would have met otherwise. 

Talk to me about your #bikejoy, about your favorite memories on a bike. 

There are so many joyous memories! I have some favorites in the front range of Colorado, being out in the mountain passes. Even if you have a bad day, grappling with big feelings, it’s so special to look around you. I find a lot of solace and magical moments on my training rides when I have time to think and take space for myself. To just sit and realize that right now, I’m here, I’m riding my bike, and this is so special. It’s fun to be in a place with so much creative energy.

What’s a fun or interesting fact about you?

I love visiting indie theaters in my travels. Movies are so cool because they involve so many different people — cinematographers, directors, sound design folks — coming together to realize a collective vision. The theater is a wonderful place, and small independent theaters do an incredible job curating a collection to help people access the arts and community. You get to experience things you might never see otherwise, like old movies projected on 35mm film (the standard in the early 1900s). 

Lastly, I just want to pass you the mic and give you the chance to speak from the heart. Is there anything you wish I asked you? 

I am eternally grateful for all the people who’ve been supportive, both those I know personally and the people I’ve had the fortune to meet through the Internet. I’m so thankful for everyone’s support, patience, and grace as I navigate a weird and confusing time.

We’re grateful to share this sincere conversation with Austin as she continues to shape women’s bicycling history. Stay connected by following Austin at @austin_trace on Instagram or supporting her Patreon

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