An Interview With Harry Hill: Founder of Minority Mountain Bikers
Photo Credit: @khopshoots on IG & Facebook
Minority Mountain Bikers (MMB) was founded by Harry Hill to increase and promote diversity in mountain biking. Through organizing rides and events like Bentonville Bike Week, MMB brings together seasoned and new BIPOC mountain bikers.
I’m grateful to have learned about MMB last year. I’ve had my best two-wheeled experiences and met some of my favorite people at Minority Mountain Biker events. Never have I felt so loved and welcomed in a mountain biking space! Events by and for BIPOC riders are essential to growing diversity in the sport and in providing opportunities for riders to build community.
So far this year, MMB has events planned in Bentonville, Arkansas, Snowshoe, West Virginia, and Jamaica, along with frequent local rides happening throughout the year. To learn more about Minority Mountain Bikers or sign up for an event, check them out online and on Instagram or Facebook, and read our interview with MMB founder Harry Hill below.
Tell us more about what prompted the idea to start Minority Mountain Bikers.
Minority Mountain Bikers (MMB) started by my attending other mountain bike group rides. The rides and organizations were fun, but there weren’t others who looked like “me” for most of these rides. I noticed that what seemed to work for the groups I was riding with was an online presence on Facebook and Meetup to get the word out about rides and events. So, I just created a Facebook group. With the group page, I and other Black and Brown faces I had seen riding and had chatted with about being “the only ones” trailside were able to post about rides and start getting some group rides going where we could band together.
From the local rides, we would all chat about some of the destination riding locations we had heard about or seen online. Those discussions catalyzed the first MMB Bike Week in 2021 in Bentonville, Arkansas. Thanks to the powers of social media, we were able to attract folks from across the country!
What is your favorite MMB event so far?
My favorite event is Bentonville Bike Week 2022. Check out the highlights here!
Photo Credit: @khopshoots on IG & Facebook
We had a larger turnout with more diversity in the group. More women came out, and riders represented more regions of the country. Spouses and significant others of participants from 2021 also came. In short, 2022 matched and even outgrew the success of 2021 in terms of turnout.
During the event, we worked with The Ride Series to provide clinics for whoever wanted some instruction to become better riders. Watching folks make breakthroughs while riding was amazing to see, especially when they were excited about it. The energy was infectious. It was also wonderful to see folks experience a different riding area from their home for the first time. The commentary about the scenery, people, bike infrastructure, and culture all played a huge part in my personal enjoyment of seeing the event grow along with the organization.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own mountain biking club or to existing clubs that want to be more inclusive?
First and foremost, you cannot do it alone. You have to have friends and allies that will help in whatever way they feel comfortable. Whether that be posting pictures and videos, providing networking connections with others in biking, or simply talking to riders they meet about joining the group. I couldn’t have got MMB to where it is without Mike recruiting people on the trails, Korey making introductions and capturing images that make us look great, Bennie videographing events, or Milt willing to combine the work we were doing separately. You have to have help, people who believe in what you’re trying to do and can see the need and future of it.
When it comes to the riding side, you need to provide an environment for everyone. You need to have options for the folks that may be faster or want more advanced trail features. Conversely, you need to adapt and slow it down for folks that may be newer and need more time to learn or just ride around. Make it enjoyable for folks at all levels. That means that sometimes, every ride isn’t for everyone, and that is ok if you communicate the specifications of rides with everyone.
For existing organizations that want to be more inclusive, make an effort. You can’t sit on the sidelines and think, “how do we do this?” It could be as simple as stopping on the trails and talking to a BIPOC person to tell them about your organization and making them feel welcome. There isn’t an easy answer, but having a welcoming environment will certainly help with the change.
In terms of inclusion and recognition of Black cyclists in the mountain biking community, what progress do you feel has been made since the start of MMB?
I think it’s two-fold. In the big picture, not much. If you look at catalogs, advertisements, editorials, race images, and more are still dominated by white riders.
That being said, MMB has come far in 2.5 years. We’ve been able to bootstrap the organization to get it to where it is today. The first year of Bentonville was self-funded and attracted about 30 people from across the country. The following year, the turnout doubled in size. We also brought out a lot more women and partners with Visit Bentonville, SRAM, and The Ride Series, among others, helping to expand our reach and make already great events better. We have also been able to put on events that involved getting entire families to embrace the outdoors. We held an event last year in partnership with the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park outside of Baltimore that got non-bike-riding members of the family out on trails for a guided hike while some of us rode. Afterward, we all came together over food and fellowship.
Fortunately, we aren’t the only ones trying to change the landscape. Bike POC in Bentonville, AR, who we have partnered with, has a similar mission, and there are groups that exist everywhere working to get various folks from other backgrounds outdoors. Hispanic, Southeast Asian, Women, you name it. I think the next step is to start connecting these various local groups together in order to make something bigger than what any of us can do on an individual level. The National Brotherhood of Skiers is one example of that.
We’ve heard about the great work being done to pave the way for a more inclusive mountain biking community. In your opinion, what barriers persist?
Two major factors are exposure and representation. I was once at a seminar where one of the speakers had us do the following exercise:
“Close your eyes and imagine you are driving down the road. You see a person on a bike. What do they look like?”
At least 80% of the room, whether white, Black, Brown, Asian, etc., pictured a lycra-wearing white man on a road bike. For a lot of BIPOC folks, they just don’t envision themselves or anyone that looks like them on a bike, let alone a mountain bike, because going into the woods isn’t something a lot of us have been exposed to.
Beyond exposure and representation, there is the economic barrier. Bikes are expensive. Maintaining a bike is expensive. Storing a bike can be complicated and potentially an additional expense if you live in the city. Having a vehicle and equipment to safely transport a bike when you can’t ride to the trail is expensive. It all adds up and makes it particularly difficult for low-income individuals to participate.
Then there is access. Where are they? How do you find out about trails? How do you get there if you can’t ride from home?
Finally, let’s say you conquer all of the above. What about when you get out there and don’t see anyone that looks like you or comes from a background that you can relate with? Building trails, bike lanes, and additional biking infrastructure are wonderful and needed actions, but without an inclusive community, a key component is missing.
In our 2021 “Reconnecting to the New Majority” report, we researched the many barriers to biking for people from underrepresented and underserved communities. People indicated that more opportunities to bike with others would increase their participation in bicycling, and it’s important for those groups to be representative, diverse, and appropriate for people with different ability levels. We celebrate clubs like Minority Mountain Bikers that can provide a space for BIPOC to grow and explore their love for biking the outdoors!