From Downhill Racer To Cycling Inclusivity Advocate
Eliot Jackson, co-founder of Grow Cycling Foundation, talks about the origin and goals he has for his nonprofit.
Eliot Jackson is a Backcountry Trailbreaker—one of the advocates we sponsor to make the outdoors more accessible to all. As a former World Cup downhill racer, Eliot is leveraging his extensive knowledge of the bike industry to help underrepresented populations get into cycling through his nonprofit, Grow Cycling Foundation. We sat down with him to chat through his experiences, struggles, and hopes for the bike community.
What barriers to cycling does the Black community experience most often?
I think it is the lack of opportunity and access to pursue all that cycling has to offer. If I live in the city, I may have never had access to mountain bike trails or nice roads in the mountains, so I pursue art or music. If none of my friends ride, there’s not only a physical barrier of access, but also the social barrier of having to go outside of my own community—so much so that it is probably more rational for me NOT to get into cycling.
“Even after I get a bike, where do I ride it? Who do I go with? How do I get there? Where do I store it?”
One thing we can do from the start is expand the cultural definition of what a cyclist is. It is not a zero-sum environment, expanding the culture means we can celebrate the World Cup Downhill racer, the fixie hipster and the kid swerving on their back wheel all at the same time. Each one of those people are successful cyclists and shouldn’t be discounted just because they use the bike in a certain way.
Why build a pump track?
A pump track can bring a piece of the outdoors (mountain biking) to the heart of a city. It can build community and foster connections. We can hold events and competitions. We can give kids a safe place to learn to ride while eliminating the risk of cars. It gives people a chance to fall in love with the bike and see the places it can take you, all without going outside your neighborhood.
What other projects are you working on right now?
Our safe place to learn: We are putting on kindergarten through first grade All Kids Bike programs and 6th-8th grade Outride programs in all the schools in the district. We think of this as the entry point for families to get familiar with the bike and a connector of the community.
Our safe place to ride: This is the pump track—a place to hold events, clinics, and workshops. We want to export a new community’s culture into cycling, not the other way around. This means incorporating food, music, and art and building a sense of ownership of the space. Imagine having the local BBQ place provide food, a workshop on riding technique, and an on-site shop fixing and renting out bikes.
Our safe place to thrive: To have a seat at the table, we have to know it exists. I want people to know they can be a software engineer in the cycling industry and that there are excellent opportunities here—so we launched a job board that is coming up on 200 jobs in the cycling space. In the future, I want to tackle the development and credentialing side of careers.
What do you mean when you say you want participants to feel physically, emotionally & socially safe?
I was once riding through a nice neighborhood on one of my mountain bikes, not breaking any rules, literally just cruising down the street, and I had someone ask me where I got that bike and if I had stolen it. This is a situation that could have escalated—they could have called the police, the police could have come in super hot and thought I was lying, etc. Contrast that to someone else, who might have felt extremely safe in that situation because no one has ever asked them if they stole the bike they bought—or in my case, got paid to ride.
Tell us about an unforgettable experience you’ve had with Grow Cycling Foundation.
Having over 100 jobs posted within the first month of launching Grow Cycling Jobs was special to me because it was our first public initiative and it was the first time I made a real impact. Over 1,000 people applied for those jobs, including people of color who would have never had the opportunity otherwise. The messages that I received were something I will never forget.
Tell us about other members of the outdoor community and the outdoor advocacy community who inspire you.
I think the downhill MTB community has always been really amazing. I’ve met some of my best friends there—stayed on couches, called in favors (more couches), experienced so much support and love and happiness.
Going to the first Backcountry Trailbreakers photoshoot, I met all of these extraordinary people and I would have never guessed that just being in the room with them would give me so much confidence in the work I was doing.
Learn more about Breaking Trail and Eliot’s fellow Trailbreakers, and look out for a deep dive with Ron Griswell of HBCUs Outside coming up next.