Storytelling on Singletrack
What Story Are You Telling?
Rachel Olzer is a cycling advocate and the cofounder of @pedal2thepeople —an Instagram account that features Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in their imagery and storytelling to improve representation that has grown into a fully-fledged community.
The stories we tell about people, places, and things are important. They shape our understanding of the world, but we have to remember that we can shape the stories, too. When you see an image, read a post, or hear a comment, what kind of story do you create in your mind? When you share an image, post, or comment, what kind of story are you telling?
Whether we realize it or not, our behavior as riders is constantly telling stories about mountain biking. Where do we think ‘good’ biking is? What does it mean to mountain bike? Who is a biker? These are all questions our language and imagery answers, so taking an intentional approach can help us shape perceptions of this sport and its participants—both from inside and out.
When people think of mountain biking, they rarely think of the midwest, a region often portrayed as flat with nothing but corn and other crop fields. And dairy farming—lots of dairy farming. Minnesota, the northernmost midwestern state, is typically thought of as a fly-over place. The truth is, Minnesota is a destination in and of itself for more than just milk— its beautiful lakes and fantastic trails make it a mecca for outdoor recreation. Few people outside of the state’s inhabitants have come to realize the beauty of Minnesota mountain biking. Sure, we don’t have ‘mountains’ per se, but the trail riding is no less legit!
Just like the ones we tell about places, the stories we tell about people matter.
When we portray a place as a singular thing, we miss all the beauty that lies outside of that image. Many Black, Indigenous, and POC experience a similar representation issue as the midwest. When groups of people are simplified into stereotypes, we miss all the diversity and complexity that lies outside of these narratives.
Storytelling is a powerful social and cultural activity through which our perceptions of reality are often shaped. It is a means of entertainment, education, and cultural preservation. It can also be a means through which people learn about their own origins and culture—as well as what possibilities and opportunities exist for them.
In November 2019, I co-founded Pedal 2 the People, an Instagram account that places Black, Indigenous, and People of Color at the center of cycling imagery and storytelling. My aim for the page is to allow BIPOC riders to tell their own stories: how they found mountain biking or cycling, what they enjoy most, and what they want to see change within the community and industry.
It’s a chance for people to be seen, but also to have their diverse, complex stories heard. Like so many underrepresented groups, our stories have traditionally been so flat and singular. In reality, BIPOC stories are as diverse as the people telling them and it’s important to see that reflected within the broader cycling community.