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Inspiring the next generation of diverse cyclists

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An interview with Vera Ngosi-Sambrook

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we caught up with Vera Ngosi-Sambrook – the winner of last year’s Chwarae Teg’s Womenspire Women in Sport Award – to find out more about her work to increase the representation of diverse communities in cycling and hear what she thinks sport can do to be more inclusive. 

Vera, who is originally from Malawi, became hooked on cycling five years ago when she moved to Cardiff for a job where she was encouraged to cycle to work and get involved in charity rides. Vera tells the story: “I got into cycling through a tandem ride with a colleague, it was great because there was someone to help me pull my weight and a good way of meeting new people.”

Vera continues, “In the beginning, I was cycling for leisure and joining local group rides but I was the only black woman in a group of middle-aged men. When the pandemic hit in 2021, group rides had to stop, but in pursuit of my newfound passion for cycling I applied for the Ultra Distance Scholarship, aimed at black and ethnic minorities, which gave me an incredible opportunity to train for a gruelling 2000km race with a custom-built bike, training coach and all the kit I would need. I wanted to share my experiences and document my journey to becoming a solo long-distance cyclist, so I started an Instagram account to connect with other women who looked like me. I found this has been a good way to bring the issue of diversity to light, but also in many other ways, raise awareness amongst under-represented groups that this is something that they can do – I’m a big believer that if you can see it, you can be it.”

Some of Vera’s most impactful work within cycling is done by actively engaging with organisations that aim to increase cycling opportunities for people from diverse and ethnic backgrounds. While training for the Ultra Distance race, Vera fundraised money for The Women of Colour Cycling Collective which was set up in 2020 to bring under-represented minority cyclists together in a safe space, challenging the stereotype of what a cyclist looks like. Vera says: “The Women of Cycling Collective reinvest their money to provide more sponsorships and scholarships, reducing the barriers to cycling and supporting people who want to get involved. It’s a great way to encourage people to get stuck in by coaching them to push their boundaries and make new connections.”

“A friend of mine recently set up Cycle Together which celebrates the vibrant diversity that exists in cycling. They have resources that aren’t so intimidating and are beginner friendly, ranging from bike mechanics to cycling techniques to help people feel empowered and confident when they first start cycling. With an index of clubs and communities across the UK hosted on their website, it’s a great way to meet new people and get together to ride.

“I also assist in leading some rides in partnership with the School of Rocks, a community-based program designed to empower everyone to enjoy off-road cycling. They set up six-week programs among different schools across the UK to build confidence and skills for riding off-road. I enjoy providing a space for those who don’t feel represented, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community, different races, ethnicities, backgrounds and abilities. Being able to upskill riders and enable them to grow in a supportive environment is what motivates me to keep doing the work I do.”

I’m a big believer that if you can see it, you can be it.
Vera Ngosi-Sambrook

What are the barriers to cycling for different communities?

We asked Vera, from her experience, what some of the barriers to cycling for different communities could be. She says:

  • Awareness of opportunities: There is a misconception that you need to have certain equipment and kit to get involved but you really don’t. Together we can dispel the myth that you need the newest gear and that it’s a financial burden.
  • Time and commitment: Going for a long bike ride is a time commitment and there are many reasons why people may struggle to find the time. However, cycling can also be short rides or commutes. There are ways of fitting cycling around your life schedule, such as cycling to work.
  • Cultural differences: Getting stuck into the outdoors or learning how to camp isn’t something that all cultures are used to. It’s important to understand that and demonstrate that it is possible by being representative of different cultures and communities to help encourage more people to get involved.

What can sport do to be more inclusive? 

From Vera’s work with various initiatives and organisations that aim to get more women of colour involved in cycling, she has offered some key learnings that could help shape sport to become more inclusive, she says:

  • Diversifying what is shared: Representing different communities is so important. Showing stories and sharing anecdotes is vital, as starting something new can be intimidating especially when you don’t see yourself represented.
  • Echo chambers: More often than not with events and organised rides, awareness is contained within social circles and ‘if you know, you know’. Spreading the word to smaller communities, holding open days and beginner sessions for targeted audiences, and ringfencing tickets to ensure spaces are available will help create opportunities for those considering getting involved.
  • Equipment hire: For people who don’t have the right kit, providing the option to hire equipment is an easy way to encourage people to try things out if they’re financially limited and can’t commit to investing. That way they have a positive first experience and get a flavour for the sport, with the hope that they’ll keep coming back!