Casey Brown is teaming up with Eliot Jackson's Grow Cycling Foundation to help make cycling more inclusive
There’s more to Casey Brown’s 2021 competition bike frame than a fresh paint job.
After George Floyd’s killing last May, Brown reflected on how she could affect her own space — the predominantly white competitive mountain biking community — and help make it more welcoming to people of color. The hands painted on the frame represent the equality she would like to see within cycling and the world at large. More tangibly, she will also be giving away any prize money she wins on the bike this year, before auctioning off the frame and donating those proceeds as well.
All of the money will go to the Grow Cycling Foundation, which was founded last year by downhill mountain biker Eliot Jackson. Brown and Jackson, both 30, met early in their careers and have remained close friends since. When Brown reached out to him about raising money for the foundation, Jackson was honored.
“She just randomly messaged me and was like, ‘This is what I want to do,'” Jackson laughs. “I think a lot of times we underestimate the individual impact that we can have, and the tools and resources that we have as individuals to make a difference, and I think Casey is the epitome of that.”
Brown says she was inspired by Jackson, who spoke up about his experience as a Black athlete in mountain biking after witnessing the cycling community’s reactions to the protests after Floyd’s death. She rarely had conversations about race growing up in rural New Zealand and Canada, nor as she made a name for herself in her sport.
“I think George Floyd’s death opened everyone’s minds up a lot to the conversation,” Brown says. “I would avoid the conversation before because it was awkward and scary. But now this is something we do need to talk about.”
I would avoid the conversation before because it was awkward and scary. But now this is something we do need to talk about. - Casey Brown
Brown’s gumption mirrored Jackson’s. About two months after conceiving of the Grow Cycling Foundation last June, Eliot Jackson had a website up and raising money to build a pumptrack in Los Angeles. He came up with the idea with his friend Katie Holden, another former mountain biker, as he was processing Floyd’s death and experiences from his own career.
“When I look back, I was the only Black person to start at a World Cup throughout my 10-year career,” Jackson says. “I was so lucky that I happened to move to California, that I happened to have a way to get to these races, that I happened to ride BMX, and have a place to ride dirt jumps, and have friends introduce me to downhill. So you look back on your life and you’re like, ‘Man, this path that I took isn’t available for everyone.'”
With Grow, Jackson wants to give people of color tools to pursue biking as a passion and career. A pumptrack was the perfect starting point. People who live in urban areas don’t always have access to safe bike lanes, much less mountain roads and trails where many professional cyclists develop as young athletes. Pumptracks are compact and safe, giving kids room and security to hone their skills.
Grow’s mission is three-fold: education, access and opportunity. From that pumptrack, Jackson wants to create an ecosystem where new riders can not only discover cycling, but take advantage of resources that help them pursue careers in the industry. The foundation’s other major initiative at the moment is a jobs board where opportunities are posted out in the open for anyone to see. Once the pumptrack is built, Jackson also wants to use the space for riding lessons and workshops.
“We want to build out these pathways where you never drop off, because I think a lot of the times people will donate a bike, or have a program, but after that program ends you’re in the same spot as you were,” Jackson says. “And so you’re not actually enabling the community to do things for themselves. And I think that’s really important for me. It’s not about us coming in and just providing everything for people. It’s about saying, ‘OK, here are the tools, and if you want to use them, this is how you do it.'”
You look back on your life and you're like, 'Man, this path that I took isn't available for everyone.' - Eliot Jackson
Both Jackson and Brown believe deeply in cycling’s ability to build confidence, will power and self-sufficiency. For example, there are many more women in mountain biking today because of people like Brown, who became a premiere athlete in the sport despite very few competitions offering women’s classifications when she started. Though she doesn’t see many people of color in cycling, she’s optimistic that the nature of the sport can encourage it to become more diverse over time.
“I think unorganized sports — like rock climbing, running, cycling — are something that kids in every community can relate to because they can just go and do it,” Brown says. “They don’t have to wait for a team or pay money to be on a team, they can just grab their gear and go.”
Jackson agrees, but first, he says, the cycling community has to become more welcoming. That is why the pumptrack is so important to him, because “whether you’re a beginner or pro, or two years old or 90 years old, you can have fun.” It’s an all-inclusive space in a way that, say, skate parks often are not. To ride a pumptrack, you don’t need a high skill level; you just need to be able to ride a bike.
That’s not to say that cycling doesn’t have barriers. New riders often feel overwhelmed by what they don’t know or have. Maybe they’re riding bald tires, wearing the wrong shoes or unwittingly breaking a rule of the trail; whatever the case, Jackson wants the Grow Cycling Foundation to reinforce a culture of non-judgement. Anyone who wants to ride shouldn’t ever feel discouraged.
“I think we in the cycling world have a very narrow definition of what a cyclist is, and as we spend more time here we kind of forget what it was like for us,” Jackson says. “If we can be more welcoming to those beginners — no matter what color they are, what gender — and just create a more inviting environment, I think that will help so much because I think we’ve all had that experience of showing up to a group ride, bike shop, race or wherever and feeling out of place.
“I think that is paramount to creating the culture where people can feel like they belong.”