At the point of writing this, there has been a total of 26.9 million (documented) cases of Covid-19 around the world and around 880,000 (documented) deaths.
It is a heartbreaking reality that we’re all currently living through. I was out of work for five months. This was not by choice – I was very unfortunate to leave a steady job just before lockdown and as such was left in limbo without any work. I am very thankful to be finally out of that situation and to be able to notify the UK government that I no longer need benefits to pay my rent and food bills; hopefully, this money can be given to someone else in need now.
At the same time, and whilst people around the world were suffering from one of the biggest and most dangerous pandemics since records began, people began to stand up and be counted. The Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movements made huge waves, continue to do so, and rightly so. Whole countries, such as Belarus, continue to march daily demanding political change.
It has been a strange and eye-opening year, to say the least.
Whilst it all kicked off and as I was out of work, I soon read and watched myself into a black hole of COVID facts and figures. I marched with the BLM movement in London, before I decided I had to be with my family and escape the city. Too many people, too much risk. I did this and spent my months bikepacking around the U.K, creating this website and documenting my riding along the way.
Whilst I was pedalling up and down the country, a new movement was born. Ride For Unity.
Ride For Unity, began with a simple enough idea. To unite people around the U.K and the world, asking people to complete a 45min bike ride every Wednesday and tag the movement on social media. I have watched this grow and grow over the past few months from a weekly bike ride to now, hosting a weekly, live Instagram show with the host and Ride For Unity creator Kofi, chatting with some of the most inspirational people the cycling community has to offer.
I have been so impressed and inspired by this, that I had to get in touch with Kofi and include the chat on my very first ‘Feature’ blog post.
Samuel: Kofi, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and chat about Ride For Unity, it’s been a tough time for us all the past few months following the global pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I fled the city and followed the roads north. You began a movement and one I have found as an inspiration in these tough times. As a big believer in promoting community and diversity with the sport of cycling, I admire what you’re doing and what you have done since we entered lockdown.
As such, I have been very keen to involve you within my new blog and offer you a chance to share your story with my readers.
Firstly, please introduce yourself and Ride for Unity.
Kofi: My name is Kofi and I am the Founder of Ride For Unity. I am a married man, dad to three kids and a cycling enthusiast.
Ride For Unity is a global cycling community that celebrates the unity and diversity within cycling. The aim is to increase participation in cycling through the representation of that diversity i.e. no matter who you are, no matter where you are, together we ride.
At the moment I do this in 3 ways:
1) I host a regular Instagram show called “Cycling Chats” where I have a range of cyclists come and share their journey in cycling. Hopefully, this inspires more people to take up the sport because they see people who look like them doing amazing things.
2) Wednesdays are “Ride For Unity” days and I host a Zwift ride where cyclists from around the world can join via Zoom and chat whilst spinning. If you don’t use Zwift you can still participate by joining the Strava Club “Ride For Unity”, riding 45 minutes anywhere and naming your ride on Strava as #ride4unity.
We’ve got a weekly top 10 chart for a bit of competition and fun!
3) We recently took Ride For Unity “outside” around the world holding group rides in New York, California, Edinburgh, London, Yorkshire and South Africa. That was a real collective effort and I’m grateful for everyone who helped make these rides happen.
Samuel: I have been so inspired by watching the growth of Ride For Unity around the world. Cycling is an incredible tool in bringing people together, allowing people to share stories and cake. What could be better! What inspired you to start Ride For Unity?
Kofi: The turning point for me was the sad death of George Floyd. I was particularly moved when I saw a picture of him and his daughter as I could relate to their bond having two daughters myself. I felt depressed and angry that another black person had been snatched away from his family by the police. Coming soon after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery I felt that I had to do something. Much of what I saw on social media was understandably negative but also divisive in some cases. Coming from a massive multi-cultural family I wanted to do something that promoted and celebrated our diversity and unity as people. I felt that if I could create something that harnessed the goodwill I feel from other cyclists when I am on the road (irrespective of their colour or gender), then some much-needed positivity would spread.
Samuel: Well, Kofi, I can tell you that you’re doing just that. Alongside the other movements around the world, I have been inspired and taken it upon myself to read and learn much more about the situations we find ourselves in. I can only applaud and thank you for opening mine and many other people’s eyes and encouraging people to come together through cycling. How have you found the overall reaction and engagement to Ride For Unity?
Kofi: The engagement has been awesome. It is amazing how it has been taken to heart by so many people. The Instagram following and Strava Club have grown from nothing to something in the space of a few months. I have loved the positive messages of support from around the world. It has been great to hear that it has helped people through a difficult time or built up their confidence on the bike.
Following and including the ongoing BLM movement, it is has opened all our eyes to exclusivity and the lack of diversity within the cycling world.
I feel everyone could do better to promote this and do our part.
Samuel: Have you found this an issue whilst pursuing the sport?
Kofi: Commuting on my bike over the last 15 years I have been encouraged by the steadily growing numbers of cyclists of various colours and genders taking to the roads.
I’d love to see more support for women’s cycling and wider participation there as well. Having 2 daughters I’d love them to be encouraged to ride. Representation plays a massive role in this.
I have always found other cyclists welcoming and I’ve struck up loads of friendships whilst commuting. When I cycle recreationally on group rides no one gets left behind and everyone helps if someone has a mechanical issue or offers food and encouragement if it is needed.
I feel as though cyclists understand diversity and are an empathetic bunch!
There is a lack of diversity in the sport when you look at the highest level. In this year’s Tour de France how many non-White riders are in the peloton of almost 200? Why is this? I don’t think there is a lack of athletic talent. Away from the road, I have a similar perception of track cycling at the highest level although it is not quite as rare to see black athletes. In America there seem to be more prominent cyclists across the spectrum of colour.
Samuel: What (if any) changes would you like to see within the sport that would aid this development?
Kofi: To increase diversity at the elite level I would target three things:
1) Analysis of the talent development pipeline. The issues that are preventing participation and putting in place measures that support greater diversity.
2) Inspire more children to develop a passion for cycling through accessible cycling programmes in schools.
3) Lastly very few cycling brands I’ve seen showcase the diversity in cycling when it comes to their marketing. This could deter some people from participating in feeling the sport isn’t for them. There are some great ambassadors for cycling out there like Yewie Adesida, Abbie Dentus, Ceylin Alvarado, Red Walters, Ayesha McGowan, Lizzie Deigan, Justin Williams and Rahsaan Bahati but it would be brilliant to see more.
Samuel: How can Ride For Unity aid this development?
Kofi: Ride For Unity is helping to showcase our diversity as cyclists but with some talent programmes starting at a young age I would love to do more at the grassroots level to promote the sport.
Samuel: Watching the Ride For Unity Instagram Live chats, you have talked to some very inspirational people in their own right. What have been your favourite stories?
Kofi: I’ve laughed a lot and been inspired by everyone that has joined me for a chat. If I had to pick one then the chat with Alison Wood stands out for me because of all the great work she has done helping others get into cycling. She is super humble and despite having asthma has pushed herself to some great achievements.
Samuel: What does the future hold for Ride For Unity?
Kofi: I’m excited about the future and have further plans to help others fall in love with the sport.
I’d love more people to enjoy the adventures, the camaraderie as well as the physical and mental well-being benefits of cycling.
I’m hoping to have some of the plans finalised very soon so that I can share them with you!
Samuel: That is exciting news! I look forward to hearing more about it. Finally, It would be rude not to put you on the spot: who are you tipping to win this year’s Tour De France?
Kofi: It would be great to see Adam Yates do it but I reckon Egan Bernal might be the one to end up with the yellow jersey this year.
Samuel: Kofi, thank you for your time!
I hope you’re as inspired and moved by what Kofi had to say as much as I am. Links to Ride For Unity socials are below. Go show them some love and join the movement. We can all do more to promote inclusivity and diversity within cycling and sport in general; this is only the beginning.