Donna McConnell The iron empress

Donna McConnell Photo by @jpgphotography

Each issue of Mid Strike Magazine we’ve focused mostly on runners and their respective communities. We’ve met many runners through the years striving to create change and equality in the running communities that they frequent. One thing that we’ve continued to learn through the years is that as much as we love to run it's not necessarily always about running, there are other avenues of fitness for people of color that we’ve ventured into and it's one avenue we’d love to focus more on and that is cycling. When you look at cycling and running in the black community over the years it has grown expeditiously and it's only right, we expand our knowledge to the diverse community of cyclists and cycling enthusiasts. As we continue with women's history month and our women's issue, we travel across the pond which makes this even more amazing and chat with Donna McConnell as she gives us some insight into the cycling community but with a UK twist. Needless to say, we're super excited.

MSM: I ran the London marathon back in October 2022 and it was a vibe. There were parts on the course that were obviously very white but also pockets of Black running crews that made you feel at home and welcoming. While running one thing I thought of was finding the right type of crew that could understand our issues and struggles, running clubs that understood “US”. We met a few while out there but I want to ask you as a cyclist in the UK when you first started your journey, was it difficult to find those in your area with the same interest?

Donna: I’ve had a bike since my teen years, and I’m 53 now. I really didn’t know anything about cycling clubs - I just always liked riding a bike. None of my friends did. It was only a few years back when I begun to be interested in triathlon that I first started seeing African American triathletes and then cycling groups, and I wished we had that in the UK. From speaking to black cyclists in the UK who’ve been involved in the sport a lot longer, they felt they weren’t welcomed and experienced microaggressions that put them off joining traditional clubs.

MSM: What was the feeling when you found that group? I'm pretty sure there was a sense of welcoming riding with a group that could be trusting and push you to be the best version of yourself.

Donna: The first group I found was the Black Cyclist’s Network, and I definitely quickly felt at home as I met a group of men and women that looked like me, that knew lots about cycling and helped me to start my journey in group cycling. Once I began learning about it, I was hooked.

MSM: Give our readers a bit of insight into some of the cycling crews in the UK. I came across a few when researching, Chain Gang Crew and Rapha Cycling club to name a few. Do any of these clubs hold weekly rides? I’m sure there’s a few out of towners that may travel with a bike when permitted, what are the meet ups?

Donna: During the pandemic cycling became one of the things that many people - especially black people - took up as gyms were closed and people needed to get outside. I’d started training for my first Ironman just a month before the long lockdown, so I was on my bike too. Quite a few black cycling clubs/ communities emerged at that time including Chain Gang Cyclists (CGC) - who I am now a ride leader with, TWR (Together We Ride), Black Unity Bike Ride - a community organization that launched an annual ride for black cyclists. And BWOW (Black Women on Wheels), and WOCC (Women of Colour Cycling Collective) to name a few. I’m also a ride leader for Rapha Cycling Club. Most of the clubs do regular weekly club rides - rides are posted on social media and/or Strava.

At CGC we do a weekly club ride out of London to Essex, Kent, Brighton, or Surrey, The Cotswolds. We also do morning rides at Regent’s Park which is a popular spot for cyclists - we basically ride a 4km loop around the park on the road then go for coffee at Rapha. Rapha members can see their club rides on their app. Last year we traveled to Girona, Spain to ride, and club members took part in Sportives (Grand Fondos) and various events. Black cyclists are doing crit racing, ultra-endurance races, triathlon, and duathlon. The cycling scene in London is really buzzing and has opened massively since the pandemic.

MSM: As runners our goals especially as black runners is to show that we do indeed belong, we are runners, we run for health, we run to inspire, to voice our opinions whether it be in protest or solidarity, we run for representation. How do you feel knowing that what you’re doing albeit something that is so simple, you’re essentially changing the narrative to show that  Black people do cycle. You're a BLACK WOMEN that cycles.

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