The Black Foxes: Reclaiming The Outdoors And Empowering Black Cyclists With Nikki Rhodes

My good friend, Shanika “Nikki” Rhodes, is a mountain biking machine. Before we met, I started following her on Instagram because she was a female mountain biker in my town.

She was the only Black cyclist I’d seen out and about, so I knew I wanted to meet her. We eventually met on the trails and have been friends ever since.

Over the years I have gotten to know a caring, passionate, and driven woman. Nikki is a force in the cycling community, and I am extremely lucky to call her my friend.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Nikki joined a group called The Black Foxes. The Black Foxes was organized by the first African American professional road cyclist, Ayesha McGowen, and her husband, Will Loyd, to open a safe space for people of color (POC) in a sport that is predominantly white.

According to their website, “The Black Foxes is an international collective of eight unapologetically Black cyclists and outdoors-people that are reclaiming our narratives and roles in the outdoors.

Through their extensive work, The Black Foxes have created representation for POC in the outdoors, encourage and support Black people to explore cycling and outdoor recreation, and work with businesses to create inclusion.

Below is a conversation I had with Nikki about her upcoming season on the bike and about The Black Foxes. We also talked a little bit about what white people can do to create a safer, more inclusive space for POC.

About The Black Foxes

Malorie: What are The Black Foxes?

Nikki: The Black Foxes is an international collective of eight black cyclists reclaiming their narratives and roles in the outdoors. We are advocates for making cycling and the outdoors better for those already present and those who do not have the tools to access cycling and the outdoors. 

M: What does it mean to be a part of The Black Foxes?

N: Some of us already knew each other and some of us were strangers to one another. When we all got together for the first time in Durango, CO, we clicked. There aren’t many people you just click with. In this chaotic world, forming deep connections is rare.

To me, The Black Foxes means Family. Black Joy. It means being able to connect with black people that experience the same hardships as you. To have a safe space to have those vulnerable conversations.

nikki in a black foxes sweatshirt

Nikki’s Story

M: As your friend, I have loved watching you grow over the years and come into the best version of yourself. I love witnessing your Black joy and it is contagious to everyone around you. 

M: How did you get into cycling?

N: I’ve always enjoyed cycling, even at a young age. Growing up as a military child, riding bikes was the way the kids got around the Air Force Base.

I remember my brother and his friends putting baseball cards in their spokes to make their bikes sound cool and I would copy them. During my high school years to my early 20s, my interest in bikes faded away until I moved to Colorado from Arkansas.

My boyfriend, Vitaly, took me on my first mountain bike ride as our first date in North Cheyenne Cañon. I struggled with the climbing due to my asthma and told myself “I don’t think I would continue this sport.”

After my second mountain bike ride, I went through a road cycling phase. I enjoyed it more because of the smooth roads and undulating hills that allowed me to cover more miles with less strain on my lungs. After that, I gave mountain biking another chance. Now it’s part of my lifestyle. 

nikki climbing on her bike

M: I remember when we went on our first ride together. You were rockin’ an old Trek with 26” wheels. It is crazy to think about those days and see how far you’ve come on the bike, in your career, and in relationships. 

M: What is your favorite local trail feature?

N: Gravel Gutter located in North Cheyenne Cañon. It’s a wide single-track trail that is fast and allows you to stay off the brakes and let your bike work. It’s a great trail with an optional gap jump, tables tops, log jump, and fun berms.

Beware of the loose gravel we call “kitty litter,” but that is what makes it really fun! I finally committed to the gap jump a couple months ago and it is now my favorite feature. 

M: You TOTALLY crush that trail…I can’t touch your fastest time. 

mountain biking with friends

Looking Forward

M: Do you have any goals for this upcoming season?

N: I have several goals for this upcoming season. The most important goal is to just enjoy riding and having a great time. I tend to compare myself to other women and I’m hard on myself. It’s not a healthy mentality and can lead to unhappiness and taking the fun out of riding. So, I want to focus on myself and use my past self to motivate myself to grow and become a stronger and more skilled rider. 

-I want to continue to empower black cyclists through mountain biking, sharing my story, and passion with others. Growing up, I did not have that representation of Black folks and access to cycling resources that could have accelerated my improvement as a rider. 

-I want to become a certified mountain bike coach. I always had the passion for teaching others and now I seek to change the narrative that Black people don’t do outdoor activities such as mountain biking. I want to change their mentality toward cycling. 

-I’m working on putting together BIPOC group rides under The Black Foxes in my local community here in Colorado Springs.

– To take The Black Foxes to a downhill mountain bike park!

M: I am so excited to ride with you at park this summer. This is going to be such a great year and I CANNOT wait to see what you do for the Black community here in the Springs. We are lucky to have a passionate person to create a safe space for Black people on the trails. 

M: Do you have any events coming up with The Black Foxes or any local event specifically for the BIPOC community in Colorado Springs, CO?

N: Alexa, Jalen (two other Black Foxes), and I are working on dates to have “Joy Rides” in Colorado Springs and in Denver where they live. The Black Foxes are planning another international trip this year! Be on the lookout for, “The Black Foxes Den Retreat” in Mulberry Gap. You can find more information about this event on our website throughout the next couple of months!

How Cycling Can Be More Inclusive

M: How can the cycling community be more inclusive to POC?

N: Mindful communication within the cycling community. Listen carefully and talk less. When people are more open, they let go of their opinions. It allows you to let your guard down and to be more open-minded to vulnerable conversations.

– Being inclusive is more than just treating everyone equally. To be inclusive you must create spaces that welcome diversity. For example, companies need to be transparent with the changes they are making to be inclusive. Representation really matters. If a POC sees people like themselves, they are more likely to feel like they belong too. 

– Don’t judge and make assumptions based on race, gender, bike, skills, etc.

– Have more inclusive group rides: rides that are for all riders, all bikes, and all bodies. No drop rides. 

– Educating bike safety on and off the bike. I think this is a great way for “never-evers” and beginners who are interested in cycling but do not know where to start.

riding bikes with nikki

M: This is great advice for individuals as well as companies. I have seen it countless times in the outdoor industry where companies/organizations create a DEI board run by white people. When they try to create inclusion, it seems extremely fake and forced. It’s as if they do it to “seem” like they care about the BIPOC community. The biggest takeaway is don’t pretend to be inclusive. You’re not fooling anyone. Everyone can see through your façade and it’s not cute. Not only do you make yourself look bad, but you create more division in the outdoor and cycling community. 

M: Do you think having rides specifically for BIPOC people would help create inclusion for POC? 

N: Absolutely! It lowers the barriers and provides a safe space for POC to learn and try new activities. 

M: As your friend, how can I be more inclusive to POC?

N: Malorie, you do a wonderful job being inclusive. I appreciate that you are not afraid to have those difficult conversations. You’re proactive and educated on common topics when it comes to diversity and inclusiveness. You stand up for what is right and do that by educating others and stating facts. 

-You offer a safe and welcoming environment. You show support and please continue what you are doing 🙂

M: Thank you, Nikki. I have DEFINITELY learned a lot from you. I am grateful that you are so open with me about your experiences, and through them, I hope to grow and continue being a person you feel safe around. I am so lucky to have you in my life.

nikki on her gravel bike

What NOT To Do

On that note, I do want to talk about an experience I witnessed one afternoon with Nikki. A woman, we will call her “Karen” approached Nikki and I as we were wrapping up an event with our local mountain bike group. She proceeded to tell Nikki that she was so happy “her people” were a part of the cycling community. Let me say that again, “HER PEOPLE!”

Please, whatever you do, do not be like Karen. Luckily, Nikki is one of the nicest people I know and just brushed it off and gave me a look to BE QUIET. I cannot imagine how Nikki felt in that moment. If you want to talk to Black people about their community, please do. Learning and growing as a person is always a positive thing, but please, please do NOT do it in a condescending, racist tone. 

Connect With The Black Foxes

The Black Foxes have plenty of information on their website, Instagram, and YouTube channel about inclusion and what it’s like to be a Black person in the outdoors. I highly recommend taking a look and educating yourself on these matters so we can continue to learn HOW to be inclusive to Black people and BIPOC in all settings. 

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About The Author

colorado springs mountain biking

Malorie Gage has been mountain biking, road, gravel cycling for many years. She lives in Colorado where she’s raising two tiny humans and balancing biking and motherhood.

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