Nehemiah Brown isn't like other sponsored gravel riders. He isn’t a former pro roadie who’s shifted to the participant-friendly world of gravel racing. He didn’t make an appearance at Unbound Gravel last month, arguably the most important gravel race on the calendar. And he actually has a full-time day job at a tech start-up.
But more importantly, Brown is a Black man whose top priority, in his capacity as a sponsored cyclist, is to promote racial equity, inclusion, and diversity in the world of bikes. That’s why he’s on Flashpoint MVMNT, a singular gravel team that shares his purpose.
Nehemiah Brown uses his role on the Flashpoint team to engage with his community and make cycling more inclusive. Photo: Arthur Alvarez / @arthuraphoto
“I didn't really want to be a cycling influencer,” he said. “My thing is more activism and showing actions and showing people that you can take steps to make the change and be the change that you want to see.”
New for 2021, Flashpoint is made up of four riders from diverse backgrounds. Along with Brown, there is Kathy Pruitt, a former junior downhill world champion, Andrew Jackson, a filmmaker who left his mark in the world of BMX street riding, and Amanda Schaper, who worked closely with the Grinduro gravel event to make it more gender-inclusive.
Half of these riders are people of color, half are women, and none of them are caught up in the cycling industry’s traditional approach to racing and sponsorship.
“We wanted to use Flashpoint to focus on making cycling more inclusive and welcoming to a more diverse audience because, of course, that's really lacking in the bike industry and something that's so important,” said Schaper.
Schaper helped Giro organize the Flashpoint team in fall 2020. Canyon Bicycles, SRAM, Wahoo, Thule, and WTB were eager to sign on and support the team and help distribute Flashpoint’s stories.
“We wanted to do something that was more authentic to what gravel's all about, which is being inclusive and being fun and not having a certain look or way that you have to approach the category,” she said.
Giro — which has committed to supporting riders from underrepresented backgrounds — didn’t want to simply hire a few hot-shot racers, outfit them with roadie team kits, and send them off to the races in hopes of a win. So they found four like-minded riders and came up with a plan to focus the team’s efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion — not results.
The Flashpoint team sought out four riders from diverse backgrounds to form its first roster. Photo: Dain Zaffke / @dain_zaffke
“It's the idea of sparking a change that's going to grow and move through the bigger bike community,” Schaper said, explaining how the team chose the name Flashpoint. It’s meant to symbolize how each of the team’s riders can ignite change in their communities. That in turn can lead to broader changes, whether it’s more diversity in cycling or perhaps something deeper.
Only a half a year in, the team’s activism is already leading to meaningful contributions to make cycling more inclusive.
“I didn't really want to be a cycling influencer. My thing is more activism and showing actions and showing people that you can take steps to make the change and be the change that you want to see.”
Brown saw an opportunity in his local community of Marin. Though the birthplace of mountain biking is known as an upscale Bay Area suburb, he points out that it is the most racially disparate county in California. And Marin City, home to most people of color, has a kids program called Play Marin that needed support.
While Play Marin had plenty of donated bikes to work with, their kids lacked helmets. Brown quickly saw an opportunity to bring in Giro to support the group. “Let's kickstart this program,” he said, “Let's get the youth over here on bikes."
Soon enough, Brown had boxes of Giro helmets to supply these kids. A fundraiser followed, which to date has raised $5,000 for Play Marin. Biking quickly became an official part of the Play Marin Summer Camp program.
Brown saw an opportunity to give back to his community through Play Marin, and helped get a helmet donation from Giro for the program's kids. Photo: RJ Agcamaran / @rj.agc
In the expanding realm of gravel events, Flashpoint is also finding ways to contribute beyond showing up and tying on a number. The team has 25 registration spots for the sold-out Grinduro California, and they’re seeking riders who wouldn’t ordinarily hop in a gravel race.
“We made a commitment to invite riders from diverse backgrounds,” said Brown.
Specifically, they’ve sought riders from the trans community, people of color, and adaptive cyclists to join Flashpoint at the mid-September event in Mount Shasta.
“We are figuring out ways to bring people into this movement and encourage them to do things within their communities to really make a difference."
It’s not as simple as just giving away free entries, though. With its diverse group or riders, Flashpoint is able to reassure new riders that they’ll have a group that will welcome them into the fold.
“As people drive far and go into remote parts of the state, different people feel different ways about getting that far away from big cities,” Brown said. “So just saying, ‘You're going to be safe; you're going to be with a group. And I guarantee, you're going to have fun.’"
And then, he adds, the positive experience can spread within a community that might otherwise not be tuned into gravel events.
“I think that's how these events grow as people go back and tell their friends and say, ‘Hey, I drove four hours, or four hours plus, but guess what? I had a great time and I'm going back next year, you should come too,’" he added.
With his BMX background, you can count on Andrew Jackson to get rad. Photo: Dain Zaffke / @dain_zaffke
That’s the essence of Flashpoint and the roadmap to the team’s success: Looking outward and focusing their impact beyond the typical crew that shows up year after year for cycling events.
“We are figuring out ways to bring people into this movement and encourage them to do things within their communities to really make a difference,” Schaper said.
“For me it's — can I come in and work with Flashpoint and leave the cycling industry and cycling events in a better place when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, than when I started with the program,” Brown added. “To me, that's success.”