My name is Devin Cowens. I am a Black, queer, woman living in Atlanta, GA. I use she and her pronouns. I am a connector, community organizer, gravel cyclist, and the Atlanta chapter lead for Radical Adventure Riders. The goal of Radical Adventure Riders is to create more inclusive spaces in the cycling community by moving toward enhancing gender inclusivity and racial equity in the bicycle and outdoor adventure scene. We especially seek to center the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of color (BIPOC), queer, trans, and nonbinary riders.
My love of organizing in cycling was initiated by my first bikepacking trip in 2018. After an amicable break up in which I realized I was craving community, I scanned the internet in search of groups for women, trans, and non-binary cyclists in Atlanta. The majority of folks organizing bikepacking trips were cis white men who had access to gear and bikes and jobs that allowed for long windows of time off.
Along with two other women, we decided to bikepack along the popular Silver Comet Trail starting north of the city. I bought a $90 bike off Craigslist and borrowed a single pannier so that I could have two bags for my trip, instead of just the one I owned.
I left my house with my loaded bike and caught the 33 Bus to the Cumberland Mall Station which connected to one of the trailheads along the Silver Comet. The route was 64 miles each way and I was not conditioned to ride that many miles. I cried profusely while pushing my body up and down a hilly three-mile section of the route. I reminded myself of how strong I was in those moments: how courageous it was to end a long-term relationship that was no longer serving me. How brave it was to move to a new city and establish new friendships after the age of 30. How I had overcome obstacle after obstacle before and how I could do it again now. Between the tears and the bouts of exhaustion my body was experiencing, my friends stood by my side. They encouraged me to take it slow. They provided snacks and water when I needed it. And they reminded me that it was okay to be gentle on myself. That night, we stuffed our faces by the campfire, and replayed stories under the stars. The next day we rode back. The ride back proved to be more challenging than the ride to camp. With just 20 miles to go, I considered calling for an Uber to get me and my bike back to my creature comforts. But I stuck it out and, after several marshmallows and tears, found myself back home, amazed at what I’d just experienced.
It was during this trip that the seeds were planted for the idea of gathering femme, trans, women, and non-binary (FTWNB) community through bikepacking. The trip was challenging in all of the ways: physically, mentally, and emotionally. By the end of the trip, I felt like one of those athletes who accomplishes such a great feat that they are overcome with emotion and end up crying at the finish line. It truly felt like I had just completed the hardest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point.
After the trip, I googled “Women Bikepacking'' and stumbled upon an organization called WTF Bikexplorers (WTF BX). Fast forward to 2019, after several conversations on Instagram and support from others in various cities, I launched WTF Bikexplorers ATL and had my ticket to my first WTF BX summit in Oregon later that year. WTF BX has since been rebranded to Radical Adventure Riders. Our mission is to advocate, support, and uplift BIPOC and FTWNB cyclists through a range of programming and events.
The joy I get from biking with my community is unparalleled. The added layer of spending time in nature, carrying all the things I need, and the physical aspect of using my body to power the bike hits deep within my soul and my spirit. RAR ATL was born out of the urge to build community and create a bridge for folks to try out this thing that I also love. It’s become so much more than that.
Often, in order to get access to something as a BIPOC person or an FTWNB identified person, one has to explain their needs and reasoning in great detail. This usually comes in the form of a scholarship application or jumping through hoops so that someone else can assess if you’re worthy. This model is steeped in racism and white supremacist ideals of reciprocity. The system must change. We should have the opportunity and luxury to participate in something without proving our self-worth. In the case of RAR ATL, I want to provide the opportunity for folks to try bike camping without having to commit to it financially; they just need to have the interest.
We host bike overnights, monthly bike rides, monthly happy hours and skill share workshops. We recently launched a gear library and will soon open our shop space. We began hosting events around Atlanta wherever we could. These evolved into basement hangs at my house, and now we reside on the Westside of Atlanta, the historically Black part of the city. It was important for me to ensure that we had our own space, free of typical cycling culture that often assumes BIPOC and FTWNB folks don’t belong, while also having inner city trail access. I’ve been able to maintain this chapter with the help and support of my leadership team: Olivia Williams, Sarah Cruz, Hannah Griggs and Jen Colestock.
Our guiding principles are community and connection above and beyond the bike. The bike overnights serve as joyrides, and are beginner friendly so that folks can learn, enjoy nature, cook meals and spend time around the campfire together. The gear library allows us to equip folks who are starting from scratch or supplement others who have tried it out but need items to get them to the next step. The monthly bike rides are beginner friendly, inner city, and average about 12-miles. The happy hours provide time to gather and connect after a long work week.
The open shop space is not meant to be a bike shop replacement, but rather an opportunity to learn skills and gain core competencies so that one feels armed with knowledge to go on a solo ride or trip, and knows how to maintain their bike. It’s also a time for folks to have access to tools and bike stands because these items can be costly and a barrier to learning. Wherever possible, we partner with folks who can support us, and make participating in our programming available at little to no cost. This year, we are hosting BIPOC rides and overnights, and will host events that aren’t centered around bikes, in an effort to be a forum for conversations and ideas that are specifically important for BIPOC communities and individuals. It’s incredibly powerful and important for beginners, experts and everyone in between to have the space where they can learn and have access to one another in a way that is safe and free of judgment.
It’s incredibly powerful and important for beginners, experts and everyone in between to have the space where they can learn and have access to one another in a way that is safe and free of judgment.
I’m super proud of the community we’ve built and aim to continue to grow it. While our focus is quality over quantity, I want to make sure many are aware of the resources we have available. We are just getting started and I hope we can do a lot more as we continue to push the cycling industry forward. In addition to building community, our aim is to widen folk’s aperture so that BIPOC and FTWNB individuals are planning, decision-making, and having hard and necessary conversations to create change. The next phase for RAR ATL includes a suite of programming and events that strive to support and equip riders for long term success when cycling and bike camping; from beginner to intermediate to expert.
As we celebrate International Women's Day, I interpret the theme of #BreakTheBias as pushing against the status quo of fitting into the rigid expectations society has built for individuals who are not typically represented in cycling and the outdoors. This includes assuming that BIPOC and FTWNB folks are not the arbiters of knowledge about how to plan and lead bikepacking trips. This also includes breaking the bias that we must travel to faraway places to access nature. As an organization, RAR ATL is showing that not only can nature be accessed right out your back door, but that as a marginalized person you are capable of creating the adventure you seek. As an organization, RAR ATL is showing that we can come together and do hard things!
For me, this day is not just about celebrating cis women. Today, I celebrate folks who are trans and non-binary and who have been existing and building community long before their identities were recognized. I am continually inspired by and forever indebted to the work that these folks have been doing for decades.
Words by Devin Cowens. Photos by Andrew Hetherington and Dessa Lohrey.
In honor of Devin's essay for International Women's Day, SRAM is excited to support RAR Atlanta with $5000 towards their success in Breaking the Bias.
Learn more about RAR Atlanta here.
Follow Devin on Instagram here.