Roam Fest Welcomes BIPOC Mountain Bikers with More than an Invite

"There's a difference between inviting somebody and welcoming them, and that's where the hard work comes in."

Roam Events is a series of trail parties for femme-identifying folks to come together and enjoy the goodness of dirt. They host multiple Roam Rally and Roam Fest gatherings across the US annually that include group rides and workshops, bike demos, and evening festivities. The company is keen on growing a diverse MTB community and giving back to the trails, both through donations and by creating intentional space for riders from traditionally underrepresented communities at their events.

The Roam team has always invited diverse community groups like Black Girls do Bike, and in 2021 they learned that it would be helpful to make those efforts publicly known. They hired a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant named Alyssa Gonzalez to help create a more encouraging and friendly environment for everyone, and have since learned loads about how to make events feel as welcoming as possible. Through analysis and conversations with Gonzalez, Roam founder Ash (Bocast) Zolton learned that “there’s a difference between inviting somebody and welcoming them, and that’s where the hard work comes in.”

Roam Fest events sell out as fast as EWS race entries, often filling all of the slots in the span of a few hours. Zolton has set 20% of the entries aside for BIPOC-identifying folks to make sure that the rush to sign up isn’t a barrier. People from underrepresented communities have enough reasons to feel apprehensive about attending, and the pressure to click “pay” shouldn’t be one of them. Similar measures have been implemented to make space for femme-identifying folks at other events with good success, and Zolton says that this push to create intentional space for BIPOC riders has blossomed into the great community everyone was hoping for.

Zolton and the Roam team have also created a scholarship program for BIPOC riders to remove the monetary barrier. The funding is coming from participant donations, industry partners, and from Roam Events itself. Part of the annual contributions from their industry partners, including Industry Nine, Liv, Pivot, Sierra Nevada, Specialized, and SRAM, is earmarked specifically for the scholarship, and any future partners will be obliged to support it.

The number of riders who identify as BIPOC has increased significantly at Roam events since they started this very intentional effort to welcome folks, with roughly a fifth of participants now coming from various BIPOC communities. In addition to welcoming people, each Roam event now begins and ends with BIPOC a group ride. This gives everyone a chance to connect at the beginning and reflect before they head back to their home trails.

Zolton says that hiring Gonzalez to help the Roam squad understand what they needed to change and unpack in order to welcome more people to their events has had a massive impact on the company and the events. In addition to the reserved entries and scholarships, they also reorganized the website after realizing that it had an elitist feel and changed some of the wording they use to be more inclusive of femme-identifying non-binary riders.

Gonzalez also lead a panel called SHREDTalks where several talented athletes shared ideas and experiences around ways to make mountain biking and MTB culture even better. The annual panel was originally intended to showcase women working in the bike industry, and this year that focus shifted toward allyship and the ways that we can all work to create a more welcoming space on the trail. The panelists also talked about how they interact with and show up in outdoor spaces differently. Zolton recommends that anyone involved in the outdoor industry give the panel a watch, as there’s a good chance we could all learn something from it.