Beltchenko is a Marketing Manager at long time event sponsor Salsa Cycles.
Salsa had a planning call with Bobby and Sally where we were talking about our exciting AC/DC Stormchaser bike launch and he says, “I have some intense news to share with you all. We are going to change the name and here is why.” You could tell that they were nervous about having that conversation. As the title sponsor I am sure that we were one of a handful of people that knew about it first. They wanted our thoughts and opinions, they hadn’t even picked the name yet. They said, “We have to change the name, we have to do it fast, and we don’t know what it’s going to be.”
We said, “We absolutely support you.” because I think one thing that’s great about cycling is that it’s all about belonging. We want people to feel like they belong and that’s where Bobby, Sally, Crystal and the entire MidSouth organization were coming from. They wanted to make people feel like they belong. This morning (at the race start) Bobby talked about it on the microphone. “You all belong here. You’re all welcome here.”
On our way down here last year (2019) we had listened to the Rebecca Nagle podcast and learned the history of the Land Run. I had spent 10 months planning a sponsorship for this event and I had no idea about that until we were on our way down. Being the white American that I am I didn’t think it was controversial. But as soon as Bobby called us a few months later and told us, “Hey, we are faced with this.” I immediately felt ignorant and sad that I hadn’t had that thought or feeling after I’d heard the podcast. Again, why not? If it’s going to be less offensive to people, if it opens more doors to this event for people to be a part of something, why not? Why not make people feel like they can be a part of a community instead of not being a part of it? That’s building community at it’s finest.
Bobby and Sally were just taking the new information that they learned and making a smart decision to make sure that everybody could come here knowing that they were welcome. Which is what all of us humans want in any circumstance ever. That’s why cycling is so special to so many people. That’s why gravel is so special to so many people. Gravel is factually, by data, next to e-bikes the only growth segment in cycling. I think that’s because of the community.
Salsa has been a sponsor of the DK (Dirty Kanza) since 2009. We’ve been a sponsor of this event since it started. In those years it was just water bottles and swag. Things have changed so much. There is space for this level of event but the events that are going to make an impact are the smaller events. What I want to focus on as a brand is figuring out how to make space for more people and more events at the small grassroots level. Not at the expense of sporting events like this (the MidSouth), but how do we celebrate things like The Heywood, where people can just show up and donate and ride their bike? You still get that feeling of belonging, you still get that feeling of community, you leave with the feeling you’re craving but it’s not about status, or having been at something that has a big cachet.
We just had a women’s meetup yesterday. I’ve been to several of those types of women’s meetups. We have an athlete, Crystal Kovacs, she’s doing an incredible amount of work in getting women who are women who aren’t sure about their athleticism out on the bike. I think a lot of that is happening on the local level. There are a lot of women, women-identifying individuals, people of color and various sexual orientations who are intimidated by an event of this size. The reason they come here is they’ve spent the last 6 to 12 months riding with people in their local community, working with their bike shop, creating a small group of people who empower each other to get to the point where they can show up at the start line. That process is transformational and it’s really those local ambassadors and people who are building community who make that possible.
Yes, we build those big events because that’s what is healthy for cycling as a whole and we all love cycling. But we also need to nurture and foster local level community building as well as local events because that’s what helps get people here.
Our brand made decisions a long time ago to start to build products that allowed people to ride our bikes from the get go. Now we are focusing our messaging so that anybody can be here. You don’t need to be on our bike, either, but if you want to be now there is something at that level like the Journeyman or the Timberjack. It’s all about progression. We want to graduate riders from beginning all the way through their cycling journey. And whether or not that’s with us and our bikes doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are out here riding bikes because as a human being I truly go back to the fact that people are happy when they feel like they belong to something. If we belong to something we are going to be better kinder people to our peers, we are going to be better people at work, better to our families, and we are just going to be happier.
That’s a big responsibility to have for race promoters. You hear it in Bobby’s voice, his passion as he talked this morning. He feels the responsibility of that, and so do I.
I told Bobby when he was really stressed about the negative commentary of changing the name that he just has to preemptively accept that. Prepare yourself to handle it, and realize that we live in a world today where everyone has a gavel and a podium, and everyone is going to say how they feel. From a business perspective be prepared for negative commentary. It’s going to happen. And yet, if we were to say, as a company, that we could only use one marketing channel for the rest of time it would be social media. It’s a blessing and a curse all in one. If social media wasn’t a part of my job I would not participate at all. I just wouldn’t. It is, from a personal perspective, toxic. From a business perspective it’s a way to capture awareness. It’s eyeballs. It is a ton of eyeballs on your product. If you have an authentic, real, honest voice people pay attention. We have more choices than ever, and we have more need to feel like we belong to something than ever.
On social media, in any conflict, just assume good intent and start there. What are commonalities and how can we bring those positively out from each other? So when Bobby came to us and said he had to change the name, my first thought was, “Why not? What’s the argument against including more people?” I think there is a lot of that in our political landscape right now. There are people that don’t say, “Why not?” They’re not like, “Oh, you want change? We should consider our indigenous populations, or our minorities.” There are alot of people who have blinders on, and I think that’s troublesome.
But again, I come back to the question, “Why not? What’s bad about making more people feel like they are a welcome part of this community? Why not?”