Growing up, soccer was supposed to be Massimo Alpian’s favorite sport. His father was a diehard fan and wanted his son to play, but Alpian simply did not have much interest. “Every Sunday morning I wouldn't get stoked to wake up and go to my soccer game,” Alpian says. He had other activities on his mind. “I wanted to ride bikes.”
So, he would hop on his bike and explore the city by himself, finding paths and trails where he could. For Alpian, biking around New York was an outlet for exploration and self-discovery, but it was also lonely. Cycling was not part of the culture of the son of working-class immigrants in the city. “As a teenager questioning who I was,” Alpian says, “I would open up a magazine or turn the TV on for a race and think, these racers are super cool and I want to be like them one day, but I didn’t really feel like I could authentically be myself as a cyclist.” He did not see people he could relate to.
Today, Alpian is looking to change that. As Global Media Relations Manager for Canondale and GT Bicycles, he is doing what he can to make the cycling community one that is more accessible and open. “My goal,” he says, “is that another kid like me can open up a magazine and read a story about a black cyclist, an indigenous cyclist, an LGBTQIA+ cyclist and read these stories and feel like they can authentically be themselves while identifying as a cyclist.”
Alpian, who has worked with brands including Camelbak, HOKA, and Tracksmith, also sits on the board of directors for Ride for Racial Justice. Article One recently spoke with Alpian about his role as a member of the outdoor LGBTQIA+ community and what steps he is taking to make the outdoor community a more inclusive space.
“I would open up a magazine or turn the TV on for a race and think, these racers are super cool and I want to be like them one day, but I didn’t really feel like I could authentically be myself as a cyclist.”
Article One: As you rise the ranks in your career in the cycling industry, what are some goals you have to make the community more accessible and diverse?
Massimo Alpian: I think we can all admit and accept that the bike industry has been quite homogenous for a really long time, not only from the brand side, but from the pro peloton side, as well as organizations that are on the ground. That homogeneity has been reflected from marketing right down to product design. When you have a small group of individuals controlling the keys to the industry, the product design will reflect that, the messaging will reflect that, the athletes and ambassadors of the brands will reflect that.
My goal is to help change that with the privilege I have now. Being a different voice at the table that might not have existed 10 or 20 years ago as a gay man of color. As someone who may have historically been part of a marginalized community in this space, I hope to create new opportunities.
"As someone who may have historically been part of a marginalized community in this space, I hope to create new opportunities."
AO: How can you create those opportunities for less-represented communities?
MA: I think ultimately the goal is to change the face, literally and figuratively, of what cycling looks like. That is not only on the brand side but also when it comes to athletes, ambassadors, but also organizations that we're partnering with that have the same mission and values on the ground. Ultimately, we want everyone to feel like they can get on a bike and that they are being spoken to and catered to, from messaging down to product design.
AO: What would that change in culture look like? How can you amplify those stories?
MA: Something I bring up all the time with my team, and something that we're working on internally at Cannondale, and I know I've seen a lot of other bike brands working on, is changing up the current processes of hiring to create a more representative workforce. Then, when you do make those changes and have a representative workforce, or a more diverse team making decisions internally at brands that really control the keys to the industry--that's when you see more inclusive product design storytelling. I want to see more ambassadors that are representative of diverse communities. From there, we can inspire kids who are looking at athletes to see faces and bodies and stories that resonate with them.
It goes beyond ambassadors, though. I love seeing brands partnering with organizations on the ground that are really working hard to increase accessibility. There are organizations like Bike Ride for Black Lives or Ride for Racial Justice, which I’m on the board of, working really hard to create a more representative space. I would love to see brands beginning to partner with these organizations that are creating a cohesive structure for change.
AO: What are some issues that are keeping marginalized communities out of cycling at this moment, and what can you do to bring them into the sport?
MA: I love almost all outdoor sports, and running is one of my favorites. When it comes to running, all you really need are a pair of shoes, and somewhere to run. There are more barriers to entry for cycling. Bikes are not cheap. That's one barrier, and then all the other gear you need like a helmet and glasses and things like that. Cycling is not some easy thing to pick up. It's funny, because a lot of people see it as a real challenge, but I feel like one of the simplest barriers to break down is making our space more inclusive and representative, and bringing stories that haven't been told to the forefront. This is like 101 to me, we can amplify stories, create a more representative space, and then everything else can trickle down from there. If we can figure it out with the culture, we can then make the barriers to entry on the gear side more accessible, too.
AO: Are there any projects you have worked on that stand out and that you feel have pushed the needle towards the goals you’re working for?
MA: In 2020, St. Augustine became the first Historically Black College and Universities team in the country to be registered with USA Cycling. That inspired Cannondale and EF Education First Pro Cycling,, our pro cycling team, as well as USA Cycling to come together and say you know, how do we take this and make it bigger? So in 2020 we announced that Cannondale and USA Cycling would come together to launch the first ever program of its kind to bring cycling programs to other HBCUs and Tribal Colleges and Universities. There is more to come with the names of the schools, which will be announced. I'm really excited to work on this project, which will support the second HBCU cycling team in history. Our goal is for this to keep growing and create a new model where other brands will hopefully do the same things of bringing cycling to communities that have never seen an investment from brands or organizations in the past.
AO: You are working to create opportunities outside of your work, too, on the board of directors for Ride for Racial Justice, Protect Our Winters, Ned Gravel and other organizations. What are you looking forward to at an organization like Ride for Racial Justice?
MA: I am so proud of Ride for Racial Justice and some of the opportunities we are hoping to put out there. One of the biggest things that I'm working on right now at Ride for Racial Justice is at the SBT GRVL race in August. We are bringing in 25 Black, indigenous and POC cyclists to the frontline of the Steamboat Gravel in August. Everything is being taken care of for them, from transport to the race and training logistics. Some of these cyclists, it’s their first ever bike race--some of them are even new cyclists. I cannot wait to see them out on the course.
AO: What advice would you give to someone who wants to help bring more accessibility to the outdoor sports community?
MA: I often get discouraged. Some days there are going to be a lot of people that might be uncomfortable with what you have to say. You're going to make a lot of people uncomfortable for putting forth new ideas inside a board room. And that can be really intimidating, especially when you're on an island and there might not be someone else who has the same life experiences as you. At the end of the day, though, if you're making somebody uncomfortable for the right reasons, like trying to affect change in the right places, then you are doing something right. So know that you're going to have some tough days, you're going to encounter tough conversations. But in the end, that means you're doing the right thing. And it is all towards a common end goal: Making a more diverse, representative, and sustainable space.