Inclusive cycling event rolling into Roca this month

June 12, 2024, 6 a.m. ·

Riders start the Grounded Nebraska cycling event
Riders participate in the Grounded Nebraska cycling event in Roca. More than 200 riders are expected to participate in the event this year. (Eric Arce, Courtesy photo)

An inclusive cycling event will be held on the roads of rural Lancaster County this month.

Grounded Nebraska is coming to Roca Berry Farm south of Lincoln June 28-30.

The centerpiece of the three-day event is a cycling tour on the gravel roads and trails of southern Lancaster County.

Cycling events have grown in popularity over recent years, but Grounded Nebraska stands out as an event aimed at being inclusive.

“To me, it’s the difference between, ‘Hey, you're welcome here’ and ‘We built this with you in mind,’ for people from these demographics,” said Cait Dumas-Hein, a co-founder of the event. “We believe access to sport is a human right and we believe cycling is for everyone. Bikes are a tool for us to connect with the community and people, and when folks are looking to be involved that represent historically underrepresented demographics, we put an initiative in place and that’s like reaching out a hand. We see you, we want you to come into this space. Please come and join us and have this joyful celebration of a weekend.”

Kalyani Kannan at Grounded Nebraska
Kalyani Kannan has participated in Grounded Nebraska every year it's been held, and is making the trip from Pennsylvania to participate again this year. (Molly Cameron, Courtesy photo)

Kalyani Kannan, who will be participating in the event for their third time this year, said the effort put into making the event a welcoming experience is apparent.

“I had done a couple bikepacking tours with friends and was thinking about dipping my toes into the racing world,” Kannan recalled. “I lived in northeast Iowa at the time, and a friend sent me the link and I specifically thought for my first event something rooted around community and inclusion sounded fantastic, and the fact that they were making inroads for LGBTQ, people of color and people not represented in world of cycling.”

Kannan feels so connected to the event, they're participating this year despite relocating to Pennsylvania, and plans to make a 1,000-plus mile road trip for the event.

“It’s so special to have community and friends,” Kannan said. “I think there’s a lot of events that say inclusion is important, and if you scratch deeper what they mean is they want lots of people to come to their event, which is fine, but (Grounded Nebraska organizers) have been really thoughtful in building things like equity-based podiums and affordable on-site camping that really makes it clear they don’t want people to just show up. They want you to have a connection to the event.”

The ride itself will be Saturday, June 29 with three distances available, 25, 63 and 100 miles.

There are also three categories riders can register for. Last year, 47% of riders were men, 42% women and 11% were non-binary. Industry averages for cycling event participants are 80% men, according to Grounded Nebraska’s website.

Registration closes the day before the event, and Dumas-Hein estimated around 225 people will participate.

Grounded Nebraska event
Riders participate in Grounded Nebraska last year. The gravel cycling event is returning to Roca for its third year June 28-30. (Eric Arce, Courtesy photo)

She added that while bikes with wider tires will generally handle the terrain better, all bikes are welcome to participate, and volunteer “trail fairies” will be out to offer support for riders.

“We work our hardest to make it a very community-focused event with a different structure based off of feedback from the community to make it welcoming, but also to say 'Come and join us, we made this enjoyable and a safer space for you,'” Dumas-Hein said. “There are a couple ways we go about doing that. We’re intentional with our marketing and how we communicate with a gender inclusive language. We’re offering 25, 60 and 100-mile rides and we encourage people to show up and ride however they want to ride, whether it’s a ride, race or party pace. We work to do our best to celebrate all those riding styles because they’re all valid, not just the speedy folks.”

In addition to the ride itself, Grounded Nebraska will feature a variety of events over the weekend. Local vendors, on-site camping, film screenings, yoga sessions and hayrack rides are some of the activities that will be offered.

This will mark the third year of the event, which Dumas-Hein co-founded with Susan Cronin. The pair came up with the idea while they were both working for a cycling custom apparel company.

“We had the idea of starting an event, as we were both tired of the status quo,” Dumas-Hein said. “Cycling can be a very male-dominated sport. As two women, we wanted to do something a little bit different. We talked about wanting to have an event, but then 2020 happened. That provided us an opportunity to really slow down and put a lot of time and research into how we wanted to build the event. We want bikes to be fun. They’ve been a huge part of our life and connected us with friends, travel and autonomy.”

Kannan registered for the event alone, but said they quickly built connections with other participants over Zoom calls, and those connections remain to this day.

“It was wonderful to get to know people who were similar to me in many ways,” Kannan said. “We had a couple Zoom calls where we got to know each other, prepare for a longer ride, racing and understanding how get yourself ready to be out on a bike in Nebraska in late June for hours. From the moment I got to Roca Berry Farm, Cait and Susan were so enthusiastic in greeting me and other riders. Everyone got the red-carpet welcome. We felt like old friends even though I hadn’t actually met them before. I knew that I was going to be coming back.”