Methods to Winning, LLC, is one of the first bike racing teams in the world founded by blacks for the promotion of blacks in cycling. I called up one of the four founders, Ken Vinson, and talked with him about MTW.
Seth Davidson: What was the motivation for founding Methods to Winning?
Ken Vinson: Our motivation was to have representation in the telling of the story of our athletes, Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams, Cory Williams, and Charon Smith. It was unique because we had someone from each generation. 20s, 30s, 40’s, and 50s. That’s a lot of cycling history and there’s a lot to delve into.
Seth: What is Methods to Winning?
Ken: It’s what I perceived to be three of the top African-American cyclists that were around when I came into the sport. They were operating on three separate islands and I talked to them about the leverage of unity and coming together in telling our story and in order to negotiate better endorsements, to attack the industry as a single sum of riders as opposed to as individuals. We came together for that purpose, to try and work together, to have unity and leverage with the purpose of representation in a sport where we have always felt like raisins in milk, and to show the younger generation that there are people in cycling who look like you and that you can do this, too.
Seth: What do mean by tell the story?
Ken: Typically when you are the first at something, or alone, the experiences that one can have that are different from everyone else. Rahsaan being the first black kid from an African-American family with an African-American upbringing in a completely white sport. Something as simple as music, something as simple as “How do I communicate that I like this and not be ostracized because I like something different and be deemed ‘not a team player’?” Those things were important. The other thing was to be able to show kids that this is an alternative to what’s commonly perceived in the inner city. Basketball, football, track and field, rap, and drugs. Here’s a sport that you can do, that we have the ability for if we can get over the cost barriers, and there are people already in it who look like you with your background. Methods to Winning was a way to figure out how to operate within a community that had none of us in there. For me, I saw Rahsaan like Nelson Vails, a pioneer. And of course we always heard the criticism that “You don’t ride in the Tour,” but people don’t understand that they experienced culture shock, ostracism, and no means of communication, that existing processes didn’t work well in Europe, understanding and integrating different cultures.
Seth: What is significant about telling “your” story?
Ken: We’re looking for opportunities to be the ones sharing our story through various media. As you know with our bike racing movie project, “Chocolate Rockets,” the story was getting hijacked. With a story it’s either us telling it from our experiences and pespectives vs. a white person telling us how they perceive our experience. I don’t need you to tell me how you perceive my experience; I can tell you exactly what the hell I experienced, ok? That’s important because with a person telling their own story, if the listener wants to hear them and provide the platform, we can provide the nuance, the detail, the motivations, the hopes and dreams vs. what you perceived it to be. That is dramatically important to us, and Methods to Winning was planned so that Justin and Cory and the younger guys could go off to attack the pro arena; now they have a UCI-registered Pro Continental team. We’re trying to tell our story and create an environment that benefits everyone, we’re trying to give the sport a cool factor to attract people who come from where we come from. Baseball among blacks was deemed slow, hot, and played in the summer, so not many blacks comparatively go into the sport. Cycling has those appearance issues, you have to wear tights for example, we have to get over some things to make it cool. Justin and Cory, starting with Rahsaan, put their flair on clothes and bikes, changing the environment around the races and events. If you let us lead, this is what we can do.
Seth: What was the initial reaction to the formation of Methods to Winning?
Ken: Someone sent an email saying “How arrogant for you to say that you know how win.” I responded, “Well, these guys have won quite a few races, I think they know a thing or two about winning.” But I was pretty hot at first.
Seth: Would that have happened if you’d had a white team made up of riders with as many wins under their belt?
Ken: No. The perception is that when blacks come together it is to exclude everyone else. That’s never been the case. You can look at any movement, MLK, even Malcolm X, who turned the corner and was more inviting of people who wanted to see good for everyone. Coming together means elevating ourselves but not at the exclusion of you. The perception is exclusion and an attack on white people. Not all whites feel that way but some do. Our teams have always been diverse, we have done that on purpose. There was one time early on when we talked about having a team of black riders only but we were shooting it down as we talked it through. That’s not who we are. We wanted talent but talent doesn’t know any one color. The reception of Methods to Winning has been okay but we’ve had issues. You try and help sponsors shine with social media content showing the products you receive, but even so with that we got a lot of negative comments from accepting sponsored high end bikes/shoes/clothing because of the pricing, of Rapha clothing, for example. They expected us to affect the pricing. We still get that today.
Seth: Why is Lance not expected to decrease the cost of Nike shoes and Justin is?
Ken: It’s perceived that we came from nothing and now we have to lower the prices for everyone.
Seth: What about Steph Curry? Same expecations?
Ken: No. These things are perceived as cool but no one expects these guys to lower the price.
Seth: Why is Justin being criticized, then?
Ken: Short of racism, I don’t know. Since George Floyd, in trying to understand things in the era of Trump, there is a lot of subliminal privilege that people don’t understand they have, implicit biases they don’t know they have, and Trump touched on and brought those out of people and that plays a part in people seeing these guys get all this product that, in their view, they may not have “earned.”
Seth: How does Methods to Winning play in with Black History Month?
Seth: It seems like there’s a double standard. Black rides are denied the opportunity to ride during that tiny window of opportunity you have to groom a Pro Tour rider, and then when the door is shut, they’re criticized for never riding in the Tour, for only riding “domestic US races.”
Ken: Since Major Taylor, one of the things we’ve done through the Bahati Foundation is identify a chronology of cyclists of color. There was Major Taylor, there were some black women who did the first major group rides back in 1929, rode 250 miles, then there was Nelson Vails. We’ve been trying to identify riders of color up through Rahsaan. He wasn’t in the world tour but if he’d had the support and resources, could he have been? If he’d had the resources, where would he have been? And for Methods to Winning, if we can get the support and resources, where can we go? That ties in with Black History Month, if we can get equal support, equal laws, equal equal equal, where can we go? We make the sport better. As human beings we enhance the world if we have a fair opportunity.
Ken There’s a video of Justin talking about being in Europe and always being viewed as angry. You’re correct.
Seth: Where is Methods to Winning on its trajectory?
Ken: We said that in 3-5 years we wanted to use contacts first between Charon Smith, Rahsaan Bahati, and Justin Williams, and then with Cory Williams and the Nsek brothers. We started an academy team to identify young talent to fill the gap so that when they don’t cycle out of the training scene at 18/19 because they have nowhere to go. Imeh Nsek was the first rider, and through Rahsaan’s contacts we got him signed with the Arola cycling team in Europe, but then his father died and he returned to the the US. While there he won races. The next rider was through our activities at the Eldo race series, Nigel Desota. His pro contract with Nordisk came through Methods to Winning. He’s in his thirrd year as a pro and doing exceptionally well. Given the opportunity we can have success. The other thing was to go out and find sponsors through Rahsaan and Zwift. Justin formed Legion LA and got the funding to really do what we think the next step is: Produce a team on the Pro Conti level with the goal of seeing talent get picked up by World Tour teams. In 2021 we have an elite pro team with a UCI license, and of course we have the old farts racing around here doing masters racing. Our next step is to try and get the talent on the Pro Conti team seen, and maybe on the World Tour, while putting on events that we’d like to see, events where some of the major world talent will fly here to race. We have dreams.
Seth: How are you adapting to covid?
Ken: Lots of Zwifting and riding in smaller groups. Individual training has continued because of our work ethic. We’re excited to come out of covid and show what we can do if we have the opportunity to race.
Seth: There’s been a big shift from USA Cycling to BWR-type mixed racing events. How will Methods to Winning react?
Ken: The Belgian Waffle Ride is unique and an excellent opportunity to expose hackers to pro riders. Like our MVMNT rides where the fast guys ride with the slow guys. When I was at the BWR, after the ride everyone mingled. Those events are huge and we’re building a relationship with Michael Marckx on Circle of Doom. BWR is legitimate, good, and here to stay. For Methods to Winning, we have people who are now doing more MTB, ‘cross, and that’s through Ama and Imeh Nsek via Imperium Coaching. Ama won the BWR’s Wafer ride a couple of years ago.
Seth: What are Methods to Winning’s plans for 2021?
Ken: Race-wise we are trying to figure out a way to focus on the academy team to develop a diverse group of talent. It has been a challenge to find 18/19 year-olds, and we’ve started thinking about reaching an even younger audience. That’s why we’re working closely with the Bahati Foundation to plant the seeds to sprout the talent. We’ve thought about developing a pump track where kids can ride their bikes and get familiar with bike sports at a much earlier age. Of course in 2021 we’ll have a masters team and continue to try and put on events, including the Eldo race series if Long Beach City will permit it. We suffered a fatality at the end of 2019 and then with covid we’re hoping the city will permit the event for 2021, pushing back the start until late April or possibly May. It depends on covid and the racing calendar. We’re also looking into races at the velodrome, as well as e-racing on Zwift. We’re not sure what the world is going to allow; covid is with us for the foreseeable future.
Seth: Do you think there are structural racial barriers to achieving your goals?
Ken: I’d like to see us with more of a voice in the licensing body. USAC has contracted with EF Cycling to visit historically black colleges to recruit new riders of color. Really? We already have Nelson Vails, Rahsaan, Cory, Justin, Charon, Ayesha, Tanile, why isn’t USAC finding the top African-American talent and asking them to come speak to these crowds? We’ve been contacted by no one. Again, it’s USAC saying to blacks, “We want to tell you how to do it,” rather than having someone who looks like these kids and has the same background as these kids going out there and talking with them. We can do the job far better than they ever could. USAC got Reggie Miller as a spokesperson, but he’s a name from the NBA. Why wouldn’t you get Nelson Vails or a top African-American cyclist? Those things present challenges.
Seth: Does Methods to Winning face racial issues that white teams don’t face?
Ken: Here’s a scenario. There aren’t a lot of blacks in the local LA sport cycling scene. So you have a black guy who is vocal, perhaps there is an argument, and because there are only a few of us, whites assume that the few blacks they know are the moderators for everybody else who is black. We deal with that, being lumped together, and it doesn’t feel very good. If I have an issue with a white person I don’t have a white godfather to go to, and there’s no black godfather. White guy has a problem with a black guy, work it out with him. You’re both adults. What does it have to do with me?
Seth: Do you think that 2020 has affected race relations in the cycling community?
Ken: At first blush yes because I believe that if you can change one person then that’s a bonus. Some people only count change if the number is larger than one but in my personal experience there are several people who sought me out and we had frank and difficult conversations. President Trump motivated and brought an undercurrent to the forefront and that forced a lot of people to have conversations, facing the divide in the road or the elephant in the room. 2020 has opened communications that didn’t exist before, or it has made them more truthful.
Seth: What is it about Ken Vinson that makes Methods to Winning such a mission?
Ken: I was born in 1966 and am a child of the teachings of diversity and multiculturalism, that diversity strengthens us. I grew up with parents who taught us to hold our heads high and be proud of ourselves. Look past the people who treat you poorly to those who don’t. My high school was predominantly black, my college was mostly white, and those experiences were studies in diversity. Then I spent 26 years working in multi-level marketing and that forced me to interact with everyone. I appreciate people and believe in diversity and multiculturalism. I think we are stronger together and we need to be able to listen. An example is law enforcement. You see how whites are treated by law enforcement and a completely different outcome derives with people of color. That is just one thing that reflects that we have to listen and talk among each other, which in my opinion means white people listening to us and believing what we’re saying. In a lot of cop encounters we end up dead. The last four years we had someone who said “American First” at the exclusion of diversity and multiculturalism, it spoke to white people who felt threatened. MAGA spoke to us as exclusion whereas we seek to use the platform of cycling by taking prominent African-American cyclists and using their notoriety for social engagement that benefits cycling and our communities as a whole. MVMNT rides where people pedal through communities they’ve only seen on the news. Cycling interaction, people breaking bread, the All Clubs BBQ, everything we do at MTW is to try to bring people together.
Seth: Thanks, Ken!
Ken: My pleasure.
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