These Dads Started Cycling for Survival. Now They Ride for Strength

Survival. That’s how we describe what 2020 was for Black people, Black businesses, and Black communities.

We—Chuck and Chad—started the year as two busy entrepreneurs, already searching for ways to stay afloat with families and mortgages when Covid hit. Chuck is a partner at his own brand strategy consultancy, Rupture Studio, and Chad was the owner of a staffing consultancy called CRTVE.

The first few months of Covid were terrifying. For Chad, clients halted hiring talent and contracts that were freshly signed were now being retracted. And Chuck didn’t know where the next project was coming from. Clients turned off the lights and put their marketing spend on hold as they laid off staff. He and his wife and partner Nandi were racking their brains, trying to find daylight.

Fast forward three months after initial lockdown, the Black community was suffering yet another major blow with the death of George Floyd. That kicked off an outpouring of support and the world’s largest social movement, letting everyone know that Black Lives Matter. After the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, and countless others to police brutality, alarms rang loud, anger and frustration grew high, tears were shed, and we were fed up.

Looking for a reprieve from all the madness as we approached Father’s Day, we wanted to get all the dads we knew from around our homes in or near Orange, New Jersey, and do something while still being socially distant.

members of the black watts cycling group in new jersey

members of the black watts cycling group in new jersey

Chad Bennett

Brian Fraser

We all had been locked in our homes for months and wanted to do something to break up the monotony yet be smart about keeping a respectful distance. A bike ride seemed like a great outdoors activity.

We sent invites through a group chat of Black dads that would typically talk about sports, politics, music, and everything in between, except cycling. A 15-mile ride was set for Father’s Day, and we’d tackle tough inclines for a group of men who hadn’t been on a bike in a long time or who had just ridden casually. Some made the journey on road bikes, while others used commuters they’d pulled from the depths of their basements. For our group, 15 miles felt like a huge feat.

Black Watts allows us to amplify our individual strengths into a collective power that is greater than what we could achieve alone.

Fifteen-mile rides became 20, 20 miles became 30, and then half-century rides for a group who just started riding collectively for a few months. We’re lucky enough to live in a valley below the Watchung Mountains, a series of 500-foot ridges. Our rides will always start with a climb between a 5 and 7 percent grade. We’re blessed to enjoy beautiful tree lines, rolling hills, and long descents to make the climbs worthwhile. This, of course, makes recovery rides pretty difficult. We’d be lying if we weren’t envious of those century rides with no elevation.

For almost two months after our Father’s Day ride, we went nameless. We were just happy to get out of the house on the weekends, ride for a few hours, and talk about what was going on in our lives. We knew we wanted to ride like a collective unit and to achieve that, we needed a name and cycling kits. We started with a cycling jersey that represented what had brought us together, fatherhood, and tasked everyone to get bike illustrations from their children. From those drawings, we created a pattern for our bibs and jerseys.

members of the black watts cycling group in new jersey

Members of the Black Watts cycling group gathered for one of their last rides of the year on November 14, 2020 at Painter’s Point Trailhead in Millburn, NJ.

Brian Fraser

We ultimately wanted a name to represent what we stood for on these rides. A name that brought us together on a weekly basis tackling some difficult terrain. We wanted something synonymous with biking. While on a ride, Chad screamed out “we should call ourselves Black Watts!” It was met with a lot of hesitation before understanding what watts truly meant. It made sense, especially for this moment in time, that Black Watts Cycling Club is what we would settle on.

Our mission is to leverage cycling to accelerate the health and power of Black fathers, families, and culture.

What does Black Watts mean? Black Watts is a collection of husbands, fathers, professionals, and entrepreneurs that care about the progress of each other and the community. Coming from different backgrounds and walks of life, we’ve created a space where we can experience and connect over everything modern fatherhood entails while riding our bikes down the road. Black Watts allows us to amplify our individual strengths into a collective power that is greater than what we could achieve alone, as we explore the physical environment, pushing past pain to find pleasure and new perspective, as we cross mental and physical thresholds together.

The notion of brotherhood started our group and it keeps us riding. We’re all in a similar socioeconomic status and we deal with similar unique issues in the workplace. It’s great to have that Black male vision not only for ourselves but for our families. We’re showing what Black men are and it’s better than the stereotypes out there. It’s good for our kids to see and the outside community as well, even if it’s occasionally unsettling.

members of the black watts cycling group in new jersey

Brian Fraser

The bike has had a humanizing effect on how people see us. It is a strange and peculiar dynamic. Especially early on, we often rode through ritzy towns with multi-million dollar mansions. The residents there clapped and waved at us as we rode by, but if those same people saw us as a group of Black men walking, they might call the cops on us. We’re still conflicted on whether our bikes’ halo effect is a good thing or not.

But it’s exciting for us to be seen together. We’re all Black men of a certain age. It’s a dynamic image. We’re all out there together in kits celebrating the families that support us while we’re on our rides. Jamison Antoine, one of our members and a marketing executive, says that Black Watts makes you excited about being a good father and a good husband. You’re encouraging someone to be great.

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The outpouring of support on our rides have been overwhelming to say the least. The honking of horns, waves, smiles, and screams of people loving what we’re doing has encouraged us to get on our bikes even on days that are harder than others. There’s an internal commitment amongst us to make Black Watts become more than just a group of cycling enthusiasts privileged enough to be on bikes away from our families.

We’re excited about the future of Black Watts. Our mission is to leverage cycling to accelerate the health and power of Black fathers, families, and culture. As society has broken down and become divided and distrustful, Black Watts Cycling Club has provided us the freedom to form an identity and move as a collective unit. We ride wheel to wheel into an unknown future, pushing each other to create a better tomorrow than today, leaving no brother behind….ever.

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Katherine E. Ackerman

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