Lana Harshaw fell in love with cycling in her mid-30s, and it lit a fire under her. Now as she lights up races, she’s working to ignite the same love for the sport in others.
Harshaw and her friend Mike Brown started SOAR Foundation Racing, a race team with a mission to diversify the sport of cycling. The team had about 13 racers last year and is up to 20 at the start of 2023.
“I see little black girls on bikes and I wave to them, and they light up, like ‘Oh! That looks like me,’” she says. “I’m doing it for the kids, and hopefully I can inspire someone else to get started earlier in life. I’m doing it now so somebody else can.”
Harshaw played basketball in college and didn’t find cycling until later in life. For a while, knee injuries kept her from staying active in sports.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she renewed her focus on fitness and began hiking and doing low-impact exercises. Her knees still bothered her, but she figured she just had to live with that.
Later that year, she went on a hike with Brown, who is also black and owns a couple of bike shops in the Philadelphia area. Afterward, he told Harshaw that she owed him a bike ride. She was reluctant, but he told her she would be fine.
She came with him to a group ride on a mountain bike, while everyone else was fully equipped with road bikes and “cool cycling gear.”
“I was able to keep up with them on the mountain bike, and afterwards, I was actually able to walk,” she says. “Immediately, I was like, ‘I think I might have found my new thing – cycling!’”
Within a week, she bought her own road bike from Facebook Marketplace.
“I was just so happy to find something that challenged me from a fitness perspective and a mental perspective, and I was not in pain afterwards,” she says. “It was the most amazing thing.”
Outside and Indoors
At first, Harshaw described herself as a “winter soldier.” She was excited to get outside and ride whenever she could, even in cold weather.
Then, last year, Harshaw started riding inside more when she got a smart trainer and started doing structured training with a coach.
“When I started cycling, I didn’t have a bike computer, a heart rate monitor, or a power meter,” she says. “I’d never done endurance sports before, so my mentality was just, ‘you’ve got to go hard.’ … In endurance sports, going hard all the time leads to overtraining, it leads to injury, and it leads to fatigue.”
Her coach helped her understand the data and some cycling training principles, including knowing when to go hard and when to take it easy.
Later, she was introduced to Zwift, which brought some of the feeling of riding outdoors inside.
“Zwift is great because it gamifies what you’re doing,” she says. “And you get to see people all around the world riding on some of the courses with you.”
Harshaw started using Zwift for some of her endurance rides in winter to keep them interesting. It helped her stay engaged with small challenges on those longer rides.
“On the trainer, you’re just riding one flat pace normally,” she says. “In Zwift, with the challenge of inclines here and there, it gives you more of an actual road feel, like being outside.”
(Note: If you love just riding around Zwift, check out these 6 Tips for Amazing Free Rides!)
Role Models and Mentors
Harshaw grew up in New Jersey, moved to Delaware, and now travels the country to participate in different races and other cycling events. From mid-2021 through early 2023, she finished more than 25 races and upgraded from category 5 to 3.
“From a racing perspective, it’s ignited something in me that I haven’t felt since I played basketball,” she says. “Cycling has given me this renewed spirit.”
Now she wants to share it with others, the same way her friend Brown shared it with her and helped her get started.
“This space has been predominantly white for a very, very long time,” she says. “For black and brown communities (in the USA), the sports that are most popular are team sports – basketball, football, and even baseball.”
Economic factors probably play a role in that, Harshaw says. Bikes are not cheap, and children who ride grow out of their equipment fast.
Young people also need role models in the sport to look up to and mentors to help them along.
“It’s about getting kids interested in the sport and exposed to it when they’re young,” she says. “Being able to see people like you in certain spaces is what can plant the seed in your head that you can do it, or inspire you and motivate you.”
Before Harshaw started a business selling CBD products, she says her experience working in the corporate world showed her the importance of representation and mentorship. She would sometimes be the only black person or woman in the room. Once she found a black female mentor, she began to flourish. In turn, Harshaw could advocate for others who come from a similar background and help bring diverse perspectives to the table.
“If you have someone that looks like you, you know they have experienced some of the same things you have – or will experience,” she says. “That mentorship goes a long way.”
With SOAR Foundation Racing, Harshaw hopes to bring that positive influence to the world of cycling while doing what she loves.
“I’ll be on a bike as long as I can pedal,” she says. “The bike literally changed my life.”