Malik Graves-Pryor:  People are Watching

Malik Graves-Pryor: People are Watching

ON February 28, 2024 by Zwift

When Malik Graves-Pryor won his age group at the Gran Fondo New York last year, he didn’t expect what happened next. People started getting in touch to tell him how much it meant to them to see a cyclist of color on top of a podium.

“I’m not trying to represent anything. I’m just trying to be me and trying to do the best I can,” he says. “But when people reach out to you… then you realize, ‘Oh, people are watching.’”

As Graves-Pryor was growing up, riding a bike was just a hobby he enjoyed with others in his large family. His family members were his role models, and they encouraged him in this activity he loved. It was his main mode of transportation as a child, and as a teenager, he explored Brooklyn on his bike.

He started to understand the importance of representation many years later, as an adult. Not everyone has been welcomed in cycling or knows people of color they could look up to in the sport.

Graves-Pryor is a member of the Major Taylor Iron Riders, a group of primarily black cyclists in New York. It’s named after Major Taylor, the first black American cycling champion, and the “Iron Riders,” a unit of black bicycle-mounted U.S. Army soldiers formed in 1896.

Graves-Pryor says he’s been stopped by tourists who recognize the name “Major Taylor” on his jersey and love seeing a group of cyclists wearing his name. Others might not recognize it and ask about its meaning.

“I became more educated about the impact of being a person of color in spandex than I ever thought,” says Graves-Pryor. “To realize how other people perceive you, and especially seeing you as an organized group… Wow, that’s powerful.”

Those realizations have led Graves-Pryor to become more active with the group.

“I’m really trying to engage with the leadership in Iron Riders and other Major Taylor clubs nationally,” he says. “I try to assist them, lend my voice whenever I can, lend my support wherever I can, lead more rides, and just be a more active participant in the community.”

For a while, this included leading rides for the Major Taylor 1899 club on Zwift. The club’s name recognizes Taylor’s 1-mile track championship win in 1899, along with the seven world records he set that year.

Join a ride in Zwift’s Black Celebration Series and learn more about more clubs and organizations that empower black cyclists!

Competition and Community

Graves-Pryor started cycling regularly in 2009, primarily to lose weight. He remembered that he had fun riding a bicycle when he was younger, so he got one and started cycling. He enjoyed pushing himself with challenges like century rides and gran fondos.

Then, a friend introduced him to the Major Taylor Iron Riders. His first ride with them was painful, and he was fighting constantly to keep up. It didn’t feel like a warm welcome!

But as soon as they stepped off the bike, he realized that this was their way of accepting him as one of their own. They encouraged and congratulated him. It wasn’t long before he was the one driving the pace and getting competitive.

This taste of competition inspired him to start racing – and soon, to step up his training.

When Graves-Pryor first joined Zwift in 2017, he only used it to keep training indoors when the weather wouldn’t let him ride outside.

The community he found there drew him in. He began joining group rides and seeing some of the same people week after week. People would even say hello when just riding around. It made him feel more like training on those days when motivation was hard to find.

“I think everyone has those days,” says Graves-Pryor. “I really don’t feel like getting up and going out, but. . . I know that I’m going to have this community of people online. I’ll still get a good quality workout in, but maybe I’ll sleep in an extra hour or so, compared to going outside.”

After a while, people started getting to know Graves-Pryor and seeing how strong he was on the bike. He was soon asked to help lead a group ride. Since then, he has helped to lead rides for the Major Taylor Zwift club and BMTR.

Once again, Graves-Pryor wasn’t intending to become a leader or a role model. But his steady presence, support, and strength caused others to look to him.

Now he looks forward to the group rides he attends between workouts, whether he’s holding the yellow leader’s beacon, chasing down disruptive riders, or just rolling with the crowd.

That sense of community doesn’t end when the app closes, either. Graves-Pryor has met Zwifters outside of Zwift and formed friendships that have lasted for years.

“This is more than just an online platform,” he says. “It’s actually stitching together a pretty vast community of people that otherwise would never in a million years have met unless simply by chance, and that’s just really amazing and powerful.”

Learn more about joining group rides and other cycling events on Zwift >

Progress and Positivity

Graves-Pryor often uses Zwift for structured workouts, importing his coach’s sessions from TrainingPeaks. He has noticed improvements in his own fitness, and he thinks it’s helping everyone else out at his races, too.

“It used to be the case where you could really train hard in the off-season, and it might take the rest of the community a month or so to get their legs under them and be competitive,” he says. “Now, people come into the race season ready to go. It’s like, ‘Okay, you’ve been training all winter long!’”

Learn more about how you can follow structured workouts in Zwift >

He also loves watching others get stronger and fitter as they ride Zwift. Someone might be able to ride 30 miles with a group one week, and then the next week they can make it to 40. All along, the community cheers them on, celebrating every step of progress they make.

That’s one of the things Graves-Pryor enjoys most about cycling. It brings people together and helps them forget about their differences.

“A lot of the stuff that tends to divide us and people get their hackles up about in real life… it just goes away when everyone is huffing and puffing and trying to hold a line,” he says. “We’re all just riding our bikes, and whoever you are off the bike kind of melts away.”