“I stand out like a raisin in milk.”
With that matter-of-fact declaration, Rahsaan Bahati quickly ended my attempts to ask delicately about the racial mix in pro bike racing.
Bahati, 30, has been a rarity in the peloton for nearly two decades, from his first track races as a teenager on the Washington Park Velodrome, in Kenosha, to his win in the 2008 USA Cycling Criterium National Championship.
Over the past three years, the native of Compton, Calif., has slowed his own racing pursuits and built the Bahati Foundation to guide inner-city kids to the sport. Talking to school groups and organizing bike rides, Bahati encourages youngsters to focus on achievement in education, music and athletics.
In Milwaukee for the start of the Tour of America’s Dairyland, Bahati will lead a ride on Thursday morning from DreamBikes, 2021 N. Martin Luther King Dr., to the lakefront and back. It’s an open invitation, with an 11 a.m. start.
Bahati expects to find common ground with the youths, like himself young blacks from low-income neighborhoods; and he hopes they’ll see in him an example of opportunity.
“I want to show them that they can be anything that they want to be,” Bahati said. “If you get these kids that don’t see there’s a future, you put them around people who have futures. Inspire them by being around them, changing their atmosphere, changing the way they look at things.”
It’s similar to the purpose of DreamBikes: a shop that hires teens from the area and teaches them how to repair and sell bicycles.
Bahati and DreamBikes have the shared goal of encouraging city kids to explore opportunities in cycling that may appear beyond their reach.
“In the inner city of Los Angeles, you’re seeing people of color on bikes,” Bahati said. “They’re on single speeds with no brakes, no helmets. I wish I had the means to catch them in a fish net and take them and train them.
“They’re not exposed to what cycling is. Everybody has ridden a bike, but a lot of people aren’t familiar with bike racing and cycling, and what it can do for your health. It’s what the foundation is all about.”