Written by Sarah Lamb
If I’ve learned one thing from my own experiences, it’s that statistics don’t lie, but stereotypes only exist if we let them. Physics is less than 5% women. Electrical Engineering is less than 3%. The cycling industry is, as of present, uncounted.
It’s not because the cycling industry doesn’t have a problem with gender diversity. It’s because our industry’s response to that problem is, by necessity, focused on the most public face of the issue, the women who ride and race their bicycles.
Thanks to Title IX, grass-roots clinics, and an increasing number of team directors and race promoters offering equal payouts, we're seeing more women on bikes and more women racing at the elite level than ever before. Now (finally!) the PBMA is poised to do something real about diversity “on the other side of the handlebars.” I’m talking about the women working behind-the-scenes in industry, the #womenwhowrench.
Today marks the conclusion of our first “Focus on Women” week, but I can promise you that it won’t be our last.
On behalf of the Board and the entire PBMA community, I want to extend a special “thank you” to all of the extraordinary women who generously volunteered their time and wisdom for our features this week, especially Denise Belzil, Nhatt Nichols, Sara Jarrell, Jude Gerace, Cheyenne Puskas, Ali Pearks, Jaimee Johnsen, Elva Nava, and JR Browy.
The reach of our features this week has been great. Statistics don’t lie: Our features this week have gotten over 28,000 impressions on social media, and we’ve had nearly 10,000 visitors click directly onto our blog.
My challenge to each of you is this: We can, and we should, do better. For ourselves, for our women, and for our industry, we must each make a conscious effort to become more inclusive and more encouraging of diversity among cycling mechanics. After all, stereotypes only exist if we let them.
In the world of cycling, I’m a race mechanic with Mavic SSC, SRAM NRS, and Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com. I’m also a mentor with Network for Advancing Athletes, which is a nonprofit organization that mentors and empowers women through sport. As a race mechanic, I work for Neutral Support at events all over the country. As a NAA mentor, I help plan and facilitate women’s clinics in coordination with major industry events like the Mike Nosco Memorial Ride in California.
Outside of cycling, the long-story-short version is: I’m a huge nerd.
Santa Claus brought me my first two-wheeler when I was about four years old, and I’ve been riding ever since. I graduated from Huffys to road bikes sometime around my freshman year of high school, and started working in a shop when I was 15. Somewhere along the line, someone told me “no, girls don’t do that” and I’ve been proving them wrong ever since.
In the ten(ish) years that I’ve been a race mechanic, I’ve been really fortunate to work with some of the most talented and least judgmental people in our industry. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. It’s important to me to do whatever I can to give back to this community that has given me so much, especially to do whatever I can to make cycling and cycling mechanics more accessible to women.
I’d like to see our industry overall be more encouraging of diversity. It seems pretty inclusive right now, but that’s after being in it for more than a decade; to a newbie, I think it’s still pretty intimidating and the barriers to entry are still really high. There’s a lot of awesome grass-roots stuff happening right now to get more people involved in cycling, but it’s going to take a lot of organizations (like PBMA) and industry leaders working together with each other and with the people on the front lines (athletes, mechanics, etc.) to really affect change for the entire industry.
Jude Gerace is the owner of Sugar Wheel Works in Portland Oregon.
"We hand build bicycle wheels to the highest standards allowable."
How did you get started in the world of bicycles?
I got started in cycling because I was intrigued by getting from place to place by my own power--this was when I was 19. I loved being active. I also wanted to go on grand adventures off the beaten path--to be "in the middle of nowhere" and to get there on my own. That risk was really appealing to me. The next natural step was to learn how to work on my bike. I remember the first time a mechanic took me behind the counter to show me how my bike worked--it sparked my imagination of what I could do!
What challenges did you see when forming Epic Wheel Works?
I don't really like to talk about the Epic>Sugar transition. It really sucked. Imagine emptying all your pockets to start a small closet shop and then you learn you accidentally chose a name that is loosely affiliated with a bike. It was a really hard lesson to learn and the first time I realized that to be a business owner, wheel builder, or anything meaningful in this world that I would have to learn to be resilient. The biggest lesson I learned, however, was the responsibility that comes along with signing my name to something.
Beyond that, ignorance of how hard it would be was incredibly valuable. If I had to start it all over again at this age, I don't know that I could work 80-90 hour work weeks on end. It's exhausting--and it made me super grumpy. But I think that's true of anyone starting any shop or small business. But with wheel building, I've always known that there's a burden of education associated with it. What I mean is that if I told people I own a bike shop, people wouldn't raise their eyebrows. Nearly every week a tourist comes into the shop and asks "Can you survive doing this?" So I guess I get to question my sanity every week. But I like being a little insane--I think it makes me interesting. In high school I wasn't voted "Best athlete" or anything flattering. I was voted "Quirkiest". But I live a really interesting life and because I'm willing to work hard for what I believe in and what my highest ideals are, I get to do something I love and something that keeps me interested and present in life.
Speaking simply from your perspective what makes for a good wheel builder? Is it a skill, a personality, a mindset or perhaps its something on a different philosophical plane?
That's a great question. In my opinion, to be a good wheel builder you have to be willing to want each and every wheel to be "Perfect" every. single. time. To build a business off of wheel building you have to be willing to get curious about everything--even aspects of wheel building that aren't interesting. Then you have to find a way to relate that tech information to each rider. Then for bonus points, you have to be willing to guide the vision that someone brings you even if you wouldn't necessarily do it that way. So yeah, you have to be a perfectionist who can relate to world around you.
Who / how did you learn to be one of the foremost current generation wheel builders?
Am I? I still think of myself as hustling to make it all work and look good! I care so much about what I do--I take it personally when I've failed a customer (which doesn't happen often but it still happens). I learn from those failures so that we as a shop are better. I really love what I do and I'm still so thirsty to learn more, to innovate, and to make sustainability a foremost goal of our industry. I'm just getting started. I've only been doing this for 8 years...can you imagine what I might be able to do with 8 more years?!!
You’ve got a small staff at Sugar… what makes a good co-worker in your shop environment?
Someone who has a healthy amount of respect for what they're doing and who holds themselves to a high standard. I also appreciate someone who can, at the end of the day, leave their work at work. I carry my work with me 24/7 and I really thrive off the fresh energy that my co-workers bring to the shop. I also love that they ride.
We want to inspire people to be involved in cycling and mechanics. What words would you give someone looking from the outside in?
I don't have anything inspiring to say. I don't know how to inspire people with words. I just think you have to believe, even just a little, that you can do it. I hope that my work, my team, and the integrity of the company I've built are more inspiring than inspirational pithy sayings. I hope that when people hear the story of Sugar or come and visit my shop they leave thinking they are capable of so much more than they thought they were. And as much as I despise pithy sayings, don't think I don't have an entire catalogue of them to cheer me up on the really hard days.
Everyone has that one drawer with their special tools in it. What’s in yours?
Scribes of different sizes, a small screwdriver, a measuring tape, banjo picks (for sound amplification), rubber bands, four bottle openers, keys (to i don't know what), pens, scrap paper, and a collection of stickers. Oh I just remembered what the keys are--mail box and spare keys for the shop (which isn't helpful since they're inside the shop).
What does the word Professional mean to you?
It means showing up every day and offering consistent, high quality work that strives for being the best in one's industry. It is a belief that one (I) embody the highest standard possible. And that one is humble so as not to let their ego get in the way of doing good work and connecting people to that work.
You can checkout Sugar Wheel Works on the web, or Instagram and on Twitter @Sugarwheelworks
Interview by Jenny Kallista
With so many great women in this industry, it's not too hard to find someone who inspires with their passion, wit, and charm. I had the great fortune to work with Sara Jarrell at a shop in Asheville for a couple years around 2010-2012, and we've become great friends since. Sara and I always manage to make some time for each other over the years and continue building our friendship with plenty of laughter and stead-fast support for one another. Sara has plenty of passion for cycling and is one of those people who makes things happen. I was able to catch up with her to get a little formal interview on where she's at in the industry and some of her takes on what we're seeing with women on bikes.
What is your title now at SRAM, and how did it come about?
I am the Women's Program Coordinator, and it came about due to the fact that I've been involved with women like Lindsey Richter, Rebecca Rusch, and Leigh Donovan in various cycling camps, clinics, and events over the last few years. It was a natural progression to bring some of these events in-house to better support the programs for women that were already going on. It's all about promoting women on bikes!
How many women-specific events have you participated in in the last few years, and what is the single most important thing you take away from them?
Wow, well, a lot! I'd say about 6 or 7 events every year for the last several, with quite a few international events.
I'd say the most important thing I get from these events is the community-building that I feel happens each time. I see all these women get so excited to be around other women at various levels of experience and skill, and everyone is so helpful, encouraging one another, and just having a really great time. I get super inspired when I see a newer rider work out some daunting parts of a trail and see how thrilling it is for them.
Do you see the market for women's cycling growing significantly around you?
I do. There's still a lot of room for growth to be made. There are all these new women's specific manufacturers, programs, and clinics that are addressing the long overlooked segment of the market. When you think about it, this means 50% of the market is basically available for growth!
Is the future of women's cycling looking especially bright in any particular field?
It all seems bright from my perspective!
How long have you been working on bicycles? How long professionally?
I guess 14 years, now professionally.
How did you learn?
A friend I had growing up started to show me how to work on stuff, including building wheels… this was after a childhood of being on bikes all the time. From what I learned from my friend, I had the confidence to apply at a bike shop in California sight unseen, I had never even visited California at that point. I started on the sales floor, but then started to work my way towards the service department. After that, I returned back to my home state of North Carolina and got a job at the shop I got my first bike from as a kid in my home town of Sylva. The shop opened a second location in Asheville, and I moved there to help open the shop and was the service manager for several years. I was offered a gig with the Paralympic Cycling team as the team mechanic, putting me in Colorado Springs, which then led to a job at SRAM.
Did you have a female mechanic ever mentor you?
YOU, Jenny! (laughter). Well, as you know I worked with Jenny Skorcz (formerly head instructor at BBI) with the Giant women's council many years ago, and I learned a lot from her.
Have you found there to be much in the way of negative reactions to your position?
Yes, but I have been able to work through them… it was mostly from customers, but nothing too bad.
If so, how do you overcome these types of occurrences?
Having the support of my co-workers has always been helpful when working through any negative reactions I have faced by being a woman in the cycling industry. Lots of patients and treating people with respect no matter what kind of attitude or negativity they showed me was also a strategy I used and it generally worked out.
Do you have the opportunity to help other women learn how to work on bikes?
Yes! I've been able to do that in shops, at our SRAM Technical University, and at many of the women’s specific clinic I have attended.
Do you hope to stay in the bicycle industry? If not, what do you plan on doing?
I do, as long as I can make a positive difference!
Who are you, what is it you do?
I'm Nhatt Nichols, I work at ReCyclery (Port Townsend WA), I'm a programs director there.
How long have you been working on bicycles?
When I was 18 I got a job in a cafe in Seattle that required me to ride a bike to the farmer's Market to help get produce. I wasn't even sure if I knew how to ride a bike, and I really didn't want to do it. Within a month I'd fallen in love with that bike and was taking bike repair classes at BikeWorks. That was 17 years ago.
How long professionally?
My first bike shop job was at Oxford Cycle Workshop in Oxford, UK. That was about 12 years ago.
How did you learn?
After taking those repair classes at BikeWorks, I really felt like I was on my own. I had some help from the mechanics around me, but I always felt like I really had to learn by doing or actively harassing the other mechanics around me.
Did you have a female mechanic ever mentor you?
It was a female friend who was the instructor at BikeWorks, way back when I first started. Since then I've not had a more experienced mentor, although the amazing Mel Atwood was a mechanic at Brixton Cycles before I was and has always been a fantastic role model.
Have you found there to be much in the way of negative reactions to your position? If so, how do you overcome these types of occurrences?
I can never get over how obvious it is that some customers would rather speak to nearly anyone else. When I lived in London it was really bad, I once had a woman yell at me to get her a man from the back! But now that I've moved out to the country it's a less common occurrence, though a lot of the retired men in this community like to tell me they've never met a 'girl mechanic' before.
The only way I've found to overcome this without losing my mind is to try to treat everyone evenly, and to work hard to be as good of a mechanic as I can be. Hopefully my example will teach customers that gender isn't a good way to determine who is a good mechanic.
Do you have the opportunity to help other women learn how to work on bikes?
I do! I'm the programs director at The ReCyclery in Port Townsend Washington. I teach women how to fix their own bikes during our Community Shop Days, and I also teach a Bike Repair 101 class, and that is almost all women. I also run an apprenticeship program here that is 50% female, and one of my apprentices just landed her first job as a shop mechanic at a local bike shop.
My real passion is that I coach the middle school mountain bike team, The Ratfish. We have three girls on the team this year, and all of them have made it onto a podium at least once. One of them, Charley, even built the bike that she races on up from spare parts at the shop, so she's getting this great experience as both a rider and as a mechanic that just isn't available to everyone. These girls have been such an awesome example to their peers that I already have a bunch of girls who want to start riding with the team next year!
Do you hope to stay in the bicycle industry? If not, what do you plan on doing?
Yes and no. I'm an artist and I'm ready to transition to doing that more full time. That being said, I'm still going to coach the mountain bike team in both riding and fixing bikes, and I could see myself taking mountain bike advocacy on as a part time job. I love being able to show the next generation of girls what they can accomplish.
Written by Sarah Lamb and translated en français by Jenny Kallista.
“Mechanic of the Week” has been my pet project at PBMA since its inception. One of the highlights of every week for me is getting to know our new MOTW, and seeing how happily surprised they are to be featured by us. I love our diverse and inclusive community, but it’s no secret that we’ve had very few women nominated for MOTW. So when someone introduced me to Denise Belzil of St-Denis de Brompton, Quebec earlier this month, I was compelled to get to know her better. And, oh my goodness… this woman is a rock star! I am in awe of her talent, courage, and generosity. On behalf of the PBMA, I’m proud to present my conversation with Denise as our first-ever bilingual interview.
Comment avez-vous été impliqué dans le vélo et/ou à vélo mécanicien?
How did you get involved in cycling or bicycle mechanics?
Comment j’ai été impliqué. Je suis née à Montréal j’ai toujours voyagé à vélo pour aller à l’école, travaillé et loisir sortir etc. Et j’aime encore voyager à vélo la liberté. Il faut donc l’entretenir. Jeune je me suis acheté un vélo avec une manette rotative Shimano 3 vitesses. J’ai un samedi démonté mon vélo j’avais 12 ou 13 ans. Par la suite j’ai développé un intérêt à réparer mes vélos.
J’ai travaillé dans des boutiques spécialisées à Montréal Cycle Coppi, Cycle Peel les 2 boutiques qui étaient les plus réputés en 1981 /82/83. Je me suis faite une réputation et par la suite quelqu’un de la fédération cycliste Québécoise m’a suggéré de faire application à l’Association Canadienne de Cycliste il cherchait un mécanicien pour l’équipe féminine Canadienne. J’ai appliqué et j’ai eu un emploi comme soigneur ( j’ai une formation en réadaptation physique). L’année suivante j’étais mécanicienne pour l’équipe Canadienne féminine pour Le Tour du Texas en 89 tour de France 89 et Championnat du Monde la même année à Chambéry. Par la suite j’ai toujours continué à travailler d’une entreprise à l’autre.(Revue Vélo MAG (chroniqueuse technique 2 ans) formation, j’ai monté une usine d’assemblage de vélo aux États Unis à Plattsburgh, NY pour la compagnie Nevada, etc. Et ainsi de suite. Après j’ai fondé Techno Cycle durant 23 ans. J’ai formé environ 300 à 500 personnes par année. De toute catégorie hommes, femmes, enfant. Professionnel boutiques et employé d’usine comme chez Devinci. (vélo Devinci et Bixie)
Il y a de la place pour nous, j’ai été patiente j’ai même travaillé avec Bill Woodel au Championnat du monde de Vélo de Montagne à Bromont. J’ai rencontré beaucoup de mécaniciens qui ont toujours respecté mon travail et on a collaboré et échangé nos trucs et expérience. Il faut travaillé en équipe échangé notre expérience c’est ainsi que l’on devient plus expérimenté.
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I was born in Montreal and have always ridden a bike to go to school, to go to work, to socialize, etc. I love the freedom of cycling. Therefore, it is important to maintain it. When I was young, I bought a bike with a Shimano 3-speed hub. One Saturday when I was about 12 or 13, I took my whole bike apart. After that, I developed an interest in repairing my bicycles. I worked at some reputable bike shops in Montreal in the early 80's, including Cycle Coppi and Cycle Peel. I made myself a reputation and from that it was suggested to me (by someone from the Quebec Cycling Federation) to apply at the Canadian Cycling Association…. there was a women's team that was looking for a mechanic. I applied and became the soigneur (I'm trained in physical therapy). The following year I was the mechanic for a Canadian women's team during the Tour of Texas in '89, Tour de France '89, and and the World Championships that year as well in Chambery. After that I was always traveling to one event or another. I was the technical writer for the magazine Velo Mag 2 years, I set up the bicycle factory for the brand Nevada in the US (Plattsburgh, NY). After that I started Techno Cycle (23 years ago, a technical school) and have trained between 300-500 people per year, men women, kids, as well as professional technicians at companies like DeVinci and Bixie.
There is a place for us [women], I was patient and even worked alongside Bill Woodul at the World Mountain Bike Championships in Bromont. I met lots of mechanics who were always very respectful of my work and we would collaborate with our work and share bits of information and experience. It's important to work with a team to share experiences, as that is how one gets better.
Qu’est ce qui me pousse à exceller en tant que l’une des rares femmes ….
What motivates you to excel as one of the few female mechanics in our industry?
J’aime toujours réparer les vélos et j’aime les outils. À chaque fois que je trouve de nouveaux outils j’en achète pour effectuer un travail plus rapidement et plus délicatement. Dernièrement j’ai utilisé l’outil UNIOR 1625/2 pour retirer les roulements scellés d’un boîtier de pédalier. Le tout sans effort et sans marteau. De solutionner un problème mécanique d’un client. Aussi avec tous les nouveaux outils qui existent sur le marché, ça nous facilitent le travail pour les femmes. On a moins besoin de forcer.
Mais je suis toujours surprise de voir que peut de mécaniciens ne soient pas à l’écoute des demandes de la clientèle cycliste surtout féminine.
Lorsque j’ai eu Techno Cycle 23 ans, j’ai adoré enseigné aux consommateurs, aux mécaniciens et de partagé mes trucs et connaissances avec les participants. Et de voir 15 ans plus tard que certain sont venu suivre des cours et à présent ils sont mécaniciens ou travaille dans le milieu.
Qu’est ce qui me pousse encore voici la réponse ultime.
J’ai signé un contrat 2016 avec Unior Tools pour la réédition de mes 2 livres de mécaniques avec les outils Uniors qui seront traduit en plusieurs langues. (Français, Anglais, Espagnol, Chinois etc). Ça je suis fière, quand je pense qu’une compagnie Européenne a reconnue mon travail pour le propagé à travers le monde.
Voici les 3 titres de la première version :
Mécanique Vélo : Ajustement des systèmes de vitesses et de freins
Mécanique Vélo : les roulements : moyeux, jeux de pédalier et jeux de direction
Bicycle Mechanics: Hubs, Bottom Bracket Sets and Headsets
Il y aura cette année de nouvelle version avec Unior Tools.
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I have always loved tools. Every time I find new tools I buy them to help make my work more efficient and precise. Recently I used the Unior tool 1652/2 to remove cartridge bearings from a bottom bracket, and it took no effort and no hammer. No need to use force… it solved the problem for the customer. Lots of new tools exist now that make work so much easier since less force is needed.
It still surprises, me, though, to see that women cyclists are not very well listened to by mechanics.
Since I began teaching at Techno Cycle 23 years ago to consumers and mechanics, sharing my knowledge with those participants, I would see 15 years later some of those same people employed in shops.
What pushes me still… here is the ultimate answer. I signed a contract last year with Unior Tools to reissue my 2 books of bicycle mechanics. They will be translated into several languages (French, English, Spanish, Chinese etc). I am proud, when I think that a European company has recognized my work and it will be spread throughout the world.
Here are the 3 titles of the first version:
Bicycle Mechanics: Adjustment of Gear and Brake Systems
ISBN 978-2- 9803036-3- 03
Bicycle Mechanics: Bearings: Hubs, Cranksets and Headsets
ISBN 978-2- 9803036-1- 6
Bicycle Mechanics: Hubs, Bottom Brackets and Headsets
ISBN 978-2- 9803036-2- 3
There will be new versions this year with Unior Tools.
Qu’est ce que a été mon moment le plus mémorable ou expérience en tant que mécanicienne?
What was your most memorable moment or experience while working as a mechanic?
Mécanicienne au Tour de France féminin en 1989 . Et la première fois que j’ai vue un vélo avec un système indexé en 1982 et la première manette rotative de SRAM en 1988 sur le bout du guidon de route.
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Being the mechanic for the Women's Tour de France in 1989. And also the first time I saw an indexed shift system in 1982, and seeing the first twist shifter from SRAM on the end of a road bar.
Mon conseil aux femmes mécaniciennes…
Do you have any advice for women or girls who aspire to become professional bicycle mechanics?
Toujours avoir en tête que le vélo sera en meilleure condition une fois que vous aurez terminé le travail même pour un vélo neuf. Un vélo neuf peut avoir des composantes incompatibles. De ne jamais abandonné et de lire les instructions pour l’utilisation des outils et pour les pièces. Les catalogues de SRAM, Campy et Shimamo, Surterland’s Handbook (toutes les versions) et tous les autres ont des infos techniques pour solutionner des incompatibilités. Se procuré des outils ils nous facilitent la tâche.
Si vous avez un client un peu inquiet à se faire servir par vous ou une femme, soit que vous l’ignorez ou vous lui dite qu’il manque une bonne occasion de se faire servir de façon professionnelle. Ou, soit que vous lui posez une question technique pour lui faire réaliser que vous avez connaissances et compétences. D’échangé et partagé avec les autres mécaniciennes /mécaniciens. Connaître sa base et les principes de mécanique de ne pas avoir peur de poser des questions.
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Always keep in mind the bike will always be in better condition when you finish with your work, even on new bikes. Don't forget to read instructions for how to use tools or install parts. Literature from SRAM, Campy, Shimano, Sutherland's Handbook (all versions), and all others have the information needed to solve incompatibility issues. Good tools make your work easier.
If you have a customer a little worried about being served by you or a woman, ignore him or tell him that he is missing a good opportunity to be served by a professional. Or ask him a technical question to make him realize that you have knowledge and skills. Share and share with other mechanics. Understand the basics and principles of mechanics and never be afraid to ask questions.
Et enfin quel est mon outil préféré?
And finally (because we always ask this), what is your favorite tool?
Ma clé hexagonale de 5 mm la plus utile j’en ai plusieurs. Une en L, une avec clé en Y (4/5/6) et plusieurs autres. Two year ago I bougth the Hammer from Abbey Tool the Team issue Titanium. I enjoy this hammer I used a lot. Un outil que j’ai eu 1989 c’est l’outil TL_RD11 pour redressir les pattes de dérailleur. J’ai solutionné beaucoup de problème au début des systèmes indéxés.
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The 5mm hex wrench because I use it the most. One L, a Y (4,5,6), and others. Two years ago I bought a Team Issue Abbey Ti hammer. I enjoy this hammer and use it a lot. I have a tool from 1989 the Shimano TL RD11 Derailleur Hanger alignment tool. This tool solved a lot of early indexed system problems.
Félicitations à Denise, et merci d'être une source d'inspiration pour moi et pour la mécanique féminine partout. Pour notres amis qui lisent chez eux, si vous souhaitez voir d'autres mécaniciens féminins forts présentés par PBMA et entré pour un voyage à Interbike cette année, prenez un moment pour les nommer aujourd'hui!
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Congratulations to Denise, and thank you for being a source of inspiration to me and to women mechanics everywhere. For our friends reading this at home, if you’d like to see other strong female mechanics featured by PBMA and entered to win a trip to Interbike with us this year, take a moment to nominate them today!
Here at the PBMA, we wanted to spend a little time with some open discussion and thoughtful ways to focus on the women we have in our industry, and see some of the whys and hows of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going… together, as a group of mechanics. So this week we are going to be featuring women and others in the industry, to better understand the diversity that makes our group of talented technicians unique, and further our profession for all.
When one walks into a bike shop, rarely do we see a female behind the service counter with dark grease staining her fingers and wrench in hand. This has indeed been the norm for decades, but we're seeing some changes happening, and honestly… we should all be grateful.
Women mechanics are beginning to take their places along side the men in shops all over the country, but it has been a long process, and the reasons are myriad as to why the service departments have been dominated by men for so long. It is of special interest to me, personally, as I am a boob-havin', vagina-totin' human being who happens to be very good with technical stuff despite the tradition that these features of my anatomy are not normally associated with such technical aptitude in many minds. Why is that? Anatomy shouldn't necessarily have anything to do with it, right? Well, right! It doesn't. Aptitude in bicycle mechanics is not gender influenced, but it most certainly can be perceived as such, as is evidenced by the women and agender folks we've heard from. I asked a few questions of some women working on the mechanic side of things in our industry, and the responses were very interesting, and not entirely unfamiliar. What follows here are some insights that may help us all understand the bias that some of us face, and be aware and sensitive to it.
I asked how long they had been working on bikes, how they learned, whether there were or continue to be other women in the circles of influence around them, if there were negative reactions or experiences and how they were dealt with, and if they expect to stay in the industry. Here's what I learned…
Of course there is plenty of variation in how long these women had been working on bikes, ranging from relatively new mechanics to over 20 years. The common thread seemed to be simply an interest, some from a very early age in life, some more recent, but these are people who love to ride bikes and once the interest took hold, it manifested into a desire to tinker and eventually get more serious with it as a professional. It shows that it's about passion!
As for how folks learned, some learned from their male partner, as I myself did… any mentor we had who was able to break away the intimidation and fear of doing something wrong is an incredible ally in our growth. It is often that initial hindrance that pushes women away, or anyone, really… we all fear failure and none of us wants to break things or mess them up. So whenever we, as mechanics, have an opportunity to lend a helping hand to a cyclist who wants to understand the technical aspects of a bicycle, we should take it, and not be a barrier to learning for anyone. I've worked with many mechanics who tended to hoard knowledge, unwilling to share it. There is a certain psychology there, which I think is very important to dissect, and it comes (as all bad human behavior does) from fear. When a mechanic is skilled and fears competition from other mechanics, they will keep tidbits of information to themselves to wield as ammunition for the moments when they can swoop into a situation and bear that knowledge like a social sword; "step aside… I know how to do this". This is done so that the importance, the place, the status of said mechanic is not questioned, and job security prevails. However, it is damaging to the social fabric of the service department, as it places stress not only on those who lack the knowledge with possible feelings of inferiority, but also places undue stresses on that almighty-important mechanic who may then feel overloaded with pressure to be the guru. Wouldn't it be better to have all people in the department feel valued and share the knowledge so that problems get tackled by all? Of course there will be those who have less and those who have more knowledge, but the knowledge itself is what should be the shared commodity when at all possible. Then the fear is reduced for all, and bad behavior is reduced for all.
Some of us were very lucky to have women mechanics in our lives as examples of the possibility. I had worked on bikes since I was a kiddo, but had never thought of the possibility of it as a profession until I met my first female mechanic. She worked at the shop I bought my first bike-shop bike at, after having just blown into town coming off a cross-country ride and decided to settle in for a spell. She became the head instructor at Barnett Bicycle Institute eventually, and continued to inspire me for years. If it wasn't for her, who knows what I would be doing, to be perfectly honest. Sometimes it's that one person who however subtly comes along and changes the wind in our sails just enough to veer us into a whole different direction… sometimes it takes a while to understand, and sometimes it is immediate. The point is, you never know how you might influence someone, so why not make it as positive as it can be when we come across these opportunities to share?
We have all had some horror stories or just plain unpleasant experiences as women behind the service counter or even when answering the phone. This is an all-too common thread among the women I interviewed, but for many it was from the customers, and not the fellow mechanics, where the negativity was felt. Often when I answered the phone with "hello, Jenny in service here", I'd get "yeah, can I talk to a mechanic?"… and I wonder, what part of me being in service not let you know I am a mechanic? And in as non-snarky a voice as possible, "yes, I am a mechanic, in the service department… what can I do for you?" "oh. okay, uh, sorry!" And usually the customer self-checks and proceeds on with their query and all is well. Or standing in the service department as a woman and having the customer (male and female!) look past the woman mechanic with a "yea, is there someone back there who can look at my bike"? But some women have found that despite their assertions of being knowledgeable, their work is questioned, they are treated differently, and all is not so well. It is these occasions where co-workers are often great to step in and offer that, in fact, she is the one who knows better and can help you… a few respondents were able to turn these occasions into some gratifying, team-building moments for the whole crew, as well as educational moments for the customer to realize that there are bright minds in more flavors than "man".
It seems that all these respondents were able to ride the waves of adversity with relative aplomb, and carry on with doing what they love… but we don't know how many have not, as they may be lost at sea or got out of the water altogether. But there are many men, too, who were not able to hack the stresses and pressure of being in the trenches at the bike shop. I've met many men over the years who didn't have much technical aptitude or natural mechanical ability, despite their desires to be good at it, and they are off doing things outside the bike industry. Bicycle mechanics, as we all know, is about detail orientation, patience, and problem solving, among many other factors. These qualities are not gendered, not by any means. There are not any particularly high amounts of strength required that cannot be overcome by leverage, and so any physical aspects of gender differences that might be argued are a completely, utterly moot point.
All of the folks interviewed said they want to stay in the industry. They are all passionate about what they do, and see their futures in it. It is a wonderful thing to see so many strong, able women in our industry, helping to shape it, grow it, and share themselves with others who want to be a part of it. May we continue to see many more, and hopefully the men will happily make room and encourage and support the women and non-men folks who want their rightful places in the shops all across the country, and world. We are all better for it.
The rest of this week we'll be looking at individual profiles from some ladies in out there in the world of bicycle mechanics. We're hoping you will find inspiration and understanding of the roles these women have and how the industry moves forward with these amazing women!
written by Jenny Kallista
This page is a collective of articles relavant to consumers, enthusiasts and the whole of the cycling industry in general.