Brandon Hirokawa is no stranger to bicycles
Brandon Hirokawa is the Owner / CEO / President of Hirobel Cycling Solutions. You may of seen or heard of the Hirobel Frame Clamp.
We wanted to know a bit more about Brandon so here we go!
How did you get started in the cycling industry?
I hung out a Pauli's Bicycle and Lawn almost everyday for a year trying to learn what I could from the head mechanic. I was one of the few kids during the late 80's that was interested in bicycles rather than skateboards. Finally the owners wife gave me a job. Then I spend the next year cutting my teeth on Schwinn Sprnts and Aerodynes... the sight of that gold exercise bike makes me sick to this day!
What exactly is Hirobel?
Hirobel is a company with the mindset of innovation. Marc Bellet and I started the company with six solid products. We started off with the Frame Clamp because it would make the biggest immediate impact on how mechanics work today.
We ask everyone, because inquiring minds want to know. What is your favorite tool?
Using the Craftsman Portable Inflator with a Silca Hero Pump Head has been great for the last couple years... it's a time and arm saver at large events.
We understand that you get to visit a fair share of bicycle shops, what are you seeing that's good and what are you seeing that's bad?
I am seeing more space opening up for service or multi-use space being used for trainer events, fitting and even in-shop clinics. I have been more mobile service platforms or shop owners thinking about adding a mobile aspect to their brick and mortar shop.
On the flip side I'm seeing too many shops searching for the magic bullet to optimize their business. They aren't seeing that an optimized store layout, skilled mechanics and a functional service department are a golden goose. I have seen several shops spending a lot money in the service department to make it look amazing with new benches, tools, flooring and equipment, but pay the mechanics minimum wage and expect an instant return on investment.
Invest in people (mechanics) first! The IBD's that don't get it may soon have the best looking showroom floor at the local commercial auction!
How important do you think service will be in the future?
As direct sales become more popular with industry brands and big-box / e-retailers are growing... service will eventually become the cornerstone of the bicycle retail industry. Once those companies offering direct sales have time to realize thee is no amount of pre-box assembly that will replace a skilled mechanic, they will need points of service they can count on.
I do think both direct sales companies and "Service Oriented" IBD's will eventually be more integrated to the delivery of safe bicycles to the end users.
We heard you were back to riding again, What's your bike of choice?
I powder coated by Cannondale CAAD8 and put Shimano Ultegra Di2 on it. It's one fo the frames that I will never get rid of because it was built with a longer top tube back when Cannondale could whip out custom frames pretty fast!
When talking to mechanics, what are you hearing about the challenges they are facing?
I think being taken seriously as a skilled workforce is a big challenge. As bicycle service becomes more complicated the need for skilled labor will increase.
Unfortunately I see a lot of the really talented mechanics go to different industries so they can make a living wage.
What are the characteristics of a great mechanic?
Being able to communicate effectively would be first on my list. Be open to new ideas or products. Being able to see past the fad and recognize true innovation. Pay attention to the details. Details are very important to getting customers back in the door!
The Hand Dyno is essential to awesome suspension
Anthony Trujillo is no stranger to the wrench, working for major suspension manufacturers since the late 90's he's been in the trenches and now produces tools for mechanics with an emphasis on suspension.
How did you get started in the cycling industry?
I obtained my BS in Mechanical Engineering from California State University (Chico) in 1997 and focused most of my efforts for an entry level position in outdoor sports from golf to bike racks. I lucked out having a friend who was doing a summer internship at FOX in the Powersports Division which he had no interest in pursuing. He gave my info to the Engineering Managers for Off-Road/Bike and Powersports and I went on two-bike ride interviews at the end of '97 and was hired in early '98. I spent the first year and a half in the Powersports division and then transferred to the bike department after a managerial shakeup.
Bikes on dirt have always been my #1! Thanks to older brothers, I was thrown on the BMX track when I was like 5, in 1977. Growing up with older cousins and uncles who liked 4x4 camping trips, I grew up happily getting dirty, wheelin', and riding dirt bikes. I think it was 1986 when I got my first mountain bike. I focused in on suspension while I was getting my degree because it seemed the hardest and best use of the degree in the cycling industry. Despite some serious downs, I've been grateful and stoked for most all of my cycling industry experiences.
You have worked (or done work) for some major brands, tell us about the various roles and how they build upon one another.
Yeah, I've seen and done a bit too much to cover it all! It's been a blessing and a curse what I've seen and done. Starting my career as an entry level mechanical engineer with close to nine years at FOX allowed me to grow and learn in an environment that required me to wear many hats supporting multiple departments. I took care of BOM's (a complete build list for a product consisting of all the individual parts, SKU's sourcing...), generated 2-D drawings for all the departments, and was the resident IT guy during the first few years, then adding on circuit and chassis design once in the bike department.
I remember well when FOX bicycle rear shocks were only OEM and still have the internal document communicating to the company that hiring Mike McAndrews (you can read "Mick's" interview by clicking his name) did not mean fox was going into the fork business... HAHA Right!
The direct hands-on experience I had with manufacturing and production departments under the same roof was invaluable. Working directly with Bob Fox, Mick and John Marking wasn't so bad either. For most of my time at FOX, there were only two of us engineers for shocks and two for forks. I learned a lot from those others guys!
Specialized (SBC) had been working on their integrated suspension department for just a couple years before I was brought over to that amazing team. Mick at the lead with Brian Lampman working solely on SBC forks and Fernando Hernandez as in-house machining and suspension technician. I came in to essentially fix the SBC brand shocks and design/develop new ones. It was an amazing opportunity to work with a completely new clean slate and with frame engineers. The micro brain chassis and circuit layout for the Epic is something I'm quite proud of and which SBC still uses today.
SBC was my full court press experience working with Taiwan for manufacturing and production. It was great to be on the OEM side of the fence to understand that perspective from one of the major bike companies. These experiences helped me later wearing a sales hat for X Fusion (XF) and Marzocchi.
X Fusion is another suspension name that many readers will recognize. Tell us about your time there.
My time at X Fusion was a result of a long history with them as a supplier for parts to FOX and being the sole supplier to the SBC brand of shocks. Their products had slowly improved over a decade and after raising their quality level while at SBC, I was happy to work with them and help move their product to a higher level. It was great to provide them with a new look and line of shocks and improve their forks so they could compete in the higher end market. I am most proud of designing the Vector Air DH shock while at XF.
Tell us about OSO, how did this come about?
I started Off Street Only (OSO) in ’11 as a sole proprietor in an attempt to take what I learned from FOX, SBC, and XF to support anyone who would hire me. It did work out for the most part quite well for six years! It was the last four years contracting for FOX, while super grateful, I was banging my head against the wall seeing what products were coming out from all the companies in the mtb industry. The marketing seemed to be above the engineering in many cases and, along with other factors, I had that building energy of ‘WTF, do your own products already!’ and I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. That, plus the timing of my long-time friend and ex-coworker, Vincent Chen, asking me to get in the bike biz with him. He’s the owner/founder of Racing Bros out of Taiwan and they are doing quite well on the Powersports side of things. Together I expect we can produce what we know can be achieved with our coupled experience. I decided to take the leap and go all in and incorporated OSO in ’17.
OSO is still new with much more to come. Currently the Global Headquarters are happily my garage! Right now we have a range of fork and shock dyno's that are designed to make suspension work easier at the manufacturer, service and shop levels.
What's so special about a shock dyno? Why would a shop want to invest in one?
This is something I took for granted, a shock hand dyno is pretty much a must have for every suspension company's R&D lab and production line. With a trained arm, you can quickly and easily diagnose a shock for errors and or check that it was built correctly. You will see every service center and suspension race trailer with one too. I understand if a shop doesn't do air sleeve maintenance, they might not be interested in one for the service area.
If they do, and want to do a good shock review and ever get into the damper, they would need a hand dyno. Having the shock on a dyno allows you to feel any issues without it being masked by tires, linkage, drivetrain and awkward seat pushes. The shock dyno will also last a long time. My plan is to update mounts to fit new products as they become available. Having used many variations of a hand dyno for two decades, I thought it was best to offer my own designs to the masses.
What's your favorite tool... you can't say a hand dyno!?
Oh... easy. Digital caliper. I am always reaching for my calipers. Whether I'm designing parts on my computer or putting parts together in the lab. Always within reach to either measure something or gain a visual reference on a feature.
***PBMA Technical Workshops registration now includes an entry to win a Shock Hand Dyno from Anthony and OSO... click here for details***
His brass hammer is like an appendage
Mike McAndrews is a well known name in the bicycle suspension world. One of the original pioneers of a sprung fork... He now works at Specialized Bicycles as the Director of Suspension Technology and has been "kicking" bicycle tires for 25 years now.
So how did you get started in the bicycle world?
I was working in the motorcycle industry and has a lot of experience in shock absorber technology, so when the suspension boom hit the cycling industry, Paul Turner (founder of RockShox) had offered me a position to help him manage his R&D team at RockShox. I was ready for a change and jumped at the opportunity.
Motorcycle industry... what was that about? I was a Race Mechanic for the Kawasaki Factory Team for 10 years, after that I ran my own motorcycle suspension business.
We love research and the internet is amazing, we found your name associated to 7 or so patents specific to cycling and suspension. Tell us about the one related to "Fork Suspension with Variable Hydraulic Damping"... this was during your RockShox days.
Yes, in the early days of MTB suspension, a few of us came over from the Off-Road Motorcycle world and helped drive some of the early designs based on what we knew from motorcycles.
It didn't take too long to figure out that the application for a human powered vehicle has unique challenges. The Variable Damping patent was my first attempt at trying to get a damping system that would provide firm damping for good chases control (pedaling) while having a better curve for bump control, deeper in the travel. Ultimately this design lead me into the inertia valve system we call the Brain today.
So now you work at Specialized overseeing a team of folks focused on suspension. Tell us about some of the daily activities you and your team conduct.
The primary responsibility of the group I manage is to align the ride dynamics of a given bike design with the vision of the product managers. To accomplish this, we'll do whatever it takes... from designing a complete shock (as we do for the Epic) or simply working with the test engineers at a company like Fox to alter the ride dynamics of their design to align with the overall bike performance goals (and everything in between).
A lot of time is spend quantifying the ride performance using data acquisition and experienced rider feedback on a variety of controlled test sections in the field. From there we analyze the data, determine the modifications needed, measure the changes again on the shock absorber dyno... and then re-test in the field. We run this cycle anywhere from 1-2 times to 10 times, it all depends on the scope of a particular project.
Some first hand knowledge and other interview suggest that you've had some rock-star folks work for you over the years. What made these individuals stand out / what made them special?
In my experience, people who excel in a given role are the ones that have followed their passion(s). They love what they do and they love being the best at what they do. When I have people like that in my group, the best thing I can do is give them guidance when needed and get out of their way! As advice, I'd say don't be afraid to follow your passions even as they change...you'll love what you do...and the chances are, you'll be really good at it!
When looking for an employee, what are three characteristics (or qualities) you look for during the hiring process?
Assuming the person has the skills and experience needed for a specific position:
It's a toss-up, between my 3/8" drive Snap-on speed handle and my very old Proto brass hammer. In my race mechanic days, we didn't have the battery power impact guns, so the speed handle was vital to getting the work done quickly between motos and the brass hammer I've been knocking the shit out of stuff for almost 40 years with it... it's like an appendage.
What is the USA Cycling Race Mechanics Clinic all about?
Hear from insiders, promoters, team and race directors and past attendees who found success through the experience and reward in life from the outcome. Ready to learn more about what happens and register? Click here
Colin "Chip" Howat - class of 1991
Clinic Director / Tubular Tire Expert / Bike Rider
The Race Mechanics Clinic was one of the most rewarding educational opportunities for me because attending the Clinic opened doors to work with fantastic mechanics and athletes at races and workshops at home and overseas leading on to so many more professional and cultural experiences."
Michael Kubancsek - class of 2015
Director of Cycling Operations - Marian University
"I consider myself super fortunate to have attended the USAC Woodul Clinic. While I had some previous race experience, the clinic helped me really understand what it means to be a race mechanic and the intricacies and details of supporting athletes(both team and neutral). The connections made at the clinic also widened my scope in the industry and led me to some new opportunities and relationships I learned things I didn't even know that I would need to know, but I am far better at what I do because of it. The content of the clinic takes you beyond adjusting derailleurs and inflating tires and shapes you into a prepared and safe staff member for any team or riders you may ever work for. There is no in-depth, complete training for race mechanics like what the Woodul Clinic offers... there is no substitute!"
Ed Beamon - veteran team director
Team Director - Team Tibco-SVB
"As a team director being able to count on my mechanic is critical. Mechanics who've come through the USA Cycling program have been given the preparation, honed the skills and have had practical exposure to the environment that is so critical to perform in a team culture."
William McPherson - class of 1996
Lead Technician - Shimano Multi-Service
"At Shimano Multi-Service we only use licensed race mechanics. Knowing that someone has had the training and understands the process of race support is important to us and the riders we support."
Craig "Calvin" Jones - clinic instructor since day-1
Education, Training, Development - Park Tool
"It has been both a pleasure and honor to teach at these Race Mechanic Clinics. I've been an instructor since the beginning, it's ironic, I have never attended as a mechanic... I want to! This clinic is at the heart of the professionalism and passion for this kind of work. Seeing mechanics from a wide range of backgrounds and regions ask us questions, argue their points, network with one another, and gain confidence to do this, give me the knowledge that our racing athletes will have the service they need to achieve greatness. After all, this is what we are here for."
Deborah Xu - class of 2012
Owner - Tender Loving Cycle
"The clinic was jam packed. We all came out each day exhausted from learning a lot. The final exam took some problem solving skills. It was like going to a boot camp, whatever experience level you are at, you will come out leveled up with something new and useful, not to mention you would meet a lot of people, especially the instructors, who are all so willing to help you advance in your career.
I came out of the boot camp and immediately obtained the opportunity to go work at the Sea Otter Classic. I was able to join Shimano's Neutual Service program as well. Theses opportunities took me to a lot of national level races, and, at each race, you just keep on learning so much more about what it is to be a race mechanic. Going to races also helps keeping your knowledge of current technologies updated, which helps working in a shop tremendously.
It also felt like a confidence boost, not only to myself, but also to my employers. I went back to work knowing so much more. And my boss then sent me to a bike fit school and gave me more responsibilities. Everything I learned along the way, got me where I am."
Brandon Hale - Race Director
Race Director - North Star Grand Prix
"We know that the safety of the riders depends on having the most qualified mechanics working in the caravan. USA Cycling's training helps to ensure riders receive the highest quality service in the fastest manner possible without sacrificing safety. The mechanics are an important component of providing riders an exceptional experience at our race."
Gal Alon - class of 2015
Service Associate - Penn Cycle
"The best experience I recall from 2015 os the people I met and got to know, instructors and students alike. These are the people that are shaping the industry now and in the future. Many of them are the people who started the PBMA! People that share the deep passion to become a bike mechanic in a shop or in supporting races and events are what the Race Mechanics Clinic is all about. Being part of the Race Mechanic group is something special that unites us as individuals to help and support each other. I am proud to be part of that group."
Chris Kreidl - class of 2005 or 2006
Sales & Operations Manager - Unior USA
"When I got there I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager to start working at races. I was excited to be at the Olympic Training Center and excited to be around all these people, the instructors, that for a long time have done some version of exactly what I wanted to do.
Attending and getting my license opened the door to begin working with SRAM NRS, and my hard work with them led to the rest of my career turing out the way it did. Without having attending and getting that license I don't think they'd have taken me on in the first place"
Julian DaSilva - class of 2013
South Florida Territory Manager - Orbea, Santa Cruz Bicycle, Atomik Carbon, Ride 100%
"My experience at the Race Mechanics Clinic was that opening ones mind, I was set on my own way of thought and once I did the class and learned from some of the best in the industry, I changed my perception of the industry. One of the things that the clinic helped me do was build a network of likeminded people that I could tap into, learn from one another and bounce around ideas. Because of these ideas I was able to work along side industry people and network with them, eventually leading to a career at a higher level within the industry. Being a race mechanic has led me to starting my own Neutral Support Business in the state of Florida which is desperately needed. The clinic brought me to a higher level."
Doug Martin - friend of Bill
Cycling Industry Professional
"My work with Bill predates the Race Mechanics Clinic - we came out of the same shop together in Coconut Grove, Florida... Dade Cycle Shop. Bill was already the stuff of local lore and was doing a lot of National Team trips to South America, Europe, etc. Each time he came back we'd huddle around eager to hear of some new tech tip or trick. A better way to tie and solder wheels, linseed oil as spoke prep, a bulletproof tubular tire glue combo... you name it. Each trip and experience benefited us all. From there Bill went on to build and run the Campagnolo Neutral Support program, then onto USA Cycling (then USCF). He was an early pioneer and true champion of the bicycle mechanic as a legitimate profession, and the Race Mechanics Clinic sought to build on this. They were successful from the start and have gotten only better over time. There is no doubt that the curriculum, shared information and overall networking are highly beneficial to not just the race mechanics, but shop and industry members alike."
Zane Freebairn - class of 2014
Team Mechanic - Rally Pro Cycling
"There was some really cool tips and tricks learned from the instructors but the best thing that I came out with was the connections. I see guys and gals at races that were in the clinic in 2015 and have leaned on them for help. A great example is Gary Bavolar; he has helped out a few times while working for Shimano and SRAM. Already having a relationship with these mechanics made the race situations go smoother."
James Stanfill - class of 2000
President of the PBMA, Race Mechanic Clinic Organizer
"I attended the clinic in 2000... since then I haven't looked back. The opportunities created from the network of people in attendance is insane. Since 2000 I've worked for men's and women's World Tour Teams, worked with Olympic Champions, National Champions, World Champions and met many great friends out on the road. The skills gained at the clinic allowed me working as a mechanic to visit more than twenty countries. I come back every year to make sure that others have the same opportunities as those in the past. Now through the PBMA we are working to expand the level of learning to reach more mechanics and further build that network of people we can each rely on."
Tristan Brandt - class of 2015
Demo Coordinator - Pivot Cycles
"It was an amazing networking opportunity that has allowed me to further my career in the industry and I am now proud to working for Pivot Cycles. I think the clinic really helped us grasp the scope of what being a race mechanic really entails (late nights, early mornings, long days), through the experience of current techs and those who have been in the field for decades. I think the clinic can teach you a few new skills, but more importantly, give you opportunities to branch out to other fields in the industry besides wrenching at a shop."
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.
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