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.