Do your homework, vote with your dollars
B Vivit is an experienced industry veteran, she is currently an instructor at United Bicycle Institute. B wears many hats like all the instructors at UBI spending time teaching as well as helping manage their social media and marketing. How she got there is an interesting journey including her time at UBI as a student thanks to a QBP Scholarship.
So, how did you get started in the cycling industry?
I do not like driving. And believe it or not, I was so poor for a second that even bus fare sometimes seemed like a luxury[even if waiting for the bus wasn't]. I saved up the few bits I could manage and bought my first used road bike and used that to get around everywhere, and the South Bay Area was NOT bike friendly, wide roads but fast speed limits.
I was working for the footwear department at Sports Basement in the Bay Area, and instead of asking the other staff at my store to fix my bike, I asked for a transfer to the bike department to learn the industry and to start to learn for myself. After a couple years of struggle, I found a mentor that really went out of his way to help me.
Tell us about your current role and how you got there.
LOONG story short, you could say that I started as a bike commuter and then worked my way to Bicycle Mechanics Instructor and Framebuilding support at United Bicycle Institute. I asked a lot of questions, read everything I could get my hands on, and used up a lot of my breaks and days off to learn as much as possible. Eventually my experience managing other departments paid off in my ability to manage a department full of people who knew more than I did about bicycle maintenance.
I relied heavily on my mechanics but slowly gained the knowledge to do-it-myself, while helping turn a non-profitable shop into a profitable one. I went back to school for metal fabrication and with a lot of help from Jon Stynes(City and County Bicycle Shop, SF, CA) I felt comfortable enough to be a full service mechanic. I left Sports Basement and during that summer took the Paul Brodie fabrication course in British Columbia. I moved over to Huckleberry Bicycles and they supported me through the QBP Women's Bicycle Mechanic Scholarship course at UBI. 2016-2017 (read more about B's UBI Scholarship and time at UBI at the bottom of this interview) was very packed with good things. I was back to school learning metal fabrication. The fab industry is another place where women struggle for recognition.
After aaalllll of that, I got back to San Francisco, and looked around at my life. I'd accomplished some major goals that I'd set for San Francisco, my degree, moving forward in my career... I had momentum. After a few interviews with other bicycle companies and a stormy, fearful, overnight drive to Ashland for an interview with my former teachers; Matt (Eames) called to tell me that I got the job.
What challenges have you faced being a female mechanic?
My mother was actually the one who instilled a firm belief that I should learn to maintain the things that I own, by myself. As a single mom, she had been battling to make sure that my brother and I were self-sufficient, and that we had the tools and skills to handle whatever we could. Being from the first wave in the tech industry, she told me that because I was a woman most places of the mechanical or scientific sort would try to take advantage of the fact that I wasn't expected to know anything. She wasn't wrong.
My road to UBI is littered with people who assumed(and told me) that because of my gender, I didn't have the qualifications to do this job. I still do. I try to focus on the things and people that make me happy, let the rest roll off. We still have a culture that thinks women should not be treated on an equal playing field. While vocal when I feel I have a soapbox, my ethic is still to put my head down and work. I think every woman in the science, fabrication, and engineering industry has exceptionally thick skin. Some days, though, it still gets to me. I have to remember that I am thankful for the mentors that have taken their time to show me, the ones that held space for me, for the women who came before and the women who are still fighting for equality. The ones who made my journey even a little bit easier. I hope I can pass that on.
How do you feel about industry diversity? What needs to change? How do you feel the PBMA can help affect that change?
There are 2 major ways I think that the industry can change for the better.
And I think we are seeing a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of change. Mostly because companies are realizing that they are missing out on profits by excluding certain demographics(duh!). And those demographics are becoming VOCAL. They, and their allies, are asking to be included and calling out those who casually exclude or insult them. And also because there isn't any more room in this economy for shops who can't get past their own egos to help people.
Increasingly I'm calling on everyone in the industry to do your homework and vote with your dollars. For all you folk out there, keep on keepin' on, and reach out to those who show you kindness. Show it back and stay in touch. We all need each other.
I'm in the education side now, so of course I will say that I think more mechanics need to value education in their lives. But I also think that education takes many forms. Rarely in our line of work does it mean reading a book and taking a test. But sometimes it means actively looking for torque values, practicing an adjustment multiple times, or completing S-TEC modules. Sometimes it means calling your local rep for the information, or taking a vacation that includes a clinic. The test-in real time-is always, 'Can I make it work better(without breaking it the first time)?'
PBMA has created clinics for furthuring the industry and has stepped up in a big way to create the title "professional" bike mechanic and to really ask us(as an industry) what that means. We have an increasingly technical industry that the rest of the world doesn't really acknowledge as a skillset; we have to evolve with it.
If you had to hire a mechanic or two, what type of qualifications or traits are you looking for?
I have hired mechanics, and I have also fired them. Sometimes it depends on who I need. The specific skillsets and how fast I need them. Suspension mechanics were always in high demand.
Honestly though, as a manager, I was always willing to train someone who was ready to learn. Someone who 'plays well with others.' Enthusiasm for the sport, but specifically for the technical side. Someone who took initiative to find some initial information all by themselves. Seriously, take the initiative to do what you can, until you do get recognized.
You have to pick a goto snack. What is it?
Coconut rice bars(vegan if you omit bacon); based off a Filipino recipe my dad taught me but handed down from my Grandma. I make them myself because even though I use pre-packaged food, I get tired of it. I cook some rice with coconut milk and sugar in the rice cooker until sticky(until the rice is cooked) and then put it into a cake pan. Top with brown sugar, or slices of banana, or squeeze of lime, and sometimes already-cooked bacon; and set it in the oven. Let cool and wrap in foil or wax paper and they are good to go!
B Vivit talks more about her opportunity to attend UBI via the QBP Scholarship...
The QBP Women's Scholarship 2017 was an absolute dream. I'm teary-eyed even thinking about how that changed my life. I spent the first three years after the first QBP Scholarship happened (it wasn't til 2017 that I received it) building my resume and focusing on how I could give back in whatever way possible, without the knowledge to do so; throwing rides, sponsoring coed and women's teams, throwing events that benefited the WCA, etc.
UBI was a space that was dedicated to the education of everyone inside of it. And we were THERE. The Ashland instructors, Matt and Nathan(and sometimes Rich), focused on giving us as much of the material as we could handle. Every night consisted of a dozen or so blue binders, a big table, page markers, highlighters, lots of conversation, and sooo much studying. Denise, Ron, and Lynn made sure that we were taken care of outside of the classroom, making sure we knew where to eat and buy food; gluten free, vegan, and all. Kaitlin and Seth (QBP) flew all the way out to Ashland to make us all feel like rockstars. And of course all the sponsors that sent us things to start off a new leg of our careers.
The women I met were absolutely incredible. Every single person in the scholarship was driven. They had goals, and had already set about trying to implement them. There were folx who'd been in the industry for decades and a few who were fresh; non-profit, for-profit; old, young; pink, yellow, brown, olive, blue, and purple; but what we all had in common was a goal specifically to further our communities (whether by providing the best possible customer service, or by creating new opportunities through non-profits). I still talk to most of them. A few have dropped off the map, but usually in the best possible way; by keeping themselves busy with those goals and dreams that we spent each night talking about. It's truly a dream now to watch them all achieve the things they aimed at.
Over the weekend Nathan - who lives a triple/quadruple life as a local pro enduro rider, a dedicated father of two children and husband, as well as his full-time instructing role at UBI and a moonlighting product designer - took us on a mountain bike ride in the Ashland watershed (also an awesome place to mountain bike ANY time and definitely a destination). During that ride, I crashed hard and even took Kaitlin from QBP down with me![Sorry Kaitlin!] I still remember coming back from pain to see Rich bent over me, trying to tell bad jokes to get me to laugh through my bruised ribs, and Kelly Paduch (also a student of the scholarship) using her nurses training to help me turn over. Lynn, from UBI, happened to be driving by and she ferried me to the hospital. After an afternoon in the ER and a catscan, they held me for 3 days with a tear to my liver and a bruise to my pancreas. Over the rest of that weekend, a few girls came to visit, and we hatched a plan to stream the class into my hospital room, so I could at least listen to the lectures, then catch up on the hands-ons. Which Matt and Nathan were super on it about helping me complete. Nathan, Rich, and Matt called me pretty much every day to check-in; and Ripley(Nathan's son) along with Nathan, stopped by to give me a new helmet so I could keep riding when I got home. Above and beyond!
I know I just spend a few minutes of your time telling you about the extras in my experience during the scholarship. But that's because the education was everything you could expect from an institution that has made it their mission to educate an ever-evolving industry for over thirty-five years. An institute that has slowly and surely rolled along trying to create a more professional experience across the board in the industry and to make sure that as a professional bicycle mechanic, the title was one to be earned through study, practice, and effort. And just as important: your gender, your sexuality, your ethnicity, your nationality, etc. are not barriers to the information being passed down. The manual[which is created by the instructors] contains everything to educate a fairly novice mechanic on 90% of the industry; the instructors have the tips, tricks, and answers of decades in the industry, watching the evolution of bike components and companies; and the facilities and hands-on education are clean and well-thought out. It's the education that I would've felt good about paying for, and a lot of times I don't feel that way about my bachelors degree, had I been able to[again, a luxury].
I've already taken too much of your time but suffice to say that without this experience, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today, and I may not even be entertaining that there was anything beyond struggle, financial and cultural, in this industry.
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