Deborah Xu is a shop owner, race mechanic, shop mechanic and engineer. Learn about what she does and why she does it.
What is the name of your shop and how did it come into being? (elaborate as much as you wish!)
My shop's name is Tender Loving Cycle.
I started out my career at an Elite Specialized dealership that deals both Specialized and Cannonade I worked in a service centre with 5 other full-time male mechanics. I started out as an amateur mechanic and was only allowed to build cheap new bikes. I then could do tune ups on non carbon bikes. That lasted for a long time until one day I just grabbed a carbon bike and started working on it, there were some oppositions, but I just firmly told them that I was ready. Slowly, I started gluing tires, having regular customers that only trusted me, and doing pro builds on high-end road bikes.
I then was trained for bike fit and became a licensed USA Cycling race mechanic.
As race support opportunities started to present themselves to me and the fact that I found out that I was being paid lower than all of my male colleagues (some with less experience, biggest difference was 33%), I left the shop.
Besides going to various of races as technical support, I started my own mobile repair services. I would go pick up customers' bikes, repair them at home, and return them back to the customers. I also did my own version of bike fit for people at their own homes. This bike business went on for three years. As I gained a group of loyal customers, in October 2014, Tender Loving Cycle was opened.
Many old and new friends reached out to help, the sales reps from Blackburn and Cannonade backed me up as much as they can, and a lot of my old customers from mobile repair business started coming in as well. For a year, I was working and living in the shop. Then, as things got so busy that I had to work from 7am to 4am daily, I hired my first employee and vowed to always treat my guys and gals right.
TLC has been opened for almost three years now and known for its service and bike fit. I have a trusted friend and coworker, Harold, who works with me, we have a group of freakishly awesome customers, I finally moved into an awesome apartment, and the shop is turning a profit.
What is your favorite thing to do as a mechanic?
As cliche as this sounds, my favorite thing to do as a mechanic is problem solving when resource is extremely limited. I particularly enjoy providing technical support for ultra distance rides. There will always be times when something fails completely, there is no replacement part for it, the next decent bike shop is at least 100 miles away, and the whole crew is looking at you because you were the only mechanic on this 3000+ miles adventure. It's like a survival game but for mechanics. Thank God for toe straps, gorilla tapes, and, sometimes, drills and dremels.
Do you find much push back, side-eye, or suffer odd interactions with your customers because of your gender? If so, how do you navigate those situations? Do you have any particularly humorous stories to share with those?
When I am in the shop alone, I find myself in a lot of conversations that are almost identical to this:
"Hi do you guys fix bikes?"
"Yes, we do."
"Cool, is the mechanic in?"
"I am the mechanic."
(after watching me work) "Are you single?"
or, when my coworker is in, I will be mostly working on things on computers (because paperwork for a business owner never ends)
"Hi I need help with this and that."
(my coworker gets to work we started chatting)
"Oh you bring your girlfriend to work?"
"No, that's my boss."
This kind of interaction can happen anywhere with any profession, gender, race, or sexual orientation. I have had the wife of a demo truck driver telling me that "the bikes on this rack are easier", I have had a gay man telling me "honey, you need to move", and I have had pro racers who took their bikes to another male mechanic after I was finish with them only to have that mechanic came around and asked me "hey what did you need for those bikes? They were perfectly fine." (I swear those were the original sentences).
Maybe because I have been at this male predominant industry for more than 10 years. I have learned to stand up for myself. Sometimes you gotta stand up and speak your mind, sometimes you passive aggressively put people in place sarcastically, and sometimes you get help from friends who believe in you and would back you up (I have to say, there are a lot of these great people, and I am very grateful for them). Eventually, in my case, people will learn to respect this little Asian lady that, most of the time, acts like a 16 year old.
What technological advances with bicycles gets you excited?
There are two things I like seeing in the evolution of bicycles.
One is the material engineering and mechanical engineering companies invested into their products. You can see the materials, be it metal or carbon, becoming lighter, stronger, and more forgiving, and the way they come together or formed becoming more and more clever. It makes me happy when I do pro builds on the same model frames from different years, you can tell it's better (or worse, sadly, sometimes) than its predecessors.
I also like seeing components getting simpler, aka, more serviceable. Regardless how well it works or how long it lasts, I like how simply constructed Sram shifters are compared to Shimano ones. Or how easy it is to service a Mavic freehub body -- it comes together so simple and rolls so well for so many miles -- then it starts to squeal, but, hey, servicing it takes 5 minutes, so who cares! It makes me happy to see the general trend of engineering on components and tools heading to the same direction -- simpler in assembly and more efficient in function.
Do you have any favorite tools you like to use?
I am going to play the girl card here and say my favorite tool is my Grease Monkey Gorilla Grip gloves. They fit on and feel as thin as latex gloves, and they last way longer than other similar lines of gloves.
If I have to pick one tool, like, an actual tool. It's a simple one. It's the Park AWS-50 3-Way Hex 50th Anniversary Set. I really can't explain it. I have been using it daily for four years now. It weighs and fits in your hand just right. This and the SW-7 Multi-wrench are the only two tools that no one in the shop is allowed to touched except me.
Others worth mentioning are the Abbey Crombie set, the dead blow hammer I bought long ago and forgot its brand, and any bearing tools from Wheels Manufacturing.
What kinds of things would you like to see for women in the industry, generally or specifically? What are you doing to make those things happen?
I feel like I am a little off topic here, but I find it very exciting to see that, at UCI and USAC races, the winning prize for the women's teams are getting bigger (even though there is still a big gap between the men's and women's teams, but you can see the gap is getting smaller and smaller ever so slowly).
I would like to see more women in the industry, regardless of job title, so I would like to see more women riding. I would like to see companies creating the right commercial contents for their female consumers. For example, we would like the chamois to fit our entertainment center better, and we would like our jerseys to show our curves.
I would also like to see more local shops hiring women. A lot of my female customer told me that they don't feel intimidated when they walk in the shop and see another female working. Just as a male customer wouldn't want to tell me that they are peeing blood, a female customer wouldn't want to express to your grumpy male mechanics that their no-no-square is numb after a ride.
I have been working with a few local female oriented businesses to provide a local cycling culture for women. TLC's shop kits and bottles are designed with female cyclists in mind and are loved by many female riders. I have had female cyclists in Colorado calling hoping to get our bottles. I have also been working with Aids LifeCycle on hosting regular maintenance clinics for female cyclist to help boost their confidence. I would always love to do more, so if anyone has any good idea, let me know!
What do you see for the future of Tender Loving Cycles?
I am changing the direction for TLC to better adapt to this globalized retail world. What won't change is that TLC will always be a cozy local bike shop that prides itself in fair (non-internet-matching) pricing, great service, and awesome customers.
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