A new bicycle mechanics workshop for women has grown out of BikeShare, the local bicycle sharing program organized by MUN Project Green and Sierra Club of Canada. Sarah Smellie checks it out.
Laurie Cook is the only woman you’re going to find swinging a wrench in a local bike shop.
She’s been a serious cyclist for a number of years, teaching herself the mechanics along the way, and is now volunteering down at Canary Cycles in order to learn more.
“The more women out there learning, the better,” she says.
BikeShare coordinator Leah Fusco couldn’t agree more, and along with volunteer mechanics Rob Sexton and Mike Flaherty, Fusco has set up a bike workshop specifically for women which focuses on providing gritty, greasy, hands-on mechanical experience.
“We had this list of bike mechanics and they were all men,” says Sexton. “There really is a knowledge gap between men and women in this sense, and a knowledge gap almost inevitably leads to a power gap.”
There are six women enrolled in the weekly workshop—the maximum number the available space and tools could provide for.
“We had to turn lots of women away,” says Fusco. “There’s a huge demand for these kinds of spaces where women feel comfortable talking about mechanics and becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable about their bikes.”
Alanna Felt, one of the workshop’s participants, agrees.
“I don’t even know the names of certain parts of my bike, so I can’t even say what’s wrong with it,” she says about seeking repair help from bike shops, “so it’s easy to get pushed into that standard submissive role of being the woman standing by while the man takes charge.”
The first workshop, which lasted about two hours, was held last Monday and left all parties feeling excited and encouraged.
“It was fantastic,” Felt says. “It’s so surprising how much you can come away with from just one session.”
Fusco and Sexton estimate it will continue for the next six to eight weeks, which will give all the participants a solid and extensive knowledge of bike mechanics and help create some top notch female mechanics.
Katie Temple, Executive Director of the NL Environment Network and BikeShare co-conspirator, is also thrilled about the workshop. She says it’s helping remove barriers for getting more people out of their car and onto their bike.
“You really need some knowledge and experience with your bike to do long distance rides,” she points out. “Just through talking to people, there are a lot of women without that experience who want to learn and want to ride long distances.”
Once women feel comfortable biking these distances, she’s hoping they’ll be less inclined to drive.
The workshop also ties in nicely with BikeShare’s future plans.
“The workshop was entirely unfunded, but once our funding comes through from the federal government, we’ll be able to hire a part time mechanic to hold all kinds of workshops,” she says. “We have a bike repair shop set up for the BikeShare bikes but we’d love to expand it and open it up to everyone.”
According to Fusco, one of the ultimate goals of the workshop is to equip participants with enough knowledge to help out.
“In general, we really want to build a whole community of bikers here,” says Fusco. “We’re hoping this will help strengthen that community.”
From the looks of it, they’re well on their way. I’m writing this on a hot July day, and in the past five minutes, four different people have bicycled by my street-facing window.
This time three years ago, it was noteworthy to see two or three a day.
Says Temple, “it’s definitely catching on.”