QBP (Quality Bicycle Parts) offered a 2015 scholarship for 10 women to attend UBI’s (United Bicycle Institute) Professional Repair and Shop Operation Class. It is a top of the industry two week long program for experienced mechanics. There were over 800 applicants. I was one of the ten winners. In the course I registered for, there were 3 other scholarship winners out of 5 women total in the 16 person class.
Some people were there advancing their skills, but there was a wide variety of ideas behind attending the class: low income and family cycling advocacy, teaching mechanics to youth, creating adapted bicycles for veterans, beginning a brand of bikes and more.
There is a good balance of theory, history, lecture and lab. The instructors were very helpful and the class is entertaining and educational. It’s a fast paced learning environment but there are plenty of opportunities to get one on one time when in question of any aspect of the program. Having previous wrenching experience, definitely gives a leg up in the program.
Students were from all over the country: San Francisco via Spain, South Korea, England, Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, Ohio and Idaho. The campus is in Ashland, Oregon.
Another scholarship winner, Britney, does advocacy for low income families in Arkansas, getting better roadways and spreading the word about the necessity of inclusion and recognition of women in cycling culture. She also works with the Safe Routes for Schools Program for North Western Arkansas with Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks. She has an 8 year old daughter who also races and goes on tours with her.
Ashland has a very different bike culture. Everybody mountain bikes. That is the long and short of it. There are lots of trails and places to ride. Most of it is seasonal. No one rides in the winter. There are also various forms of road bikes with a couple comfort bikes sprinkled in there but not many. No one uses a real bike lock either. Folx in Ashland don’t have a bike theft problem. We were told if you don’t lock up at Safeway or in the downtown area, someone who is tired may take your bike for a joyride across town, but most people have the tiniest, thinest bike lock cables, comparable to dental floss. And that is all they need to prevent theft.
The knowledge the class offers is very thorough, if not semi-regional and within the most modern portions of the industry. The class was engaging and satisfying for me to have enough wrenching time in the absence of working at my shop. I was the valet coordinator for Bike East Bay for almost two years but to engage more one on one with the cycling communities that are often underserved, I began working more heavily with Cycles of Change. Through the non profit, Cycles of Change, I work as a coordinator and mechanic for the UpCycle program, which is funded in part by Measure B. Not only does the program refurbish donated bicycles to giveaway to participants of a commuter safety class, it also offers a monthly free mechanics clinic to help people learn to work on their bikes. Although a vast majority of the bikes that come into the shop are older models, the base line information and theory learned from UBI will help substantially not only in my personal understanding of bike mechanics, but how to share that knowledge with others. Having performed bike mechanics for over three years through various community shops and co-ops, the knowledge gained through the Professional Repair and Shop Operation Class (and tool set scholarship winners received, thanks Park Tools!) will enhance my current wrenching skills which is already inspiring me to move down different bike avenues and seek out even more knowledge.
My main goal is to open a women oriented open bike workspace and shop in Oakland called Binx Garage. Currently it’s run as a small mobile bike clinic. We offer free workshops and skillshares for women, women of color, queer people of color, Trans and gender non-conforming folks. The goal is to have a safe environment to learn mechanics and safe urban riding techniques at women and bike friendly events throughout Oakland.
If more women and people of color are engaged within the cycling industry hopefully there will be less stigma and inequality from the industry and in cycling cultures. While I was in Ashland for UBI, as a queer woman of color I experienced a lot of casual racism and sexism that the people weren’t even aware of. Some students made comments in passing or mockingly of other cultures and genders, and these comments went unchecked. I think this contributes to why there aren’t a lot of people of color in the industry. It creates an added challenge to learning when the environment has subtle racism.
There are awesome organizations out there making a difference for women of color in the cycling world. It would be great to see more black women and women of color continuing to be involved, be active, be leaders and help inspire other women to get on a bike. When women of color have more impact in how the industry moves, how local infrastructure shapes cities to create better access to biking, and become educators around biking, then I can happily retire.