Women's Mechanic Scholarship
Women's Mechanic Scholarship
Words by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
Photography by Micheala Albanese
There are signs the women’s cycling industry is growing. From Strava stats, to bike sales, to the very launch of this website. We are all here in part to the critical mass that is forming. But as things continue to change, there is one area of the bike business that continues to lag behind; the local bike shop. Women see greater parity almost everywhere, but walking into their local shop can often feel like time travel to a less inclusive era. And while there are many programs aimed at participation, few if any set their agenda on the local shop. For many the local shop is the heart of cycling culture, so a program aimed at parity on the shop floor could truly have a great impact. Enter the Quality Bicycle Products Women’s Mechanic Scholarship at the United Bicycle Institute.
In its fourth year, the scholarship affords women who work in the industry the chance to attend United Bicycle Institute Professional Repair and Shop Operation course. But unlike years past, when female scholarship winners were attended general classes, this year, an entire class was composed with scholarship recipients. It's difficult to describe the level of enthusiasm that an entire class composed entirely of scholarship winners creates. On day one, the energy in the classroom was positively electric and the enthusiasm held through to till the final day of class.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the sixteen scholarship winners. And while I have posted short piece on Ella and Bicycling Magazine, I wanted to use this piece to take you more deeply into the actual scholarship and introduce you to my fellow classmates. In the coming weeks, I will also be sharing the personal stories of my peers in our rider profile section. Each woman there was truly exceptional and wholeheartedly devoted to women's cycling. From shop owner/operators with decades in the business, to volunteer coordinators and head mechanics of bike recycling charities. There was an incredible amount of passion and dedication in my class.
Working in the cycling industry was a prerequisite of the scholarship. And while we all came from vastly different shop, media, and sport backgrounds, we all had put in time and dedication somewhere. While some of us are purely passionate about working on bikes, the reality is the program serves a greater good. Mechanical knowledge functions as its own form of ‘glass ceiling’ in the cycling industry. That barrier starts on the shop floor, continues through how we create women’s media, and goes all the way to the boardrooms of major industry retailers. But a mechanical certification opens doors, it reaffirms one’s place at a workbench, as a shop owner, and media creator and as a viable applicant for inhouse industry work. I didn’t apply to the scholarship to spend my days bleeding disc brakes, I applied because the very knowledge of how to do is powerful.
Its with an incredibly heavy heart that I mention one very sad statistic. Out of the sixteen program participants, two were let go by their employers, either immediately before or after attending UBI. Its strange that the cycling industry's best and brightest are not treated that way by the very stores in which they work. Im not sure speculation can bring any enlightenment, but it speaks volumes that shops themselves do not stand behind the employees who seek advanced training and skill development. Moreover, these women have run women's programming and women's departments. Losing them is not a matter of staffing on the shop floor, its a painful loss to the women's cycling community at large.
All of my classmates all shared a commitment to sharing what we learned at UBI with others. It was fitting that all our hands on activities were split into pairs. With varied experience levels, we all got to take turns as both student and teacher. All of us there had hoped to be able to share skills after the class with the women's cycling community, so being able to practice not only the skill, but also the teaching was incredibly helpful. Beyond our in class experience we were also housed together. On individual days it could be trying, the hostel was small, many of us were in bunk beds, and personal space was minimal. But the net effect was incredibly bonding, and I am so happy to have a network of women all over the country to count on as friends.
Pretty Damned Fast works primarily as a platform to connect women through their stories. But our focus on events is limited by where Tayler and I live, and where we can travel to. I wanted to share the names and locations of my classmates, because around each one of them you will find a thriving women’s cycling community. Seek them out, frequent their shops, and stay tuned because they are doing awesome things! Additionally its important to note the two incredible women behind the scholarship, Alix Magner and Katie Thompson of Quality Bicycle Products. The scholarship was also sponsored by several brands who are taking serious steps to back women's cycling. So please also consider supporting
Amanda Resch, Legend Bicycle, Providence RI
Cali Jirsa, Cherry Cycles, Minneapolis MN
Cassandra Habel, SpokeHaven , Madison WI
Magdalena Sapsis, Hello Bicycle, Seattle WA
Nicole Davison, Veloville USA, Purcellville VA
Stephanie Surch, Criterium Bicycles, Colorado Springs CO
Susan Davis, Bike Beat, Virginia Beach VA
Theresa Van Ackeren, Family Bicycles LLC, Kansas City MO
Tina Sujana, Naples Cyclery, FT Myers FL
Trina Walsworth, Bike Stop Cycling, Michigan City IN