Together a More Inclusive Cycling Scene:
QBP Women’s Mechanic Scholarship Experience at United Bicycle Institute
By Cali Jirsa
For over a decade I have dreamed of mechanical certification. My bicycle repair education began at a community shop where advanced techniques for high performance materials were obsolete - working to promote safety by doing things such as installing hardware in lieu of duct tape. My love of teaching bicycle repair eventually became a career path. I was confident about my skills gained through books, experienced acquaintances, and hands-on education. Despite seven years in the industry, I never thought of myself as a professional mechanic. Now at five years into being an owner of a shop, I was given an opportunity to gain expertise, confidence, and a sense of greater legitimacy through being awarded the QBP Women’s Mechanic Scholarship for Professional Repair and Shop Operations at United Bicycle Institute and become a certified bicycle technician. Now, I will pair this honor with the responsibility of sharing my knowledge and vision for inclusivity.
United Bicycle Institute has two locations, over 120 years of combined experience in the bicycle industry and 35 years of teaching—and justifying—their methods to students. Having personally taught a great number of individuals bicycle repair, I know that many people approach teachers with skepticism. I have a deep respect for UBI and wholeheartedly encourage anyone and everyone interested in bicycle repair to attend. I value the education immensely. I found much value after having had many years of experience, but people new to mechanics learned a lot as well. All the women at UBI passed the course AND test!!! Over half of the women had very limited bicycle repair knowledge and our class marked the third time in 35 years that an entire class passed!! UBI was undeniably professional. It was a very productive learning environment because the instructors were knowledgeable, patient, kind, attentive, professional, and energetic. Last year’s scholarship winners were so engaged and positive about learning it left the instructors counting down the days to our class like kids at Christmas. All of the UBI instructors showed their encouragement offering assistance going forward, should come in handy. I learned an immense amount and I now have a network of support. If you are curious about bicycle repair or are an experienced mechanic, UBI is the perfect place to find support and hone your knowledge.
All 16 scholarship recipients were so appreciative of this opportunity and excited to meet each other. The enthusiasm in the classroom far superseded my apprehension for interpersonal dynamics and residual fear of academia. There were no bad attitudes, exclusivity, or elitism that I often perceive in groups. Some women led rides, others taught classes, a few had blogs, and some had Girl Scout troops. There were no negative attitudes, only collaborative energy. They offered support and advice freely. Outside of class hours I studied hard so that I understood the material and could ask questions during school. Despite this, I still had opportunities to connect, share stories, and learn from the others who are also working to provide support and space for women. I now can connect with these women and work to promote each other’s goals and more equity in cycling through sharing struggles, recommendations, and successes.
QBP Scholarship Winners - 2016
The owners also voiced their support! Through conversations with the owners of UBI, I learned that they see the gender disparities in the bicycle industry, as well as the need for shops to focus on creating welcoming environments for all individuals, regardless of race, religion, orientation, gender, ages, abilities, interest, or bicycle type, quality, or condition. We agreed wholeheartedly that shops should have the mission to show respect to all individuals. The owner even mentioned that studies showed that a mechanic with better customer service retains more customers than one with more technical experience and that female mechanics in shops encourages female clientele. Currently at UBI there are no WTF instructors. However UBI voiced their support, and encouraged the class to apply when a position became available. Having accurate representation within their organization may push their curriculum to include more about mechanics’ conduct, safer spaces, and communication methods to teach mechanics a culture of respect that will be reflected in the industry and cycling scene at large. If you are a WTF who is experienced in bicycle repair education, please consider applying: www.bikeschool.com
While the lectures taught me the finer points of repair, the hands-on experiences were valuable in learning how to teach these new methods to others. My education will be shared at a course offered to Grease Rag facilitators and participants for free, a nominal fee, or volunteer time. The Cherry Cycling Club and Vanguard Racing Team will also be learning through these courses in order to prepare us in our goals of working with the community in North Minneapolis to start a do-it-yourself open shop. If taking these courses, joining the club, or collaborating in this project appeals to you, no experience is necessary, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org!
Three years ago women at SRAM components and Quality Bike Products started a scholarship to educate women who are already in the industry continue to advance and strengthen their skills. Many companies came together to support women in the industry by providing free education at the United Bicycle Institute, a bike school which offers courses and certifies mechanics. Last year had around a thousand applicants, so this year’s application was geared towards those applicants who help increase women in cycling. I want to work with the women organizing the scholarship to offer financial support more equitably and to include more trans, femmes, and WTF’s of color. I hope to do this through being involved in the application writing process, working to promote the scholarship opportunity to a more diverse audience, and to offer to be a mentor, editor, and advisor to potential applicants. Please consider contacting Quality Bicycle Products to offer support of these initiatives and APPLY if you would like to continue to grow and support women/trans/femme in cycling by becoming a certified bicycle technician!
While half of my heart lays in scraping away the layers of grease embedded on derailleurs, the other half is motivated to expose and alleviate the limitations and prejudices that I see encumbering the cycling industry and community. I am working with individuals and organizations to foster a more broad and interconnected cycling scene. If you want to get involved, you can find me, wrench in hand, grease on face, and a whole lot in mind, at Cherry Cycles: www.cherrycycles.com
I am now proud to have the qualification of years of experience PLUS professional mechanic certification. This is weight off of my shoulders and justification that I am on the right track. Many businesses came together to contribute to this scholarship fund. I am incredibly grateful for all of the sponsors and want to encourage you all to support the business that are encouraging more equity in the cycling community:
To read more about the scholarship recipients and their experiences at UBI: qbp.com/womensscholarship
Anna Maria Diaz-Balart: www.prettydamnedfast.com
Cassandra Habel: https://spokehaven.com/2016/03/15/adult-summer-camp-for-bike-nerds/