31 Mar


Grease Rag Partners with Local Shops in Listening Session


on March 31, 2015   comments 0

Participating in a Grease Rag open shop is about safer, inclusive and welcoming spaces for WTFs who want to spend some time learning and wrenching on their bike. At shop nights and Grease Rag events, WTFs have the opportunity to surround themselves in a friendly atmosphere and shine in bike love and know-how. But what about the cis-dominated bike culture outside of Grease Rag that WTFs experience in bike shops and at bike events around the Twin Cities? It's not always so friendly and shiny for us out there.

Grease Rag host shops asked Grease Rag to help them create better spaces for WTFs.
While these spaces cannot guarantee safety, they can help us to feel welcome, included, and safe. This is not about "How do we get WTFs to spend money in shops," but more about, "How do we support WTFs so they feel welcome in our space?"

Without even really thinking about it, I’ve been avoiding bike shops for years. I’ve come to expect a shop full of exclusive, spandex-clad, know-it-alls who are waiting to talk my ear off about a product that I don’t even care about and probably suggest an over-priced hot-pink jacket that was precisely NOT what I wanted. It was probably just a few bad experiences that have stuck with me, but they leave lasting impressions. I was excited to sit down with shop employees/owners who recognize this problem. I’m ready for a change. - Holly

Where else to turn but towards the experts?!

Shop owners who host Grease Rag open shops asked Grease Rag to help them discover ways that would help them bridge the gap between a cis-normative culture, and the safer spaces Grease Rag is working towards. Brian Fanelli (Recovery Bikes) and Low (Grease Rag World Headquarters) teamed up to host a “listening session,” where WTFs would have center stage in describing their experiences and suggesting ways that shops could help them to feel safer and more welcome.

I, being a trans who defines myself as she/her pronouns, was happy to see that Laura had set up this meeting of bike shops and women, trans, and femmes. The format with Laura and Brian was so professional and warm. The desire of the bike shops to have a warm, safe and a nonjudgeable shop was so great to see. I was also happy to see women state what they wanted and expected. After 5 decades of being scared, its great to have a nice safe place. Now only if other places can be the same. - Tina

This discussion took place on Sunday, March 22nd, at Recovery Bikes (thanks for coffee donations from Aki’s Bread Haus and delicious treats purchased from Durango Panaderia). Recovery, SPOKES, Hub, Venture North and Cycles for Change were all present and represented for this discussion. Twenty WTFs answered the call from Grease Rag. Not enough chairs. Not. Enough. Chairs.


So, what’s a listening session?

Because talking about sexism and transphobia is personal, Grease Rag knew it was important to limit power dynamics and intimidation in this conversation. So, Low and Brian led a facilitated discussion format that allowed WTFs to share without being challenged, interrupted, or confronted with hostility. The focus of this discussion was on the experiences and expertise of WTFs. Shop representatives listened.

This is the outline of that facilitated discussion:

  1. Introduction of facilitators and building ground rules for communication
  2. Shop representatives introduced themselves and shared one thing they do to serve WTF customers, and one thing they do for WTF employees
  3. A “go around”: each WTF participant introduced themselves and shared one thing that they are excellent at
  4. To guide the WTF sharing portion, questions from submitted by shop owners were asked. These questions were submitted prior to the event. During this portion of the event, shops did a lot of listening and gave priority to WTF Expert voices. Note cards were available for shop representatives to write their clarifying questions.

Detailed notes about this discussion format and this meeting’s content can be found here.


What shops are already doing

It was important to recognize that our partner bike shops/organizations who are participating in the sustainability of Grease Rag open shops are in some cases, already taking steps to help foster safer spaces for WTFs. During the introduction of shop representatives, the following way that shops help WTF customers/employees feel safer were shared: making all-gender, single occupancy bathrooms available; informal training about gender/sensitivity/equity/cis-male-awareness; asking employees and customers what their prefered gender pronoun is; asking the same questions of all customers (not assuming ability, interests, knowledge, etc.) without shame or condescension; and hiring WTF staff (acknowledging that is is much easier to teach someone about bikes than it is to teach them how to be a respectful person).

Moderated Listening Circle/Discussion

As it turns out, 20 or so WTFs have plenty to share about their experiences. During the discussion time, the group was able to cover four question sets:

  • How do we have the conversation about preferred gender pronouns in spaces, especially where people are not familiar with the need to be intentional to think about pronouns or trans* inclusion?  Why are preferred gender pronouns so important.
  • What do we do when we make a mistake?  Are we expected to be perfect?
  • How do we create spaces where we can be called out on our mistakes?
  • We have to talk with women about their bodies with regard to bike fitting, etc.  Is there a best way to talk about this?

While this is not a summary of all that was described, explained, and suggested in that discussion, it is the author's notes on themes that came from answers to shop representative’s questions:

  • Respect my represented and prefered gender identity by not making assumptions about what that might be. Respectfully ask me what I prefer, or introduce yourself with your prefered gender pronouns so that I understand that you are not reinforcing gender binaries.
  • Saying something “wrong” is okay if you remain friendly, own it, and move on by promising me that you will do it differently next time. Remember the power-dynamic in our relationship, give me space to correct you.
  • Start our interacting by not assuming anything about why I’m in the store, what I know about bikes, or what I’m interested in. Remembering power-dynamics, ask “what brings you in today,” rather than “how can I help you.” Have a friendly and fair conversation with me!
  • When talking about products, don’t assume that all women fit the “women-specific” merchandise in body or mind. Ask before you touch, talk about, or examine my body.
  • Shops and customers expressed frustration about the quality, limited variety, marketing of women-specific products.

Full notes from this discussion are captured here.

There were two things I really loved about this discussion. First, I finally got to share the "bike shop dude offers unsolicited advice with me that was both condescending and gender-blind idiocy" with some bike shop dudes. I've been carrying that resentment around as a grudge for a decade, and maybe I can now let it go. Second, while I hope some of the stories got through to the crew from the shops, even if it didn't it got through to me. I learned new things about what I can do to be more welcoming and respectful in my own life. - Janne

Implementation and accountability

Following the discussion, shop owners were asked to share steps they would take, as a result of this discussion, to make their shop safer for WTF customers and employees. A list of actionable goals were noted, and some suggested another event to continue the discussion. Shops should know that ‘secret shoppers’ may check in on the progress of these goals, so they were encouraged to share what they learned and promised with their colleagues.

We closed the event with each participant sharing one word that described how they felt. The most common word? “Incomplete”.

03 Mar


6th Annual Winter Skill Share Re-cap


on March 3, 2015   comments 13

Way back in November 2014, on a balmy sunshiny afternoon before a single snowflake fell, Grease Rag hosted their 6th Annual Winter Skill Share at the beautiful Upper Blake School.


We heard the experiences of winter biking from different WTF perspectives, sharing excitement and confidence with riders, gearing up to get us out during Minnesota’s toughest season. Along with several hours of winter know-how, we also shared snacks, hot tips, prizes, and even hosted a clothing/gear swap.

In the sessions, we highlighted four important aspects of winter cycling:
Click on the titles/links to read the details of each session!

“Bike Setups and Options” with Janni
"Safety, Handling, and Routing" with Kat
“Clothing” with Casey and Christina
"Maintenance and Cleaning" with Angie

After the sessions, presenters gathered together to answer questions from the audience. An active back-and-forth between the expert audience and expert panelists exposed a range of experiences, interesting perspectives, and creative solutions to some of winter’s common challenges.





Finally, we wrapped the Winter Skill Share up by collecting feedback (intel for future events). Filling out the short questionnaire was a participant’s ticket into the gear swap. Newbies lined up first, those who were about to tackle their first winter of cycling, followed by everyone else who filled out the feedback form. Everything from gently worn snow pants, to hair ties. Something for everyone.

This event, in it’s 6th year, is more than just winter cycling skills and a technical approach to maneuvering and surviving a rough cycling season. It is SO MUCH SHARING of homegrown experiences and wisdom from WTF riders who have mastered their layering, routing, handling, maintaining, and choices for getting out in the winter. We are out there every day… high fives!

03 Mar


WSS6: Bike Setups and Options with Janni


on March 3, 2015   comments 15

Where else to start than picking your ride?

This is a session re-cap from Grease Rag’s 6th Annual Winter Skill Share (2014). To see more about this event, or individual sessions, read the 6th Annual Winter Skill Share Re-Cap here.

So is it better to have a fixed-gear, or a lot of gears? How about the style? Do I choose a mountain bike or just keep riding my sleek street bike? I’ve hear that fenders are a great idea… are they? What about investing in studded tires, is it worth it?

This presentation covered these questions and much much more. What we learned was that every choice comes with its pros/cons and it is up to US to determine the best setup for ourselves!  Read Janni’s handout about bike set ups.


The session’s follow up question/answer portion included queries about panniers…
Some riders prefer keeping the weight on their backs for a better center of gravity. Others thought that a little extra weight in the back was helpful for tire traction in snow. The key with panniers is to keep the load balanced on either side.

And tire “hacks” such as drilling screws through the tire to create cheap studs…
100% fail-rate was the quick answer although one person in the audience seemed to know the perfect screw and vouched for it’s reliability. The “zip-tie” option was largely considered inconvenient when changing flats.

About Janni: Janni fell in love with bikes the minutes she moved to Minneapolis, riding around the city with her brother for work and fun. She fumbled together her first road bike in her garage in 2009 and has since convinced a wonderful local bike shop to let her work part time.  She began attending the GR last year in NE and simply cannot stop telling everyone how great it and cycling are!

03 Mar


WSS6: Safety, Handling, and Routing with Kat


on March 3, 2015   comments 22

“Keep calm and pedal through it”

This is a session re-cap from Grease Rag’s 6th Annual Winter Skill Share (2014). Too see more about this event, or individual sessions, read the 6th Annual Winter Skill Share Re-Cap here.

Kat has this way of describing winter biking, something that those from fairer climates would consider a feat for the insane, as the most normal and approachable activity one could try. For handling, Kat recommends that beginners try practicing in a parking lot. For more maneuvering through drifts and icy patches, Kat suggests taking it easy and to keep going straight and steady through it before taking a (WIDE) turn or (gently) braking. This also implies (and was recommended) that riders look further ahead to allow for more reaction time/space.

To really cover your bases on a winter ride, Kat recommends packing an I.C.E. pack, “In Case of Emergency”. This is a small collection of emergency items to get you through a stalled bike situation. Say… the roads are just too slick for you to feel safe riding... or you have a flat and no tools... maybe all those extra layers means that you’ve burnt too many calories and are now “crashing”. This pack has just enough supplies to keep you warm and get you to safety. My ice pack is a salted nut roll, $20 cash, and hand warmers. I have used my I.C.E. pack twice this winter!

Read Kat’s notes about Safety, Handling, and Routing.


So what routes are best to take?
There was considerable discussion from the audience about this topic!  Bike routes in Minneapolis, it turns out, are typically plowed BEFORE streets. If there’s a problematic spot, riders suggest calling 311 (Minneapolis’ non-emergency reporting line). Route updates on Grease Rag FB site are awesome!

What to do about snow plows?
Despite what I was bracing for… NO… ONE… shared a story about a cyclist getting run over by a plow. And just like the rest of her presentation, Kat calmly explained what to do if you see one on the road: simply dismount and move far out of its path. (This is implying, of course, that you have taken the advice to be attentive and aware of your surroundings ;)

About Kat: Kat has been involved in Grease Rag since 2009 - first as a participant, and now as a facilitator at Sunrise Cyclery.  She rides bikes for work, for fun, and for sport.  Encouraging more WTFs to bike year-round is a goal that is easy to be excited about!

03 Mar


WSS6: Clothing with Christina and Casey


on March 3, 2015   comments 20

Layers… so many layers!

This is a session re-cap from Grease Rag’s 6th Annual Winter Skill Share (2014). Too see more about thiscasey.jpg event, or individual sessions, read the 6th Annual Winter Skill Share Re-Cap here.

Presenters Christina and Casey shared their tips for surviving the MN cold while managing the heat your body’s generating during the ride. This can be a tricky balance, and different for every body-type, but can be managed with smart fabric choices and efficient layering. It doesn’t have to be expensive or uncomfortable. Somewhere between the presenter’s tips, experimenting, and determining your favorite combo, lies the answer!


In her amazing handout, Christina shared her know-how about the varieties and qualities of different fabrics, as well as sources (buy, craft, re-use!) for finding these essential winter riding items. Casey performed a show-and-tell by dressing from base layer, to outer shell, with her own winter riding wardrobe.

Read Christina’s handout on fabrics and DIY clothing sources.

Here is a rundown of Casey’s demo of “What to Wear: How! Why!”


I wrote down a few random tips from the Q/A that followed this presentation:

  • • Big plus in all those layers = falling in all the extra padding isn't as rough as it could be!
  • • Get in the habit of NOT putting keys and sharp objects in your winter gear pants - this will prevent ripping!
  • • Keeping warm tips:
    • • keep hands and skin lubricated
    • • chronic cold or poor circulation could be caused by saddle tilt - try readjusting the tilt
    • • bar mitts with reusable warmers = great
    • • DON'T DRESS TOO TIGHT... blood-flow = good/warm
  • • Consider swapping out metal pedals for "platforms" - metal conducts cold and the platforms are typically made from plastics (also affordable!)
  • • Timing: do some putzing around inside (adjust seat, wait for a slower prepper, etc.) before going outside. This will get you warmed up before getting out in the cold.


About Casey: Lives on Cedar and 37th by Minnehaha Creek, learned how to winter bike in Fargo, ND. My favorite thing about winter riding is your body heats up faster than your car's engine block. When you go outside it smells good and your cheeks get rosy, and the exercise makes winter "doable." And she enjoys how tough winter bikers are. This presentation is about how to layer up and stay warm on the coldest days, using what you have already!

About Christina: Christina is a cyclist, a knitter, and mother to 2 cats and 4 chickens. In the summer she enjoys gardening and camping, and in the winter keeping her sidewalk cleaner than everyone else's.

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