Building mechanical skills with Sister Cycle

Changing gears away from the machismo of cycling culture

The Bike Dump is hosting a six-week series of workshops for women, trans*, femme and non-binary people. The series, called Sister Cycle, aims to empower these folks by teaching bicycle mechanics skills.

“There are a lot of women and trans people that ride bikes, but not that many are mechanics,” Sarah Thiessen, facilitator of the event and volunteer co-ordinator at The WRENCH, says.

The workshop will teach general skills ranging from bike tune-ups to specific skills, such as replacing brake cables and fixing issues with gears and wheels. The final evening discusses tips and tricks relating to solo touring.

The Bike Lab at the University of Winnipeg also hosts gender-specific programming. Fab Lab runs weekly on Wednesdays from 3-7 p.m. and is open only to women, femme, trans and Two-Spirit individuals.

Jocelyn Mallette is the UWSA Women-Trans Spectrum Centre coordinator and a Fab Lab mechanic. They explain that since bike shops tend to be male-dominated spaces, women, trans*, femme and non-binary people are effectively denied mechanical knowledge.

“We want to empower (these folks), and give them a safer space to work on those skills,” Mallette says. They explain that men often visit the shop and do not take their authority seriously.

“They just assume that the first male in the room is in charge, even though I have the qualifications to be the mechanic,” they say.

Thiessen explains there are many reasons people might feel uncomfortable in a male-dominated space. Microaggressions, small actions and comments that reinforce gender stereotypes, are common.

These microaggressions often come from the underlying assumption that women aren’t adept at mechanical tasks or that doing the work rather than teaching the skill is a form of chivalry. This only reinforces the stereotype that women, trans*, femme and non-binary people are not suited to physical labour.

“Macho culture can be very overt, but it can also be very subtle,” Thiessen says.

Programs such as Sister Cycle and the Fab Lab are intended to give women, trans*, femme and non-binary people the tools to counter this notion.

“It helps to learn in a space that is non-intimidating and as welcoming as we can possibly make it,” Thiessen says. She hopes to give these folks a larger skillset and empower them to be more autonomous.

Mallette explains that bicycles are integral to many people’s autonomy, as they get them to work and to places like the grocery store.

“It can really make or break your ability to have employment and go around the city on your own,” Thiessen agrees.

These training workshops not only benefit the individual, but they also prepare someone to give back to the community by becoming a volunteer mechanic. It’s a great way to help other women, trans*, femme and non-binary people who want to learn how to maintain their bike and change the way bike shops are perceived.

Sister Cycle runs on Mondays from Oct. 23 to Nov. 27 from 6-9 p.m. at the Bike Dump (631 Main St.). The WRENCH is looking for volunteer mechanics for Mellow Vélo, their lab time for women, trans*, femme and non-binary people on Sundays from 2-5 p.m. Find Mellow Velo on Facebook and thewrench.ca. Anyone interested in volunteering at The WRENCH can email volunteer@thewrench.ca.

Published in Volume 72, Number 8 of The Uniter (November 2, 2017)

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