Working with the Otesha team to get a women’s bike maintenance project up and running has been the highlight of 2016 in my world: here’s the story:
Women-Fix-It came about whilst cycling across Portugal solo. I had the map reading down, chunky calves, panniers, and a sweet touring bike – what more can a woman ask for? Ah yeah… the knowledge that is needed to put your bike back together after it’s been in a box. Alex a good pal helped me to box it up for the flight over to Portugal. Yeah I’ll remember all this – easy…
I’m not saying that as I stand looking at my handle bars off at a peculiar angle, the brakes are rubbing on the wheel and I’m unnecessarily covered in grease. Frustrated, I begrudgingly head to the nearest bike shop, where 2 guys attempt to teach me bike basics in Portuguese. I felt pretty stupid with my ignorance, not to mention scared that I had to keep the steed in one piece for the next 3 months. I couldn’t but notice that it was always men serving me in bike shops, or I’d likely ask a male friend to help out with bike related stuff. Pedalling up and whizzing down the mountains of Portugal I was lucky to keep my bike in one piece – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head as to why I didn’t know to fix her up.
The more I discussed this with other women who liked bikes, it became clear that I wasn’t on my own… reverberations of the same comment kept coming back to me: “I feel uncomfortable to ask stupid questions” “I always feel pretty silly when I go into bike shops” “I wish I knew more about bikes” “I’m just not very good at it”.
I felt happy that it wasn’t just me… but also sad that so many strong, independent women that I knew and loved had the same block as me. I wanted to learn with other women and to be taught by a non-judgemental woman who could share her knowledge. I searched around my local area in South London and struggled to find that space, but alas it was not there.
A friend put me in touch with Bikeworks – a fantastic social enterprise delivering community based cycling activities across London. They took me onto a course in Level 1 bike mechanics and I commenced a journey totally out of my comfort zone… loads of tools, jargon, and a good dose of testosterone. I was feeling the need for Women-fix-It in my life.
It seems fitting that this project is a collaboration with The Otesha Project UK, as it was this wonderful charity that has empowered hundreds of young people to cycle hundreds of miles and educate thousands of people in issues of environmental awareness, sustainability and social justice. As tour alumni, tour coordinator and workshop facilitator with Otesha, It felt like the right time to join forces to run Women-Fix-It. Winning a bid to Transport for London’s Cycling Grants, the project finally got legs.
Camberwell Subterranea offered us their garage workshop for us to run 3 week maintenance courses from Feb-June 2016. The project aims to work with women from diverse backgrounds, bringing together women from all over South London. It is important that it’s a safe and comfortable environment for all to enter into. We’ve run 3 courses so far, working with 27 women to teach them the basics – an m-check, parts of the bike and how they fit together, punctures, brakes and cleaning/ general maintenance.
The essence of the project is that we want women to go away with enough skills to keep their bike safely on the road. If it needs to go into a bike shop, then they might have a better idea of what’s going on. We want women to feel empowered to ask those “stupid” questions that we might not normally ask. Courses will continue until June and we’re running women’s social rides around South London this summer.
Fancy finding out more, or want to be involved?
Check for updates on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenfixit/