Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Women Involved: Sarah Rogers

My cycle sports of choice are touring, commuting, and I'm just now getting into singletrack via fatbike. 

Some of my longer tours included riding in (and organizing) a 40-person bicycle village from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN, a tour up the coast of Maine, and an adventure from Seattle, WA to Wisconsin (half of it by myself). 

I'm a bike mechanic at a local commuter- and student-heavy business in Madison, WI where I've been working 2 years (just starting now as service manager). 

I worked for 5 years as assistant manager at a non-profit shop called DreamBikes (Madison, WI) that mentored/trained underprivileged youth and helped with community/advocacy events.

Prior to that, I volunteered as mechanic and organizer of a community-run, free bike workspace called FreeWheel (also Madison). I do a lot of bike-related creative stuff on the side as I have time, including zines and blogging, bike-related cross stitch (which I sell on Etsy), and bike-part jewelry which I make for myself and friends.

Check out Sarah's Twitter and Blog!

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have three bikes: a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, my Croll commuter, and a new Surly Pugsley.  I build all three from the frame up.  Each has its own function.

The Croll (name: "Troll") I purchased as a used mountain bike frame. It was a little rusted, with a hairline fracture on the seat tube, which is still there. I initially built it up as my winter commuter, but after a year or two, turned it into my year-long ride. It's a lightweight steel painted the most beautiful metallic spring green. I don't have any fancy parts on it; just solid used parts, like a Frankenstein bike. She's my reliable, everyday ride.

My Surly Long Haul Trucker (name: "Homestead") was the first bike frameset I bought new, and the first bike for which I built my own wheelset. I had previously toured on an old 10-speed, and knew I wanted to invest in a new, comfortable touring bike with all the extra attachment possibilities. I actually think this bike is the ugliest of my bikes, but looks don't really matter, right? I've ridden thousands of miles on this bike; it's taken me literally all over the country.

My Surly Pugsley (name: "Dreadnoughtus") is the newest addition to my family. I love this thing. It's my "toy," and so far I use it purely for pleasure. I plan to ride it in winter, but again, only for fun rides; my Croll will take the beating of my daily commute. It was a real treat to build up a fatbike wheelset, and a fun challenge learning the unique features of fatbike build-out. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I'm a fan of my Scout bag, a backpack made here in Wisconsin with cyclists in mind. It's weather-proof and customizable. Mine's got a winter cammo print, to display my winter-biking pride.
I'm also a big fan of Terry saddles. I've had great comfort with my three so far (one per bike!).

You have worked at several bike shops as a mechanic. What inspired you to learn how to become a bike mechanic? Have you had any challenges with learning your profession?
I learned how to be a mechanic out of necessity and as a way to socialize. I started riding again as an adult halfway through college. I had made two great friends my junior year, and they biked to class and around the city. To keep up with them, I got my old Huffy from back home and took to the streets.  Because I was a student on a tight budget, I did home repairs as my bike needed it. I soon purchased a used steel road bike, and used it to teach myself mechanics. In Pittsburgh, my hometown and college locale, we were lucky enough to have multiple spaces open for newbie mechanics to learn. I spent time volunteering at Free Ride, a collectively-run community bike shop, and even more time hanging out in the basement of Kraynick's Bike Shop. Kraynick's is a one-man shop who opens his basement to whatever hooligans want to work on their bikes. I spent hours down there with friends and bike repair books, tinkering away. Jerry Kraynick became like an uncle to me those couple of years.

Once I moved to Madison, I got involved with another collectively-run community bike shop, and continued teaching myself and learning from others. I picked up mechanic skills as-needed, bit by bit.  When I was hired as assistant manager and mechanical mentor at a non-profit bike shop in town, I was still shaky on derailleur adjustments. Doing mechanics as a career got me up to speed quickly. Years later, with plenty of experience under my belt, I find that I'm still learning new things. There are so many bikes out there, and so many tools and methods of repair. With the bike industry constantly throwing new things at you, a mechanic is never bored!

It was pretty tough in the beginning. I remember spending literally HOURS trying to figure out how to reattach my rear wheel. I cried a lot. I would get frustrated and stop. But I always came back to it.
I have found it to be a challenge, sometimes, being a female in the profession, or even just as a home mechanic talking with professionals at other shops. A lot of people (both men and women) just don't think of women as mechanics. When I was just starting out, I had men simply do repairs for me when I really just wanted their advice or direction. But I've also found being female to be an advantage in some situations. Because there aren't many female techs out there, some seasoned mechanics will take time out of their day to teach women, whereas they may not make the time for men. I've had a lot of patient and generous mentors over the years, and I am grateful for them.

You were assistant manager at DreamBikes for several years, could you highlight a bit on what DreamBikes is all about?
DreamBikes is a non-profit shop with locations in Madison and Milwaukee. DreamBikes has a two-fold mission: (1) to provide worthwhile job opportunities for youth, especially those from underserved communities, and (2) to make bicycling more accessible to low-income families by selling used bikes at affordable prices. In many ways, DreamBikes is a better-funded, more sustainable version of the community-run shops I'd volunteered with both in Pittsburgh and Madison.

Tell us about your volunteer experience with FreeWheel and what they did!
FreeWheel was the collectively-run, community bike shop I volunteered with when I first moved to Madison. We held open shop twice a week, where all sorts of people would come by to use our tools and salvaged parts to repair their bikes. Several mechanic-volunteers would be on-hand to work one-on-one with patrons. We worked with neighborhood youth, homeless individuals, students, and other low-income community members. FreeWheel volunteers would go out to community events and offer free safety checks and small repairs. For a semester, we worked with a class at an alternative high school, teaching bike repair to their students. We operated on a shoestring budget, off of donations and the occasional grant. I spent a lot of time and energy building the project, and in return, I learned skills that would help me kickstart my career in bicycle mechanics and advocacy.

You do a lot on your own as a cycling advocate: blog, write zines, and have an etsy shop to sell your art. Tell us about your ventures and what inspired you to let your creativity be a way to shine the light on cycling and all of the positive effects it has.
I'm a creative dabbler; I love learning new skills, tinkering with a craft for a bit, and then moving on to new things. The result is that I'm at Level 1 on a myriad of creative/artistic skills, but never fantastic at any of these things I do! My love of cycling and mechanics spills over into my creative outlets, and so I have written zines and blogs on biking, created cross-stitch art  involving bikes, and crafted jewelry using bike parts. It's as much a way to express myself as it is a celebration of cycling for others to enjoy. But honestly, I do my art mostly for myself, and so sometimes I'm bad at getting my writing or art out for the world to see. It's the curse of an attention-deficit in my creative world; when I'm done with one project, I fly to the next. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
This is a tough question. Honestly, I can only answer for myself, and through what I've heard and observed from other women. Safety is a big part of the equation, here. Not just safety on the road, but safety in community. Cycling, especially the adrenaline-fueled realms of mountain biking, has long been dominated by men. The industry caters to men. I'm seeing this phenomenon change, especially in the last 5 years, but there's a long, LONG history of patriarchy for us to climb out of. I think a lot of women, including myself, are put off by machismo attitudes towards cycling and exercise. I, myself, am more interested in participating in cycling communities that are warm and welcoming; with others in it more for the people than for the competition and adrenaline rush. (Although that adrenaline rush is lovely, too!)

Studies have cited, too, that women have a lot more responsibility when it comes to running households and raising families. It's more difficult for us to get away, to get out on our bikes. And when we do get away, a lot of us feel guilty, as if we should be devoting our time to less selfish activities. I know this is a mental block for me that I have trouble overcoming. Women raised in Western Society, especially in the US, have so many stigmas attached to them from birth. It's hard for us to break out of this paradigm, especially when a lot of our male counterparts don't take the time to learn about these hidden systems of oppression. 

What do you feel could happen to make changes and/or encourage more women to ride (any form of cycling)?
Open dialogue and empathy are the most important catalysts for change, in my opinion. The more we talk about how we feel, the more we listen to each other and try to understand differing points of view, the better. Men need to take on the responsibility of teaching themselves and other men about creating welcoming environments for women and other oppressed genders. We all need to share our stories with each other and the rest of the world, which you happen to be doing in this here blog! 
Along these same lines, cycling, too, continues to be a white-dominated sport. Many women would feel more encouraged to ride if the grander cycling world would start owning up to its internalized sexism, racism, and ableism. It's important to recognize each of these issues within ourselves and start working with humility to create a more open and honest dialogue in community.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I first read this question, I thought, "Well, gee, I don't really consciously encourage women to ride."  Answering your questions, I also find myself feeling uncomfortable with the gender binary inherent in the questions and my answers. Honestly, I don't use the word "woman" to describe myself, and I think it's important to recognize the full spectrum of genders that exist beyond the male-female binary.

I don't encourage women to ride. Or maybe I do. 
Basically, I encourage EVERYONE to ride. I encourage new riders, that's for sure.
I want to share my enthusiasm for the cycling and get more people on bikes because, for many, it's healthy, fun, confidence-building, and, yes, green.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I love the smell of Finish Line's Wet chain lube. It smells like Christmas.

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