Breaking Down Barriers: Mechanical

I have posted a couple “asks” on Wheelwomen Switchboard based on the topic of men and women and how we are different (and similar.) When it comes to mechanical skills or bike riding, all of us learn differently and also have the standard “You’re such a” thrown at us periodically. It’s mentioned often that men and women seem to “learn differently.” This may be said by both men and women, so I wanted to delve deeper into this topic.

The first subject will be about mechanical work. Mechanically I am insecure (completely new skill) and I need repetition for I learn best with a lot of repetition. Directions of screws and such make my brain hurt, particularly when on opposing sides. I feel really slow at “getting it.”

Below are responses from several women, their thoughts/input and how they have dealt with this “divider."

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Kelley W. "Here in Wash DC we are very fortunate to have shops with women mechanics, shops with women owners, and most important, an amazing woman-only biking community through FB where women can just vent, ask questions, whatever. I’m also involved with the Maker movement, and through both of these outlets I’ve gotten to know women who are really good at the mechanical stuff. I find it is definitely easier and less intimidating to ask them a question than a man. I don’t think men intend to be controlling, it’s often their wiring!

We have a Facebook Group: WABA Women & Bicycles. We have women from all over joining – just to have a SAFE place to talk. We didn’t know how many were out there until we started talking, so you might have women around you that you don’t even know are cyclists, or even want to be but don’t know how to get started."

Rachael R. "For mechanical stuff, I find I learn best by doing research myself (alone) on the computer and check out videos and how to articles. Hubby is a mechanic and is happy to explain things, but I get frustrated quickly so it’s best if I take ego out of it and do it myself. Then I’m proud to show him how I learned something new and did it without him. (sort of sad when I write it out… but true!)

My lack of tech-savvy was certainly my fault for many years - I relied on my husband to do all my maintenance and repairs. Looking back, I was just being lazy. Now I work in the cycling industry and I’m trying to play catch up and learn the skills I should know as a rider w/ 5 bikes and 10 years under my belt. I feel especially as a woman in the industry that I need to be self sufficient and show that women can do these things!

When I first started cycling and didn’t know how to change a flat or change my pedals, etc. I was more hesitant to go out on my own – whether around town running errands or on a Sunday morning road ride. Learning how to be self sufficient on the bike really gives you a sense of freedom.
I think my biggest ‘ah ha’ moment was learning, and finally remembering how to change pedals. It was something that I struggled to remember for years, and each time would struggle to figure out the mechanical advantage. I would to go the park tool website each time to double check. When I finally remembered I felt really proud that I could remove & install pedals in 2 minutes flat, and without any struggling or frustration!"

Lisa E. "I learned by fixing the first bike I got, which was a super crappy craigslist thing. I picked it up from internet videos and generally just taking things apart. I don’t experience much of a male/female divide, mostly because 1) I’m an engineer, so I’m the one who ends up fixing my husband’s bike just because I have the mechanical aptitude and 2) I only bike for transportation, not really fun or racing, so I don’t run into a whole lot of “bike culture” type things."

Tracy H. "I share your frustration with all things mechanical. For a lot of women, I think it comes down to not having any exposure to tools and mechanical stuff as kids. Boys take shop class, hang out with their dads in the garage, etc. (I know I’m making a sweeping generalization here, not true for all women OR men) and have that familiarity from the start.

I get frustrated and flustered when taking mechanics classes. The guys kind of take over if it’s a mixed class; either way, it takes me a LONG time to get something. I have to do it over and over and I get nervous in a classroom/demo setting when everyone else has completed the task and I’m still staring at it and breaking out in a sweat because I can’t figure it out. Thus I prefer to work alone or in a one-on-one situation. And I have found myself in the “use it or lose it” situation several times, which is why I’ve taken several Bike Mechanics 101-type classes with no appreciable improvement in my skills. :)

I don’t know if it’s a male/female difference or just a “me” thing, but I am tentative with tools. I’m afraid to break things and also lack the curiosity/confidence to take something apart just to do it. Most guys I’ve met will tear into something with no care as to whether they can get it back together again. That’s the best way to learn but that makes me so uncomfortable! Plus, I hate getting partway through a project or repair and then find myself stuck for whatever reason and then have to sheepishly take it into the shop."

Kristin E. "As far as learning mechanical things, I’ve always learned from my dad and so that’s never been an issue for me. I don’t really care who I learn from so as long as I have a good teacher."

Jan B. "With mechanics, I’ve learned best by jumping right in, even if I don’t know what I’m doing, and asking for help in the middle of a project. Sadly, I’ve found that asking about projects at the start can lead to a “Why are you attempting that, that’s way too complicated” reaction from more experienced mechanics, whereas showing up and saying “I just laced this wheel, can you teach me how to true it” leads to an “Awesome you built a wheel, let me help” reaction. At the beginning stages of projects, internet resources (particularly youtube videos and Sheldon Brown’s website) were super helpful with getting me started.

Also, I second other commenter’s on practicing on old, cheap bikes. Most skills I’ve learned have come from working on my 35 year old yard sale Schwinn, or on donated bikes at a local bike repair nonprofit. It’s a lot less scary learning how to take apart a hub or a bottom bracket when it’s on a bike you can afford to replace if you really mess something up! I also have a newer cross bike, and while I would have been terrified to mess it up doing major repairs a few years ago, the work I’ve done on older bikes has given me the confidence to work on my nice bike."