Women On Bikes Series: Shell Sumerel

My name is Shell and I work as bike mechanic for the Bike Gallery, a Portland based bike shop with 6 locations. I work out of the Beaverton location, but lead the Women's bike program which includes maintenance clinics, social clinics and events, and rides. I also serve as the warranty manager at my store.

I got into riding and working on bikes from my parents. My mom an avid commuter, and dad a bike mechanic, met in a bike shop.

They started one when I was a small child (Pedal Power, Chapel Hill NC) and after they decided to close shop, my dad worked at a few different shops in the Chapel Hill area. When I was a kid, I loved biking, and used to take weekend bike rides with my dad. When I left for UC Davis, I immediately started working at the campus bike shop - The ASUCD Bike Barn. It turned me into the cyclist I am today, and made me realize that working on bikes wasn't just something I did because the people were cool, but something that defined me. I am still the Bike Girl, just now in a bigger city and bigger shop. I am proud of the work I do day in and day out for cycling.

I own many different bikes, from single speeds, to full carbon road bikes. My two favorites are my Trek Emonda SL 6 in California Sky Blue and my Remedy 8 (also light blue). The colors remind me of my UNC Carolina Blue blood and my later years in California. Somehow, bikes end up becoming more than something you ride, but a physical representation of what's inside your soul. Without the bike, who knows where I would be. When I got my job at the Bike Barn, my mom was excited and joked that I would meet my future partner there. Moms are always right, and that's where I met Trent, a fellow cyclist, who is my partner in life. Life has a funny way of working out, and mine worked out to be centered around something with two wheels, and I couldn't be happier.

Why I love to ride on road: The smoothness and speed. Riding through wine country and being able to see things from a different perspective

Why I love the mountain: Mountain biking showed me that I could combine my love for adrenalin, love for hiking, and love for a laid back day.

Facebook: Shell Sumerel
Instagram: @mssumerel @BikeGalleryPortland
Web: BikeGallery.com

Your #bikelife started at a young age, tell us how you feel that it has influenced you over the years-
People gather more from their parents than they usually realize. For me, it was the love of the bike. My parents are both avid cyclists, as is a lot of my other family. My parents owned Pedal Power, a small bike shop in Chapel Hill, NC when I was small, and even after it closed its doors, my dad continued to work in a bike shop. And while that has always inspired me, it also became MY passion when I left for college. Working in a bike shop and going to UC Davis really showed me how to love riding, which has only increased since I left Davis.

You not only ride bikes, but you work in a bike shop. Tell us how you first got started at the shop-
I applied for a job at the student-run bike shop at UC Davis because I remembered spending time with bike people who were coworkers and friends of my Dad’s growing up. They were cool people, so I figured the best way to have a good job is to surround yourself with fun people. It turned out well ☺ I made some awesome friends and really learned a lot, not only about bikes, but about myself to.

Tell us about the women's bike program and how folks can participate-
I run the Women’s Program Bike Gallery (PDX, OR), which includes rides of all sorts, social events and maintenance clinics. Everything is geared towards getting women on bikes, no matter their ride style or skill level. There’s a ride or an event for everyone, and everyone is welcome at everything I host. The best way to participate is to show up and spread the word! Come out and ride with us, come hang with us, and come learn with us. It’s about a friendly, non-competitive environment where people can grow in their skill level.

What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of being a woman working at a bike shop?
Judgment. Not all men are comfortable with a woman in the shop, and not all male customers are comfortable either. There is still such a belief that only a man can be a mechanic, which isn’t true at all. You also have to be very direct and outspoken about your opinion because people are less inclined to believe you. It’s an uphill battle, but a fun one.

What would you say is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Besides running the Women’s Program, just working day in and day out with customers and helping them with their bikes. We have our regulars, and we have new faces. I love being able to share my passion, and teach while I am at it.

When it came to learning mechanicals, what was the most challenging part for you and what helped you feel confident in learning?
While I have a knack for mechanics and have always loved taking things apart, I was also super lucky to work in a teaching shop. It helped that I was hired with people who were learning just as I was. When I first started fixing flats, it took me a very long time, but slowly you get better. You have to be humble enough to ask questions, or you will never get better at anything. Even now that I have worked as a mechanic for over 7 years, there is still more to learn, and there always will be. There’s no shame in asking for help, or using online resources.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for women who are looking to work at a bike shop?
Go for it! Just apply. Women are so underrepresented in the industry that most shops wish they had more women on staff, but just do not get women applicants. Most of the entry level jobs will be for floor or sales positions, which is super fun. If you love to ride bikes, and are willing to learn as you work, any shop will scoop you up (if they are smart). There are not many shops that spend time teaching mechanics, but there are resources on line and schools you can go to if that’s a requirement for the job. If you are interested, reach out!

You met your partner at the bike shop! What do you enjoy most about having a partner who enjoys riding as much as you do?
There’s always a bike adventure or vacation where I will have company! He also will never judge me for having too many bikes, because he is the same way. It has also been enjoyable to take on new cycling disciplines together, because then we are at the same skill level. Anything cycling related, we do together and it has only made us stronger.

Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What was the experience like and what did you learn?
When I moved to Oregon, I thought mountain biking would be fun, but I never knew HOW much fun. I went out to a Trek demo day my shop hosted at Sandy Ridge and bought a mountain bike a week later. It combined my love for adrenaline and my love for hiking. It was just FUN! My handling skills were definitely weak, especially given my road riding background. I took on some easier trails, and learned how to control my bike. I do the same things these days: take it slow, take it carefully, and have fun. Your skill level can always get better.

What would you say was your inspiration for learning to mountain bike?
It’s fun and I live in Oregon where we have amazing trails that are just a few minutes away. It has made me better at all styles of riding, especially in non-ideal terrain conditions.

Clips or flats- what do you enjoy and why?
Depends on where I am riding! I have both. For more cross-country rides, I like clips. For trail climbs and downhill, I like flats. What I wish the industry made was more downhill flat shoes for women!

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
The first time I ate it mountain biking, I got pretty scraped up. It has made me a little more cautious, especially in turns, but never held me back. I am such a proponent of safety gear. I take risks but I also rely on my gear to keep me safe. No matter how many times I fall, I will always continue riding.
When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Cornering on a mountain bike and going over obstacles. Keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, not where you are and just go for it. I learned a lot when I was out at Trek riding with all the Trek ladies. I can hear Ross yelling at me “EYES ON ME!!” as she stood just past a turn on over an obstacle, and always remind myself to look ahead.

What do you love about riding your bike?
There’s nothing as fun or that feels the same. Some people are born to become good at baseball or swimming or singing or whatever. I was born to be a cyclist. It’s the feeling on wind rushing by, or the sound of dirt sliding under a wheel, and it’s the feel of my heart pumping either from adrenalin, or a tough climb. Every time is a success, and every time is an adventure.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why you chose them- (you can list all of them if you like!)
I have two carbon road bikes, one steel touring bike, one full-suspension mountain bike, one vintage mixte bike, two commuters, and a fixed gear. My favorites are my Trek Emonda SL6 (carbon road) and my Trek Remedy 8 (full-suspension). Both offer awesome rides, and have taken me on so many adventures. It also helps that they are both a homage to my background of being a UNC fan, and living in California! One is “Powder Blue” which is Carolina Blue, and the other is “California Sky Blue

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think they view it as too “extreme” While it is true that there is some extreme riding and riders, not all of them are that technical. Mountain biking can also be expensive to get in, especially if you aren’t sure you will love it. Most nice mountain bikes (especially full-suspension) are over $2,000. I encourage women to rent a bike and see if they like it. I encourage them to try an easier trail, and have confidence in the bike. The best thing to do is to ride – no matter what bike you have or what style you prefer.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
More focus on the women rider and more resources for women to get involved. Lots of areas have competitive outlets for women, but fail to catch them at the start, when they are beginners. There should be rides and events for all levels, so that they are accessible. Women also seem to have some fear about walking into a male-run shop because they feel they might get talked down to. While I can’t speak for all shops, that should never happen to any customer, regardless of skill level or gender. At my shop, all questions are welcome. We know we are the experts and that you are coming in to get knowledge or gear and we love that! We love helping people and sharing our passion.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
I am inspired to encourage women to ride because of how much I love to ride. Mostly, I just want friends to share my passion with. Some of the guys I ride with are super competitive, but I am not like that. I love to ride to ride, not to win. I want to bridge the gap between those who don’t ride, and those who ride to win. If I can (and I am very clumsy) anyone can.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I also love to cook and make an awesome chocolate cake!

Questions? Comments? Want to get connected in your area?  Send shell an email at shell@bikegallery.com