WTF? What’s up with gender and bikes?

The scent of chain lube, rubber and oranges lingers on my fingers. This is the sweet smell of bike repair and gender justice.

It’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday at Bike Forth, Davis’ do-it-yourself bike repair shop. The garage door rolls up with a satisfying clang. Tonight is Women Trans Friends night. Women, transgender individuals and our friends gather to fix bikes and share stories of our pleasures and troubled times in the world of bicycle repair. My story of bike repair begins with blood and ends with orange-scented soap.

Before I moved to Davis, I mountain-biked in Laramie, Wyo. And I fell. A lot. I bled and broke my bike with alarming regularity. Fortunately, the local bike shop, The Pedal House, kept my bike in working order, while I repaired my cuts. Many afternoons, I would chat with the men (for all the mechanics were men) and watch with vague interest as their skilled hands mended the derailleur I bent in my latest crash.

“What are you going to do without us?” they asked as I packed up my bikes for the cross-country move to Davis. “Well,” I replied, “I suppose I’ll have to learn to fix my own bike now.”

Traditionally, a lot more men work on bikes than women. This is true in many mechanical fields. Just peek into an engineering classroom or a mechanic’s shop. What keeps women from the mechanical arts? There’s no sign at the door saying, “No Girls Allowed.” But significantly fewer women work with machines than men.

I decided it was time to learn to fix my own bike.