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8/11/2007

Wrench Yourself

It was a cool, early morning at the track, and the usual group of derelicts (who else would get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday?) assembled, chit-chatting while waiting for the warm-up to begin. “Looks like you’ve got a flat,” someone said to me. I looked down at my front wheel which was wearing an unenthusiastic, empty tube.

After rummaging through my bag in search of a spare tube, coming up empty-handed (did I mention it was really early? On a Saturday?) and realizing that the training session was to begin in exactly two minutes, I happily accepted the offer to just throw a different, more air-friendly wheel on my bike and worry about the flat later.

Standing over the bike, I lifted up her front end, slipped out the offending wheel, and began to align the replacement with the dropouts. To my right, I hear a friend say something to me and I pause, mid wheel-change, to turn my head in his direction and respond. By the time I look back down at my wheel—about five seconds later at best—there were not one, not two, but three guys kneeling down, all simultaneously trying to put the wheel in for me.

My jaw dropped. One of them said, “Here, let us give you a hand.” Biting my tongue, all the familiar annoyance began to swell up. The things I immediately wanted to blurt out: “Thanks, but I can manage; just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m one of those cyclists who can’t change a flat—I fix bikes for a living!”

I know all of those would come out rude, like I’m being a bitch. So I attempt to be gracious and say nothing, letting the boys put the front wheel back in for me. Me, the girl who won’t let anyone else so much as adjust her derailleur.

Days later, the instance is still floating around in my mind. Why did they think they needed to help me? I wasn’t showing any signs of difficulty or of requiring assistance. Was it chivalry or were they operating on those stereotypes of helpless velo-femmes that make my blood simmer? Essentially, were they holding the door open for me, or were they assuming I’m bad at math? Would the same thing have happened had I been a guy?

Recently, my friend Jeanette and I were discussing my experience at the track over lunch. We rolled our eyes and giggled as we swapped stories about other such instances we’ve both encountered. She is the only other female bike mechanic I know, and she related stories of people assuming that, instead of being the shop wrench, she is the shop owner’s wife.

“The ones who are really fun are the guys who lean over the counter and start telling me how to fix their bike,” she laughed.

“Or the ones who are completely blown away that you’re back there at all,” I added. “Yes, I was born with two x chromosomes and I can overhaul your bottom bracket.”

Our laughter began to attract attention from the other patrons. We talked about how easy it is to get offended by such behavior, and how to handle it politely and with a little grace.

“Speaking of grace …” Jeanette began, “do you know Becky?”

Becky (not her real name) is a seasoned cyclist who has been riding for many years and knows her fair share about bicycles. She’s put in time as a messenger, and she is the kind of girl who fixes her own bike. While out on a long road ride several months ago, she and Jeanette had to abruptly come to a halt at the side of the road. Becky had a flat. This being no reason for alarm, they stopped to stretch their legs, and Becky began to change her tube.

“I think she had just taken her rear wheel out when a group of guys started riding past,” Jeanette continued. One of the gentlemen slowed to a stop next to Becky.
“Do you need some help with that?” he asked her politely.

What followed was a barrage of four-letter words and insults as Becky literally began screaming at the guy who had stopped.

“What the fuck?! You think just ‘cuz I’m a girl I can’t do this?! You pompous piece of...!” she yelled, at one point even holding her frame pump over her head like a baseball bat, waving it at the poor soul who had stopped to offer assistance.

The image made me laugh, and we both agreed that we’ve come close to doing the same thing once or twice on an exceptionally bad day. We also agreed that the extreme of Becky’s wrath was a little ludicrous. Besides the probability that it had scarred that well-meaning fellow for life, it was a perfect example of how not to handle the situation. We joked about forming a support group for women to provide a place to vent such frustrations, and preventing frame pump induced injuries everywhere.

As for me, when a surprised fellow cyclist’s eyes grow wide when they ask, “You’re a mechanic?” I'd think of Becky, and smile. “Yes,” I say with all the graciousness I can muster, “How can I help you?”

After all, I don’t want to be one of
those cyclists.
-2003

2 comments:

Fritz said...

I stop for ladies and gents equally asking if they need assistance. It's just common courtesy. Can you describe Becky so I know not to stop for her?

When I've flatted I don't come unglued and assume they think I'm a moron (or whatever) when somebody offers help. There have been times I've been very glad for the help -- when my patch glue has dried, or I've forgotten my CO2 cartridge, or the time I broke the valve on the tube. While your experience with unneeded attention at the start of the ride was unwarranted (the guys are trying to prove their manly chivalry in that instance), your friend Becky just has a chip on her shoulder.

Velochick said...

I totally agree. Thanks for reading!