By Piper Niehaus
Every time I come into Bikes Together, I do a little count: How many women are in the room? It’s not that I don’t like the guys, it’s just that, as a girl, I sometimes feel like a sore thumb. Anecdotally, if 10 people turn up to volunteer at Bikes Together on a Thursday night (when I volunteer), we’re lucky to get two females. Out of 19 volunteer Shop Leads, there are only three women.
This is consistent with the rest of the American cycling community. Men take three times as many bike rides as women. The percentage of female bike mechanics is likely even lower. In 2012 only 20% of attendees at Interbike, the largest bicycle trade show in the US, were women.
I want to see the number of women who work on bikes to grow. Knowing basic maintenance and flat fixes can make women more confident commuters. I certainly feel better about getting on my bike knowing that I’ll be able to deal with whatever problems arise. Plus, wrenching is a great way to practice spatial reasoning and problem solving — there’s a reason that Stanford encourages its engineering students to build bikes.
There are many causes for the shortage of female mechanics and hobbyists. Women tend to be more worried about bike safety than men, and that keeps them from riding. In general, women are also less likely to take on mechanical tasks (For example, only 13% of engineers are female). Once they arrive at a bike shop, women can feel marginalized. “As a girl, you’re typically lumped into the category of ‘doesn’t know a thing,’ ” a female mechanic told the New York Times, “There’s a certain macho attitude that women can get intimidated by.”
In general, I’d like to think that Bikes Together is ahead of the curve. I have seen volunteers and staff go out of their way to make women feel welcome and respected. We lead by example with four female staff members. And, while only 13% of our total volunteer hours for 2015 were given by women, that still accounted for over 1,000 hours. Our community is moving in the right direction.
However, we are determined to do more. A few weeks ago, six women, a mix of staff and volunteers, got together to plan our first-ever Women’s Bike Workshop. That planning meeting was the most females I have ever seen in a bike shop at once!
But let’s blow that record away. Join us for our first ever Women’s Bike Workshop day, Wednesday, April 27 from 7pm-9pm. Fix your own bike, work on donated bikes, learn, socialize and have fun. No mechanical knowledge necessary. Women, transgender and femme welcome.