Jul 13, 2009

Bike Shop Backdoors

Summertime has me not only revisiting punk music but really really appreciating my bicycle, so I'm going to do a little run of bicycle-oriented postings where I'll write about things like bicycle-sizing for injury prevention, bay area bike rides that might end in oyster-eating, the endangered dune gopher-mouses of marin county rv parks, stories of sweet revenge against pbr-swilling bike messenger dudes, my titanium tibia, and if I can really get my act together with Mira: a pair of divinely-bestowed pants from our 2001 biketour.

Last week I went to work on my bicycle to prep for a mini tour I was leaving on. The bike kitchen, a massive bike repair shop open to the public, has relocated to the ground level of a new condo development blocks from my apartment. Many non-profits, strapped for space and cash in a city with astronomical rents, agree to these sorts of arrangements because of the language of “mixed use/mixed income” developments, another way of saying that enough “affordable” units were included to get the project approved. Both the inclusion of lower rent units and cheap and spacious units for area non-profits are a means of gaining public support and legitimacy for condo development projects that proliferate the Mission.

That said, the bike kitchen has a new, stable, spacious, and centrally located spot, where on a recent Thursday eve, I joined at least forty other people in going to work on my bicycle. The spot seemed to appeal to twelve year olds pumping up their BMX tires, hipsters working on their fixed gears, college students with commuter bikes, and a few older dudes who were affixing welded pieces for carrying boomboxes and suitcases to wildly painted ten speeds or mountain bikes. Everyone seemed to be getting along, sharing tools, minimally engaging in conversation as they settled into their respective projects. I was impressed by this rare side-by-side coexisting of the reps of so many different bike camps, temporarily united by the too-loud Ramones soundtrack and the need for metric allan keyes. So I was even more surprised when on second survey of the space, I realized I was the only lady in sight. (The bike kitchen has a once a month 'WTF,' women, trans, and friends, night you can read about here).

Generally when entering bike dude space I try to fly below the radar. This is because typically, dudes assume women don’t know why they are there and need to have every level of their experience managed, whether they came in shopping for a bike light or asking for a repair. Often, if a woman wants to resist this dynamic by stating specific needs or objectives, bike dudes will act as though she isn’t actually there for whatever reason she’s saying, but rather to somehow encroach on their space and show them up. This can mean simple brake pad shopping trips or bicycle browsing can turn into exhaustive barely-coded trivia tests if a woman acts as though she knows anything about what is going on.

When I enter bike shops, I know there’s careful choreography involved in actually getting what I need, even if I know exactly what that is, because acting too competent can involve getting lectured to about unasked questions. Already I was at the bike kitchen because a trip to a local repair shop had gone so badly in this respect. Eight years ago when I would spend my at-home days training with a racing team and planning my next major bike tour, I had more energy for these types of exchanges and even got some satisfaction from making bike dudes squirm. Now, over a decade into being a serious cyclist, riding an entirely un-cool bike four years on the other side of a major accident, I have settled into a different sense of why and how I ride. I’m just happy that my body, now with its own share of internal hard ware, can still make a decent team with a rolling pile of steel tubing.

As it stands, I know a lot of what I need to know about bikes and biking, which is far more than what most people know about what I need to know. And I’m really not trying to know about what I don’t care about, just so I can keep up with quickfire bike shop conversations. I think this sensibility is so antithetical to how many dudes approach the larger body of bike-knowledge, or how access to such knowledge is negotiated, that it almost offends bike dude’s sensibilities. It just doesn’t go over well that I could have a lot to say about touring geometry or bicycle sizing to prevent knee injuries but not really care to know much more than I already do about flashy componentry.

When I entered the bike kitchen, using the earlier week’s trip to the repair shop as a case study, I decided to be conservative in my communications with the surrounding dudes. A “Do you know where they keep the extra aprons?” (knowing they were all being used), was necessary to secure a means of covering up the coral sundress I was wearing, since it wasn’t going to do any favors for my cause. I surveyed the shop to spot needed tools and avoid aimless wandering every time I left my stand. When the time came for me to ask a question, I scouted the most chilled out looking mechanic, waited for him to become available, and prepared myself to get ten times the answer I needed.

This could be a ‘how to’ post. I could share with you tips and tricks for pre-assessing how much of your dignity you are willing to sacrifice to get your needs met when entering a bike shop, how and where to pick your battles, and the top ten things never to say to most male bike mechanics.

But the truth is we all have different needs when we enter a bike shop, or any other armed fortress of dude-knowledge. We’re all there using what’s left of our lung capacity after the trek to blow up our hot pink floaty rafts to carry us across the castle moat. And they might think when we get there that we are there to take the castle.

More than wanting to tell anyone how to enter a bike shop, I am curious about our angles of approach towards the inaccessible worlds of skills and knowledges that we love too much to throw our hands up at. The millions of ways we figure out to say, “Dude, I didn’t come to take your castle. I am really wet and I am carrying a hot pink floaty ring. I just really like riding my bicycle. Can I buy some brake pads from you?”

1 comment:

  1. Adele, everything you write is so great. I really love how many people's heads the Intertubes let's me take a peek inside of, but yours especially.

    I don't know anything about Castle Bike Knowledge but I wonder what other Dude Fortresses I unwittingly defend...