Storytellers | Michelle: The Mechanic October 02 2018, 0 Comments

Recently I traveled to Dallas for a group ride and pop-up event.  I was super excited to learn that Richardson Bike Mart has female employees at each of their four stores.  

Meet Michelle, bike mechanic.  Oh, and she's also a mom of four.  She's helping to change the bike industry, one turn of the wrench at a time.  I wanted to know what it was like to be a female bike mechanic and how she started, so we had a little chat.

Enjoy!

xo Alexis

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Alexis:                         

How long have you been riding bikes?

Michelle:                    

Let's see, of course as a kid. But as far as having, a real road bike I started off on a single speed in 2009.  That kind of made me more serious about riding, because I had a legit bike to ride whereas before, it was just a cute, girly bike. At the time I lived in Austin and Berkeley, California.

Alexis:                         

Oh, you lived in Berkeley?  That's cool.

Michelle:                    

It was chilly up there compared to Texas.

Alexis:                         

Oh, yeah.

Michelle:                    

Riding a bicycle in college was the hot thing, so that opened the door.  But it wasn't until 2009 that I bought my single speed that it really made me develop a deeper love for bicycles. I had two kids at the time, so I would pull them around in the trailer around town, and then, I didn't get to ride for a while because I had two more kids.

Alexis:                         

Oh wow.

Michelle:                    

Yeah. So, it wasn't until three, four years ago that I started going longer distances.

Alexis:                         

So, you're probably one of the few female bike mechanics, who's a mom too. I mean, that's pretty cool.  It sounds like it started as a mode of transportation, and then, eventually you found yourself really enjoying it as a sport, as an outlet. That's cool. Do you have any competitive aspirations, or has it always just been something for fitness and for fun?

Michelle:                    

I definitely have a competitive side and I do want to race eventually. Time to be able to ride enough to keep getting stronger is my one draw-back. But, yeah, I would love to start racing. Maybe next spring.  And I ride a mountain bike too. I love doing it. I ride with a bunch of really strong men, so I'm always comparing myself to them, and I'm like "I gotta ride more. I gotta be stronger."

Alexis:                         

Mm-hmm. So then how did you actually get to be a mechanic? I mean, what does it take to do that? Especially in this sport where it is so male dominated, and I would imagine you kind of have to, I don't know, prove yourself a little bit more?

Michelle:                    

Well, after I bought my geared bike, I wanted to know how to work on it because I'm mechanically inclined to begin with. I love fixing stuff and building stuff, and so naturally my mind was just like I want to know how to work on this thing. If it breaks, I want to be able to fix it, because it's a simple machine, I should be able to figure this out.

I was looking to get out into the workforce again, and my uncle had told me about this bike shop, Richardson Bike Mart.  It's his favorite place, and he goes there all the time, so I went there and checked it out. I thought, well that'd be such a cool place to work, and but I didn't want to do sales, I wanted to learn how to work on bikes.  So, I walked in and talked to the manager in the service department, and I said I want to be a bicycle mechanic, so, what can I do to do that? Do I need to go to school for that?

When I talked to Derek the service manager there, he said "That would be awesome, yeah.  We can teach you." And, so I talked to the general manager and he hired me on the spot.  I only worked every other Saturday.  And any time it was slow, I was in the shop learning.  I was being trained.  And I'd help out on the sales floor whenever we were busy.

So from October to January I was really learning from scratch about how to be a bicycle mechanic and everything that goes with it. And finally in January, the general manager said "Michelle, suit up. Get back there, you're a full time mechanic."  And I've been with them for two years now.

Alexis:                         

Oh, that's awesome.

Michelle:                    

I’m still always learning. Even the guys who've been in the industry, they're still learning because, you know, bikes come out with new designs and new features, new gears, and we've got to all learn how they works and so, it's nice because we're a team, and the guys in the shop have been so supportive of me and they're like family. We have such a fun time and they think it's so cool to have a girl on their team.  They have me at the front of the service counter. I'm a mechanic and a service advisor. So when people walk in I'm one of the first faces that they see.

Alexis:                         

Yeah. That's great-

Michelle:                    

So I thought that was pretty cool. I was proud of them being proud of me.

Alexis:                         

Yeah. Well that's awesome. That's great that they, embrace you, and that they're making that effort to make their store more welcoming to women. That's really cool. So I guess other women must be really happy to see your face too, when they come in, right?

Michelle:                    

Yeah. Some women, even if they're not on the service side, they're not getting their bikes serviced or anything, they'll tell me “Oh my gosh. I think it is so awesome that you are a mechanic.” And even one of the guys told me, “My grandmother thinks you are the coolest person there.  She was so excited to see a female mechanic.”

Alexis:                         

Well, that's awesome. Okay.  So, between, work and kids, how often are you actually able to get out and ride?

Michelle:                    

I try to ride at least three times a week.  I help with the shop rides, and usually my road rides.  If I'm not riding road I'm trying to at least ride mountain bike, so that I'm still getting some kind of ride in.  I love to ride.

Alexis:                         

And from your perspective do you see more and more women buying bikes, and more women getting involved in the sport? Do you see it growing, the female population on bikes?

Michelle:                    

It's a slow growth, but I do believe that it definitely is a growth. We try to support each other, get each other out there. Especially in mountain biking, you know the community for women is so small and it's so much fun.  And it's just a matter of having the knowledge and having the right bike to go for the type of riding that you're doing.  It makes you so much more confident in being able to get out there and ride.  So, if there's ever a customer I'm working with, I tell them, you know, hey you should really look at this style of bike, and they try it out and come back they're like "Oh my gosh, yeah, I love it. It's so much better and I ride so much more now."

Alexis:                         

Do you feel like the lack of good looking cycling apparel is at all a barrier of entry for women?  Do you think that they look around, they see these guys in these kits with all their logos, and they think, ‘I need to be a part of a team’, or ‘I need to dress like them in order to feel like I belong on the road’?  Do you feel like that is at all an issue with women who are thinking about entering the sport?

Michelle:                    

I feel like it is important, and if women are more confident in what they're wearing, they're going to naturally feel more confident all around.  I love my kit. It is so super cute, and I get a lot of complements on it, too. 

Alexis:                         

Awesome. Cool. And I imagine it's pretty hot there right now, right?

Michelle:                    

Oh god, yes.

Alexis:                         

I know that women are always interested in hearing the top things to do, or not to do with your bike.  And they're afraid to ask questions, afraid to look stupid, so I just think it's really great that you're out there.

Michelle:                    

Oh, thank you. I love helping to inform people, and I get that a lot when they're like “Oh my gosh. This may be like a stupid question.” No question is stupid, and you need to know how to operate your bicycle.  It's weird that it's such a simple device, but it actually can be very complicated at times, just with all the new technologies and features that certain bikes can have.

Alexis:                         

Awesome.  Well thanks for your time and I’m super excited about our ladies’ ride and popup happening in Dallas on September 1!

Michelle:

Yes, me too!