Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
- Fiona Negrin
If men are from Mars then there’d better be a bike mechanic on Venus, says Laura Williamson
It’s hard being a female mountain biker. I have to deal with inferior strength-to-weight ratio, stiff brake levers, and the embarrassing tendency to squeal when attempting technical drops. But by far the worst part is this: I can’t fix my own bike.
I do understand the basics. I can change a tyre, and I did replace a derailleur hanger (once). But, for the most part I’m lost. For example, every time I go to put on my rear wheel, I have to stare at it for 10 minutes before I figure out how I’m going to insinuate it between my chainstays. Sometimes I manage, but more often my husband grabs the wheel and drops it in with a lightening quick series of moves that, after 10 years of marriage, I have yet to decipher. He actually thinks I have some sort of learning disability, like dyslexia, but for mechanical things.
Spring is the worst time. After a few months off my bike, I simply can’t remember which brake is which (was that “right is rear” or “right to the front”?), and I inevitably spend a week gearing up when I mean to gear down, and vice versa.
No excuses needed
This all is perfectly rational, if you ask me. Why does pushing my lever with my right thumb cause me to shift down, while pushing with my left thumb causes the opposite? Who came up with that? A man, obviously. Yes, it’s something about one derailleur having to move one way and one the other because of physics or geometry or one of those other classes that I wagged in high school. Whatever; it’s stupid.
Many of my friends have similar problems. One downhiller I know says the worst moment of her life was when a guy tapped her shoulder politely before a race. Did she know that her Maxxis High Roller was on back to front? I won’t repeat what she called him (I’m not sure I know how to spell it), but I’m betting that’s the last time he dished out any tyre-related advice to a woman.
It wasn’t her fault. One of the documented differences between the male and female brain is that men can visualise objects in three dimensions. With Yoda-like prescience, they know which way the High Roller needs to go. We, on the other hand, read human emotions better, which is why when our boyfriends are watching us struggling with a spoke wrench we can tell that they think we’re unfathomably stupid. Hence the grim silence during the car ride home.
Don't fight it, ride it
We’re not all like this, mind you. The best mechanic at my local bike shop is a woman; she tunes my machine so it hums like a Stradivarius. She also knows better than to roll her eyes when I come in complaining that the thingy that holds my front wheel on is making a squeaky-squeaky noise.
As for the rest of us, why fight it? The inability to tell a head set from a cassette may just be one of those secondary sex characteristics, like Adam’s apples and ear hair. Who cares if we can’t service a fork?
After all, it’s not what happens in the workshop that matters. It’s what you do on the trail.