The under-representation of women in mechanics is felt across every sector, and the bike industry is no different. While there has been an increase in women mechanics in recent years, the number still pales in comparison to men. Not only are there far fewer female mechanics but women and girls in general are less likely to be confident fixing their bikes if they need to.
Belinda, a mechanic at Platt Fields Bike Hub, is dedicated to changing this. She is passionate about teaching people how to ride and fix bikes, especially women. From mid-August 2022, she began organising women’s only bike mechanics workshops at the Bike Hub. Due to the success and demand, she has now expanded the reach of her workshops to Station South cycle café in Levenshulme and has also begun running women’s only bike rides to help build confidence on the road.
Belinda became a mechanic “out of necessity.” She worked for a company which taught cycling proficiency in schools, teaching children how to ride bikes out on the road. She recalls that “sometimes when there was something wrong with the bikes, I didn’t know how to fix them. So the guy’s [were] like, ‘don’t worry, I can do it’.” Every time this happened she got really frustrated with herself. “I really loved teaching cycling and teaching people how to ride a bike, but I knew nothing about the mechanics of it.”
Wanting to push for representation further spurred Belinda to pursue her career and many community projects. “The more that the general public sees that women and also people of colour are fixing bikes, these things start to become normalised,” hopefully inspiring the next generation. “Like follows like, so if you see it, and think there’s a space, you feel like ‘yeah, I can become it’”.
As a result, Belinda began volunteering at Platt Field’s Bike Hub. From there, she wanted to learn more, eventually securing funding from Cycling UK to become a qualified mechanic, and gaining a paid position at the Bike Hub.
Belinda also has her own organisation called Bee Pedal Ready, which she feels “very passionate about.” Like her career as a mechanic, this project was also born out of necessity: “I realised that I was massively a minority in it on both sides of the coin: diversity and also being a woman.”
The frustration of being one of the few women in bike mechanics in Manchester is coupled with the frustration of being one of the few people of colour in the industry. With Jamaican and Nigerian roots, Belinda feels very strongly about representation: “There need to be more women in the industry and there needs to be a lot more of a mix of diversity within the industry”.
“I did some research beforehand to see how many women would want to do [mechanic work] if I did a session which was women only. I found out that there were a lot of women who were really interested.”
After the first few sessions, she realised “that actually lots and lots of people want to fix bikes. I just think it’s about space to be able to do that.” The bike mechanics courses are very accessible and beginner friendly, open to women with no bike knowledge who want to get more hands-on. They start off with an introduction to the bike, going through the different components, puncture repair, and understanding breaks and gears.
For Black History Month, Belinda organised a bike ride for the BIPOC community, hoping to create a space for diversity and give people confidence on the road. She is also doing a lot of women’s only rides. Lack of confidence is one of the most significant barriers to women cycling and fixing bikes, and a staggeringly low 28% of bike trips in the UK are made by women. These projects getting women pedalling are an invaluable step towards equalising the numbers, and giving women the confidence to get cycling and fixing.
When asked about whether her gender had impacted her experience in the industry, and she acknowledged that “when I was volunteering and then when I was training, I learned that I was perceived differently than the guys, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but generally positive.”
Nevertheless, sexist comments do come her way. She uses the example of “when a guy comes inside and then they look at you and go ‘oh, where’s the mechanic?’” Belinda was speaking with the women at Bristol Bike Project and they said it happens a lot. So much so that Bristol Bike Project keep a fake moustache behind the counter so that when a man comes in and asks them “where’s the mechanic?” they simply put the moustache on.
“You keep going to different shops and you’re like it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same white male demographic. So, you know, that can sometimes not feel like a setback, but feel like you have to really just push to go forward.”
Despite the barriers faced as a woman, Belinda expresses she feels “like I’ve been really supported, to be honest. Platts have been really cool in supporting us [Bee Pedal Ready] and Cycling UK. If it wasn’t for them being able to fund me then I would definitely not be sat here having the qualification of a bike mechanic.”
Her experience is hopefully a testament to the fact that gender need not be a barrier to pursuing a career in mechanics. However, it is not just gender that can be a barrier to mechanics or simply riding bikes, it’s also an economics issue: “There’s a presumption that everyone has a bike”, but, as Belinda has learned through engaging with the community, “lots of areas [in] Manchester don’t have that.”
It may also be a cultural matter. She comments that “there are lots of people from different cultures who don’t know how to ride as adults,” and it is important to create a space for them to feel safe and become confident, especially on roads. “There are a few incredible [women] mechanics here in Manchester, but they’re few and far between.”
This has motivated Belinda to reach out to female mechanics across the UK. She was inspired by a recent visit to Nottingham, where she visited the women-led collective Women in Tandem. “They do what I want to be doing, which is, own a shop which is their own.” The lack of women in the industry can feel overwhelming. “Walking into an all-male space, the energy changes. And when I was working with Women in Tandem, I was like ‘oh my god, this is what’s possible.’”
In Bristol, there is a collective of frame builders. Further afield, there is a women’s cooperative in Edinburgh called Bespoke.
With so few women nationally, Belinda would love “to get a group of all the female mechanics together and have a collective,” explaining, “it’s very inspiring for me to know that they’re out there and doing amazing things.” Belinda’s dream is to one day have her own shop. “I would love to have a place where it’s not just now and again. It’s like there’s a women’s workshop on every single week.”
In the meantime, she is organising as many workshops and rides as she can. “The idea and the aim is for me to keep learning so the more I know, the more I can pass on.”
There are plenty of sessions running throughout November, from bike rides to maintenance workshops, with many more to come. From learning how to ride a bike, to mastering how to fix one, they’re opportunities not to be missed.