This February for me is all about the femme, and I wanted to dedicate a month to celebrating women in the bike industry, with a particular focus on Bristol’s cycling community.
So without further ado I’m going to kick off with the first in a series of interviews I have lined up for the month.
Lucy Greaves is a trainee Bike Mechanic and volunteer at The Bristol Bike Project, who I met (along with her Croix de Fer, Toby) on a social ride to Dundry Hill. She very kindly agreed to tell me her life story and share some really interesting insights from the perspective of a woman in the workshop.
Name: Lucy Greaves
Profession: Bike mechanic / Translator / Cycle Instructor / soon-to-be Barista at Roll for the Soul
Tell me about when you first learned to ride a bike.
I don’t actually remember, but I must have been around 5 when my dad taught me. I’ve got vivid memories of riding along the front lawn at my mum and dad’s house, which was quite long and flat. Beyond that I’m not sure, it’s just that one image.
Have you always ridden or did you take any breaks?
I’ve ridden fairly consistently. My mum and dad are keen cyclists, so we spent a lot of time cycling together as a family: I used to ride on the back of the tandem with my dad! As a teenager I stopped riding so much, but then in Sixth Form I had a couple of jobs that I needed to get to so I started to cycle for convenience, and that’s when I got excited about riding again.
What types of bikes have you ridden?
I’ve mostly ridden road bikes, though I’ve done a bit of mountain biking. My parents live on the north Wales border where there are some good trails, it would’ve been rude not to!
I recently bought a Croix de Fer for touring, in time for a 5-week ride around the UK last summer.
Can you tell me more about that ride?
I covered about 1,250 miles, starting and ending in Bristol. I rode to Brighton, then up towards Edinburgh, on to Glasgow and back down again. I didn’t train for it, and it was hard work to start with but I soon got into it and loved it. It was at a time when I really needed some headspace.
Are you planning another long ride soon?
I’m actually planning to ride the west and north coast of Scotland in late spring with my girlfriend, for a couple of weeks. We’ll be covering a large chunk of the North Coast 500 route.
Do you name your bikes?
Yes! My Croix de Fer is a girl called Toby, then I have a gorgeous steel framed beast I inherited from my dad called Reg – he’s my town bike. And then I also have a road bike inherited from my dad, but it’s too early in our relationship for a name.
When did you first become interested in fixing bikes?
I’ve been able to do bits and bobs since I was a teenager – my dad showed me the basics. I’ve always known that it was a skill set I wanted to develop. I did a maintenance course at The Bristol Bike Project a couple of years ago and then started volunteering with them last year. It was around the time that my other volunteering had slowed down; I knew I wanted to volunteer still, and I was becoming increasingly bike nerdy, so it made sense.
When did you decide you wanted to be a bike mechanic?
It all happened around the same time. I was becoming frustrated with my translation work, and started to feel like that career wasn’t working for me. At the same time I was volunteering and enjoying the bike stuff, and while out on that summer ride I realised that I wanted to be doing something different. I guess I was hoping for an epiphany, and it came in the form of ‘more bikes’!
The next step after that was continuing with the volunteering, until I eventually saw the Bike Project advertising for a mechanic. I’m proud to say I got the first job I applied for, and feel really jammy for it. I wasn’t super experienced, so they took me on as a trainee: I’m training and working with them one day a week for the time being. I’d definitely like to do more.
So how’s it going so far?
Well, last Tuesday we got a donated bike out and stripped it down, and then started building it back up from scratch. That’s the first time I’d done that, and I got to discover some tools I hadn’t used before, like the headset press which is a lot of fun! Also the crown race remover – a massive tool for such a tiny piece.
What was the first break-through you had?
I wouldn’t really say I’ve had any one breakthrough moment. Over the last few weeks I’ve started volunteering at their Women’s Night, helping other women fix their bikes. I’ve been able to show people what to do, which has made me realise I’m not totally clueless. When I’m in the shop with the boys I sometimes feel a bit of a numpty, but in this different context I feel more like I know what I’m doing.
Do you feel there’s a gender divide?
Not necessarily, it’s just that when I’m in the shop I’m working amongst more experienced people, whereas in the workshop I’m helping women who are less experienced and looking to me for guidance.
I wonder whether might be easier to fit in with the boys as a queer woman, though. I mentioned wanting to build a bike trailer, and Pi suggested teaching me to weld. Soon I’ll be ticking off all the lesbian stereotypes!
What were the biggest challenges you faced as a new mechanic?
Feeling like I don’t know enough! I like being good at things, and I’m still learning so much. It’s challenging to admit to not knowing how to do things. Even mentioning that I’d only just discovered those tools before – that’s going to be in the public domain now! I’ve definitely got a good dose of imposter syndrome.
But I’m having a really great time there and I love going to work. If anything it’s made my fairly shit translation job feel even worse – when I’m doing it I think to myself, I could be fixing bikes! I only do it a couple of days a week but I’m not as motivated on those days.
Do you feel that it’s more challenging being a female mechanic?
No, not necessarily. The Bike Project is a fairly radical and unusual place, and I’ve experienced nothing but support. It can be different in the shop though. A couple of male customers have stared past me whilst looking for someone with a penis.
On the flipside, I was talking to one of the women who shares my office, and she said she’d be looking for a woman to help her in a bike shop. So it also works in my favour, and there’s quite an equal weighting of male and female customers.
What’s the best thing about being a female bike mechanic?
I enjoy doing something unstereotypically female and smashing gender boundaries. I also love volunteering at the Women’s Night and empowering other women to fix their bikes. It’s a really supportive atmosphere; there are women who know more than others, but there’s a general sense that if we aren’t sure, we’ll look it up and learn together. It’s a process of discovery.
Even if the guys aren’t doing anything to make you feel inferior, it’s easy to belittle yourself because you’re afraid of not knowing. Having that safe space to explore together is really powerful.