High-season bike time is in full effect right now, not to mention the post-COVID itch to get the heck outside. This has cycling newcomers and veterans alike ready to bike the distance. Some folks, having hibernated from pedaling through the winter, are rusty on their bike repair skills. Newbs may not have acquired the skills yet and will find, in time, it will be beneficial for sheer cycling bliss. However, this is also the time of year that female cyclists loathe hearing that question come from behind them as they are bent over, hands coated in a new layer of dirt or grease doing a repair…”Are you okay?” “Do you need help?” Or the worst I’ve recently heard was, “I can call my husband to come help you.”
Frequently this voice comes from a male-identifying person (and sometimes other women, per the example above)/ Don’t get me wrong, I understand the dilemma. “I offered help – and I’m a dude. What else can I do? Do I be a jerk and say nothing?” We know you are well-intending, and you don’t mean anything by offering help. However, the females in the room have experienced, more than one too many times, having been presumed not to have the necessary skills to fix, achieve, manage, lead, etc. something.
I catch myself in these circumstances, sometimes feeling annoyed at the person I know is only trying to be of assistance. It’s not the case that these individuals are jerks, and it’s also not that I’m an overly-independent woman refuses to accept help. More than anything, this is the struggle of female-identifying folks who feel frustrated because they are working and have worked hard to claw their way out of the socially and Disney-constructed dynamic of “damsel in distress.” We want to be seen as capable human beings, like everyone else, rather than someone who needs rescuing.
You got this
If, like me, you were lucky enough to have a feminist father, you were taught to be independent at a young age because you need to be able to depend on you. As such, before I could get my license, I was to learn to change a flat tire. Next was to drive manual transmission, then change the oil, brake pads, and so on. Sometimes I needed to go to my dad for further schooling because frankly, money was thin, and things needed fixing! I’m fortunate I have a father with the skills to teach me.
Surprisingly, my dad didn’t teach me anything about bike repair. Most of my bike repair skills were born of necessity. Once, I got stuck with a flat and had the tools but not much talent. I managed to figure it out (in a not-so-timely fashion) and then had my friends at a bike shop teach me tricks and more detail. I’m that person who wants to be taught how to fish, rather than given a meal. Today, so many cities like Minneapolis have Trans/Femme/Women groups or other groups where one can learn repair skills in a safe, inclusive space. If you lack people in your life who can teach you, that is a great supportive environment in which to start.
Freedom of Independence
I acknowledge that I’m not the best at all bike maintenance. I still have so much to learn! That’s why, rather than take it to a shop, I often am seeking out someone to teach me. I’m a hands-on learner, but I also want to be able to depend on me. For this same reason, I’ve taught all my nieces how to change their flats too. Being able to fix one’s equipment lends a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency that I don’t think female-identifying folks get in a lot of other places. Why? Because now that I can fix this stuff, I know I can bike myself to anyplace I want to be and handle it on my own. These skills contribute to independence in the truest sense.
One of Many Examples
Now, to the point. I took a ride the other day and found my disc brakes weren’t engaging quickly. Pulled over to the side of the road, bent over and getting to work with my multi-tool, a couple of presumably male-identifying folks strolled or rode by. “Are you okay?” “Do you need help?” “Do you have a flat?” “No, I’m all good, thanks” I said – internally rolling my eyes. Again, I know they were well-meaning and would likely offer help to any person but the unintended message the accompanies those questions gets me.
Voice of Reason
Suddenly, a voice of reason. “Do you have everything you need?” A-ha! It came from what I believed to be a female-identifying voice. Yes, she understood! “I’m good, thanks!” I yell back as they cruise past. She had done it. She cracked my brain code as to why I get so dang irritated. The typical questions carry with them the assumption that I don’t possess the required skills. However, “Do you have everything you need?” asserts one has the skills but maybe lacks the tools. And who hasn’t been guilty of not bringing tools on a short, close-to-home, ride? I know I am!
My short bit of advice to everyone, but particularly my male-identifying friends, questions that indicate assumption of competency is most certainly the way to go. “Do you have everything you need?” “Do you have all your tools?” Please, for the sake of every self-sufficient babe’s sanity, Please. Start. There. Help us deconstruct the damsel in distress myth. Let us take care of ourselves and be the ones on whom we can depend. This has now become my go-to phrase with all people. Below I’ve constructed a mini-guide of steps to be an ally to babes on two wheels (and elsewhere).
Tips for Offering Repair Help while Conserving a Cycling Babe’s Sanity
- Ask, “Do you have what you need?” or any other question that assumes we are competent, self-sufficient humans.
- If we say we don’t, start by offering up tools first, rather than hopping in and doing the fix for us.
- If we don’t have the skillset, we’ll let you know.
- Provided you have the time, offer to show us. Teach us to fish because not all fisherwomen have a sage.
Want to keep growing as an ally? Check out this article for how to better support solo-female adventurers!