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A little while back I packed up my luggage and headed out from my home in Brooklyn, New York to Ashland, Oregon to attend the Professional Repair and Shop Operation class at the United Bicycle Institute. Known for launching thousands of wrenching (and frame building) careers, UBI is the gold standard in bike mechanic training, and I was fortunate to have been selected as one of 16 recipients of the Quality Bicycle Components women’s mechanic scholarship.
The scholarship, now in its fourth year, aims to encourage women’s participation in the bike industry, from the shop floor to the board room. Most of us won’t stop at the mechanics bench, but hopefully take these skills as far as they can go.
I work at a little bike shop called King Kog and am one half of the team behind the women’s cycling blog called Pretty Damned Fast. Going into this class, I truly didn’t know what to expect. I was bringing my media and shop experience but UBI is known for the thoroughness and precision of their curriculum. Everything is covered, from threaded headsets and cotter pin cranks, to hydraulic disc brakes and the latest in carbon construction.
My classmates ran the gamut, from owner operators to lifetime mechanics to recycling charity shop employees, road coaches and mountain bike racers. We each brought such unique skill sets to the class. The varied knowledge was truly an asset as most of our hands on learning was done in pairs. As such we almost always got to practice teaching as well.
Here are some quick takeaways in the hopes that it might inspire you to pick up a wrench, take a class at your local bike shop or apply for the 2017 scholarship yourself!
Eight things I learned at UBI
- Nothing on your bike is truly mystery. No matter how challenging or logic defying the components might seem, it can all be broken down into teachable steps. Rear shocks, wheel building, hydraulic brakes. You can learn to service all of it.
- Everything has a torque spec. I mean EVERYTHING. Even if your bike is vintage and steel, for safety and for the life of your equipment, everything has a torque specification. It you’re at home and messing around with handlebars, your saddle or a bolt of any kind, you should invest in a small torque wrench. It will go along way to help you stay safe on the road.
- Looks and performance don’t matter when it’s near impossible to fix something. Serviceability is as important as performance on bike. Listen to your mechanic; it’s great if something performs well, but being able to service (and warranty) a component is just as important.
- Disc brakes rule! I was never a fan because of the looks and weight, but they are so simple, and serviceable and perform so well!
- Every woman needs to learn more about mechanical repairs. It is massively confidence building, and it amplifies the distance and style of adventure you can get take on. From ambitious commutes to bike packing and tours, you can do it all if you learn a little more about your bike!
- Some repairs really require a third hand and maybe even a fourth hand. They even have tools with these names for your work bench. But since learning as team is so awesome, looking for a bench mate can be even better.
- Whether you ride them or not, mountain bikes are driving epic amounts of innovation in the cycling industry. The technology that comes from these bikes is unreal, and when it carries over to other sectors it can be so much fun!
- If you take away one thing from this list, just please clean your drivetrain! It’s the most important, and simplest way to take care of your bike.
Based in Brooklyn NY, Anna Maria Diaz-Balart is the co-founder of the women’s cycling website Pretty Damned Fast. She is the community manager for Levi’s Commuter, and after graduation from UBI, is now the service writer at King Kog Brooklyn, She’s an avid commuter and occasional mountain bike racer.