If you mix a shade under a dozen women, hundreds of bikes, tens of thousands of bike parts, several workbenches, work stands, and a shop down in DUMBO (Ed Note: For you out of towners, DUMBO - Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), what do you get? Why, that'd be Ladies Night at Recycle-A-Bicycle. Although we are covering Ladies Night as a part of our NYC Bike Month Coverage, the event is a regular Tuesday night phenomenon beginning at 7:00 pm after the shop closes. But guys, stay home! This affair is strictly for the fairer set. What it is about, briefly, is teaching women bicycle mechanics and providing them access to the tools necessary to perform the mechanical tasks for bicycle service.
I arrived at Recycle-A-Bicycle a bit early and had a chance to chat with Executive Director, Lisa Stein about Ladies Night and Recycle-A-Bicycle in general. For those of you who do not know, Recycle-A-Bicycle accepts donations of bicycles which they then repair and recondition to be safe useable transportation for purchase by the public at extremely affordable prices. In the process of refurbishing the bikes, they also provide hands-on bike mechanic training for youth and adults, often in inner-city schools and communities. Some participants in their programs go on to become the "wrench" at your local shop, and others go on simply better prepared to maintain their own bikes. But the key to the entire program are the mechanic recidivists that keep coming back for more, and that's exactly what Ladies Night is about.
Ladies Night is in actuality a volunteer night as well as a mechanic clinic. It began some years ago under the past director Karen Overton. Arising from co-ed training nights, the women attending the then largely instructional clinics mentioned to Karen, that they really had neither the space nor the tools to ply their new skills at home, and that it would be excellent to have a place to practice their new trade in comfort and security. So Karen began opening the shop after hours for some quality bike building time. At first the bearded set was allowed to "help" but it soon became apparent that their attempts to help rapidly degenerated into monopoly of the wrench time. So the men, although well intentioned, found themselves banished and Ladies Night was born.
The wrench instructor for Tuesday's class, Susan, came to New York from Minneapolis as a guitar builder, more accustomed to splinters and sawdust, than banged knuckles and ground-in grease. Susan is, herself, a graduate cum laude of the Tuesday night women's wrench training program, and she now works as a full time mechanic with Recycle A Bike. When asked about her favorite aspect of her wrenching duties, she intimated, that wheel truing has a certain Zen-esque peacefulness. However, it is the final product, a smooth running, complete bike that rings her mechanical chimes.
Once our crowd assembled, the door was locked, the closed sign was hung up, and the work began in earnest. First the chain tension was adjusted on a townie with a sticky coaster brake. Then the night's real work began. A shop rebuild was put up on the Park bike stand. It featured two flats, rusted running gear, and generally seized and poor condition moving parts all around. Our all volunteer crew included the former director, Karen Ovedrton, the instructor wrench (Susan), and ten other ladies of varying experience levels.
Susan carefully explained each step, "This is what it's called, this is what it does, and this is how you fix it."
She then released the volunteer women to perform the tasks at hand. If there was a struggle to loosen that nut, or dislodge that derailleur, then so be it. Susan would offer suggestions on how to place the wrench, or work the leverage, but once the gauntlet was picked up, the proud possessor had to complete the assigned task. There were no quitters, and no quarter was offered and none taken. Grunts, groans, and grimaces were resplendent but ultimately all the frozen nuts broke and the quill stems succumbed to the will and efforts of the all volunteer women wrenches. There was none of the esoteric banter about the relative merits of carbon fiber this, or titanium that. Just, "This is busted, this is how it's fixed, and that's better cause now it works."
The bill of repairs for the night:
The result, a safe, completely built-up bike, ready to roll.
- Chain and coaster brake adjustment
- Front and rear wheel removal (bolt on derailleur rear and quick release front) Brake caliper release and replacement
- Front and rear tire replacement
- Chain link break and replacement
- New chain installation and adjustment
- Freewheel cassette removal and replacement,
- Quill steerer headset overhaul.
It was a serious night of learning and repair, with no concessions for the ladies, well, except for, perhaps, the flaxseed, tortilla chips and the organic salsa which were heartily enjoyed and quickly devoured. But then it was a night of enjoyment, accomplishment, and satisfaction, bikes, grease, sweat and toil, and no men!
Recycle-A-Bicycle has two year round locations:
The East Village at:
75 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009
The Brooklyn DUMBO Store at:
55 Washington Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
To find out more about Recycle-A-Bicycle and its programs visit: