Adult Summer Camp for Bike Nerds

When I applied for the Quality Bike Parts (QBP) Women’s Mechanic Scholarship, I honestly thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell at getting selected. There are literally thousands of amazing women in the cycling industry doing incredible work. Months after I hit the apply button on Q’s site, I received a phone call from my co-worker Matt telling me QBP had called the shop asking about me. “Holy shit!” I yelled into the phone. Attending United Bicycle Institute (UBI) had been a dream of mine since gaining a serious interest in cycling. It’s one of the most well known bicycle mechanic training facilities in the country, if not the world. I had dreams of hopping on a plane and learning how to wrench on bikes in the sleepy mountain town of Ashland, OR. I can tell you dreams do come true kids, because shortly after the call from my co- worker came a congratulatory e-mail. I was one of the 16 finalists that were chosen out of hundreds of applicants to be a part of the first all women class to attend UBI’s Professional Shop Repair and Operation course.

The 16 ladies chosen for the scholarship.
The 16 ladies chosen for the scholarship.

It was all happening. The first thing I did was scope out flights to Ashland. Being such a quaint town I would have to travel to Ashland via the Rogue Valley International Airport (hah, if you have been to this airport you know there is nothing international about it) in Medford. I booked my flight and there was no turning back.

I alerted the upper management team at Erik’s (my employer) the next day and had crossed my fingers that they would be cool with me taking off for two weeks during our transition out of winter into our spring/summer floor set. Luckily Erik’s (Bike, Ski, and Board) were super supportive and said they would do everything they could to make sure I could be a part of this amazing opportunity.

As the days were winding down to my departure I had begun to get very anxious and excited. I wondered what the other women would be like, if my flights would be bearable, how to pack for two weeks with cycling clothes, how or if I should get my bike to Oregon, if I was deserving of this opportunity, and worried about ten million other things that made it difficult to sleep at night.

Nothing helps calm you down more than scheduling a taxi, shipping out your bike, and packing your bags a week in advance of your departure. I tried to dummy proof everything as much as I possibly could. The only real lingering doubt was leaving my partner, my bed, and my dog behind. We have never spent more than a week a part. How was I to survive for two weeks in a house full of strangers? I am glad to say, pretty damn easily.

Upon my arrival to Ashland I was greeted by Beth. She is the owner/operator of the Cycle Hostel. It’s a quaint bungalow that you could pluck out of any Pacific Northwest town. We stepped onto the covered porch and she led me to the room I would be sharing with five other ladies. Five! I can barely keep my stuff organized with one person and a dog at home. Five roommates seemed a little crazy. That being said, I shortly got to meet two of my roommates. The first was Ainsley from Portland, Maine. When I introduced myself she instantly was able to identify specific details about the Midwest. She had lived in the Twin Cities and participated in Babes In Bikeland and some other popular events. It was nice to have someone to bond with within the first five minutes of arriving.

After our chat Beth introduced me to Theresa, another roommate hailing from Kansas City, Missouri. One of the first of many women to tell me she owned her own shop. Something I really enjoyed as one of my life’s goals is to be a business owner. Shortly after I was introduced to Michaela from Philly and Nicole who owns Veloville USA. Again, instant bonds were made with these two amazing women.

The tour of the hostel was short and sweet. There was the room I was staying in (on the top bunk of a bunk bed, hell yeah!), the common room, a second room with a twin and a full bed, a small bathroom, the kitchen, another room with bunk beds for four ladies, the laundry area, the second bathroom, then the back bungalow area where a few more ladies were housed. Living quarters seemed pretty tight. Twelve ladies in the main house with eight bikes…you do the math!

Although the living situation wasn’t the most ideal, I continued to feel better about it as each new face entered the hostel. Each woman as unique and outgoing as the next. “These are my people.” I thought to myself. There was an instant connection with each of these women because we were all here for the same reason and we all have a deep, fiery passion for bikes.

As the day turned into night there were discussions about where we were from, what bikes we owned, what our history in the industry was, what type of beer we like (bike love and beer love are pretty synonymous), what type of pets we had, SRAM or Shimano, rigid or full sus(pension), how anodized bike parts are the best bling ever, what product lines sell best in our shops, and everything in between. Night one set the stage for what was about to be the most incredible two week experience of my life.

Each morning we would rise to the brisk Ashland air. It was common to have a slight drizzle the night before causing a bit of fog and low clouds. As the sun rose, skies would clear and many of us would walk or bike to the local Ashland Co-op for breakfast. Ashland and Madison have a lot in common. When I walked into the Co-op I felt as though I was on Willy St. With a yuppie/hippie eclectic vibe with the occasional friendly transient hanging out in the café area.

We’d each grab our respective coffee orders and roll out to class. UBI is tucked away in an unassuming business park about a 10 minute walk from the cycle hostel or a 5 minute ride for those on two wheels. The blue and grey building fit in amongst the various nondescript businesses. You had to look hard to see their wrench logo on the street number sign. Their address is 401 Williamson Way, another reminder of home as the aforementioned Willy Street is a local hippie haven.

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Fran enjoying the morning sun.

Walking into UBI for the first time was exciting. There were bikes in storage stands and benches filled with tools lining the outer perimeter of a large, open room. In the middle was a giant U shaped desk space with an instructor bench in the middle. Each of our names had been arranged on place cards along with our work binders and a copy of the coveted Sutherland’s manual.

Formal introductions were made by the staff of UBI, as well as the owners Ron and Denise. Rich, Nate, Matt, and Jake would be our instructors. Lynda was the gatekeeper of UBI and also one of the sweetest women on the planet (thanks again for all the wonderful baked goods).

Each of us went around introducing ourselves and giving some background of our history in the bike industry, as well as where our shops were located. No two women had a similar story. We hailed from cities large and small. Some shops have been in business since the bike boom of the late 70’s and early 80’s, while some were just a mere three months old! Most of us worked in for-profit shops, while some managed non-profits. It was fascinating to hear how we’ve all come from such different places and yet had so much in common.

A typical day in the classroom included a combination of lectures, demonstrations, and hands on work time. We aimed to cover at least a chapter’s worth or more of information a day. UBI focuses a lot on the type of repairs and components the average shop would see on a regular basis. We covered a myriad of topics including, but not limited to wheel building, hub adjustments, installation and removal of headsets, adjusting derailleurs, replacing chains, installing new cables and housing, installing cranks, bottom bracket adjustments, brake adjustments, disc brake bleeding, and front suspension service.

I felt like I was absolutely in my element. I have worked on dozens of bikes, but I know tips and tricks that would make me a better, more efficient mechanic. I also learned better ways to explain how components worked for when I teach my clinics.

One of my favorite aspects of the hands on learning portion of the program was that we had a new bench partner every day. This allowed each of us to get a chance to know one another, as well as learn from one another. There were areas that I excelled in or had experience with and sometimes my bench partner had never even touched that particular component. Other times I was doing my very first service of a part and was able to get feedback and tips from my bench partner. It was all very empowering to see women helping women learn a new skill set.

By day five many of us had fallen into a regular routine. We did our breakfast thing, went to class, would run to many fabulous places like Ruby’s (they have the most amazing falafel ever) for lunch, head back to class, either stay for late night (a two hour extended period on Tues. and Thurs. for finishing work or working on our own bikes), then grabbing dinner/drinks along with some studying. I can’t tell you how many hours some of us spent at local watering holes, Growler Guys and Caldera. We kept the microbrews flowing while we quizzed one another on what BCD meant or what the differences were in bearing types.

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Ruby’s is the jam and Gil’s has a great beer selection.

On day six of our time in Ashland, Alix and Katie from QBP had flown in to spend some time with us. UBI and QBP wanted to treat us to an extra special day of vineyard tours, local food, and some outdoor fun. Half of us opted to hike to Upper Table Rock and the other half decided on a road ride from Upper Table Rock to Folin Cellars (a local vineyard). I had gifted my lovely road bike to Ainsley for the day, as I had been itching for a good hike. It was rad to see the stoked look on her face as my Bianchi was the first carbon bike she had ever ridden. She comes from a non-profit bike shop that specializes in restoring vintage road bikes. I figured it may be nice for her to get a taste of what bikes in 2016 ride like (ha!).

The hike up to Upper Table Rock was fun and just a bit sweaty. Southern Oregon weather is deceiving. One minute you are outside in rain so cold you can see your breathe, then as the clouds part you start stripping off your rain gear and wishing you hadn’t had so many layers on.

Alix and Katie joined us for the hike, which gave us a chance to tell them about the experience as well as our personal stories. I really enjoyed getting to know them both and without them we wouldn’t have been so lucky to have this opportunity, so a big old shout out and lots of love to them both for convincing QBP to make this all happen.

After we hit the summit of Upper Table Rock and took in the gorgeous views, we descended upon turkey hens running from a pack of toms. Trina and I took it upon ourselves to see if we could talk to the toms doing our best turkey impersonations. It had worked. We turkey called and got a gaggle of responses. Trina hails from Indiana and is co-owner of a shop with rich history from the bike boom era. She also works as an ambassador for Liv/Giant and is a fellow beer lover. We decided our Midwestern roots gave us the means to call turkeys and also was the key to our great love for the outdoors. Another bond was formed and I look forward to heading to Indiana for a visit later this summer.

After a good ten minutes of turkey calling we decided to head back to the shuttle bus to drink some of Oregon’s delicious wine. I was not disappointed. We arrived at Folin Cellars to a wonderful spread put together by Ron’s mother. This is also where we met our instructor Matt’s wife Deanna. Deanna is this amazing life force of a woman. Beautiful and gregarious, with a great pallet. She gave us a rundown of all the vineyard’s wines and gave us tips on what to pair it with. Oregonian wines go down just a little too easy.

We finished the tasting at Folin and moved onto Del Rio. A beautiful vineyard with the cutest tasting room and shop. They had the most lovely rosé I have ever had in my life. I am still kicking myself for not buying a bottle to pop open on a hot summer day. I guess there’s always online ordering!

After Del Rio we headed back into the Medford/Ashland city limits and stopped at a spot with a wine bar, chocolate shop, and cheese shop. The Wisconsinite in me was overjoyed to try some real Oregon cheese. They even had fresh cheese curds! Wait, is Oregon heaven? I was pretty sure it was at this moment. After picking out a selection of curds, I had joined Anna Maria of Pretty Damned Fast (PDF) fame at the wine bar. We were able to chat and sip a few lovely pours of some various reds from the region. I was excited to hear the wine bar’s co-owner was also from Wisconsin. I sadly didn’t get to meet him, but I was enjoying spending time with Anna Maria and getting to know her and her history in the bike industry.

Anna Maria came to bicycling by way of the fashion industry. Her work with brands like Levi’s and Rapha has brought much needed attention to women in the cycling industry, as well as a need for brands to support women’s cycling culture. She’s been involved with everything from road racing to commuting and is aspiring to be a badass downhill mountain biker, all while traveling the country for work and working shifts at her home shop, King Kog, in Brooklyn.

There’s been a theme of women who don’t JUST work in shops. All of them also either sit on boards of nonprofits, coach cycling, run cycling clubs, manage racing teams, moonlight in other areas of the industry as writers or content aggregators for publications/websites, and much more. It made me realize the amount of hard work each of us put into cycling in our little bubbles and it’s why we were all chosen for this scholarship.

Sunday, day seven, was the only day where we truly had free will to do whatever we wanted. Anna Maria and I both had a severe lack of clean clothes and opted to ride to a local laundry mat. We grabbed some Pho for lunch and checked out some cute local shops. When we arrived back at the hostel, I changed into my cycling kit and joined Kyla for a ride to Medford. We mounted our steeds and rode twenty-two miles of paved bike path. Kyla is a brand new shop owner. She and her husband opened Green River Cyclery and Busted Bike Café roughly three months ago. Right in time for the 2016 riding season to kick off. Kyla is a mother of three, an active ambassador of FemmeVelo, a fellow microbrew lover, and all around kickass lady. We delved into some deep conversations about our lives and our struggles as women. When I was around her I was reminded of hanging out with my best friend from childhood. We have a similar sense of humor and I know that my next west coast adventure won’t be complete without seeing her.

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WAxWI We like pink accessories. There is also a selfie somewhere floating around from this ride but pretty bikes are fun to look at too!

Week two was spent frantically trying to absorb as much information as possible during class and spending the majority of our time after class studying. When you take the professional level mechanic courses through UBI you get a certificate of completion, but you also have to take a test to get a mechanic certification. If you don’t pass the certification test you can only take it again at UBI at a later date because of some strange rules the state of Oregon has with privately held trade schools.

We all furiously took notes and created colorful rainbows of sticky notes in our manuals. There were a few times I had to step away from the studying to give my brain and my body some time to rest. It’s hard enough living with fifteen other people in a bungalow, let alone fifteen people all studying and freaking out about a test that could make or break their time spent at UBI.

Much of my non-study time was spent hanging out with two girls from my room, Amanda and Christine. Amanda lives and works in Rhode Island and was as enthused as I was about talking about bike-packing and how everyone should own a mountain bike. We shared a lot of similarities down to our partners both working for universities, our love for bad television, and our willingness to try new things like drinking Kava at weird, David Lynch-esque tea bars.

Christine lives in Burlington, Vermont. A small city I have always wanted to visit. It’s the home of Burton snowboards and has been known to be a bike haven. She runs a non-profit that is associated with the for-profit shop, Old Spokes Home. Christine is well traveled and has had some amazing bike touring adventures. Her sass and wit were not to be matched by anyone in the house and I loved it. As the girl who was called “sassy Cassie” by my best friend’s parents growing up, I could not help but love her brutal honesty. I’ve made it a point to put Burlington on my list of places to stop on my tour de East Coast.

My final days in Ashland were met with a mixed bag of emotions. I was anxious about passing the test, as well as getting my bike boxed up and shipped home. Packing was going to be a nightmare due to the copious amounts of swag, we received. (No complaints about free shit, but it does make it hard to travel!). I was sad to have to leave all of these new found friends. I had never felt so connected to a group of strangers in my life. We were all about to go our separate ways and I have no idea when I will see any of them again.

I cried tears of joy and sadness. I was going to have my own bed again. I was going to see my partner and my dog. I was going to miss my new friends. I was going to miss the mountains and quaint, beautiful Ashland. I was going to miss Jake, Rich, Nathan, Matt, Ron, Denise, and Lynn from UBI. I quoted Ron Burgundy saying I was in a glass case of emotions, because I truly was!

On our last day we took our tests and we hopefully all aced it. Our results will be sent via snail mail, a real nail bitter. As the day turned into night and then to morning again, we each departed for our destinations. I took a shuttle with six ladies that eventually turned into a plane ride with four, which then meant hanging out with three ladies after Stephanie grabbed her shuttle home, Trina hopped on her flight, then it was me and Ainsley left saying our goodbyes. It was hard not to make a scene in the airport as we hugged and wished each other the best of luck. I felt like I was leaving a best friend of many years and we only spent two weeks together.

I want to thank all of the beautiful, wonderful ladies of the QBP Women’s Bike Mechanic Scholarship. I didn’t get to share all of your stories via this platform, but know that each and every one of your stories has stuck with me and they will forever. I send you all so much love and support! Here’s to you Sue, Magdalena, Cali, RaeLynn, Tina, Stephanie (crushin!), Kyla, Michaela, Nicole, Anna Maria, Christine, Amanda, Theresa, Trina, Amanda, as well as Alix and Katie. I will never forget my time with you all and I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience.