Living to Ride: One Woman Bike Tech’s “wild and wonderful” career in cycling

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J Higgins’ career in bikes began accidentally when she was 16 years old. “I walked into a bike shop looking for a part and realized that I knew more about it than the guy helping me,” she said. “They had an opening and hired me on the spot.” But the job had unspoken boundaries that […]

The post Living to Ride: One Woman Bike Tech’s “wild and wonderful” career in cycling appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

J Higgins’ career in bikes began accidentally when she was 16 years old. “I walked into a bike shop looking for a part and realized that I knew more about it than the guy helping me,” she said. “They had an opening and hired me on the spot.”

But the job had unspoken boundaries that became more apparent the longer she worked there. Higgins came to realize that invisible obstacles were endemic to the biking industry as a whole—women were not asked nor welcomed to step from jobs on the sales floor into jobs in the shop.

Though she loved all things bike—from building them and fixing them to selling them and riding them—she was eventually worn down by a demeaning ethos where her talents were measured by gender not skill. After more than a decade working in everything from mom-and-pop cruiser stores to a worker-owned collective, a particularly overbearing boss pushed her too far. Higgins turned in her wrench, packed her panniers and pedaled off on a head-clearing long-distance bike tour from Seattle to the Mexican border.

I caught up with J Higgins as she waited for a flight to Denver, where she’d be learning the intricacies of new suspension systems at Cannondale headquarters. Her next scheduled stop was Sacramento, where she looked forward to talking shop with fellow craft-cycling fans at the North America Handmade Bicycle Show. As REI’s Portland-area market shop coordinator, Higgins ensures the co-op delivers what cycling customers want while refining the skills of a team of __ bike specialists at eight Oregon stores. It’s a dream job for someone who has spent a lifetime learning about—and loving—bicycles.

“I love learning new things so I can build expertise in our bike shops,” said Higgins. “We want people to get stoked on bikes and learn more about them—to build a community that makes people want to ride.”

“It was an incredible transformation. I dealt with a lot of stuff I hope nobody ever has to deal with—blatant sexism and harassment,” she said. “At REI, I was hired directly into the bike shop and everyone was supportive from day one. It was the first time I felt valued for my work and it had nothing to do with gender; they saw me as a leader and encouraged my development.”

By 2017, Higgins had moved through the ranks from tech to master tech to her current role in Oregon. She says one things that sets the co-op apart is its commitment to training and continuing education. Every REI bike shop is staffed by a master tech, certified tech or both. Many of them bring years of experience to the job, on top of which REI invests time, energy and money in trainings to ensure an ever-widening skill set.

“Our highly-trained techs make us leaders in the industry,” Higgins said. “I see REI bike shops as unsung heroes. I had never before worked for a bike shop and had health care, genuine support and encouragement from my peers and superiors, plus access to boundless trainings and opportunities.”

Though REI has excelled in tech expertise for decades, the co-op struggles with a challenge reflective of the industry as a whole: most bike shop employees are men. The trade organization Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association counts 1,000 individuals as members. Fewer than 20 percent are women, says James Stanfill, PBMA president. Looking for a way to chip away at this gender imbalance, in 2017 REI sponsored an all-woman bike tech course at Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado.

“There is not a lot of gender diversity in our bike shops and this training was a big opportunity to begin to change that,” said Higgins, who attended the course as a mentor for the group of 16 apprentices.

Higgins is impressed that the two-week experience has had such a long-lasting impact. In addition to graduating an enthusiastic new group of women certified techs and master techs, the training united a supportive community that continues to connect today. Even though they were of different ages and backgrounds and from different parts of the country, the bonded over a shared curiosity around bicycle mechanics and working with tools.

“I watched these women find confidence and excel in something many of them had been taught to fear. The solidarity that grew over those two weeks is indestructible,” Higgins said.

Among the course graduates was Megan Ryan, who through the training and follow-up mentoring gained the traction she needed to ultimately become REI’s San Francisco market shop coordinator.

“This is an incredible example of someone who was not previously fully in the shop and is now in a highly technical leadership position,” Higgins said. “She is a natural born leader and highly qualified, but I don’t think she’d be in that job today without the strong community that grew out of our two weeks together at Barnett.”

Higgins is always looking for new ways to make bike repair accessible to anyone who wants to give it a spin.

“We are pushing to create offerings and space to challenge the status quo and doing our best to build up women and others who are underrepresented in our shops,” she said. “With motivation and training, anyone can do wild and wonderful things in any facet of the cycling industry.”

The post Living to Ride: One Woman Bike Tech’s “wild and wonderful” career in cycling appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

This post was published on REI-Cycling first, and we delivered it to you as news for your convenience. To subscribe to more awesome posts, like this one, subscribe to the News RSS Feed.

Comments are closed.

Pedaling 2,000 Miles Through the American Southwest With Type 1 Diabetes
April 11, 2019
New Product Spotlight: The Cannondale Habit 5 & Cannondale Topstone Bikes
April 12, 2019

J Higgins’ career in bikes began accidentally when she was 16 years old. “I walked into a bike shop looking for a part and realized that I knew more about it than the guy helping me,” she said. “They had an opening and hired me on the spot.” But the job had unspoken boundaries that […]

The post Living to Ride: One Woman Bike Tech’s “wild and wonderful” career in cycling appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

J Higgins’ career in bikes began accidentally when she was 16 years old. “I walked into a bike shop looking for a part and realized that I knew more about it than the guy helping me,” she said. “They had an opening and hired me on the spot.”

But the job had unspoken boundaries that became more apparent the longer she worked there. Higgins came to realize that invisible obstacles were endemic to the biking industry as a whole—women were not asked nor welcomed to step from jobs on the sales floor into jobs in the shop.

Though she loved all things bike—from building them and fixing them to selling them and riding them—she was eventually worn down by a demeaning ethos where her talents were measured by gender not skill. After more than a decade working in everything from mom-and-pop cruiser stores to a worker-owned collective, a particularly overbearing boss pushed her too far. Higgins turned in her wrench, packed her panniers and pedaled off on a head-clearing long-distance bike tour from Seattle to the Mexican border.

I caught up with J Higgins as she waited for a flight to Denver, where she’d be learning the intricacies of new suspension systems at Cannondale headquarters. Her next scheduled stop was Sacramento, where she looked forward to talking shop with fellow craft-cycling fans at the North America Handmade Bicycle Show. As REI’s Portland-area market shop coordinator, Higgins ensures the co-op delivers what cycling customers want while refining the skills of a team of __ bike specialists at eight Oregon stores. It’s a dream job for someone who has spent a lifetime learning about—and loving—bicycles.

“I love learning new things so I can build expertise in our bike shops,” said Higgins. “We want people to get stoked on bikes and learn more about them—to build a community that makes people want to ride.”

“It was an incredible transformation. I dealt with a lot of stuff I hope nobody ever has to deal with—blatant sexism and harassment,” she said. “At REI, I was hired directly into the bike shop and everyone was supportive from day one. It was the first time I felt valued for my work and it had nothing to do with gender; they saw me as a leader and encouraged my development.”

By 2017, Higgins had moved through the ranks from tech to master tech to her current role in Oregon. She says one things that sets the co-op apart is its commitment to training and continuing education. Every REI bike shop is staffed by a master tech, certified tech or both. Many of them bring years of experience to the job, on top of which REI invests time, energy and money in trainings to ensure an ever-widening skill set.

“Our highly-trained techs make us leaders in the industry,” Higgins said. “I see REI bike shops as unsung heroes. I had never before worked for a bike shop and had health care, genuine support and encouragement from my peers and superiors, plus access to boundless trainings and opportunities.”

Though REI has excelled in tech expertise for decades, the co-op struggles with a challenge reflective of the industry as a whole: most bike shop employees are men. The trade organization Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association counts 1,000 individuals as members. Fewer than 20 percent are women, says James Stanfill, PBMA president. Looking for a way to chip away at this gender imbalance, in 2017 REI sponsored an all-woman bike tech course at Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado.

“There is not a lot of gender diversity in our bike shops and this training was a big opportunity to begin to change that,” said Higgins, who attended the course as a mentor for the group of 16 apprentices.

Higgins is impressed that the two-week experience has had such a long-lasting impact. In addition to graduating an enthusiastic new group of women certified techs and master techs, the training united a supportive community that continues to connect today. Even though they were of different ages and backgrounds and from different parts of the country, the bonded over a shared curiosity around bicycle mechanics and working with tools.

“I watched these women find confidence and excel in something many of them had been taught to fear. The solidarity that grew over those two weeks is indestructible,” Higgins said.

Among the course graduates was Megan Ryan, who through the training and follow-up mentoring gained the traction she needed to ultimately become REI’s San Francisco market shop coordinator.

“This is an incredible example of someone who was not previously fully in the shop and is now in a highly technical leadership position,” Higgins said. “She is a natural born leader and highly qualified, but I don’t think she’d be in that job today without the strong community that grew out of our two weeks together at Barnett.”

Higgins is always looking for new ways to make bike repair accessible to anyone who wants to give it a spin.

“We are pushing to create offerings and space to challenge the status quo and doing our best to build up women and others who are underrepresented in our shops,” she said. “With motivation and training, anyone can do wild and wonderful things in any facet of the cycling industry.”

The post Living to Ride: One Woman Bike Tech’s “wild and wonderful” career in cycling appeared first on REI Co-op Journal.

This post was published on REI-Cycling first, and we delivered it to you as news for your convenience. To subscribe to more awesome posts, like this one, subscribe to the News RSS Feed.

Comments are closed.