'Wrench Night' aims to create gender inclusive space for bicyclists
At the ReCYCLEry, a handful of people have brought their bikes, and they spread throughout the small garage. Some ask for advice, while others go about their own business. Handle grips are replaced, chains oiled and wobbly tires adjusted.
Claudia Friess has been working on bikes for years and floats between several people, troubleshooting issues and patiently showing them the solutions. She also works on her own tire, clamped into place on a cluttered work table.
“See that wobble?” she says. “The side-to-side wobble is relatively easy to fix, but the vertical wobble is a bit more tricky.”
She spins the wheel intently, leaning close to identify the problem.
This small group of individuals have been gathering at the ReCYCLEry in Carrboro, aiming to create a space for "Women+" — women, femme, transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals — to learn about the mechanics of their bicycles.
Christina Graves and Friess are the group's unofficial organizers. They got involved at the ReCYCLEry shortly after they moved to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area in January and decided to start the weekly workshops for Women+, calling it Wrench Night.
Graves said she thinks it’s a great chance for Women+ to learn to work on their bikes and get more people using eco-friendly transportation.
“Mechanics in general just tends to be really masculine,” she said. “The idea is to be an empowering space.”
The ReCYCLEry, a cooperative which recycles and refurbishes bikes, was founded in 2000 by Rich Giorgi. Giorgi said he's excited to have the space for people who may not be comfortable in the larger weekend workshops.
“Philosophically, we never had a women’s night before because we always sought to have our workshops be very welcoming,” he said. “We have a lot of women mechanics, and we’ve always had a lot of women showing up, but just recently a couple of mechanics said ‘If we can provide this extra space, that gives people more opportunities to come.’”
The ReCYCLEry has been in the community for nearly 19 years and now sits tucked behind Graham Street. It’s a small garage next to a sea of donated bikes, all waiting to be fixed and distributed into the community.
“A bike co-op was on the list of things for any place we moved, so we saw this and decided to move to Chapel Hill," Graves said. “This feeds forward into the mission to get more people on bikes.”
Graves and Friess began attending open workshop weekends at the ReCYCLEry but soon decided to create a space there for women and non-gender-conforming individuals.
Not only do these Women+ workshops create that space, Graves said, but it also helps disperse the crowd attending weekend workshops, which Giorgi said can easily reach 60 people.
It’s a mostly self-driven group, with many bringing in their own bikes to work on. Some do what Graves calls “earning” their bikes, which is taking a donated bike and fixing it up in the shop, then eventually acquiring the bike as their own once they complete the project.
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Morgan McKeehan had been coming to the ReCYCLEry for a while when she heard about the new workshops, and she said she appreciates that Tuesday nights are smaller and more independent than the weekend workshops.
“I think the types of projects that people work on can be different, but we’re mostly just working on our own bikes,” McKeehan said.
There’s a clatter as a box of handlebar grips falls to the ground, and everyone laughs. Voices resume their conversations quietly asking each other for advice. Tires spin and chains are tightened as everyone’s focus returns to their bikes.
“We’re a community resource,” Giorgi said. “We want to make sure we’re here for everybody.”