This is the latest from our Gal By Bike columnist Kate Johnson (formerly Kate Laudermilk). See past articles here.
A few weeks ago, five determined gals, including myself, joined together at Western Bikeworks in northwest Portland to learn a thing or two about our beloved steeds. The general consensus between us was that we were all tired of needing someone else to do bike repairs for us.
We wanted to empower ourselves — and Tori Bortman was going to show us how.
Bortman is the frank, to the point, direct, and yet entirely approachable owner of Gracie’s Wrench, a business that helps people “get intimate” with their bicycle. She’s a real no nonsense gal. “If I can do this, anyone can. I am not mechanically inclined,” she assured us. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she grew up in the Chicagoland area just like myself. We’re a unique and hearty bunch with can-do attitudes. The idea that becoming a master mechanic is within reach for anyone was very prominent in her workshop. Making mistakes was encouraged and celebrated and the needs of the those attending far outweighed any prior written syllabus.
While Bortman teaches a variety of workshops throughout the year for men, women, teens, children, and everyone in between, her series of workshops held at Western Bikeworks this fall were exclusively for women. Broken into three classes, she covered basic maintenance and flat repair, brake repair and replacement, and derailleur adjustment. Each class caps at five students to assure that enough time and attention could be given to each learner.
I attended the brake repair and replacement workshop where four of the five workshop attendees were daily bike commuters and one of the first things that we learned was that our bikes were absolutely, positively, filthy from our daily adventures. When Tori recommended that we get into the habit of cleaning our rims once a week we all collectively gasped. To put our shocked reactions into perspective she likened this process to flossing our teeth in saying “Ya just gotta do it!” That became a theme carried through the entirety of the workshop. If you want your bike to be a safe and lasting form of transportation, there are some things you’ve just gotta do!
I naively walked into this workshop thinking that I knew a pretty good amount about my brakes. I’ve been riding my bike for thirteen years, commuting by bike for five years, and I know all sorts of mechanics. But, um, turns out I didn’t really know squat about my brakes. Nope. I was like a newborn babe taking in every ounce of information Tori had for me. It wasn’t the first time I had seen someone repair brakes, but it was the first time that someone looked at me and said “now you do it on your own.” I’ll be honest, I was really uncomfortable. I second-guessed every move I made. I am one of those learners that needs someone standing next to me giving me gold stars of approval every five seconds. With four other individuals, that wasn’t a luxury I was afforded, nor would it have been half as effective.
Tori would first do a portion of a repair while we watched and then she set us loose to replicate what we just saw on our own bikes. She came by every few minutes to check in and assure you that you’re doing great. I wasn’t always convinced; but she was.
At the end of the class, after replacing my two back brake pads entirely on my own, and adjusting both my front and back derailleur, I took my bike for a spin. And you know what? It worked. I had done it. Thanks to Tori, I had fixed my own bike. A broad grin spread across my face. “What else can I do?” I thought. I made a mental list of other things I wanted to fix. There was that slight “drip, drip” sound coming from the toilet every minute of every day in my apartment. Could I fix that!? My bike’s headset was a little loose. Could I fix that?! My bathtub needed unclogging. A drain snake and my can-do attitude came to the rescue!
You see, that, I believe, is Tori Bortman’s point. She wants you to set your fears aside and start going for it — bikes and beyond. If a self-proclaimed individual with two left hands and two left feet can do it, anyone can. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Tori. And thanks to Western Bikeworks for hosting this class (and a lot of other cool stuff you can see on their calendar).
If you missed Bortman’s fall workshop series at Western Bikeworks, never fear. There’s another women’s beginner maintenance class on November 20th at the Gracie’s Wrench Studio in northeast Portland. Spots are still available! Learn more at GraciesWrench.com.
— Kate Johnson (formerly Laudermilk)