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An interview with bike polo player and aspiring framebuilder Jackie Mautner

Posted by on October 9th, 2017 at 11:58 am

Mautner teaching a class.
(Photos courtesy Jackie Mautner)

This post is part of our Women’s Bike Month interview series written by Steph Routh and sponsored by the Community Cycling Center and Gladys Bikes.

If you have found yourself on or even near a bike polo court, chances are you’ve met Jackie Mautner. She has graced bike polo courts and on both coasts when not cultivating some serious acumen as a bicycle mechanic. Her most recent challenges have been framebuilding and cyclocross.

Jackie and I sat down at Tiny’s Cafe in inner northeast Portland for a quick interview last week…

How did you get involved in biking?
Aside from biking as a kid, I started commuting when I went to college in New York City at Cooper Union.

Shortly after I started biking regularly, I came across bike polo totally by chance. The court in NYC is right off a main bike artery, and I would ride by on Sundays. I would see them swinging mallets. I got curious about what they were doing, because they were on bikes. I started watching, and this person who’s been playing since almost the time that bike polo started in NYC — he’s almost 70 years old now — invited me to play. For someone his age, he’s not the fastest on the court and gets heckled, but he puts up with it. I thought if he could put up with the heckling, I could, too.

We learned more bike handling skills specific to ‘cross and how to overcome barriers, which could be a great segue to overcoming sexism in the bike world.

Why did you think you’d get heckled?
Because I was a newbie. Among some players, I felt like I wasn’t wanted there. Some of the people were assholes. Bike bros and messenger bros who want to teach someone to keep their heads up would check me off my bike. I guess I stuck with it because, besides a few people here and there, the community was welcoming. I could travel to almost any city and find a couch to crash on through the bike polo community. It was a fun reason to travel. I could feel myself getting good at bike handling, which has come in handy in cyclocross.

What is the overlap between polo and cyclocross?
A lot of bike polo is about sprinting up and down the court, tight turns, close proximity to other riders, quick acceleration, and quick reaction time overall. And learning how to fall off your bike!

Was [September 12th] your first ‘cross race?

How did ‘cross racing in your mind compare to the reality?
I had a really hard time trying to think what to expect. I hadn’t thought about sprinting for 40 minutes while cutting across grass and dirt and steep hills. I went into it without knowing. I went to the Gladys Bikes Cross Curious Club, which is women-focused but all-inclusive. I learned mounting and dismounting, which I felt comfortable doing from bike polo. We learned more bike handling skills specific to cross and how to overcome barriers, which could be a great segue to overcoming sexism in the bike world.

Were you nervous about competing as a trans woman in a women’s category?
Oh yeah. If you look at any trans athlete, there are going to be supporters and detractors/haters. I think that the people who are critical and invalidating of trans peoples’ experiences are very vocal. So it’s not hard to come across blogs and podcasts about trans athletes. Joe Rogan is an example of someone who came out strongly against Fallon Fox competing in the women’s category of MMA [Mixed Martial Arts]. He even used transphobic doctors’ opinions to support his claims. So if you are Googling trans athletes outright, you never know what you’re going to find.


Jackie is learning framebuilding at her job with Breadwinner Cycles.

What gave you the courage to compete?
We need visibility and representation. With each wave of people leading the way and creating spaces where trans people are validated, it makes it easier for everyone who follows. But it is, of course, a struggle.

With each wave of people leading the way and creating spaces where trans people are validated, it makes it easier for everyone who follows.

Who supported you in this particular race?
Gladys folks were all super supportive. I also happen to know some of the organizers of the Portland Trophy Cup. I checked in with them, and they said it was totally fine to choose the women’s category, that if anyone gives you problems, we’ll deal with it. My friends and Rachel and Molly at Portland Bicycle Studio were supportive of me racing. And Team AF; they have a really relaxed way of looking at ‘cross. They were all super supportive. Hazel, who sometimes pops into Breadwinner Cycles, where I work, gave me a PDW water cage that is a cat. My partner was also a huge supporter. They were on the sidelines saying, “Go, Jackie, Go!”

You work at Breadwinner, which I want to get to. But you worked before that as a bike mechanic. What did you love about wrenching at a shop?
I really loved helping people get what they want out of their bike and making customers happy, which I think is much harder than just fixing their bike and getting it up to speed. It’s really about what they love about biking and just relating as two cyclists.

Do you remember any particular moments that stick out?
I think there were a number of times I helped people out who didn’t have the means to buy what they needed for their bike. I was always able to work out a solution that didn’t put the Cycling Center out of business but allowed them to ride their bike safely.

What do you wish more bike shops were like?
I wish more bike shops were open and welcoming and could drop some of the presumptuous attitude in favor of meeting people where they’re at. Because when someone enters into a shop, there’s no way to tell what level of competency they have. What turns people away often is being talked down to or walking away feeling ridiculed for not knowing something. I think that’s a huge barrier, especially for women.

How could a bike shop promote a welcoming atmosphere?
Mostly, it comes to remembering how you started biking yourself. We all started from a place of knowing nothing. It’s a scary place to be, because you have to put your full trust in someone else to fix your bike.

And that trust can be so easily broken.

What is one dream you have for the bike industry?
I wish the bike industry had a better analysis of the effects of the gender binary. I feel their marketing strategies are so easy to ridicule because they don’t have an analysis of gender. Pink colors don’t have gender. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes across the gender spectrum. It would be great if the bike industry understood that and took the lead in the fight against the patriarchy and the gender binary instead of dragging its heels.

Is that why you became a frame builder?
Yeah. I’m interested in tailoring bikes to specific people and bodies.

And speaking of framebuilding, we cut our interview short because Jackie needed to rush back to Breadwinner Cycles to do just that!

— Steph Routh is the communications director for the Community Cycling Center. Browse all seven of the interviews in this series here.

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18 thoughts on “An interview with bike polo player and aspiring framebuilder Jackie Mautner”

  1. Avatar Rebecca says:

    Glad you had a good experience at your first CX race and I hope you always feel welcome to rip it up on the course with us.

  2. Avatar Hazel says:

    Yay Jackie!!

  3. Avatar B. Carfree says:

    That interview gave me the tickles on a number of levels. Old men playing bike polo, shop attitudes, understanding sportsmanship (welcoming all competitors is kind of key, imo), tackling hurdles of the sort that can be awfully depressing without support and finding that support in the community, all of this uplifted me.

    My favorite bike shop, which still exists under a new owner, started out in the minds of a couple of college kids who went on to get married (and later divorced) and open the shop in a downtown garage. I walked in literally not knowing what to do about my grody chain and was amazed at the existence of a chain tool as well as how nice the owner was about showing me how to use it. I never felt talked-down to, nor did my wife. I could picture Ms Mautner fitting right in there. In fact, there was a frame-building shop in the back of the store that I’m sure would have pulled her in.

    Years later, in the ’80s, some men from British Columbia came calling at the shop with an invitation to learn their favorite winter game, bike polo. After the Canadians thrashed the locals, they left one old man behind to kindle the flame of the game. We had games pretty much every Sunday during winter from then until 2000, when I left town. We played under the original rules on grass, quite a different (and better, imo) game than what is played today. Did you know that bike polo was a demonstration sport at the Olympics over a century ago? Like most things in cycling, there’s no much new.

  4. Avatar Steve Scarich says:

    The writer clearly made a conscious decision to leave out the results of Jackie’s first race, which she won. A newbie winning their first race is unheard of. It opens up the whole question of fairness vis a vis trans athletes.

    1. Avatar gtrain says:

      She just needs to move to a more challenging category! Clearly polo and the other riding Jackie has done has given her skills that translate well into cross.

    2. Steve,
      I don’t think that the author was attempting to hide anything. This is Jackie’s first season racing and as this is amateur bike racing I see no issue in starting out in a category that you feel comfortable in. Jackie has upgraded since and is currently racing in the Category 3/4 race. Gender identity is difficult and I understand if you haven’t fully wrapped your head around it. Come hang out, meet some folks that aren’t just like you and I guarantee that you’ll see that the competition plays a very small part in all of this.

      1. Avatar Steve Scarich says:

        Good for her!

    3. Avatar Hazel says:

      A newbie winning their first race is not unheard of at all especially in cross.

    4. Avatar JP says:

      Jackie catted up shortly after that race, and I’m sure she’ll cat up again in due course, since she’s clearly got a knack for cross. Also, it’s absolutely NOT unheard of for newbies to win their first race, particularly when they have a background in a related or complementary sport, like Jackie does. I’ve raced against plenty of cisgendered women who have mopped the floor with the field their first time out.

    5. Avatar Anon says:

      Yeah, as someone who races in the Women’s 5 category, I’ve had a real problem with this. I want to be inclusive, but honestly, this has felt really unfair. Jackie needs to race in a higher category, certainly.

      1. Avatar JP says:

        She already is. I also hate to break it to you, but there are going to be other women (cisgendered and trans) who kick your ass all the time. Some people are always going to be more gifted than you (whether that means they have a bigger lung capacity, nicer bikes, more time to train, more fast-twitch muscle fibers, or any of a thousand other things), and part of being a good member of the racing community means coming to terms with the fact that some people are more talented and better at racing than others, and that that’s okay. Jackie’s background in polo and years of riding probably have a lot more to do with her success here than her gender.

        1. Avatar JeffS says:

          At least you concede that gender plays a role.

          Cat 5’s won’t complain, but other classes will, and they will have a valid argument.

  5. Avatar gtrain says:

    Great interview! I have been at all the trophy cup races and I enjoy cheering Jackie on! Now I know a few things to ask her more about next time.

  6. Avatar JP says:

    Always great to see you out at races, Jackie. You’re killing it out there! Thanks for the kind words about Team AF also. 🙂

  7. Avatar Jess says:

    This woman has been a blessing to our community on so many levels. Keep crushing it, Jackie!!

  8. Avatar Brigid says:

    That was such a wonderful interview!

  9. Avatar KM says:

    So, does this mean OBRA has reversed their previous policy decision and is going to let Molly go back to racing in the women’s fields too?

    1. KM,
      I think if it’s really of your concern you could ask the OBRA board yourself. This is a bridge that we crossed a very long time ago and I don’t think we need to cross again. Please keep it positive, both here and in real life.

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