MISSOULA - Free Cycles in Missoula wants any and everyone to fall in love with cycling, that’s why they offer a Gender Equity Mechanics (G.E.M.) class where women and non-binary people can come learn how to repair their bikes.
The class is taught by women, for women, so it creates a welcoming environment.
“I think it’s such an intimidating atmosphere for women to come into, so I like to try and help bridge that gap, and help women, or female-identifying people to feel more comfortable.” Tonya Kiser, a female mechanic volunteer for G.E.M, says.
The class, which sometimes has over 50 participants, is structured with different stations. Each station has a volunteer or staff member teaching a different skill, from how to fix a flat tire, to how to bleed hydraulic brakes.
“We try to cover a wide variety because everyone has different levels and experience and even bikes,” Free Cycles program director Emily Jenesn says.
The class was started in 2015 after Women Bike Missoula reached out to Jensen, asking if she could lead a women-only mechanic class.
Since then, the classes have been very popular. Participants come to learn new skills and meet new people.
“I just wanted a more hands-on class to get some more hard skills for my bike,” says G.E.M. participant Aggie Fredette. “And just meeting other cool, female bikers is fun.”
Jensen says the best thing about the class is helping women feel more confident in themselves.
“Just really trying to empower people and show them that they’re capable enough to do it,” she says.
She hopes the G.E.M. classes will open up the door for more female and non-binary cyclists.
“Just kind of creating a culture so that hopefully more women and non-binary people would come to free cycles just in our regular open hours.”
Free Cycles was started in 1996 as a free, community resource for folks who wanted to get more involved with biking.
They offer free repairs, parts and even allow people to donate time in exchange for a used bike. Plus, they host a variety of community events like concerts.
Those who attend the G.E.M class hope all women feel confident entering the biking community.
“I feel like especially in the last few years, the community is definitely working its way towards being a lot more open and stuff,” noted G.E.M. participant Sofia Burnhan. “So don’t be afraid, just put yourself out there and people will be so willing to help you learn.”
Free Cycles is looking for any non-male volunteers with mechanic skills to help with the next G.E.M. class.
Additional information can be found at https://www.freecycles.org/.