WTF DIY: Grease Rag Ride and Wrench

Grease Rag Ride and Wrench bike forum works to empower and encourage women, transgender and femme cyclists (or WTF) in Minneapolis.

Michelle O'Connell works on her bikes on Monday night at Spokes in Minneapolis. Open shop nights are a part of Grease Rag, a group that meets to encourage women, transexual and femme cyclists in the Twin Cities.

Juliet Farmer

Michelle O’Connell works on her bikes on Monday night at Spokes in Minneapolis. Open shop nights are a part of Grease Rag, a group that meets to encourage women, transexual and femme cyclists in the Twin Cities.

Callie Sacarelos

The bicycling community in the U.S. is dominated by men.

According to a 2013 National Bicycle Dealers Association study, 89 percent of cycle shop owners are men. This can make female bikers feel intimidated on rides, on the side of the road and in bike shops.

A Minneapolis group is working to change this.

Grease Rag Ride and Wrench is a cycling forum that empowers women, transgender and femme riders by creating a safe and approachable space to maintain, ride and talk about bicycles.

In the last four years, the group has evolved from open shop nights — where riders learn how to repair and maintain their bikes — to group rides, educational seminars and a social space.

“It’s a unifier. It’s a great way to meet people,” Kat McCarthy, a Grease Rag facilitator, said. “There’s a lot of other things that happen outside of the biking aspect.”

Most Grease Rag events welcome everyone regardless of gender, but the open shop nights are designed specifically for people who don’t benefit from cismale privilege (cismales are people who are born male and identify as male).

At the open shop nights, participants learn basic mechanics and bike maintenance skills. The facilitators assist with repairs but work to empower riders to learn how to fix problems so they can be self-reliant.

Laura “Low” Kling, a group facilitator, said it’s important for women, transgender and femme riders to have a safe place to learn how to repair their bikes on their own without feeling intimidated by male cyclists and shop owners.

“We don’t want to limit people, but they know who the group is open to and can join if they want to,” McCarthy said.

Erin Durkee started Grease Rag in 2009. When she moved out of state, her friends McCarthy and Kling kept the group going because they believed in its mission.

The group now has open shop nights at five different shops in neighborhoods around the city, including Recovery Bike Shop in Northeast, Grease Pit Bike Shop in Phillips, SPOKES Community Bike Walk Center in Seward, the U of M Bike Center in Stadium Village and Sunrise Cyclery in Uptown.

Grease Rag also hosts group rides, including monthly full-moon rides from dusk till dawn, and social events that don’t always revolve around biking.

At each gathering, the facilitators lead a “go-around” in which everyone in attendance stops what they’re doing for a few minutes to introduce themselves, state which pronouns they identify with and answer a simple icebreaker question.

In addition to giving everyone a chance to declare pronouns, the question also brings awareness to the issue itself.

“Some people don’t even know there are other options for pronouns, like ‘they,’ ‘others’ or ‘zie,’” Kling said. “Most guys in the go-around have no idea how to answer the pronoun question.”

Although facilitators are on hand to organize the events and assist with repairs, the group tries to remain fluid and without hierarchy.

Stephanie Rogers first heard about the group from her male roommate, who refused to help her with bicycle fixes and instead told her to go to one of the group’s open shop nights.

“It was annoying at the time, but now I’m so glad he wouldn’t help me,” she said.

Now, when Rogers is on the side of the road with a flat tire, she loves to decline help from male cyclists, because she can fix the problem on her own, she said.

According to a 2013 International Mountain Biking Association survey of six cities, 29 percent of women and 83 percent of men said they could fix a flat tire.

“There’s a lot of self-confidence that comes from being self-reliant and getting yourself around town,” Rogers said.

Kristen Schweiloch got a flat tire on her first full-moon ride with the group in June and said she was pleasantly surprised when some of the ride facilitators stopped to help her — even though she insisted they go on without her.

“I didn’t want to hold the group back, but they were like, ‘No, no. This is how we do things on our ride. We’re not leaving you behind,’” she said.

The group rides and open bike nights are conducted in a fun and relaxed manner. They’re not meant to be competitive.

“It’s not a guys’ ride that women are on,” Kling said. “It’s a women’s ride that guys are on.”