Inspiring cyclists: Getting more women in the workshop

Women in the workshop: (clockwise from front left) Ursula Harries, Jo Campbell, Belinda Everett and Hannah Milton
The cycle mechanic’s workshop remains male-dominated, but a movement of women is making a difference and inspiring others to get involved. Cycling UK’s cycling development officer for Greater Manchester, Ellen Holmes, reports on a quiet revolution

When Annie Lennox sang about women coming out of the kitchen in Eurythmics’ 80s hit Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, she probably wasn’t thinking about them entering the cycle mechanics’ workshop.

After all, the workshop has always been a man’s domain: even today with efforts to tackle the gender imbalance in many industries, over 90% of cycle mechanics working in the UK are thought to be white males.

Even worse, the rare women mechanics who do exist have faced many challenges and barriers: from people asking to see the “real” mechanic; making assumptions about their level of skill and expertise, and one man even jokingly asking for a discount as his bike had been serviced by a woman.

But in Greater Manchester there is a movement towards change and Cycling UK is helping to turn the cogs of progress.

This year, through the cycling charity’s flagship Big Bike Revival programme, which is funded by the Department for Transport, women have been getting together at ‘learn to fix’ sessions across the region, run for women, by women: teaching them the essential skills to look after a bike at home and developing the confidence to deal with basic repairs whilst out and about.

There is clear demand, as the huge popularity of these sessions demonstrates. What’s the secret of their success? According to the delivery partners, local community organisations who run the sessions with funding from the Big Bike Revival, it all comes down to creating an environment where women feel they can learn free of judgement.

Station South is one organisation which has been leading the way with its Women in the Workshop series. One of the female mechanics involved is Belinda Everett, who realised the effect of the lack of diversity in the industry in terms of race, class, culture and gender. 

“It can be a little intimidating being in an all male and all white environment -  representation matters. It puts you a little bit on edge…it doesn’t feel as comfortable as it could be”.

For Belinda, who is one of Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling in 2022, the need to master cycle maintenance came out of her work as a cycling instructor through the Bikeability programme and at kids’ BMX sessions. Many children were riding bikes that were not roadworthy or safe, and Belinda felt frustrated that she couldn’t help. She volunteered with local community project Platt Fields Bike Hub and qualified as a mechanic after completing a City & Guilds course which was funded through a partnership between Cycling UK, Transport for Greater Manchester and BikeRight!

Since qualifying, Belinda has led a series of workshops for various underrepresented communities, including women, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, as part of the Big Bike Revival, with support from MCR Active.

“As Bee Pedal Ready I’ve been delighted to work with women and underrepresented groups to teach them how to look after and repair their bikes. Helping grow their confidence has made a really positive impact and brought a new collective of women together”.

If it wasn’t for Cycling UK I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Hannah Milton, BikeRight! head mechanic

BikeRight! head mechanic Hannah Milton was Belinda’s teacher on the City & Guilds course, a rare woman in such a role. Hannah herself completed the course in 2017 with her place funded by Cycling UK.

Hannah said: “If it wasn’t for Cycling UK I wouldn’t be where I am today”.

She was trained by Mary Clark, who has been a hugely influential figure in the bike maintenance world in Manchester for a number of years and who was then head mechanic at BikeRight! Being taught by a woman, especially one whose teaching style allowed people to explore their learning, really helped inspire Hannah to follow a similar career path.  

Determined to increase the number of female mechanics, Hannah has helped support others into the industry, including Marina Waters and Atchara Khonglim, both of whom have gone on to use their mechanical skills to deliver Big Bike Revival cycle maintenance activities themselves.

Other former pupils of Mary’s, Ursula Harries and Jo Campbell have since started up community project Lady Fettle which has delivered Women in the Workshop sessions at Station South this year, encouraging more women to get to know their bikes and learn how to look after them.  

At Cycling UK we’re proud to have helped these pioneering women cascade their passion for cycle maintenance to the next generation, creating an ever expanding network of women who have the know-how and the confidence to keep their own bikes on the road. Sisters are indeed doing it for themselves!

To keep the wheels turning, perhaps some of the women attending the workshops this summer will be the next generation of female mechanics…