Gaby Mendez uses a bike to explain the stem, a part of the bike’s structure. Mendez demonstrated that the bike’s stem is the part connecting the frame to the handlebars. Photo by Claudia Perez Brito.
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Freewheel Project Hosts Bike Mechanics Course for Women

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Christine Conover rides her bicycle usually two or three times a week — not for transportation, but recreation, like mountain biking.

While the Gainesville resident is knowledgeable of local trails, she lacks basic information about the simple machine that takes her around.

“When my bike makes a noise, [I ask], ‘What does that noise mean? What needs to get fixed?'” Conover said.

Conover is one of 15 women participating in a four-week bicycle mechanics course at the Freewheel Project in downtown Gainesville, aimed to help women solve mechanical issues with their bikes.

“At least with women, there is the expectation that you’re not interested [in mechanics],” said Gaby Mendez, the course’s instructor. “No one is going to go out of their way to teach you anything, and so if you can explain to people this isn’t a super foreign world … that’s going to open that door.”

The class — which started Oct. 13 and runs through early November — is held at the Freewheel Project’s location on South Main Street. Billed as a “cycling collective,” the nonprofit launched in November 2015 and offers bicycle education classes, a full-service bike shop and community outreach programs, according to its website.

Conover said she was attracted to the program because it’s a small female class taught by a female instructor — an environment in which she could feel comfortable as a beginner.

“We all didn’t really know a lot about bikes, so it’s a really good place to ask questions,” Conover said.

The four-week course, called BIKEmpowerment Women’s Mechanics Course, is the first of its kind to provide its level of in-depth teaching about bike mechanics. Ana Farjardo, the outreach and programs coordinator for the Freewheel Project, said the nonprofit has held a two-week course in the past that was also just for women.

“We do it because it’s needed,” Farjardo said, “and we think it’ll increase women’s presence in the community.”

Though the current course is full, the Freewheel Project plans to organize more for women, including one in the spring.

Farjardo said it’s important for the nonprofit to have women-focused cycling programs because women are very underrepresented in the cycling community.

Mendez, the women’s course instructor, said she is the only female bicycle mechanic in town and believes it’s important to teach women about the basics.

“Had someone not taught me because they were nice and willing, I would not have learned anything,” she said. She said that learning about and working with bicycles “has absolutely changed my life, so I think it’s worth while.”

Mendez said that the Freewheel Project has given people who were interested in bikes an avenue to expand on that interest.

“[Bicycles are a] really fantastic resource to have in your life,” Mendez said. “They make you feel independent and capable. I like to say that bikes will save your life.”

About Claudia Perez Brito

Claudia is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-458-4434 or emailing cperezbrito@ufl.edu.

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