What's the Women’s Bike Mechanic Scholarship All About?

What's the Women’s Bike Mechanic Scholarship All About?

There are a few women to come to mind when one thinks of the Madison women's cycling scene, and 30 year-old Cassandra Habel is one of them. Cassandra runs Spoke Haven, a club that's as into social events as they are into riding. This last year Cassandra was among a group of 16 lucky women who were selected out of a pool of over 300 applicants to attend the Quality Bike Product's Women's Mechanic Scholarship. And so in March, these sixteen women from all over the United States packed their bags for the United Bicycle Institute's Professional Shop Repair and Operations Workshop in Ashland, Oregon.

We caught up with Cassandra to ask her a few questions about her experience at UBI and how she's putting that knowledge to use back home in Madison.

What made you want to apply for the Quality Bike Product's Women's Bike Mechanic Scholarship?

Since its inception, I had been interested in applying for the Women's Bike Mechanic Scholarship. I have always liked working on my own bikes and learning anything I could about service and bike maintenance.

I learned as much as I could from other riders (mostly male co-workers), watching Park Tool's YouTube videos, reading Sheldon Brown's website, and absorbing as much information as possible. I wanted to learn in a professional environment and I wasn't presented that opportunity at the shop I was working in at the time.

Cassandra practicing a repair at UBI.
Cassandra performing a press fit bottom bracket service at UBI.

Describe a typical day attending UBI.

We were in a house with two bathrooms for 12 women and then the attached bungalow had three women and one bathroom. It was a bit of a challenge to get in the shower and get ready, but we came up with a system to made it work!

After showers and such, most of us would head out to the local food co-op or a coffee shop by walking or by bike as UBI is very close to downtown Ashland.

Class would begin at 8am with a quick overview of the day, an opportunity to ask questions on the previous day's work, then we went right into the lecture portion of our class.

The classes were structured nicely with a lecture portion on the how's, why's, and a demonstration of the repair or service we would be doing.

Over lunch we had the opportunity to continue our hands-on work, work on our own bikes, or grab lunch from one of many great local spots.

We would follow the same lecture, hands-on sequence until the end of class where we could either stay and finish-up work or head home.

Many of us would grab dinner and drinks out. Often times it was a group study session and a great opportunity to get to know one another.

The Women's Bike Scholarship winners enjoy some Oregon scenery outside the classroom.
The Women's Bike Scholarship winners enjoy some Oregon scenery outside the classroom.

You compare UBI to adult summer camp in your blog. Every summer camp experience comes with lessons learned and favorite memories. Can you highlight the top 3 things, learnings or favorite moments from UBI?

Building a wheel from scratch was a pretty big accomplishment for me. It can be a very time consuming and frustrating thing to learn, but once you get in the zone it goes pretty quickly. It's something I would like to spend more time doing and I have a goal to build up my own fancy wheel set soon.

The best memories were also with the people. There were some ladies that I really connected with instantaneously and I continue to still talk to them on a regular basis. We all follow each other on social media and celebrate our wins and council each other through tough situations. Being a woman in any male dominated industry can be a bit overwhelming at times. Especially if you're the token woman in a shop. It's nice to have women in the industry to call on or relate to.

The other lesson I learned was to never underestimate yourself. There were times that I thought for sure I was not going to be able to finish part of our hands-on classwork, or when I felt I could royally screw something up. I think we all felt that at times, yet we all made it through. We all finished our class work, and we all passed our mechanic certification exam. It's the first time in UBI history that a class of women (16 total) had taken the exam and passed. It's also I think the third time in the history of the school that an entire class passed the exam. That's pretty amazing and it shows that with the support and encouragement of others, anything is possible!

Hydraulic brake bleeding is not an easy task.
How to service a front fork was just one of the many skills attendees learned at UBI.

How are you implementing your UBI training now that you're back in Madison?

At the shop I have been working at since my return (shout out to Fitchburg Cycles!) I get to blur the lines between sales and service a little more. I am able to throw a bike in the stand and help troubleshoot customer issues. If the service folks are backed up, I can aid them and do quick repairs to help get customers out the door and back on their bikes.

I have always traditionally worked on the sales and merchandising side of a shop, so it's nice to mix it up now and show customers that our sales team is also well versed in service.

I also feel more confident in my own teaching of maintenance clinics, and being a ride leader for a local women's club it is important that I be able to do more intensive roadside repairs.

It's truly empowering to have this knowledge and formal training. I use what I learned in class literally every day. I can't thank UBI and the wonderful sponsors enough for affording me with this opportunity. It has changed my life in ways that cannot be quantified.

Cassandra with bike at United Bicycle Institute