I always love hearing about women who are working in male dominated fields so it seemed appropriate to interview a female bike mechanic for a Women Who Cycle blog post. I must confess that I actually work in a bike shop myself but I’m not a bike mechanic (I can hear my bike mechanic colleague Macca sniggering while her reads this!). I do pump up a few tyres and I’m ok at diagnosing basic problems but my mechanic skills are pretty rudimentary. So I had to rely on a Google search to track down Marty Caivano, who works at the US-based International Mountain Bicycling Association but also likes to wrench on Saturdays in her local bike shop and in her limited spare time. Marty and I caught up via email last week.
Q: How did you become a bike mechanic?
A: It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but I never found the chance to do it until I was sidelined by two long-term injuries. Once I saw the writing on the wall, that I was going to be off the bike for an extended period of time, I knew the opportunity had come. I decided to start by attending the United Bicycle Institute in Portland, OR, and I went there even while still on crutches. No messing around! After that, I pursued every possible avenue to grow and learn as a mechanic: I volunteered for several years with the Mavic neutral support program, I apprenticed with a World Cup mountain bike mechanic (worked the World Cups in Mont St. Anne and Windham), attended the USA Cycling race mechanics course (and then later taught there), and attended any other clinics I could get my hands on – the Park Tool Summit, SRAM Technical University, etc. I work Saturdays at a local bike shop, and of course I work on quite a few bikes out of my house for personal clients. All of this has been in addition to my original full-time job, so needless to say I’m keeping busy.
Q: What do you like about being a bike mechanic?
A: I really enjoy working with my hands; it’s definitely a great feeling of doing something real and tangible, and it balances out all the time spent in front of computer screens. It’s just plain fun to take things that are broken or not working their best and make them awesome again. I even like resurrecting old bikes as much as I like tuning a brand-new race machine. But most of all, I love to help people enjoy riding, and a huge part of that is fixing issues and keeping their bikes running smoothly. I am always really gratified when people are excited with the results.
I also have a client who rides an off-road hand cycle, and that has gotten me interested in working on bikes for adaptive riders. It’s such a fascinating challenge to work on equipment to help these folks pursue their passions for riding and the outdoors.
Q: What are your favourite bikes to work on?
A: Overall, I like any kind of bike or mechanical challenge (although I must admit that tandems and recumbents aren’t my favorites!). However, as a passionate mountain biker myself, I am always excited to work on trail bikes and make them a better tool for the job of getting into the woods. I love the technology that makes trail riding so much fun – suspension, disc brakes, dropper seat-posts, etc, and my goal is to make it all work so well that the rider forgets the bike. He or she can immerse themselves in the experience and have more of those amazing rides that we all crave.
Also, I have a particular love of building wheels… it’s one of those detail-oriented things that is extremely satisfying.
Q: Do you get men asking you if you’re really capable of repairing their bikes?
A: So far, no one has had the balls to say that straight-out, but when they first meet me, I can tell some guys are thinking it! But once they’ve watched me for a few minutes, I think they often come to appreciate my approach. I’m careful and deliberate — I don’t just charge into a problem without looking at it closely. And I’ve won over my share of skeptical guys by fixing their problem quickly and efficiently on the spot, with no fuss.
The race side is a little different, though, and it will take time for women to really break into that scene. When I worked the World Cups, the female racers were the only ones who would speak to me or acknowledge my role on the team. But I wasn’t surprised or bothered by that; it’s simply a new realm for women to show what they can do. It will take the dedicated efforts of individual women to prove they belong, which will open doors for the women following them. I guess I’m used to this — in my former career as a photojournalist, I was the only female photographer on an all-male staff for the vast majority of my time in that field. The best approach in these scenarios is simply to work hard and be pro. Your actions will speak far louder than anything you say.
And on the positive side, I’ve had many guys make a point of supporting me as a mechanic, bringing me their bikes and spreading the word about what I can do. And I can’t speak highly enough of all the male mechanics who have taken the time to mentor me, share their knowledge and bring me into the fold.
Q: What’s the funniest question you’ve ever been asked by someone when you’re fixing their bike?
A: Hmmm… I’m not sure I can answer this without using the words “shaft” or “lube” in an inappropriate manner.
Q: Do you think bike mechanics is a viable career for a young woman?
A: Definitely! There are opportunities everywhere (and women can be found there already) in many roles in the industry – with manufacturers, in mechanic education, through bike fitting services, etc. And of course there are bike shops, many owned and operated by women. We’ve all seen the changes taking place in the industry – direct-to-consumer sales, service-focused shops, mobile repair shops – and although these changes are tough in some ways, they may provide new opportunities for a more equal distribution of women in the field. I am one of three women on the board of the newly-formed Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association, and we are all working hard to advocate for mechanics, while raising the education and professionalism of the job. We hope to create more options and career growth for everyone.
Q: What sort of riding do you do?
A: I’ve been mountain biking for 15 years, and it never stops being the most awesome thing in the world. Riding through amazing landscapes with your friends, getting away from civilization, seeing wildlife and all the beautiful places in the forest (or desert), is such a joy. And then there are the trails themselves — flowy and fun, spicy and twisty, rocky and chunky… and they’re everywhere: from your backyard to destination locations like Italy and Iceland. Even just in my home state of Colorado, I’ve got a bucket list of rides that will take a long time to check off, and I love that. Help me out here, folks! This gnar is not shredding itself.
I’ve also raced in my past, both mountain bike and cyclocross, although these days I prefer to experience races from the mechanics’ pit rather than the start line.
Do you know a female bike mechanic? I’d love to hear about others working around the world.