Life as a Female Bike Mechanic – Swapping a Desk for a Spanner
Where is the boss? Pez and Sophie are sometimes asked this question. However, the two women are their own bosses when they are tinkering on bicycles. The bicycle shop Das Radhaus in Vienna is organised as a collective consisting of a team of seven people. Three of them are women, which is no coincidence.
Repairing Bicycles as a Balance to Intellectual Work
Neither Pez nor Sophie are full-time bicycle mechanics, but they stress that working in Das Radhaus is an important part of their lives at the present time. For Sophie, who is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in political science, the job is a wonderful way to complement her academic work. After all of the “sitting, reading and writing”, the last thing she wanted was another office job. Pez studied sociology and then also worked in this field. Now bicycles are a major part of her life, something she is very happy about.
Female Bike Mechanic Without Technical Background
Neither of the two had any prior technical background. Sophie was drawn to the world of DIY and eventually began to tinker with bicycles. She acquired the basic skills in the Vienna Bikekitchen before starting work in Das Radhaus. The atmosphere in the Bikekitchen helped her overcome certain inhibitions. “In the Bikekitchen in Vienna, there was a strong feeling from the beginning that men generally have less fear than women when it comes to dealing with technical things.”
Pez acquired the necessary skills through internships. She was not happy in her work as a sociologist, so she took educational leave and did an internship in Das Radhaus and also in the Bikekitchen in San Francisco. When she returned from the USA, she got a job in Das Radhaus. However, her lateral move into the job did pose certain challenges. “If you don’t have all the technical knowledge, and there are ten guys around you making out that they know what they’re talking about, then you have to appear confident, otherwise you’re finished,” she recalls her initial experiences in the Bike Kitchen.
Female Bike Mechanics Still Raise Eyebrows
Although Sophie and Pez now have the requisite confidence and skills to work on their own in the workshop, some customers are still surprised by the fact that they are women. Often, this is a positive thing, and some customers even come to Das Radhaus specially because of them. Unfortunately, there are also some frustrating occasions, however, as they both recall. For example, when customers are pleased that their bicycle will be repaired by “such soft hands”. This is particularly frustrating, as “it is always meant in a nice, polite, charming sort of way, but that’s not at all how it comes across,” says Sophie.
Zero Tolerance for Sexism
Sometimes, a customer will explicitly ask for a male mechanic. This request is not entertained. “If this person is not good enough, then go elsewhere”, is the response. “From the very beginning, we wanted to make sure that the workshop would not purely be a male domain,” says Sophie. Consequently, it is no coincidence that three of the seven employees in Das Radhaus are women. In unpleasant situations, the staff can thankfully always count on their colleagues to back them up.
Image © Herr Karl