Interview with Bryonna Baines About UBI Mechanic Training

C4C Mechanic Bryonna Baines was a QBP 2017 Women’s Bicycle Mechanic Scholarship recipient. Here, she reflects on her experience at United Bicycle Institute.

What was the application process like?

I applied a couple times before and didn’t get it, but thought about applying this year and the application was really easy. It wasn’t essay form, which made it so that there wasn’t too much content. But it was hard to answer questions in under 125 words. I ended up typing huge 500-word answers and then had to take it all out. I would work on it and walk away from it and I typed up the whole thing and I removed myself from my computer for like a day and when I came back it was all gone. So I had to make the choice to retype everything or just not submit it. I was typing it up in Google Docs, so I hit the undo button a million times until I had the paragraph I wrote for one question, and then did over and over for each question until I had everything back. I CTRL-Z’ed hard. And then I submitted it and didn’t think I would get it because I hadn’t gotten it before. They never said why I didn’t get it in previous years. I think the difference this time was I did it less like a resume and more about who I am. It was less about what I’ve done but more about what I am about–about underrepresented people in the cycling community, because I am one of those people. I talked about how it was rare that I had the opportunity to race, wrench, and all that kind of stuff. And I got the scholarship.

 

Give me a snapshot of the two week training.

It was January 30-February 10, 2017 in Ashland, OR at United Bicycle Institute (UBI).

There were 16 total mechanics including me. All WTF mechanics from across the country. Majority of people were POC, one was transitioning and identified as he/him. This year they were going for POC. Previous years weren’t as POC. But it could have just been who applied in each year.

We’d go to class 8am-5pm and had a huge UBI student’s handbook that we went through. It was similar to the Park Tool book I’ve used. We’d go through a chapter or two a day, depending on how thorough each chapter was. For example, the wheel building chapter was a day’s worth of content plus actually doing wheel building. Most days we would learn about a subject and then work on the subject hands-on. One or two subjects a day, depending on how dense they were.

 

What subjects did you cover?

Wheel building, derailleurs, tires, frame building, bearings, headset adjustment, crank set adjustment, hydraulic disk brake bleeds (fluid system instead of a mechanical system), and suspension fork overhaul.

I was familiar with every subject because I’ve been doing this for 7 years. But every subject had some interesting history behind it that I wasn’t aware of or names to the stuff I’d been seeing and had been just broadly categorizing. It created more dialogue to add to my work. Before, it was like “bearings are like this and work like that,” but we would just dive so deep into it. Before I could talk about bearings for like 15 seconds but now I feel like I could write a book about it.

 

Were the other mechanics there doing similar work as you?

In the broad sense of the type of people I met, there were just a bunch of cool, POC women for the most part that we’re doing hard, breakthrough work in the cycling industry. Most of these people were working or running their own nonprofit or shop in areas where there was a large concentration of low-income people or marginalized people or underrepresented cyclists. For example there was a black chick from Brooklyn working at a high-end shop in Portland in a very white area. They were all doing cool stuff like that, breaking the mold.

Every night after class, we would have some beers and talk about the industry and we’d swap stories about what it’s like working in a male-dominated industry and what it’s like to work in each city. I was really interested in the fact that there were a lot of people doing similar work to C4C, having a retail shop and doing a lot of programming. So it was interesting to hear from people doing the same things in different cities and struggling in the same way or succeeding in it. So I got to ask questions about why they think what they’re doing is working so well or not working so well. Sarah, who worked at a shop in Denver, said that the reason she thinks her retail shop is generating revenue and subsidizing all the programming was for two reasons: 1. They were known as the quality mechanics and shop operators in town, so people were willing to pay a little more and know they were getting quality service. They had a higher quality product that you could trust. 2. They were in a location in Denver where there were a lot of cyclists who could afford to spend a little more for higher quality service.

 
Tell me all about the mountain bike ride.

I was super stoked about the mountain bike ride. They offered different outings for the Saturday we were not in class: road race, hiking, or mountain biking. A lot of people were interested in mountain biking but there was a $75 charge for rental, which was normal but were broke, so a lot of people were on the fence about going. The day before the ride, QBP (Quality Bicycle Parts, who sponsored the scholarships) said they would cover the cost of the ride, so everybody decided they wanted to go. We were going with Nathan, one of our instructors, but he was a professional enduro rider. We watched his Youtube videos of him shredding hard and fast. So we were all intimidated by this guy and there were a mix of people there who either lived where there was mountain biking or people who grew up in the city and have never seen a mountain bike trail in their life.

They gave us just the nicest mountain bikes–full suspension, dropper seat posts. They paid for it all. They shuttled us up this mountain–two vans with a huge trailer of bikes. We went up this dirt road on a mountain only wide enough to fit one car. And I was scared to shuttle up it. There was someone going down the mountain with a horse and we had to stop the van and proceed with cautious and suddenly the horse freaked out but we bypassed that. When we got to the top of the mountain, we had to do a good amount of climbing on our bikes, which is something I’m not used to in Minnesota. But then Nathan took us on these trails that were pretty easy and incredibly beautiful. We got to one point that was a beautiful overlook, surrounded by all these beautiful mountain in Ashland and the sky is completely clear of clouds but there’s a mist coming down. I learned it was called the “Ashland Sunshine.” We could see the mountains in the distance that had snow at the top–someone was skiing up there on snow-capped mountains while we were biking down here.

But then it was time to shred. It was just the best mountain biking ever, ever, ever. I mountain bike here in Minnesota and it’s alright. I’ve gone to Moab and it was pretty insane. But this was just the best. And we had the best bikes. It was sick. And there was a photographer from QBP posted up at a good vantage point and we’d be going around a berm and he’d snap a picture. And so I was just in heaven, absolutely, just loving it, making a lot of noise. It was a very long descent but very beautiful and perfect trail conditions. A couple others and I just followed Nathan, and I’m sure he toned it down a bit, but we were shreddin’ it. Me and a chick from Virginia who had mountains in her area and another from Hawaii who also had mountains. And I’m from Minnesota and we don’t have any mountains and I’m just loving it and they’re like, “How do you know how to do this?” So we were the shredder crew, and man, we’d hit these jumps and super tight switchbacks. And every now and then we’d have to wait for the rest of the ladies to catch up (every one but one person from class went on this ride).

When we were done with the gnarly rad mountain bike ride and were riding on the road back to the school, we were going pretty fast down the road and it was fairly steep and we were up in elevation. We were a big cluster riding together and we went around this turn and someone fell hard. She had looked back and looked ahead and grabbed a handful of brakes and these hydraulic brakes are incredibly powerful so she went overhead. She was unconscious and immobile. We got someone to give her a ride and she could barely get up and get into the car. She punctured her liver and bruised her pancreas and was in the hospital for 3-4 days and had to Google Chat into class. It was insane because we just had the gnarliest mountain bike ride on these mountains but she fell on the road. The ride’s not over til it’s over.

 

What is one major takeaway from your time at UBI?

I think the coolest thing was that there was this lady named Laura from Sram (a really big bike component company). She was a really good role model, so she taught a class, and just talked to us during an open discussion about how she came to be and made a career out of cycling as a woman. So that was inspiring. She just kept saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing and just power through all the bullshit.” I’d say the biggest thing was how not only Laura was inspiring but the other people that were there were doing really important things in the industry and they are the underdogs. Just by watching my instructors teach classes, I learned a lot about that teaching, specifically better ways to teach in Grease Rag and better ways to explain things. It wasn’t so much the content that I took away, but the way they taught the content.