Lin McPherson (they/them), a dedicated Cycles for Change (C4C) and Grease Rag volunteer, is not only well-versed in bicycle mechanics, but also in computer repair, sewing and tailoring, and T’ai Chi.
“Originally I got my two-year degree in health and was a T’ai Chi instructor,” they explained. “Then I transferred to the U of MN and graduated with a BA in sociology. I got to learn a lot about transportation and urban issues. It intersects with sociology–poverty, race issues. You can try to figure out where society is at and how to get it to a better place, hopefully.
“I’m a Red Mage [from the Final Fantasy video game series], both a fighter and a magic caster. They don’t specialize in anything, but they can do pretty much anything. I’ve bounced around from manufacturing, to retail, to being an instructor. I’m just trying to figure out all the things I can do.”
Several years ago they figured out that bicycle mechanics and volunteering were two somethings that they could do.
“I got started [at C4C] when it was Sibley Bike Depot,” Lin said. “I first heard about it when I was helping a friend out with a very small theater production, The Metamorphoses, in downtown St. Paul. I came across the bike shop when I was commuting down University Avenue and thought I should stop in. I became a Build-a-Bike volunteer.
“I was living in the North End at the time, so I originally started volunteering in St. Paul. Then I moved away and couldn’t get back to that location. And when I moved back to the Nokomis area I started volunteering at the Minneapolis location as a regular volunteer and started doing Grease Rag after that when I found out that that was going to fit my schedule better. It’s been really great.”
Grease Rag is a Twin Cities collective that works to encourage and empower FTW (Femme, Trans, Women, Non-Binary, Two-Spirit) bicyclists in a collaborative and fun learning environment through rides, discussions, open shop nights, and skill shares in a safe(r) space. Grease Rag is entirely powered by community volunteers who are dedicated to working together for a space that is anti-sexist/transphobic/racist/ableist/classist, etc.
And anyone who has ever been to a Grease Rag open shop night at C4C’s Minneapolis shop has probably been helped by Lin, who also learns things as they teach them.
“I am definitely able to expand my understanding of proper tool usage from just being able to be in the environment where I can experiment,” they said. “But also being able to have the right language for talking about my bike is helpful. If I were only ever doing it myself in my living room or relying on a shop to take care of it, I would never be able to communicate what was going on with it
“One of the things I try to focus on is, no matter what’s going on, most of the time, no matter who you are, you have the capacity to fix [your bike] yourself. You just need to be given the right tools for it. Tools like a wrench and tools like confidence all go together. Confidence is a tool. Even more so than a ‘fourth hand’ [tool]. It was really fun to be able to help a Grease Rag participant with completely redoing her brake system. Knowledge and confidence were the two things I got to see her build, besides the brakes. I showed her the first time and she was basically able to do the second part herself, and she was really proud and it was really great to see that.”
This self-sufficiency that people experience by fixing their bikes themselves can carry over into other aspects of their lives.
“As a person from a traditionally lower income background, bicycling is very much an economic issue,” Lin explained. “Not everybody has the ability–physically or economically–to have a driver’s license or a car. Metro Transit [increased their prices on October 1] and that will price people out. Bicycles are going to be even more of an economic measure for people to be able to have a job, or do their shopping, or get to classes or medical programs. It’s something that is not necessarily paid attention to by those who are in government positions or law making positions because it’s kind of assumed in our day and age, unfortunately, that if you are riding a bike, it’s for fun. But no, this is a thing of daily life, for myself included. Making sure that there are places like Cycles for Change that are able to help those who don’t necessarily have the means for other modes of transportation to have that outlet for independency and self-sufficiency–it’s a very important facet of life for me and I just cannot express that enough.”
Lin is someone who has been biking for most of their life and uses it as transportation to commute all over the city.
“I’ve pretty much been biking since I was four or five years old. I had a car for several years but only really used it for long distances. I’ve never really felt comfortable in a car. The fact is that a bike is easier for me to pay attention to my surroundings. I’m not going too fast, my head can swivel, I can take in everything around me, I don’t have to worry about running a red light. Taking in visual information can overload me sometimes. So it’s either I go fast or I can be aware of where I am.
“I’m kind of a nomad; I don’t really bike with other people. There are a bunch of places that kind of act like oases and we all congregate there and swap stories and get things fixed up and then go on with our own lives. I live in a neighborhood that’s mostly just kids on bikes. We don’t have a lot of commuters, so I kind of stick out. I do feel like drivers get annoyed when I’m on my bike because they have to go around me. But I’m a commuter just like everybody else and I should be able to take the route that works for me.”
Even though they prefer to bike alone, Lin enjoys those little “oases” around the city where they can meet new people–people who are sometimes very different from them–because there is always something to learn from other people.
“A lot of the work in volunteering is trying to put our backgrounds, our biases, and our personal upbringings aside to make room for people who are very different from us. In Frogtown, as somebody who is seen as white, I took a step back and made sure that I was being welcoming to Hmong, Somali, Latinx, and other individuals. I do my best to try to learn from every interaction I have and hopefully that will start to pile up. In the Seward area, there are Somali and Hmong and some Vietnamese and Indigenous individuals who show up [to Grease Rag], and it’s very cool seeing just how many different social groups we are able to intersect with and interact with. When finding methods for cultural inclusivity, I’m not successful every day, but I try regularly to find possibilities for it.
“One time a mom brought in a very vintage bike and was fixing it up for her son who was graduating from high school. The way we were talking about bicycling and bike parts and fixing things up–it was a very different. Most of the people who come in [to Grease Rag] got their bike secondhand and just want to fix it up for going around town. But with this woman, it was her providing an economic opportunity to her son and it was very important for her to be able to do this for herself and for him. She was so proud of him that he was going away to college, that her boy was going up in the world.”
Whether it’s learning the words for bike parts in Spanish or Somali, or using their hands-on skills like sewing, Lin continues every day to find new ways to make bicycling more inclusive to people traditionally excluded from the bicycling world.
“One thing that has been on my mind, as a person who does a lot of sewing, is bike clothing,” Lin said. “There’s a large dichotomy between the “official racer gear” and the casual stuff like graphic tees and hiking-esque gear. What about for everybody else? Urban cyclists want clothes that will be comfortable on a bike, but won’t wear out quickly, but can do casual things in them like going to the grocery store. The clothing out there now is very gendered. There’s a larger selection for male than female. If you are female, it’s base layers–you get an undershirt, a bib, and socks. Men get overshirts, trousers, shorts, elbow and knee warmers–there’s even a wider range of hats. I’ve noticed that some of the pieces online are listed as unisex but they are only listed in the men’s section. Even just being able to make people more comfortable with how they look and what they’re wearing–making that a bit more inclusive could help make biking more inclusive because more people might want to bike.”