In honor of International Women’s Day, Bike Fort Collins would like to highlight Lauren Nagle and the work she has done with the Hex Wenches to help women become more knowledgeable, capable, and empowered when it comes to understanding their bike, how it works, and how to fix it.

Like many, when I moved to Fort Collins I had my first experience with Tour de Fat, where I saw someone trade the keys to their car for a bike. My mind was blown and I was so intrigued by the idea. I started thinking about what it would be like to not have a car. I would later become friends with that someone over a decade later, not knowing it was her who inspired me until we were a few months into our friendship and we were sitting in her bus talking about why I ride a bike everywhere (thanks, NBB and Mana!) But that’s a different story for a different time.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I started thinking about it more and more, and I eventually decided I didn’t need a festival and a stage to make such a dramatic life change, so I sold my car and started walking and carpooling everywhere. One day a friend gave me a bike so I could speed up my commute. It was a spray painted rust-a-thon, seemingly an ancient relic of the bike days of yore, and not the cool kind. Nothing fit right, and I don’t even know how I rode it around. I had no clue what I was doing, and one day I snapped the rusted chain crossing at College and Prospect in busy traffic. One bloody shin later, I became a walker again. A few months later a different friend gave me a much nicer and fully tuned bike because she upgraded hers. This bike, my first true love, is named Big Red. She is a 90s era Cannondale M300 in catchup and mustard colors. I commuted everywhere so fast and zippy compared to walking. I didn’t have a helmet or lights, but that didn’t stop me from riding at night because I didn’t know better (it’s the law to have a white front light, some side reflection, and at a minimum a rear red reflector, so don’t be like me. Obey the law and be safer for it.) Now that I had this serious machine I started riding with a friend for exercise, not just commuting. He had a vintage Tomasini road bike with an all original Campagnolo gruppo, and I had Big Red outfitted with the finest used parts. I felt this whole new world opened up to me that involved pushing myself, seeing so many beautiful places in nature, and freedom. I rode the dams, that Tomasini the carrot to my Big Red donkey. I hammered my heart out,  and my chest filled with the bright dreams of adventure and fun. And then my shifting cable snapped.

At a loss for what to do, I asked my road bike laden friend how to fix the bike myself. We got a new cable and some housing and he set out explaining how to go about the repair. I was so lost and didn’t even know what the parts of a bike were called. I tried my hardest, but he still got frustrated and angrily pushed me out of the way and just did the repair himself. I thought to myself No. Effing. Way. I vowed to never be put into the position of being mansplained to again, to be cast aside due to my own ignorance, to be made to feel like the thing I just fell in love with was my enemy because I didn’t understand it. This was cemented by the fact that he cut both the cable and the housing with a saw at the end of the repair. This really couldn’t be how people fixed bikes, could it?

A few days later I saw a listing for a women’s wrenching night at the Fort Collins Bike Co-op, cleared my schedule, and showed up ready to learn. At the class I was both intimidated and appreciative of everyone’s effortless confidence and knowledge. I wanted what they already had. I wanted it so bad that I put everything I had into learning about what made my Big Red tick. You can fast forward to today, and I head up the Hex Wenches at the Bike Co-op, the current iteration of that women’s class that is aimed at trans, femme, non-binary, and also women. I am a recipient of the QBP Mechanics Scholarship and have recieved a formal education in bicycle mechanics from UBI. I am an avid gravel racer with a penchant for riding a bike with tires that are way too wide, and I hope I inspire people like those women inspired me at my first class.

I recently have finally accepted that sometimes it is worth taking your bike to a shop, and I let a mechanic work on one of my bikes for the first time (shout out to Chris at proVelo!) I know when I drop my bike off I can communicate clearly what I want done, I know how long and what it takes for the job to be done, and for it to be done correctly. The confidence in learning that I have about bicycle mechanics came from the seed planted by those women at that first class. Yes, it was bolstered by my UBI education, but it didn’t come solely from there. I try to instill the same confidence in learning in every student that comes to the Hex Wenches because when you plant the seeds of capability, the places it can take you are endless. Well, so far not to space, but here’s to futures!
-Lauren Nagle
About Lauren: You can usually find Lauren (@casuallydrowned) at the Fort Collins Bike Co-op teaching with the Hex Wenches, working for the City of Fort Collins in the FC Moves Department, or on the enigmatic and sweet #karenthefatbike, getting into all sorts of adventures. An avid gravel racer and bikepacker, who has been mostly car free for over a decade (there was a stint once with a pickup truck that lasted a few months), Lauren enjoys riding and racing with the Fort Follies and First City Cycling Team. Lauren is also a prolific high fiver, so get that hand ready.
Photo Credit: Gritchelle Fallesgon (@gritchelle)