Having a “safer space,” according to Julia Winkels, means “one that is intentionally a place of respect and compassion, that goes beyond being polite or tolerant. We are making sure [people] are being respected and getting what they need,” she said.
Winkels is a facilitator in Grease Rag, a local group that empowers women/trans/femme (WTF) cyclists. Participants include women and others who do not benefit from being born male and identifying as male, including transmen and genderqueer individuals.
They set a collaborative and fun learning environment through open bike shop nights, group rides, learning opportunities and social events – all held in that “safer space.” The activities are run by volunteers with the aim of facilitating biking in the Twin Cities as less of a male-dominated activity.
Grease Rag was started in 2009 by bike mechanic Erin Durkee, who now works for the San Franciso Bicycle Coalition. She wanted to have a space to help her friends teach each other and get more comfortable with asking questions about bikes.
Grease Rag holds several open shop nights a month, where WTF cyclists can bring in their bikes and learn how to do their own mechanical work. The open shops are held in several locations, each with a different format and style.
The model is called a community partnership, according to Laura Kling, a longtime facilitator who took over for Durkee. A bike shop will give the group work space and let attendees use the shop’s tools and consumable supplies. If they need to buy parts, they buy them from that shop. Grease Rag also asks the bike shop partner to have a paid mechanic available to help as a way to support the group’s mission.
Attendees learn bike mechanics and more at the open shops. “It empowers you to do things on your own,” Winkels said. “It gives you knowledge and vocabulary. Feeling confident and empowered can translate to other parts of your life.”
Left: Grease Rag participant (Photo courtesy of Grease Rag)
Other activities include a dusk-to-dawn full-moon ride that happens monthly year-round (where riders howl at the moon), a bike-and-camping trip and purely social events.
There are two reasons people come to Grease Rag, according to Kling. Either something on their bike is broken and they hope they will get help fixing it or they want to make friends with other WTFs to enjoy biking with.
And the door is certainly open to new participants. “We always want more folks to come. You can bring your experiences and wisdom and add that to our community,” Winkels said.
“What really keeps it going is love,” Winkels added. “For a lot of attendees, it has been an important part of their personal growth, finding a community of like-minded riders.”
Locally produced documentary includes Grease Rag in its snapshot of why WTF spaces are important. vimeo.com/35672630