When I was around ten years old, we moved to northern Mississippi from northern Illinois. One of my first, most pervasive, memories from Ripley Mississippi was watching my boy cousins taking apart the bottom bracket of a bicycle, under what southerners like to affectionately refer to as a “car port,” grease the ball bearings and put everything back together. I remember asking to help and being told that I was a girl and that girls aren’t supposed to get dirty. It was a hot summer day and I was squatting in the dusty corner of the carport, amazed at the inner workings of a bicycle (I’d only just pedaled at that time). I’m pretty sure my knees were smudged and I was wearing shorts (I typically dressed for adventure), but that was what they said, and it stuck.
I’ve often joked about putting broken bikes by the tree out front, to be fixed and used by someone in the neighborhood. When I first moved to the Cherry neighborhood in Charlotte I did that with an old bike I had. It was a bike Madison’s grandfather left for us that had fallen into disrepair. At that time I’d no better idea how to fix a bike than how to do brain surgery. I don’t think I could even change a tire back then. But a few weeks later, I watched one of the neighborhood boys riding that bike down Luther. I thought of the magical knowledge my cousins had, the basic understanding that comes from being allowed to get one’s hands dirty.
By this time in life (49), I’ve ridden a bicycle in rural Louisiana, Monterey, San Francisco, Seattle and Charlotte, but it is only in the past 5 years that I learned anything about how to work on bicycles. The first time I had to fix a flat, I did that thing like in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, where I phoned a friend. My neighborhood friend was Kelly Platt. She came and picked me up in her truck and dropped me off at home. Then I went to Target on my daughter’s giant cruiser (the old time cadillac of bikes) and bought some inner tubes. At home I used a butterknife (you shouldn’t do that) to change the tire. Eventually I learned how to do it better, taught a class on bike safety and maintenance for beginners, and most recently, rehabbed an entire bicycle with not very much help. I got so dirty (you shouldn’t get dirty), and I loved every second of fixing up that bicycle.
Last weekend my 49 year old beginner bike mechanic self took a trip to Greenville with my Bicycle Friday friends. It was suggested that while there, we take a trip to Pedal Chic, which we later found out was the first woman owned bicycle shop in the United States. You can read more about the founder of Pedal Chic here: https://pedalchic.com/pages/the-founder
Please take some time to read her story. But what I want to mention is how I felt going to Pedal Chic. It was the answer to my ten year cynical girl self’s question, “wait, should girls get dirty?”
Yes. Absolutely. Girls should get dirty. Girls should grease ball bearings and change tires. They should ride bikes and fix them. They should have black under fingernails and not be sure if it can come out. I walked into that store and looked at the wheel and chain chandelier, the bar on the end, the fashionable kit, and yes, the stylish bike shop and I understood. This place was made for me. The women I work with, my Bicycle Friday group that rides every week with a whole bunch of spunky children, we all stood there looking around that store like our souls were being fed. Every inch of that store called to me.
That day we began at Pedal Chic, where we got Heather’s tire pumped, got some gear, and found our hearts desire at a tiny bike shop in Greenville, SC, which, eight years ago, became the first women owned bike shop in the United States. It’s right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in the heart of Greenville, so it’s not very difficult to find. If you are ever in the area, please visit. Stay for a minute. Have some wine. I promise, that this little store that was built from someone’s heart, in the heart of downtown Greenville, right next to the falls, will make your day.