Franklinton Cycle Works volunteers talk “Women/Trans/Femme Shop Night”

Christine Happel and Cherie Snyder are “bike people.” Their voices were full of enthusiasm and their eyes lit up when discussing the simple advantages of commuting to work by bike.

“You feel more alert and your ride becomes much more self-determined,” Happel said during a late-September interview at the Franklinton Cycle Works bike shop, where she and Snyder volunteer. “I can take a trail and I'm not in traffic, which, for me, is really anxiety-inducing.”

“You can smell everything,” Snyder added. “You ride through coffee roasting and you can smell the hot mash from the beer when you ride by Seventh Son [Brewing]. … You ride by the Kroger bakery, and the ducts are blowing hot doughnut air on you.”

“You can route your ride by smells,” Happel said.

But beyond olfactory pleasures, biking provides a sense of community.

“You meet people of all ages, all education levels [and] backgrounds,” said Synder, who relocated to Columbus from Northeast Ohio. “I've met everybody because of bikes.”

Unfortunately, the full biking experience is not always accessible for some demographics, which is why Happel has been coordinating “Women/Trans/Femme Shop Night” the second and fourth Thursday of each month since May. The next event, where people identifying as members of those groups can work on their bikes, takes place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12.

“Oftentimes in group settings, women and those of different gender identities and otherwise marginalized people tend not to have the same opportunities,” Happel explained, highlighting the sometimes challenging dynamic between those communities and cis-gendered men. “Specifically, in a shop, you get told a lot about how you're supposed to work on your bike and the assumption is made that you know nothing. And it might very well be that you know nothing, but that doesn't ever mean that someone should speak to you in a specific type of way.”

“People then don't get access to what they need, so they don't get time to work on their bike. … And they don't get to feel welcome,” she continued.

“Men, a lot of times, are raised with tools in their hands,” said Snyder, who volunteers at the shop night. “They're told to go forth and just use it. … Women or other folks are often not taught that way, so they're left in a position where they depend on the people who know how to use the tool, and sometimes people who know how to use the tool think it's easier just to do it for them. And that's not always helpful.”

Shop night attendees have the freedom to work on their own bikes — or one of the bikes in the facility — on their own, to observe others or ask a volunteer for guidance. But there are no “self-proclaimed experts,” Synder said.

“We're experts at turning on YouTube,” Happel quipped.

“Women/Trans/Femme Shop Night” is in line with Franklinton Cycle Works' mission of creating meaningful relationships through biking. The nonprofit originated in a residential basement in Franklinton about a decade ago. Now in its West Broad Street location, the organization offers Saturday open-shop hours, bike-repair classes, youth programs and more.

“The mission is really centered around building the community and a greater sense of empowerment amongst neighbors,” said Happel, who admits it's taking a while to get the word out about the shop night in Franklinton. “We just might have to go door to door … and let people know that it's happening.”

Still, Happel has received positive feedback about the event, which may shift according to attendees' preferences.

“You can't ever say a space is safe,” Happel said. “That means something different for everybody. But a space that's at least open to having conversations about what safety looks like — I think people will come for that.”