On a recent bright afternoon at Bloordale’s Bike Pirates, a mother and her young daughter fiddled with mini-screwdrivers. Meanwhile, across the shop, two older women traded strategies for cycling in the snow. Keren Gottfried, the only volunteer working, drifted from station to station, answering the women’s questions about bike maintenance and repair. Every 10 minutes or so, though, her attention was diverted: A man had entered their midst.
Each time, with each new man, Gottfried ambled genially to the entrance and asked the same question: “Are you aware that today is Women and Trans Day?” She then gestured to the door. “Can I tell you a bit about it outside?”
For the last three years, Sunday access to this non-profit, do-it-yourself bike collective has been reserved for women and transgendered people. “Mechanics’ shops have not really been a welcoming environment for women and trans folks,” Gottfried said. The Pirates’ Sunday hours are intended to remedy that by offering a time and place where they can develop their mechanical skills in “an anti-oppressive environment,” Gottfried explained. “I think men are much more likely to take a tool out of the hands of women. But we want people to become their own experts.”
The introduction of designated hours was not seamless: There was resistance from a few male members of the collective, and though the men on this afternoon promised to return later, each Sunday brings some customer angered that he can’t just buy a bottom bracket and be on his way. “It’s hard,” Gottfried admitted. “I don’t have time to explain the history of our hours, and I really don’t have time to explain the patriarchy.” But the response among female and trans patrons has been positive. “I love these Sundays best,” said Alyx MacAdams, 22, a recent transplant from Montreal. “It feels okay not to know everything, and you can really learn by doing it yourself.” Above her, a hand-painted sign offered further encouragement: “Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”