Going to Bike School

By Megan Gray, Mechanic at Ballard's BikeSport

A year ago my life looked very different.

I was working as a consulting engineer at a highly regarded firm.

I was building my career.

I was checking all the right boxes.

I was doing the things I believed a person ought to be doing.

Yet despite all my efforts to reason, explain and justify to the contrary, I knew I wasn’t living the life I was meant to live. There are times in life when for the briefest of moments the sound of our hearts somehow manage to overcome the thoughts in our heads. For me these moments are found on my bike. It is where I want to be. It makes me incredibly happy. It leads me to people and experiences that remind me how good life can be.

So one year ago I made the decision to follow my heart. To stop worrying about boxes to check and ladders to climb, and instead see where my bike would take me.

At the end of 2013, it led me to professional bike mechanic school –a two-week course promising to transform even the most novice home mechanic into some sort of bona fide bike-whisperer.

As with many of my recent adventures I was a little apprehensive about taking the class. After all, my knowledge of bicycle maintenance was limited to the over-inflation of tires and a handful of tragic attempts at bottle cage installation.

But this is where my bike decided to take me, so I knew I had to be all in.

I arrived for the first day of class and anxiously made my way to the nearest open seat. As I looked around the room at the other 15 students, I started to get really nervous. What if I was the worst one in the class? What if no one wants to be my partner? Is my outfit ok? I decided I needed to try and calm my nerves, so I made my way to the kitchen where I located a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Surely nothing says calm quite like 500 milligrams of caffeine. I got back to my seat, unpacked my notebook, readied a few pens and tried my best at playing it cool.

A few minutes before class began someone finally took the empty seat next to me. She warmly introduced herself as Cheryl and in a Texan accent whispered, “I hope I’m not the worst one in the class.”

I gave her a reassuring smile and promised her she wasn’t the only one who may be a little nervous.

For the next two weeks I learned a lot about the bike.

We built a wheel and overhauled a hub. We took apart bottom brackets and adjusted drivetrains. I finally learned that sometimes ‘righty is not always tighty’. And I even wrapped a set of bars without it looking like a total disaster.

I may not be to the status of ‘whisperer’ quite yet but maybe someday. And while I learned many things I was expecting, I also learned a few things I wasn’t.
I learned that it matters little whether you race your bike, commute on your bike, play in the dirt with your bike or wrench on your bike: there is something undeniably special about a person and their bicycle. It teaches us something about ourselves, about one another and about life. It challenges us to surprise ourselves, to push ourselves and to never take ourselves too seriously.

A year ago my life looked very different.

And while I’m not sure how it will look a year from now, I do know one thing for certain: it will look better from the seat of my bike.

It always does.