Punjabi student becomes first female mechanic at Sacramento bike shop

Evrinpreet “Preet” Kaur chose bike mechanics class during her senior year at Inderkum High School in the hope of landing an easy elective. It pleasantly guided her to becoming the first female bike mechanic to be hired at a Sacramento bike shop. SACREMENTO BEE captures her story

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Evrinpreet Kaur, 18, who was born in Punjab, India works as a bicycle mechanic at the Natomas Bike Shop in Sacramento on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. BY RENÉE C. BYER
By Asia Samachar Team | CANADA |

Evrinpreet “Preet” Kaur, now a freshman at American River College, does the same jobs as any other mechanic at the bike shop — including replacing shifters, putting new brakes on and overhauling the wheels and bottom brackets.

“She showed character and bravery that I admire,” said Natomas Bike Shop owner John Buchanan who hired her.

But in a world that’s been historically dominated by white men, Kaur’s place as a bike mechanic has come up against some challenges she hadn’t anticipated.

It’s a dilemma many women of color can find themselves in, a culture where simply being a woman and a Punjabi in the workplace can come with its bumps.

“The thing that I don’t understand is why people have a problem with me working at a bike shop,” Kaur said. “I do something that I like, but people cannot just digest this thing.”

It was her third day working at the bike shop when a male customer made the first comment.

“Oh, there’s a girl in the bike shop,” Kaur remembered him saying. “Do you repair bikes? Do you even know how to repair bikes?”

Her manager was angry, she said, saying that if she didn’t know how to work on bikes, she wouldn’t have been hired. Yet since then, it’s become a regular customer experience, she said.

“It happens almost every day. Every day … some of (the customers) are surprised to see me,” Kaur said. “Some people will just come and stare at me while I’m working. It’s like they don’t believe me or believe that I can work on bikes.”

Kaur is audibly frustrated, recounting over the phone how these brief customer interactions and all-too-frequent dismissals have built up over seven months of working there.

She still has a lot to learn about bike mechanics, she said. But she was hired because she demonstrated that she can do the work.

“When I greet customers, they say hello to me and then they turn to a different guy who they think would know stuff,” Kaur said. “They completely ignore me.”

The cycling world is rather male-dominated, but female bike mechanics are especially hard to come by, said Steele, Kaur’s former teacher, and Raushaan Anwar, Kaur’s manager at the bike shop. Anwar has seen the surprise on some customers’ faces when they realize Kaur is a shop mechanic, he said, and the way some have questioned her knowledge.

Steele, who worked in bike repair shops and does mechanics for summer cycling tours, said the “bro-like” culture of many shops can often be unfriendly spaces for women. It’s a culture she’s experienced herself on many occasions where her skills and expertise were questioned or trivialized by male cyclists.

That culture is in the process of changing, Steele said, with more programs pushing for women and people of color to be trained in bike mechanics in the last five years or so. But there’s still much more work to be done to make the world of bike repairs more inclusive, she said.

As a Punjabi woman, Kaur said her race has also played an unexpected role at times. One time, Kaur said, a Punjabi customer came in and told her to quit her job at the bike shop. She should get a job at a pharmacy instead, she recalled him saying.

“He had no idea who I was and what like to do, he just decided to come in (and) say all that stuff to me in front of all the people working there,” Kaur said.

Read the full report, ‘A Punjabi college student is the first female mechanic at this Sacramento bike shop’ (By Ashley Wong, Sacramneto Bee, 30 Sept 2020), here.

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Struggle, Expectations and Dilemma: A Woman’s Journey (Asia Samachar, 10 May 2020)

 

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