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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Women, Trans, Femme Nights At Rogers Park’s Recyclery Aim To Empower Those Frustrated By Male-Dominated Cycling World

The WTF Nights combat the idea that those who identify as female don’t belong in a bike shop.

Lee Dewey and Katie Bowes at The Recyclery Collective.
Miriam Finder Annenberg / Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — Entering The Recyclery Collective in Rogers Park on the fourth Sunday of any given month, patrons are met with the typical elements of a bicycle shop.

Bike parts and tires scatter about the room, tools dangle from the walls and the smell of bike grease hangs in the air. But those stepping into the shop might notice something different on those Sunday nights: everyone working on a bike is a woman, femme or transgender individual.

During their monthly Women, Trans, Femme (WTF) nights, The Recyclery, in partnership with Women Bike Chicago, works to shatter stereotypes that women and those who identify as female don’t belong in a bike shop while providing a supportive, low-key environment for them to work on their bikes.

“It’s a reflection of our society at large, which is patriarchal, undeniably and irrefutably,” said Lee Dewey, accountant and administrative coordinator at The Recyclery. “We try to be very intentional and really promote diversity.”

WTF nights began last summer after The Recyclery reached out to Women Bike Chicago, noting the shop wanted more women-specific programming, but didn’t have a leader. Katie Bowes, a certified cycling instructor and head of communications at Women Bike Chicago, realized she was a perfect fit for the job. In summer 2017, the two groups launched their first WTF night.

“We’re all about come as you are, approach the bike as you need to,” Bowes said. “And we’ll help you do that.”

All women, femme and trans folks are welcome, including trans masculine, binary and non-binary folks. While other shops like West Town Bikes and Working Bikes have similar nights, Dewey and Bowes believe this extra inclusion sets them apart.

Dewey said female-focused nights can feel exclusionary for trans masculine individuals. The Recyclery team keeps that top of mind and aims to keep their language open and inclusive.

“We want it to be anybody who identifies with these vague set of labels,” Bowes said. “I’m not going to give them a quiz when they walk in the door.”

She said that, traditionally, it’s men who work on bikes. They own shops and attend open shop nights. For a lot of female and female-identifying cyclists, the prospect of entering a bike shop is intimidating.

“We hear that feedback over and over… ‘I can’t go into a mixed room because some dude’s going to take a wrench out of my hand or tell me I’m doing it wrong even when I know what I’m doing,’” Dewey said. “We’ll show you which way to turn [a tool], but we won’t turn it for you.”

WTF nights generally attract five to 10 attendees, maintaining an intimate vibe. Most open shop nights are rushed with a line out the door at The Recyclery, but WTF night is different. It’s a regular crowd that comes looking for a safe place to work on their bikes, or work out anything else.

“We’ve all cried over a bike,” Bowes said. “If you need to do that, I’ll leave you to it.”

Both Dewey and Bowes emphasized the safety and freedom cycling offers, a key reason they want to teach people how to maintain their bikes.

Bikes offer an alternative form of transportation to public transportation, rideshares like Uber or relying on a friend for a ride. People can more easily move around the city, and, for some marginalized communities, cycling adds an element of safety.

Dewey said trans people face vulnerability when traveling through public, gendered spaces, which is partially eliminated by cycling. WTF night works to make this type of freedom accessible to more Chicagoans while encouraging the WTF community to embrace the emotional side of cycling and working on bikes, as well. 

“It’s important for me to get some release and to have time to process and work through things,” Dewey said. “When I get on my bicycle, as hard as it is to get out the door in like, the snow, I know that at some point I’m going to get a biker’s high.”