New Provo Bicycle Collective program strives to empower women

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Kira Johnson (right) helps volunteer Madeline Buhman (center) work on a tire during Women’s Night. (Savannah Hopkinson)

BYU senior Kira Johnson always loved to bike, but she didn’t begin to understand the mechanics of bicycles until last fall when she started volunteering at the Provo Bicycle Collective.

Motivated by her positive experience with volunteering, Johnson began the Provo Bicycle Collective’s first women’s program: three hours a week dedicated to helping women volunteers learn, work and serve the Provo community.

During Women’s Night, the collective closes to everyone but female volunteers. 

“I started it to have an environment where women can feel more comfortable learning about bicycle mechanics,” said Johnson, who is now a bicycle mechanic at the collective. “Just to create an environment where they feel capable and empowered to learn, rather than intimidated, which can often be an issue for women when it comes to bike shops.”

Kira Johnson, BYU senior and bicycle mechanic at the Provo Bicycle Collective, started a program to give women a comfortable environment to learn about bicycle mechanics. (Savannah Hopkinson)

The Salt Lake City location of the Bicycle Collective has already held weekly women volunteer hours for a few years. According to Johnson, the Provo location wanted to start a women’s program earlier, but until hiring her, they didn’t have any female employees to do the job.

“You come in and it’s mostly men, which is not a bad thing, but it can be intimidating,” Johnson said.

Shannon Soper is one of many women who said she had felt intimidated to come to the Bicycle Collective during regular volunteer hours. She said almost 100 percent of the volunteers on normal nights are men.

Shannon Soper works on refurbishing a bicycle tire during Women’s Night at the Provo Bicycle Collective. The program, which started in January last year, sets aside time for women-only volunteers every Monday. (Savannah Hopkinson)

“I had to constantly be asking for help,” Soper said. “I still need to be constantly asking for help, but maybe it was just a little easier to think of doing that at the women’s night, where the intention is to be inviting to women.”

BYU junior and statistics major Elise White has volunteered at Women’s Night every week since the program’s inception, except for one week when she was sick. White said she would never have volunteered if it weren’t for the women’s program.

“It’s such a good break from school for me, and it’s so nice to be able to work on something with your hands, and kind of mindlessly, almost, just kind of lose yourself in it and get to know new people,” said White, who studies statistics.

White said she loves riding bikes but was without one for a few years until this week when she rode home from Women’s Night with a refurbished bike she worked on herself.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but it is kind of empowering to be able to know how your bike works and know how to fix things and not feel so intimidated by that environment if you ever wanted to come in and fix it,” White said.

BYU junior Elise White gets ready to take her new bicycle home. White refurbished the bicycle herself with the help of Kira Johnson. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Johnson said when women learn how bike mechanics work, they want to bike more, accomplishing the Bicycle Collective’s goal to make biking a more sustainable form of transportation.

“Elise going off with a bike makes me so happy because I definitely believe in using a bike as much as possible rather than a car,” Johnson said. “To get more bikes on the street is my dream.”

However, volunteer programs at the Bicycle Collective are focused on more than getting more bikes on the street. According to Johnson, the collective donated 407 bikes to people in need in 2017.

All the bikes that volunteers fix and refurbish are donated to those who wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford a bike.

“We don’t think about how much we need a car to get around and to go grocery shopping or to go apply for this job,” Johnson said. “When you don’t have a form of transportation, it’s impossible to have a lot of those opportunities.”

Johnson said the Bicycle Collective partners with nonprofits and refugee programs, and donates bikes to elementary schools.

“Even just having a bike to get around more quickly changes worlds for people,” Johnson said. “It makes me ecstatic to know that we’re giving back to the community that gives to us.”

Women’s Night takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. every Monday evening at the Provo Bicycle Collective at 397 E. 200 N. in Provo. All women are invited to participate, regardless of whether they have experience with bicycle mechanics.