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Bike Pirates

November 25, 2013

Anyone who’s ever been into a bike shop knows Bike Jock. He’s everywhere and takes the crown as cycling’s biggest enemy, leaving cars in his dust. He scares pedestrians on principle, won’t let you fix your own bike out of a deep-seated preference for your bike over you and claims to fight imperialism one push of the pedal at a time. That’s right, he doesn’t just live in bike stores, cranking righteous tunes on the radio and barely bothering to mutter out coherent responses to simple questions, he also occupies community bike workshops riddled with feminists, queers and other do-gooders who don’t appreciate manarchy’s finer points.

More and more, thankfully, these workshops are taking stronger stands against this pervasive aspect of bike culture. In Montreal, I remember hearing about Right to Move volunteers going through special training sessions. Here in Toronto, Bike Pirates has taken a few different approaches to the problem. For a while, they offered a monthly Queer Day for drop-in repairs. A more successful project, though, has been the Trans and Women Sundays. Having just passed the four-year mark, these Sundays are still going strong, offering space and skills to people routinely alienated from an unnecessarily macho bike world.
In a written interview with collective-member Ainsley Naylor, she explained their origins:

Soon after moving we attended Bike!Bike! in San Francisco [2008] and went to a workshop on starting a women’s night. It was encouraging and inspiring to share our thoughts and experiences with many others in the same position. At that point we were facing resistance from a few Pirates who expressed now-familiar opposition to the idea. The arguments that “I’m not sexist therefore there is no problem” and “segregation is not a constructive step towards inclusivity” are familiar and oft-repeated in arguments for this type of programming. Ultimately we came to a general meeting with a letter of intent, which we’d had many members of the cycling community sign as support. We also came with the long-standing success of Toronto institutions like the Women’s Bookstore, Women/Trans exclusive hours at shops like Good for Her, and Wenches with Wrenches as precedence for our request. Ultimately we made it clear that our request could not be opposed, and that even without full support or criticism the programming would go ahead.

Boom, history made. From there, they went on to take Sundays as the most convenient day for them. Another collective member, Keren Gottfried, continued, “We are a group of women and trans people who run the Sunday hours (12pm-6pm) at Pirates. During these hours, access to the workshop, including access to all parts, items for sale and our library, is reserved for women, trans and genderqueer folks, and their children (regardless of gender), with no exceptions.” Additionally, they offer a Gear Up! workshop series that repeats on a monthly basis, and you can join their fessbook page to keep up-to-date.
As heavenly as this may sound, they do face the constant headache of cismen. Not just the inevitable, weekly intrusions from guys who don’t know about the prohibition on Sundays but more obscenely (predictably), there are those who refuse to accept that they are not welcome this one day out of the week:

If they still seem confused, which is the vast majority of the cismale population, we invite them to chat briefly outside about the policy and direct them to our website for more information. We sadly just do not have time to unpack all the politics with every cismale who comes to our shop on Sundays…and let me tell you…the number of entitled folks we get who make demands on our time is quite high. It is ironic because our time is supposed to be spent helping ciswomen and transfolk but we end up spending a lot of time trying to educate. It’s a struggle.

I’m particularly interested in oppressed groups taking this kind of space for themselves, and so I went on to ask their thoughts on exclusive spaces/closed-spaces?

As long as we live in a society where power is unequally distributed, and that power translates into oppression and domination, we will have marginalized groups that could frankly use a break from those struggles. Sundays at Pirates try to make a space where folks can, idealistically speaking, work on their bikes without having to out themselves, without having their knowledge questioned, without a cismale taking the tool out of their hands. It is also a fundamental way to build community among ciswomen and transfolk. The space is so different on Sundays! Participants get to know each other, help each other; there’s laughter, support and ciswomen/trans role models to learn mechanics from. It is a unique space I am deeply grateful for.

Ways to get involved:
To begin – Bike Pirates offers a very comprehensive list of ways people can get involved with the running of the space itself, ranging from cooking to fixing to sorting. Seems like there’d be something in there for people of all temperaments and preferences.

Donations – “We operate exclusively on donations so people can donate anything they think we might find useful and we will let them know if we need it. Especially bikes! Also bike parts, food items, old cotton clothing that can be cut into rags.”

Allies who are not trans- or woman-identified can support Sundays by:
Respecting the space. If you are not woman-identified or trans-identified, please come to the shop during our other open hours!
Taking us seriously. We have created this space because we feel like we need it. It is hurtful to ask people who are trying to claim space whether they are joking!
Being aware of the ways you interact with others at Bike Pirates. Creating a positive, anti-oppressive environment is everyone’s job.
Educating yourself about issues affecting trans folks and women.
Explaining to other potential allies why it is important to support trans and women exclusive spaces. It is often helpful for dudes to hear it from other dudes!

To get in touch
the best way is to stop by the shop and say hi! Alternatively…
info [AT] bikepirates [DOT] com
Bike Pirates general page:
Gear Up! workshops on our facebook page:

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