In your corner: DROPS Cycling's female bike mechanic | Trek Bikes
  1. Loading...

Trek Certified Service graduate Kelly Valyou worked as a mechanic for the DROPS women’s cycling team at the 2017 Tour of California. She learned a lot—most importantly, that the battles she’d won and lost in her long career as a female bike mechanic had all been worth it.

On the flight back to Austin after the 2017 Tour of California, Kelly Valyou had a moment. It was that feeling you get when something big has just happened, but you’ve been too caught up in the turmoil of excitement to understand its significance.

Cruising over the Western desert at 500 miles per hour, she was overcome with a sense that all things add up to the present. Her childhood obsession with bikes. Her first job on the sales floor of a bike shop in New York. The time she’d spent managing a staff in New York City, the shop in Scottsdale, then Atlanta, then Austin.

The years getting by on whatever hourly wage a shop was willing to pay her, just so she could keep learning. The fear and self-doubt, the times she felt she’d taken the wrong path, the long days without recognition. All the times a customer looked past her at the service counter to talk to a man, carrying forward the stereotype that she couldn’t possibly know much about mechanics.

On the plane, she felt with the deepest conviction that all the obstacles she’d overcome had brought her here to this particular seat on this particular plane, and she allowed herself an uncharacteristic moment of self-congratulation.

She’d spent the previous week riding in the team car and wrenching for a professional women’s road racing team at the most prestigious stage race in the United States. This in itself was something to celebrate. She had reached a pinnacle that most mechanics, woman or man, can only dream of. But more than that, it was the feeling that everything had been for something, and that she’d made progress toward her life’s goal of paving a path for other women.

She felt this moment with force. And then she asked herself, “What’s next?”

For women in the cycling industry, particularly those in the service field, opportunities aren’t handed out—they’re hard won over years of effort. For Kelly, who currently works in the service department for Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin, Texas, one of those wins came in late 2016, when she won a scholarship to attend a women’s Expert Technician Course put on by Trek Certified Service at Trek’s global headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. It was one of three women’s courses held in 2016. This year, Trek Certified Service will host twice as many courses for women, and will be awarding scholarships to every accepted applicant.

“That course was something special for me,” Kelly says. “It was more than the instruction. It was the validation. By the time I got back to Austin, colleagues who might not have come to me otherwise were asking for direction when they hit a roadblock on a repair.”

"She treated every interaction after the course as she had every other in her career: as a learning opportunity, and a small way to establish her authority in a field that is overwhelmingly male-dominated.

“I’ve been doing this for twenty years,” she says. “It can be a boys’ club, and that’s something I’m trying to change.”

Then, something else extraordinary happened. She was asked to support DROPS, a UCI registered women’s road racing team, at the 2017 Tour of California. DROPS is based in Britain but competes around the world in cycling’s biggest competitions. The team is built on the ethos of creating a happy, supportive environment for women riders.

“It was extremely intimidating at first,” she says. “Walking into it, I didn’t have a clear sense of what to expect of the race environment, but I knew it would be high-pressure.”

In the world of professional cycling, mechanics are the team members behind the curtain. And in the relationship between racer and mechanic, Kelly explains, trust is everything.

“Racing is such an intimate thing,” she says, “and it’s a one-time opportunity. If you’re not fast with an on-the-fly repair, it will destroy a racer’s day and set the whole team back. So you double-check everything. You don’t necessarily see this when you’re watching the races, but mechanics are just as nervous if not more so than the women actually racing. If there’s a problem, you take it to heart.”

One of the things Kelly learned at the Tour of California is that it’s a good sign when a mechanic doesn’t have to work during a race. That means everything is going as planned—that the prep work was done perfectly. “You don’t want to have to jump out of that car!” she says.

Kelly is a lot of things. She’s calm, thoughtful, inquisitive. She’s a problem solver. She’s a confidant. One of the things she’s not is a complainer. She’s fought battles to get to this place in her career, and though she’s candid when she relates her experience, she never comes off like life has been unfair in the path she has chosen.

Still, in the current climate of the cycling industry, it’s easy to see beyond her words. It hasn’t been easy for her. In the face of this, it’s understandable to ask: Why would she do it?

After a long pause and a deep breath, she says simply and firmly, “Mostly, for women.”

In those three words, there’s a mountain of significance. She goes on to describe a scene at the end of the Tour of California. The women of DROPS were staged at a table, and a group of girls was standing around them, hugging the racers, getting autographs, posing for photos taken by the girls’ parents.

“That’s why,” she says. “No one’s going to stop me from being part of that. If I can show another woman that she can do this too, then it’s all worth it.”

Her advice to young women who find themselves where she once was, with a passion for bikes but not knowing how to turn it into a career, is the kind of advice that would serve anyone, in any career.

“You have to know this is a good thing,” she says, “and you have to believe it. Keep fighting to learn. Have patience. It takes a long time. Don’t take everything to heart. Make relationships. It’s becoming easier, but it’s not there yet. It will be. I’m never going to stop fighting for you.”

So, to all the young women with a passion, know you have at least one other woman in your corner. And she’s a good friend to have. The best, in fact. Because she’s never going to stop fighting for you.

What is WSD?

Trek and Bontrager products with the Women’s Specific Design (WSD) designation were conceived, designed, tested, and developed specifically for a better fit from the start. Does it matter? You bet it does. This is why.

Learn more

Women's road bikes

Trek doesn’t compromise on performance. Every Trek Women’s road model features the same technology and performance of its mainline counterpart, with the added benefit of WSD touchpoints designed for a better fit from the start.

Shop women's road bikes

Trek Women

Like what you’re reading? There’s a lot more where this came from. Check out the Trek Women newsletter for the most inspirational women’s content, product releases, and sale notifications.

Sign up today!

Product Compare Rack

Start comparison