It took a serious ski accident and major knee surgery to push Tess Lawson into her decision to try bike mechanics. She has not looked back.
A ski instructor and coach in the popular Swiss resort of Verbier, Tess found herself in hospital and out of action in November last year. It was the beginning of the ski season and there was no chance of her continuing her winter job.
“It gave me time to sit back and think about what I really want to do,” she said. “I utterly love cycling and wanted to be involved in the sport, but not necessarily coaching or working with athletes as I have done in skiing. I wanted to try something different and work with my hands.”
The former British national cross-country runner and competitive cyclist did not take long to decide to apply for the course at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland. After passing the Level 1 qualification the first week, she has gone on to complete the Level 2 course.
Although she had no experience in the profession before starting the course, Tess had learned about bike maintenance from her four brothers, all of whom cycle. She realises that most women do not have that chance.
“My brothers taught me a lot, so I have always been able to maintain my own bike. But I know lots of girls who won’t go out riding alone because they need to be with someone who can help if they have a problem or even just a flat tyre.”
Improving the bike shop experience for women
She adds that bike shops can be intimidating places for women, with some old-school mechanics unable to take female customers seriously.
“I’ve had some bad experiences dealing with mechanics who don’t even look at me then just give my bike back saying, ‘yeah it’s fine.’ One shop even damaged my bike and tried to cover it up.”
Tess firmly believes that all customers - whether men, women, competitive cyclists or leisure riders – should get the same consideration and service.
“I utterly love cycling and would like to make it more approachable and accessible to other women,” she declares.
On graduating from the UCI WCC, she already has some workshop experience lined up in a shop where she will put into practice what she has learned during her five weeks in Aigle.
“It has been an awesome course,” she says. “I’ve been able to work on road bikes, mountain bikes and track bikes, and I’ve built lots of wheels."
"It’s been incredibly intense and an inspiring experience. And what an amazing environment to work in!”
She has many projects in mind which will be easier with her new mechanical know-how, not least to undertake a self-supported long-distance bike trip abroad. She is also involved in a new alpine cycling training venture.
“I would like to pursue a career as a race mechanic but at the moment I need to get more experience. I want to continue learning and come back to the UCI World Cycling Centre and do my level 3 qualification.”
Twenty-two mechanics have graduated from the UCI WCC’s course since it was launched in 2013. Tess Lawson is the second woman to follow the course after South Korean Audrey Ji Yeong in 2016
As well as training courses for mechanics, the UCI World Cycling Centre offers two-day courses dedicated uniquely to wheel-building. More details about both courses and the course calendar can be found on the UCI website.
The UCI also offers its member National Federations the chance to apply for the UCI/WCC level 1 mechanic course to be held in their own country. Details can be found here.