In 1817, Baron Karl Drais invented a horseless carriage, a two-wheeled pedal-less device propelled by foot, making him the world's first bike mechanic. Henry Ford, founder of The Ford Motor Co., named his first automobile the Quadricycle; the vehicle featured many bicycle parts, including steel-spoked wheels and pneumatic tires. The two most famous bike mechanics, Wilbur and Orville Wright, used components of advanced, lightweight bicycles to build the first airplane in 1903. Needless to say, without bike mechanics, transportation in the past century would look vastly different.
And, Bend also would be extremely different without our horde of bike mechanics (i.e., there would be a lot of angry folks with busted rides). With over 20 shops in Central Oregon, (that's about one bike shop for every 3,000 residents!) and dozens of races hosted here every year (cyclo-cross, BMX, road cycling and more), mechanics are a commodity for our professional and amateur bike communities. The popularity of bikes has created a sub-industry with mechanical institutes popping up in places like Asheville, N.C., and as close as the United Bicycle Institute of Ashland, Ore.
Barb Bohm-Becker may not be re-inventing the wheel as a bike mechanic, but she has been working at Sunnyside Sports on Newport Ave. for over 22 years.
Bohm-Becker is a bit different from the average Bend bike mechanic. She's not a young competitor working her way to the next big race-day pay off, or a weekend warrior type. She's 53 years old, with two grown kids—and even stranger for her profession, she is a she. (As one of the measurements for best bike town each year, Bicycling magazine considers the number of female mechanics as an indicator of how deep bike culture reaches.)
Bohm-Becker was always interested in the more mechanical side of the world. As a child, rather than play with dolls and tea sets, she wanted to take things apart and put them back together. In school, she wanted to take welding and shop but was forced to take home ec. In college, when she worked at a gas station doing auto tune-ups, her main job was to change the light bulbs under the dashboards because she had smaller hands than the male mechanics.
When she rediscovered her passion for bikes after having her first child and moving to Bend in 1988, her enthusiasm was so infectious that Sunnyside offered her a bike mechanic job, no questions asked.
"I think he thought I knew more than I did," admits Bohm-Becker. "But I had a lot of excitement, and you can't teach that."
After over two decades of work, Bohm-Becker has learned a few things, including how to be a race mechanic and how to build the perfect wheel, considered one of the more artful aspects of bike mechanics.
"Building a wheel is like a math problem," said Bohm-Becker. "There are so many variables, spokes, rims, patterns and tension. A perfect wheel is one [the rider] never has to think about." SW