Megan Somerville is the re-use coordinator and mechanic at Bikeworks, a social enterprise based in Tower Hamlets and Shepherds Bush that provides cycle training, maintenance and restoration.
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Megan was a production and stage manager for dance and opera before deciding to turn her passion for bikes into her profession. Arriving in the UK in 2007, she worked for the Bike Station in Edinburgh before moving to Bikeworksin 2010.
What’s the best part of your job?
I like what bicycles mean, in terms of independence and freedom, especially for women. The bicycle started the feminist movement … dress reform got women on bikes and gave them the freedom to travel away from home.
I love working with my hands and I love the mechanical aspects of working with bicycles. I like the re-use aspect too. With a bit of love and care an unwanted bike can be someone else’s bike.
Do women have the same chance as men to get work as a mechanic?
That’s a hard one. It is a male dominated industry. Some of that is due to the physical nature of the job – taking things apart and putting them back together again. You don’t find many women who enjoy doing that. The best mechanics I’ve met are women though, because we’re critical thinkers. I’ve been lucky enough to do my training under female mechanics.
If a young woman was interested in becoming a mechanic what would you suggest she do?
Take as many courses as possible. Start with a weekend maintenance course at a bike shop, move to a professional course and volunteer as much as possible. Many of our trainees have come in through the Cycle into Work scheme.
Do you look for any particular qualities when you’re recruiting?
A willingness to learn, initiative, critical thinking and confidence. And a willingness to take constructive criticism.
What are your future plans?
I don’t know. I chose this industry because there are so many avenues you can go down – education, industry and product building. I’m hoping that London will become more like Amsterdam or Belgium, where at the train station you have stacks of bicycles from people commuting rather than driving. You see growth here each year with more bikes. The first time I was in London as a theatre student in 1997 people just weren’t on their bikes. To come back 15 years later and see now, especially in central London, bicycles are triple to one car, say 40 people lining up at the lights. The cars are getting less and less, which is really good to see.
Any useful tips for women cyclists?
Go on courses and take the free cycle training that councils offer. There are a lot of drop in courses, such as at the London Bike Kitchen in Hackney, which does a good women-only one from 6-9pm on Mondays. An interesting book to read is How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle by Frances E Willard, written in 1893. She was part of the suffragette movement and was one of the forerunners in women’s rights.