BIDDEFORD — Until Thursday, 13-year-old Mercedes McCorrison of Westbrook had no idea what a back wheel hub was. And she didn’t know there were 16 tiny ball bearings inside the hub.

“I never knew there was such things as ball bearings. I never knew all this could come apart,” she said, referring to a donated bicycle she is refurbishing.

Mercedes is learning how to get a beat-up bicycle back into operating condition as part of the “Girls Only” Bike Monkeys class through the nonprofity Community Bicycle Center. During Thursday’s class, she diligently cleaned the freewheel mechanism on the rear wheel while volunteer Jessica Paiva held it in place.

The free, eight-week workshop for girls age 11 to 13 is geared to teach them how to overhaul a bicycle.

“We’ve had Bike Monkeys (workshops) for years, but not a whole lot of interest from girls,” said Bronwyn Potthoff, who works at the center as a member of Americorps Vista. “We had to figure out ways to get girls more involved and increase their own self-reliance skills.”

The idea for a “girls only” Bike Monkeys class stemmed from an overnight cycling trip that Potthoff led last summer with a group of girls.

“We had a lot of bike issues,” she said. “We need to be able to fix (bicycles) when something goes wrong.”

The Community Bicycle Center bustled with activity during Thursday’s class as half a dozen girls disassembled the rear hubs of their bicycles with help from Pottoff and six female volunteers.

Chris Porter, a male bicycle mechanic at CycleMania in Portland, provided the instruction. Potthoff said the center searched unsuccessfully for a female bicycle mechanic willing and able to give step-by-step instructions on how to tear apart and reassemble bicycles.

The bicycles, all donated by community members, were less than perfect — Mercedes’ was missing a seat, and Sophia Hibbard’s bicycle had a stubborn back hub.

But at the end of the eight weeks, the bicycles will be as good as new and the girls will take them home.

Sophia, who’s 11, requested a road bicycle to work with, to complete her collection — she already has a mountain bike and two miniature bicycles at home in Windham.

With help from Porter and volunteer Karen Nelson, she finally dislodged the back hub so she could clean the parts and grease the hub before putting it back together.

“I wanted to take Bike Monkeys when the guys were doing it, but I didn’t want to be the only girl,” Sophia said.

Her mother, Stephanie Sleeper, said her daughter loves Bike Monkeys and has participated in rides led by the Community Bicycle Center for two years.

Now that she’s involved in the center, Sleeper said, Sophia “is a different kid. She has a passion for something.”

Potthoff said she hopes the girls will learn a lot about bicycles, but there also is an element of mentoring.

Working with female adults is fostering connections and offering role models for the girls, she said.

“They can see all the nontraditional jobs they can do,” Potthoff said. “If there are no female bike mechanics, let’s grow our own here.”


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]