Chainbreakers Rolls Into Its First Birthday

An all-female group of bike mechanics, cycling enthusiasts, and do-it-yourself repair gurus is celebrating one year in existence by getting bigger—and vowing to help out more women before its second birthday. 

That message came from Rachel Mihalko and Sara Kirschner Tuesday night, as their ladies’-night-meets-bike-clinic Chainbreakers celebrated its first anniversary at the Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op (BSBC). Close to 100 came out for the event, which included live music, bike repair contests, birthday cake, and male attendees who had been given a special exception for the party. 

“We know there have been some amazing men spreading the word and acknowledging the importance of Chainbreakers, so we’re extending this invite to all people,” wrote Mihalko on social media before the party. “Let’s all celebrate WTF (women, trans, femme) mechanics together!”

 Honorary Chainbreaker Elizabeth Nearing mingles with attendees. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Honorary Chainbreaker Elizabeth Nearing mingles with attendees. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Chainbreakers began as a biweekly experiment last summer, when Mihalko and Kirschner decided to revive an eponymous group that had fizzled out several years before. They weren’t sure it would stick, so they beta-tested it, adding a few Tuesday nights to their summer calendars for a women’s-only night at the Co-Op. Each time, attendance grew, the group’s mission spreading by word of mouth. 

Attendees were a motley crew: graduate students and nonprofit transplants new to New Haven, born-and-bred Nutmeggers, a few newcomers who had busted a bike part and just wanted to learn how to fix it themselves.  A few weeks became a few months, and then almost a year. Except for a tornado in early May, sessions have continued twice each month despite the season or weather. 

At each session, Mihako said there is a core group of about 10 WTF mechanics, a few other regulars who drop in, and a smattering of newcomers. She’s had attendees show up at every session, including a New Year’s Day clinic where one person came out despite sub-zero temperatures and holiday vacation that was in its last hours. 

 Rachel Mihalko: “We had no idea that it would be as meaningful as it is. I mean, we started it with this meaningful intention, but I’m glad that everyone else thinks that it’s so important to have.”

Rachel Mihalko: “We had no idea that it would be as meaningful as it is. I mean, we started it with this meaningful intention, but I’m glad that everyone else thinks that it’s so important to have.”

“I think New Haven needed something like this,” said Mihalko, who works as an archivist when she’s not covered in bike grease, her hands doing surgery on whatever part needs fixing. “We had no idea that it would be as meaningful as it is. I mean, we started it with this meaningful intention, but I’m glad that everyone else thinks that it’s so important to have.”

Tuesday, the group kicked off a year in existence with cupcakes and doll-sized, candy-colored candles, an operatic birthday benediction, speeches, and booming music from DJ Shaki (the Mountain Movers’ Rick Omonte). Outside, Mihalko recruited Chainbreakers regulars for handlebar-wrapping contests, pitting some of the group’s most dedicated members against True Cyclery Owner Karl Borne. 

“Are we just judging on time? Time and appearance?” Mihalko asked, selecting judges Mary Burak, Augustine Filomena and Cassandra Faustini from the crowd as she and Borne debated the rules, and competitors took a ready stance with rolls of black bar-wrapping tape. 

She looked at the teams, Borne on the right and Chainbreaker Sarah Masotta (pictured at top) on the left.  A crowd had gathered behind them. “Three, two, one, go!” she cried.  

 Sarah Masotta takes her mark, gets set ...

Sarah Masotta takes her mark, gets set ...

The two wrapped feverishly. They leaned in, scrutinizing their single handlebars as they slung slick black tape around them, no room for error. It was tight: just seconds before Masotta had finished with an assist from Kirschner, Borne cut his final piece of tape. He stepped away, cautiously victorious. 

But then Burak pointed out a handicap: Masotta’s handlebar had a tag hanging from it, making it harder to maneuver around the space with a sticky roll of tape. And her wrapping was neater too. The judges deliberated, checking the wrapping a second, third and fourth time. They declared Masotta the winner—the brand-new owner of a new green biker cap that looked more like a crown as she slid it on. 

“Chainbreakers connects me to a rad group of women that work hard, laugh often, and love New Haven,“ she said after the event. “Both bikes and community are built in our garage … and I look forward to another year.”  

 Cassandra Faustini and Augustine Filomena scrutinize Masotta's handiwork. 

Cassandra Faustini and Augustine Filomena scrutinize Masotta's handiwork. 

So do Kirschner and Mihalko, who are already brainstorming ways to expand the group. After getting Chainbreakers up and solidly running last year, Kirschner said she wants the group to be able to give out scholarships to bike mechanic institutes, and keep growing the WTF community around bike repair. 

“I’m fucking pumped,” she said. “We’ve made this space, and it’s been this very low-key, unsung kind of thing all year. I think this year is the year we’re going to try to hook people up with scholarships … to get projects going for the community we’ve built, and make this bigger and better than we did last year.”

“I think that we accomplished a lot just holding this space this year,” she added. “But I think next year we’re gonna go for it.”

To find out more about Chainbreakers, check out the group's Facebook page