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Wheel & Sprocket’s Brauer charts her own bike path
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Wheel & Sprocket’s Brauer charts her own bike path

For many bicyclists, a bike that needs fixing is an aggravation, but for Gretchen Brauer, it’s a challenge she’s eager to take on.

Brauer, general manager of Wheel & Sprocket bike shop at 1027 Davis St., is an ace
bicycle mechanic, one of very few women in the field. And for her, fixing a bike means finding a solution to a problem (See sidebar: Bike industry on a roller-coaster ride).

Gretchen Brauer, general manager at Wheel & Sprocket in Evanston. Credit: Alan K. Cubbage

“I’ve always been a super hands-on person ever since I was small. My dad constantly was doing projects around the house, from electrical work to painting to building things and I was always his eager little helper. I learned a ton of information from him and knew that I really enjoyed working with my hands,” Brauer said.

“So when I was old enough to work, I focused on the things I loved, which happened to be my local bike shop in Traverse City, Michigan. I had hung out there for many hours before I was actually employed there, and I spent much of my allowance there. And so when they finally hired me, it became really cool to ‘live the dream’ and work in a bike shop.”

Brauer, 39, has been with Wheel & Sprocket in Evanston for 10 years, first as the service manager and for the past two years as the shop’s general manager. However, she didn’t plan on a career in the biking industry. She originally intended to go into medicine – her undergraduate degree from Wayne State University is in biomedical physics. But conversations with physicians dissuaded her from pursuing that ambition.

“I was going to go to medical school and had an epiphany late in my studies,” she said. “I saw a couple physicians get called in [at odd hours] and they were talking about the challenges of their family life, and I thought, ‘I don’t think I want this.’”

Brauer had worked part-time at a bike shop in Detroit while attending college, so when she graduated she joined the shop full time, learning both bike repair and sales. “I was really fortunate in that the owner and managers really, really took me under their wings and encouraged me to learn,” Brauer said. “Bike repair can be an intimidating field.”

The field also traditionally has been heavily male and remains so – Brauer estimated that 90% of bicycle service techs are men. In sales, it’s at least 60% male.