What’s your job? Bicycle education with India Viola

What’s your job? is a series focused on the work of FP&M employees. As the largest and most diverse nonacademic unit on campus, it can be challenging to learn everything our division is responsible for. These stories shine a light on FP&Mers and what they do to keep campus safe, sustainable and successful.

A woman squats down to polish a bike chain.
India demonstrates polishing a bike chain in class to improve riding safety. Photo by Veronika Dethart.

Tucked away in Helen C. White Hall, the University Bicycle Resource Center (UBRC) operates Monday through Friday each week. It is here that Bicycle Educator India Viola teaches six classes a year on topics ranging from general bike maintenance, to brake basics and fixing flat tires. An educator since 2003, India works to bring all bicyclists peace of mind and a sense of confidence when dealing with bicycles and their upkeep.

India did not start out on this path. India initially came to UW–Madison as a student in 1992 but left before finishing her degree. She spent some time back in her hometown before returning to Madison, spending eight years learning various trades before returning to finish up her undergraduate and later, graduate degree. India’s first venture after leaving school was to apply to work at a bike shop in Madison this job was instrumental to her role at the UBRC today.

Woman stands in front of a class in the UBRC, speaking to them.
India speaks to her ‘students’ during the Chain Cleaning & Maintenance class. Photo by Veronika Dethart.

“I ended up working with a group of guys and they were absolutely wonderful,” India said. “No sexism was involved … everyone just wanted to teach me everything they knew.”

Though her work experience was a positive one, female bike mechanics were still unusual in bike shops, which can be largely male-dominated spaces. As a solution, India and her friend Ali created a course curriculum to educate the public, starting the group We Are All Mechanics.

The two started teaching friends and creating prototype lessons to determine what worked and what didn’t when teaching bicycle maintenance and repair. India and Ali conducted these lessons through We Are All Mechanics for 15 years and educated over 400 participants in the Madison area, from teenagers to grandparents.

“I could walk downtown and pass people and think ‘Oh, they took my class!’ which made me feel more connected and part of the Madison community,” India said.

Woman holds up a wrench and smiles at the camera.
India smiles and holds one of the many tools available in the University Bicycle Resource Center. Photo by Veronika Dethart.

Dar Ward, who now serves as the Commuter Solutions Manager for Transportation Services, attended one of the We Are All Mechanics classes and saw the value of teaching bicycle maintenance in the community. Dar kept this in mind when they started working with FP&M’s Transportation Services department, which oversees the University Bicycle Resource Center. In 2013, Dar reached out to India and Ali, who wrote up a proposal for a six-class series that they started teaching shortly after.

Since 2018, India has taught the courses as a UW employee, in addition to her position as an Academic Advisor for the Neurobiology Major. India said she has continued in her role with Transportation Services over the years due to the new, refreshing perspectives her attendees bring to each bicycle mechanics class. No two classes are the same.

Woman squats down to pick up and flip over a bicycle.
India exemplifies how to properly flip a bicycle to work on its chain maintenance. Photo by Veronika Dethart.

However, India’s role as Bicycle Educator is not without its challenges. It can be difficult to keep course content fresh and coordinate a schedule that works best for the greatest number of students, staff and community members.

But above all, getting the word out about these classes is what’s most difficult, as many people do not even know the university has this space.

India hopes that through her classes, more students, staff and community members will learn about the UBRC and continue to advocate for practical spaces on campus for bicycle users.

“So many people at the university, including students, faculty and staff use their bicycles as transportation.” India said. “Many of us commute to campus by bike and would love to have a space to work on our bikes that mirrors our enjoyment of biking.”

India has high hopes for the future and is excited to continue teaching at the UBRC. Want to learn more about bicycle maintenance and education? More information is available on the University Bicycle Resource Center site. You can get in touch with India at irviola@wisc.edu.

By Corinne Loth and Anna Krawczyk

Corinne Loth is a strategic communications student intern with FP&M Marketing & Communications. Corinne is a junior at UW–Madison majoring in Communications and Information Science with a certificate in Digital Studies. Corinne has been working at FP&M since winter 2024.

Anna Krawczyk is a strategic communications student intern with FP&M Marketing & Communications. Anna is a junior at UW–Madison majoring in Communications and Psychology. Anna has been working at FP&M since October 2023.