Portland Made: United Bicycle Institute
Monday, August 17, 2015
Portland Made contributing writer Peggy Acott sat down with the United Bicycle Institute to find out more about their educational programs.
United Bicycle Institute (UBI) offers coursework and certification in both Bicycle Mechanics and Bicycle Frame Building. “It is a very unique business,” says Stephen Glass, Manager of the Portland Campus, as it is one of only a few schools in North America to offer these programs. These classes have attracted students from all fifty states and forty-four different countries. They are approved to accept Veterans using the Post 911/GI Bill through the US Veterans Administration and also accept students through vocational rehabilitation programs.
UBI is a Licensed Private Career School through the State of Oregon and as such, its curriculum goes through the same evaluations and standardizations as other state schools, which Glass thinks helps keep the quality of their curriculum high, giving those who attend a “truly professional education.”
Not all students attend UBI for vocational training, however. Different classes in Bicycle Mechanics run from one day to two weeks; some are geared (no pun intended) toward bike enthusiasts who want to learn more about maintaining their own bicycles, while the more technical courses provide vocational training and continuing education for existing mechanics to improve and expand their skill. In the two-week courses on frame building, the student leaves with their own custom-built frame along with a new set of skills.
The original location (the school’s administrative headquarters) is in Ashland, Oregon. It was founded in 1981, and in the years that followed, classes were added and wait lists continued to grow; it was time to expand. In 2009 they added a second location, and chose Portland because 1) it was easier for students traveling from a distance to fly into, and 2) Portland had a good-sized bicycle manufacturing and community already in place, and so there would be a pool of interested potential students for what the school had to offer. They were right. Today at the Portland campus alone, there is enrollment of 400-500 students per year.
Glass says the school attracts a broad student base: The average age, he estimates is in the mid-30s; approximately 25% of the students are women (a number that has been steadily increasing since the mid-1990s); the summer classes tend to draw more hobbyists – especially students and educators who have available time during the summer months. Experienced and working mechanics tend to take classes at other times of the year.
Glass says the biggest challenge they continually face is how to insure that everyone gets what they need out of their classes, when students come with a wide variety of existing skills. “The bike industry is somewhat tribal,” says Glass, where people tend to learn the skills they need informally from someone else, without necessarily having “the whys and hows” of what they’re doing. So each class at UBI strives to fill these gaps, to provide a strong knowledge base as well as skill set for their students.
UBI is finding a lot of success in their programming, regularly receiving “glowing reviews” from their students. Glass thinks this success is largely due to the strength and quality of their teaching staff. The company has a total of nine teachers between both locations, which combined have more than 200 years’ worth of experience in various aspects of the bicycle business. It’s this depth and breadth of knowledge that enables such a wide range of students’ needs to be met.
To find out more about UBI, visit their website http://www.bikeschool.com/
Portland Made is a digital storytelling platform and advocacy center for Portland's Maker Movement. We do 2 features a month on Portland Makers; connect makers with more local, national and international markets; connect makers with local professional and manufacturing resources; advocate for makers with politicians at all levels of government; work with PSU on an annual survey that captures the economic power of the Maker Movement; help makers find real estate; and promote Portland makers with local and national media.
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