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Pushing Boundaries at The United Bike Institute

Ask the average person what Ashland is known for and they’ll say ‘theater.’ Ask the average bike mechanic and you’ll get a very different answer: The United Bicycle Institute.

The school has eight full-time and four part-time guest instructors, and typically sees 800 to 900 students per year, about the number of attendees to the average small liberal arts college.

But what is most prominent isn’t the volume of students but the diversity. Students come from all over the country to attend the classes, and some noteworthy points of origin have included Australia, Iceland and Oman.

“The common thread is bicycles but the diversity is phenomenal. It is impossible to stereotype the bike mechanics,” says  Ron Suthpin, co-owner of U.B.I.

Suthpin noted that bike mechanics enter the profession for a variety of reasons, with the desire to be involved in an environmentally conscious industry as one of top motivators.

The one common characteristic however is an eagerness to learn.

“[Their goal] is just to demystify the bike and make themselves more confident,” says Suthpin.

In other words, although a bike might seem fairly simple, its complexities and the best way to tune them might not be so obvious.

Aside from introductory classes and basic certification, advanced students can take classes that specialize in such esoterica like suspension repair, wheel building and frame construction. Classes range from three days to ten days depending on the focus.

U.B.I. was founded in 1981 when Wayne Martin, the owner of United Bicycle Tool, found that many of the tools he was selling required extensive training. Growth in demand for classes spurred UBI to open a second branch in Portland in 2009 that offers an identical curriculum. Students learn through hands on instruction and plenty of practice. A person who takes a frame building class, for example, will end up with his or her own hand-made frame. Even though all the necessary materials are provided by UBI, students still have the opportunity to work on their own bikes as well.

These days, the area that is seeing the biggest flux in design is the suspension, and U.B.I.’s class dedicated specifically to suspensions has grown from a half-day class when it started in the early ‘90s to a three-day course.

But changing with the times that doesn’t mean they’re slacking on the fundamentals.

Tech support said to turn the bike off and then turn it on again, right?

Lemuel Maldonado came to U.B.I. with a background in woodworking, and on his first day he was already learning the basics of TIG welding and frame construction.

“My father wanted me to learn how to build frames because he invented a way to make dual bikes that are connected to each other and can tilt together,” he says.

He came to U.B.I. from Puerto Rico. Take that Shakespeare.

More information about U.B.I. can be found at http://bikeschool.com.



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