UBI rides into Portland

PORTLAND — Ashland-based United Bicycle Institute has expanded its reach to bike-crazy Portland, where facilities on a new campus are nearing completion and its first three courses were just recently completed.

UBI, a small, state-licensed vocational school, has taught more than 12,000 students from 50 states and 40 countries around the globe about bike repair, shop operation and frame building, and is now expanding to address the growing demand for custom bike creations.

At an open house Saturday, UBI administrator John Baxter welcomed Portland's cycling community to the school's new Portland campus at 3961 N. Williams Ave. The event, part of the annual six-week long Oregon Manifest, a celebration of urban bicycling culture, included facility tours, a garage sale and raffle, which saw two custom built frames made by UBI instructors go home with lucky attendees.

The satellite campus offers an assortment of courses, including an introduction to bicycle maintenance and professional repair and shop operation. In the spring, Baxter said, frame building will also be offered.

According to Baxter, UBI began considering Portland last winter, but had a different site in mind for the school. Then Jonathan Maus, founder and editor-in-chief of bikeportland.org, a daily news source that covers the city's bike scene, introduced school officials to the North Williams location.

Baxter said Maus brought him to the north Portland location a few blocks off of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where they observed "bicyclist after bicyclist go by."

"It's a corridor where there is a ton of bike traffic," Maus said.

The property sits between Williams and Vancouver avenues, two one-way streets that make up the main north-bound and south-bound bike routes through the area. After just a few minutes, Baxter recalled, he said to himself, "Wow — this is it."

UBI was founded in Ashland in 1981 and draws about 450 to 500 students to its flagship campus each year. In recent years, with environmental awareness and the costs of energy on the rise, more people are considering the bicycle as an alternative mode of transportation, Baxter said, which led to the school's expansion.

The move couldn't have come at a better time. Portland, long known for its bike-friendly culture, has more bike riders per capita than any other U.S. city and an organized bike ride takes place almost every day.

The city is expanding its infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of pedal-powered commuters, installing buffered bike lanes, bike boxes and cycle tracks throughout the city.

It only makes sense that the city that rides together would also have a school where it can build together, Baxter said.

Maus agreed. "It sends an important message to the city," he said. "It's great to have a vocational school of this kind in Portland. You can't be in a more bike-centric city."

So, how has bike-crazed Portland taken to UBI?

Already, courses on bicycle maintenance and shop operation at the Portland campus are full through January. The first frame building courses, which will begin in April, also are at capacity.

"The reception we've received from the bicycle community (in Portland) has been wonderful," Baxter said. "There are a lot of people here that are interested in bicycle building, and now they don't have to come to Ashland to take our courses."

Baxter said the expansion hasn't hampered enrollment at the Ashland campus, where classrooms remain as busy as ever.

Registration for classes is open at both the Ashland and Portland campuses. For more information, call 488-1121 or visit UBI on the Web at www.bikeschool.com.

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