Bicycle school ready to roll: Wooden wheels a possibility with new cycle school curriculum

Chris Tucker ctucker@ptleader.com
Posted 2/27/18

Port Townsend’s skilled woodworkers may soon be creating not only boats, but bicycle frames and wheels, after the new Port Townsend Cycle School ramps up its curriculum beginning in April.

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Bicycle school ready to roll: Wooden wheels a possibility with new cycle school curriculum

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Port Townsend’s skilled woodworkers may soon be creating not only boats, but bicycle frames and wheels, after the new Port Townsend Cycle School ramps up its curriculum beginning in April.

The nonprofit school aspires to become a center for teaching everything relating to bicycling, from wheel and frame building to bicycle mechanics, or “wrenching.”

The four founders of the bicycle school – David Engle, Ric Hjertberg, Kees Kolff and Dave Thielk – held an informational presentation about the project at the RoseWind Common House in Port Townsend Feb. 22. About 37 people attended.

“In this community, there’s a high value placed on craftsmanship, and that’s why we’ve taken the posture of being about excellence,” Engle said of the school. As such, the woodworking school is a natural partner for what the cycle school is planning to do, he said.

“If we’re going to do things like bring back wood rims, wooden wheels, wood bike frames, we have a skill set in this community that is unique in the world, of world-class woodworkers we can partner with and do some amazing things,” Engle said.

The Port Townsend School of Arts could also be a partner, he said, for logo design.

Engle, who is a former Port Townsend School District superintendent, said bicycles are liberating tools that involve a mix of science, different materials and great designs, and that they have dietary and exercise implications for riders.

Engle said he’s been a bicyclist for 64 years.

“I started going to kindergarten on a big old Huffy that weighed more than me,” Engle said. He fell in love with bicycles for their utility, aesthetics and industrial design, and wanted to grow a bicycling culture in the area.

360 STUDENTS EXPECTED

The cycle school anticipates more than 60 students to attend in its first year, followed by 312 in 2019 and 360 in 2020.

Thielk, who has been a bicyclist for 57 years, said the school hopes to draw students from across the region, the nation and the world. The business plan for the cycle school calls for one-quarter of the students to be on full or partial scholarships.

Courses that are planned for the first year include basic and advanced wheel building, and basic and advanced bicycle mechanics.

Additional classes would include wood frame building, bicycle restoration, bicycle suspensions and electric bikes.

Thielk said there are several trends in the bicycling world today, including interest in hybrid-style bicycles that can “do it all.” Another trend is the increasing sales of used bicycles, he said, which means that bicycle restoration could be an important class at the cycle school. An increased demand for electric bicycles is another trend.

In addition, infrastructure that supports bicyclists and pedestrians is more common today than it was 20-30 years ago, Thielk said.

With the skills that students would learn at the cycle school, they’ll be able to handle the most common problems: flat tires, gears that aren’t working right and missing tape on handlebars, for example. Bent wheels are another common problem, and those wheels can be either replaced or rebuilt. One advantage of a rebuilt wheel is that it can be fixed in a matter of a few hours.

$25,000 SOUGHT FOR EQUIPMENT

Donors are being sought to help purchase $25,000 worth of bike shop equipment for students to use.

For example, Hjertberg said, with quality equipment at the school, were a professional machinist to visit, “They’d walk in and see our work and go, ‘You know what you’re doing – that’s the right stuff to do what you’re doing,’” he said.

Hjertberg, who moved from Seattle to Port Townsend four years ago, said Port Townsend is primed for something like the cycle school. He’s bicycled some 200,000 miles, he said.

The bicycling world has engineers working on suspensions and materials testing, he said. Bicycle suspensions have become so advanced, Hjertberg said, that they had attracted the attention of motorcycle designers.

“What has frustrated me in this whole career was years and years of trying to convince people that bicycles are a good thing and should make up maybe 10 or 20 percent of the commute or school trips that people make … since the ’70s until now, [it] hasn’t come true. It still remains like 5 percent.”

Electric bikes, however, seemed to be boosting bicycle use, he said.

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