Project Bike Tech (PBT) provides high schools with two years of curriculum, a bike shop complete with bike stands, bike repair manuals and loads of fix-it tools from Park Tool.
“It comes with a whole lot of benefits from the [bike] industry,” said PBT Executive Director Mercedes Ross. The nonprofit organization, based in Frisco, Colorado, currently engages with 27 high school programs across 10 states. Ten of the programs are in Colorado.
PBT “works to enhance lives, create opportunities and build sustainable communities through bicycle education,” according to the mission statement on their website (www.projectbiketech.org).
PBT began 15 years ago when founder Berri Michel, who owned a bicycle shop in Santa Cruz, California, had a dire need for bike mechanics. She wondered, “Why don’t we have auto shops for bikes?”
The two-year PBT curriculum, taught at Bridges High School, is an accredited integrative science course that meets four days a week.
PBT instructor Lyn Williams formerly taught a range of subjects at Roaring Fork High School, including woodshop, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) courses and AP (Advanced Placement) computer science “I wanted to start developing more applied skills in high school,” he said, “because I think there’s a demographic within this valley of non-college-bound students.”
Ross continued, “the education system is making a turnaround,” in reference to a significant number of schools providing Career Technical Education (CTE).
According to the Education Northwest website, CTE “combines academic and technical skills with the knowledge and training needed to succeed in today’s labor market. CTE prepares students for the world of work by introducing them to workplace competencies in a real-world, applied context.”
Way of Compassion Foundation director Aaron Taylor, who had been running the Carbondale Community Bicycle Program, contacted PBT in hopes of expanding his program’s outreach. “They gave me a much bigger picture of what they’re all about and how they work,” he said.
Taylor said conversations began a few years ago with the Carbondale-based Catena Foundation. A grant from Catena made possible the Bridges High School program, plus PBT programs in three high schools serving students from Native American reservations in the Four Corners region. Taylor said they also received a matching grant from the MANAUS Foundation.
This spring, when the Catena funding came together to pay for the classroom equipment, Taylor approached Williams about becoming a PBT instructor. “We needed to find somebody to run it and we needed to find a space to do it,” he said.
Williams and Taylor said Bridges High School principal Suzanne Fitzgerald has been supportive in providing space for the bike tech shop.
PBT, Taylor explained, also helps with fundraising. “If the local community has problems raising funds to purchase the classroom, or to have the teacher’s salary covered, they will do their best to help fundraise. So part of the commitment is within the community, as well.”
Taylor shared, “The benefits of the program go beyond the mechanical aspect of learning how to work on a bike. [The students] could go any number of directions — they could end up being a project manager for frame manufacturing for Giant Bicycles.”
Williams said Taylor has provided them with used bikes from Way of Compassion’s re-homing project, a collaboration with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA).
In addition to working on bikes donated from Way of Compassion, the PBT program sent them 11 new bikes.
Besides bike technician skills, Ross explained, students learn about entrepreneurship, climate change, the health benefits of bike riding and how to write a resume. “In the second year of the curriculum, students spend time apprenticing in a bike shop. Part of their ‘level two’ is to be out in the field,” she said.
During the pandemic, Ross continued, “people got back on their bikes, and they’re not going to get off their bikes.” She added, “These students definitely have a huge opportunity to step off and have a career in the outdoor industry.”
Two Bridges High School seniors — Brian Martinez and Manuel Delcie — spoke with The Sopris Sun while adjusting bike tires during a recent class.
Martinez said, “I like classes with hands-on learning.” He said that he’ll continue the class until the end of the school year, “learning every system and part on a bike.”
Delcie said he would like to get a job as a bike technician. He enjoys the occasional spins through Carbondale, because “sometimes we take rides to test the bikes.”
Currently, within the Roaring Fork School District, only students from Bridges High School are able to participate in PBT classes. However, the hope is that next school year the program will open to other local high school students.