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Machine Manufacturing student uses training to grow his bike shop operations
Photos and Story by James Hill
A Machine Manufacturing Technology student is using what he’s learning in the classroom to help fellow military veterans get into biking.
David Lewis, 38, is working with Vet Bikes, a nonprofit from Olympia, Wash., which is providing a fleet of bicycles for veterans to learn mechanical skills and have dependable transportation. Vet Bikes earned a grant from the VA to fund its rehabilitative cycling program and invited Lewis to make two prototypes for the nonprofit’s promotions. Both featured a logo of his own startup company – Veteran Bicycle Co., LLC.
“It was a very cool opportunity to get started with my business,” Lewis said. “It’s a unique honor for a startup like mine.”
Lewis is on the forefront of the bike scene in Portland. He has already been profiled by the city’s best source for bicycle news, Bike Portland, for his continuing efforts to build and manufacture a cheaper bike for the masses.
A former precision fabrication welder at ADX Portland, Lewis is training at PCC to help his startup business. Last summer, the New York native earned a Manufacturing Technician Certificate from PCC and is working on a CNC Operator Certificate and an associate degree in Applied Science.
“I like the hands-on learning approach at PCC rather than it all being based on lectures,” Lewis said. “As a machinist, I want to cut metal; that’s just sort of my natural wish. PCC’s program really works well for me. All of the faculty here have been good mentors and teach you what you need to how to be a good machinist.”
Machine Manufacturing instructor Pat Kraft said Lewis undertaking training at the college while growing a company from scratch is an impressive feat.
“Dave stands out in our program by his high motivation to be a machinist and own a business,” Kraft said. “Both of these alone can be a huge task and he’s doing them simultaneously.”
The interest in bicycle manufacturing began for him in the U.S. Army while stationed in Fort Bragg in North Carolina with the Warrior Transition Battalion, which had a bicycle program. The program, which had a maintenance shop that employed Army personnel, encouraged soldiers to utilize bikes in their physical fitness.
“It literally became my occupation,” he recalled. “I helped to maintain bicycles for this program every day and it became my life.”
Lewis served with the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Germany where he earned a gold rating in marksmanship called the German Schutzenshnur. He deployed to Afghanistan with that unit between 2007-08 and served in Iraq as a reservist in 2003-04. After leaving the Army in 2013, he made the trek up to Portland on his motorcycle and immediately entered Portland’s United Bicycle Institute. He soon completed its frame-building and mechanics programs and would go on to found his bicycle manufacturing company.
“I was looking for how I could capitalize on starting a bicycle business and I knew I needed to be a machinist to do that,” Lewis said. “My ultimate goal is to manufacture bicycle components and the culture based around cycling in Portland made a lot of sense for me to stay here.”
Lewis has the pedigree to succeed. He completed the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) in 2014 at UCLA and holds a grant from the EBV Foundation. The Army vet has participated in the Mercy Corps NW IDA Grant Program. The grants he got from it allowed him to purchase needed machinery to offset the capital-intensive startup costs of his cozy 600-square-foot shop in the Central Eastside Industrial District he shares with another business called Portland Razor Co.
“There’s a need for this kind of facility to be able to adapt to the many models in the bike industry,” Lewis said. “It’s a real opportunity for me.”
Now, add “award winner” to his ever-growing professional biography. Last summer, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families made him its student of the week.“It was really humbling,” Lewis said of the award. “I’m very proud of how far I’ve come. The honor made me feel really good as well as gave me a boost in my training.”