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Hands on Skills
What began as a creative way to raise funds for South Dakota nonprofits has blossomed into a national phenomenon. The stars of the show: high school students from Sturgis, South Dakota. This year Rod Woodruff, owner of Sturgis Rally icon the Buffalo Chip, Keith Terry of Terry Components, and Randy and Nick Cramer of Dakota V-Twin, partnered up for the third time with Sturgis Brown High School and the Legends Ride to pull off a custom bike build.
This grand collaboration began when leadership from the Buffalo Chip set out to create a charity event that would bring together the greater motorcycle community during the Sturgis Rally. An idea was born - the “Legends Ride.” It was to become an iconic event, with celebrity participation, grandiose prizes, and a wrap up event in historic Downtown Deadwood. Auctioned off at this event is a custom bike, built not by professional fabricators, but by students eager to break into the high stakes world of custom motorcycles.
High School Just Got More Interesting
The Welding and Automotive class is very popular at Sturgis Brown High School. Why? Because these students do more than tinker on take-home projects. They build nationally recognized, award winning custom motorcycles. The bike build project is designed to provide students with hands-on technical experience and to support the iconic Legends Ride event.
The students have garnered major success in the past three years, as their projects won major awards at nationally recognized events. In 2013, the Student Build Challenge bike brought home top honors at both the Donnie Smith Bike Show and the Black Hills Motorcycle Show. It also earned a six-page feature in American Iron magazine. I caught up with the team of student builders, as well as their advisor Chad Hedderman, at the 2014 Donnie Smith event.
Wyatt Harwood - involved in build last year and built his own cafe racer outside of class
Corey Aga - Mechanical background, but first time working on a bike build
Ethan Bennett - No mechanical past but gained a lot of experience through the build
Tanner Simons - Mechanical past but first time on a bike build
“The team has three months to build the bike. This year we started with a brand new 2014 Harley-Davidson. The team worked on it every Monday (during school hours) and on Saturdays,” says Hedderman. “We started with fourteen builders, but it was whittled down to six by the time the show came around. It is a big time commitment and sports and things take time too. I really have enjoyed working with this team. They worked hard and stayed committed.”
“We really liked doing the build project because we got to learn something different than a regular shop class. Building a custom bike was a totally new experience for me,” says Ethan Bennett.
“When these kids get out of high school and hit the streets, they need skills. It gives them self-confidence to know they can leave school and go do something with their hands and earn a living. I want to give them a chance to grow these skills and have something to show for their work,” said Terry.
According to Woodruff, there have been some unexpected side effects of the project.
“A mother came up to me and asked, ‘What have you done to my son? I used to have to drag him to school now he’s going in early and on Saturdays. What is going on?’ Teachers have told me there were at least two of the kids from past builds who wanted to drop out. They stayed and even graduated. Another won a $5,000 welding scholarship because of the experience he gained from the build,” says Woodruff.
“We’ve seen so many benefits to having the kids involved in the build. They know they have skills and can work in teams and project manage,” says Woodruff. “Wyatt was really fired up after last year’s build. So last summer he scrounged salvaged parts of multiple brands (spanning more than twenty years) and pieced them together to make a café racer.”
“The students are part of the industry after they help with the build. They see the work they did featured in national magazines, being respected and admired by industry professionals. They see Sturgis every summer, but now they have more of a concept of the industry that supports it. They see that a living can be made with motorcycles,” says Woodruff.
The team’s plans following high school are quite impressive. One earned a full ride rodeo scholarship to Gillette College, another joined the Army, one received a full scholarship to Lincoln Tech, and another is attending the University of Northwestern - Ohio for Chassis Fabrication.
The Men Behind the Mission
Keith Terry uses his connections in the parts manufacturing world to find sponsors to contribute parts to each year’s build. Terry also sketches out the design; Randy and Nick Cramer, owners of Dakota V-Twin, help the students fabricate and assemble the bike. This year’s build bike was painted by Ian Strachen.
“Our goal in designing this bike was to bring today’s look to a touring bike with somewhat of a far out, gutsy twist. I’m from Los Angeles originally and graffiti is just part of life in LA. We thought that theme would transition well into a bike build and wanted to try it out,” says Terry.
The bike will be auctioned off during the 2014 Sturgis Rally. Last year’s bike went for $57,000. The proceeds of the bike’s sale supports the Legends Ride and 100% of all Riders’ contributions are split between the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the Black Hills Special Olympics.
“Rather than simply handing over a check, we thought, ‘Why not let the people who participated in the ride see a tangible result from their efforts?’ We asked the Black Hills Special Olympics organization what they needed the most. They said, ‘A way to get our kids to and from events. We have support from parents, but no one can haul that many people in their vehicle(s),’” says Woodruff. “With the money from the bike’s sale we bought a brand new Freightliner bus. This year’s Legends Riders’ contributions will pay off the mortgage on the bus. We are going to have fun burning the note at this year’s event.”
After the bike leaves the Black Hills Motorcycle Show, it heads to a professional photographer’s studio where photos are taken for its promotions this summer.
Build It and They Will Come
At Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), students in the Powersports program are honing their skills through project based learning. For those whose thirst for fabrication isn’t satiated by their core classes, another option exists. The Bike Build Project has been part of the Powersports program since its inception in 2008. The idea of taking a bruised and beaten bike and transforming it into a beautiful custom creation has been well received by MTI’s students.
This year’s project began as a 1979 Honda CB650 which was donated by H&R Salvage. It was stock but not in running condition. A team of nine students customized their ride by switching out the tail section and seat in favor of a kit fender. The gas tank is originally from a 2004 Harley Sportster and the headlight column is off a Harley V-Rod. The bike’s BMW red and white color scheme has earned it the nickname “Candy Cane.”
The nine build team members are a part of the two year track of the Power Sports program, but the majority are in their first year. Donnie Smith Student Bike Build Competition rules state all builders must be under the age of 18. So for most students this project is a once in a lifetime experience.
According to the team, the workload was distributed evenly throughout the team. Two of the team members worked strictly in the area of welding and fabrication. While a school instructor advises them on the project, all of the wrenching, welding, and working is handled by the students.
This project falls outside of the team’s normal class activities. For all of their blood, sweat, and tears, the team experiences some pretty fantastic opportunities for travel and competition. I caught up with the guys in March at the Donnie Smith Bike Show in St. Paul, Minnesota where the “Candy Cane” was entered in the Chopper Class Challenge. They were quite the crew, very friendly and willing to share the bike’s story with the appreciative crowd gathered around their display.
After the bike left the Donnie Smith Show, it was entered into a local annual bike show in Mitchell, the Moses Bike Show, where it placed 1st in the Metric Custom class. Now back at Mitchell Technical Institute, it sits on display in the Powersports Program’s facilities. The bikes from the custom student builds make a great talking point for students curious about MTI’s street cred in the custom bike world. The many plaques and awards help convince them that they’d be in good hands (and company) honing their skills at MTI.
Helping With HorsepowerTM
It started in Mitchell, South Dakota with a bike called Salt. Laura Klock and her daughters had just gained national attention by becoming the first mother, daughter, daughter trio in history to hold simultaneous national land speed records. All of a sudden, Laura’s platform grew. A lot. Requests for speaking engagements flooded her inbox, and she saw a door opening in front of her.
“I never saw myself as a speaker or a presenter. That was not a role that I sought out at all. And I wanted to share more than what it’s like to go fast on a motorcycle,” says Laura. “So I started to incorporate an encouraging and meaningful message into these speaking opportunities. Then the Abbott House asked me to come and share with the girls.”
Founded in 1939, Abbott House is a private charity that provides residential treatment services to girls ages 7-17.
“The whole time I was speaking, I was focused on one of the girls in the back who was distant and staring out the window. I began to speak right to her and watching what she responded to the best.” says Laura. “At the end of our time together, she came up and said, ‘Do you think I could learn to ride a motorcycle someday? After I left, I was struck with such a desire to help those girls. I prayed about how I could be more involved.”
Laura recognized motorcycles as the perfect conduit to get the girls’ attention.
“I woke up one morning with an idea. What if we took a damaged motorcycle into their space and guided them through transforming it and repairing the damage, which is what they are doing with their lives as they heal in treatment. Bikes have been such a great teaching tool in lives of my daughters, teaching them about self-confidence, trying new things, problem-solving, meeting new people, and being willing to step out of their comfort zone,” says Laura. “That is how Helping with HorsepowerTM began in 2010. It was a crazy idea, but the Abbott House was willing to try it. Thankfully it worked! The girls responded so well that first year, we decided to make it an annual build.”
The Helping With HorsepowerTM Bike Rebuild Program has begun its third bike project at Abbott House, with support from local and national sponsors.
“I was at the Abbott House today. We got to talk about using the right tools to work on the bike. I was able to say, ‘It’s similar to your life right? Are drinking or drugs the right tool to fix hurt or loneliness?’ This is project based learning, so they take the action of fixing up the bike, and it means so much more to them than just hearing it. And as we transform the bike, we relate the steps to life,” says Laura.
The girls go through every stage of the build together. Laura is their design guide and advisor, but they make the final decisions. There is a contest for the name and paint design of the bike, a marketing segment, and the girls pick all the parts. For many of these young women, it is the first time they have been part of transforming something from broken to beautiful.
It Takes a Village
Once the bikes are built, they are offered to the public through a raffle, with proceeds benefitting Abbott House. This year’s build launch event featured the movie “Why We Ride.” It was an extra special day because Laura and her family participated in the film where Laura talked about the Abbott House and Helping With HorsepowerTM.
Past build bikes have been featured in IronWorks and Road Iron magazines, The Motor Market magazine and a host of other media outlets. As national attention focused on the program, Laura began to receive calls from people asking, “How can I start doing something like this in my area?”
“I decided to put together a curriculum for the program and license it out so Helping With HorsepowerTM Bike Rebuild Program could be set up in other areas. The curriculum is less focused on how to build the bike and puts greater emphasis on introducing and teaching life lessons,” says Laura. “It’s entirely volunteer based, with each location having their own instructor and shop partner. The shop partner looks over the bike at the end of the build and signs off on the final project.”
Four more Helping With HorsepowerTM Bike Rebuild Programs are up and running throughout the United States currently, with one more in the final stages of launch. A school in Pine Bush, New York, made it a continual part of their curriculum, and ended up building a race bike, taking it to the Bonneville Salt Flats, and setting a land speed record. There’s been as many as eight programs running nationally since its start.
“In Springfield, Missouri, at the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch, they completely tore down and rebuilt their bike, including the motor. They worked with a volunteer with experience in motor work, so it was a great fit for this group of guys. We do our work at the Abbott House in a conference room, so we do more basic things like swapping out fenders, handlebars and adding new parts. The curriculum is meant to be a set of guidelines that can be tailored to who you’re working with and the facility you have,” says Laura.
“This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Abbott House, and we wanted to do something special to celebrate. So this year, with the help of our shop partner J&L Harley-Davidson, we are transforming a Harley-Davidson Road King with a sidecar. Right now we are choosing a paint design. Everything will get sent out for paint in the next couple weeks. The build is scheduled to wrap up at the beginning of June. Once it is finished, it goes on tour all summer until we raffle it off in November.”
Follow the progress of the Abbott House girls’ bike build on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AbbottHouse. Or visit the Helping With HorsepowerTM website at www.helpingwithhorsepower.com. TMM