March 21st, 2007
21 March 2007
Yesterday I started teaching a Monster Bike class with local high school kids. Over six weeks, meeting twice weekly for 3 hours, seven students, myself, and fellow instructor Adam are going to design and build some crazy wheeled creation the likes of which youâ€™ve never seen. Or, really, hoped to see.
This project is a collaboration between the Steel Yard (www.thesteelyard.org) and the Met School (www.metcenter.org). These are two pretty rad organizations. The Steel Yard offers arts and technical training programs â€“ welding, blacksmithing, glass blowing, ceramics, all sorts of crazy stuff. For the last couple years theyâ€™ve also been gracious host to Recycle-A-Bike. The Met School is a network of six small public high schools that focus on individual students and internship-based education and training. In the past, the Steel Yard has held welding workshops and such with Met kids. But I wanted to get them building bikes.
More to the point, I wanted them building bikes that were COOL. I mean hereâ€™s the thing. I think bikes are cool. All kinds. If youâ€™re reading this you probably agree. Or youâ€™re a government stooge looking for clues so you can foil my plan for Total Global Domination. Good luck, sucker. I wrote all the incriminating stuff in Esperanto. Forfekigu!
So yeah. I think bikes are cool. But then, I think wearing a helmet is cool. And most every 14 year old thinks bikes are cool. I mean come on. Itâ€™s freedom, right? Itâ€™s how you get to your friendâ€™s house, how you go get ice cream, how you run from the cops. But the second you get your driverâ€™s license, bikes are SO desperately uncool. I mean I was there. I remember. And it took me a long time to wise up. But then I have a tiny brain.
So. How do we get bikes to stay cool?
Not spandex. Maybe fixed gears. Definitely stunt bikes. But what about just tooling around looking cool?
Yup. Choppers. Double highs. Something crazy. Something you made yourself.
So. The idea here is: give them some history of bike design. Introduce them to metal shaping and joining. No fancy lugs and 56% silver and triple-butted tubing here; just quick n dirty brass brazing and mig welding. This isnâ€™t about fancy finish work. This is about dreaming something up and making it real. Itâ€™s also about learning skills and working with other people (the whole class is making one big bike together). But mostly itâ€™s about being able to say â€“ see that bike that is terrifying and amazing and borderline unrideable? I made that. What you got?
So next class weâ€™ll be spending working on rough mitering, brazing and welding. Over the weekend their homework is to sketch. Anything. Not just bikes. To try to look at how things are built. Look at structures and forces. Bridges and birdâ€™s skeletons. Whatever. And next week weâ€™ll talk about the drawings and come up with one bike â€“ one monstrous bike â€“ that combines something of everyoneâ€™s. And then weâ€™ll build it, using old discarded Recycle-A-Bike frames as our raw materials. Iâ€™m psyched.
The plan is then to auction our creation (after a fine Circle A paint job if thereâ€™s time) at the Steel Yardâ€™s big gala later in the Spring. And use that money to fund more classes.
I also love the idea of two teams building bikes for some sort of bizarre race or competition. The first â€œdouble-highsâ€ were called Lamplighters â€“ used in the early 1900â€™s to, you guessed it, light gas lamps. Adam had the idea of teams building those, and then competing to light as many lamps as possible on tricky terrain. I mean come on. 12 foot high bikes? Fire? Teenagers? What could go wrong?
Also, 3 more Met students will be shooting video during the class and making a documentary about it. We hope to have a red-carpet premier at one of the local arthouse theatres when itâ€™s done. Watch this space for links and such.
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