Junkyard bike gets a second life at Burbank school

Several months ago, Sarkis Ajazaryan's father convinced him to go with him to a junkyard in Hollywood.

At first, the 14-year-old declined to tag along, but then decided to go anyway. Once there, he discovered a worn-out BMX bike.

As an eighth grader at Luther Burbank Middle School bound for Burbank High this fall, Sarkis immediately knew what to do with the bike.

He thought of his teacher, Joe Reed, who oversees a technology lab at his middle school, where kids take an engine apart and put it back together — one of many projects they take on each semester.

"I asked Mr. Reed if we could convert it into an electronic bike," Sarkis said, "And he said, 'Yeah, sure.'"

In the past, Reed worked with students to transform a nonfunctioning minibike into working order.

Last year, his students spent eight months restoring a 1979 Volkswagen convertible Beetle into "The Luther Mobile," which saw its celebratory debut during Burbank On Parade.

Sarkis also enlisted his friend, 14-year-old Arthur Ayanian, and the two began working on the bike by sanding it down and repainting it.

Reed also sought help from the Simi Valley-based Currie Technologies, a premium bike company known for its hybrid electric bikes.

The company donated about $550 worth of electric parts, including a battery and motor, and some guidance — a packet of diagrams that detailed how to install the motor and wired components.

Reed and the two boys worked during lunch and after school, and sometimes with other students during lab time.

However, when it came time to attach the motor onto the bike, they hit a hurdle.

"I'm not an expert," Reed said. "I don't know most of this stuff, but I can help them find the right people."

That's when Derek Nuhfer joined the effort. As the lead mechanic at Burbank's Bicycle John's, Nuhfer came to the school every Monday for weeks with his tool kit to help the boys install the parts that Currie Technologies donated.

Nuhfer said John Fries, the shop's namesake, tossed in a few parts as well.

"These kids sacrificed their lunch break to work on this bike," Nuhfer said. "They were always asking questions...You could tell they wanted to learn, they wanted to participate. They weren't just there for a grade."

The bike was completed in about five months. It must be plugged in for eighth to be fully charged.

And when it's time to pedal?

"[It's] fast," Sarkis said.

Two weeks ago, Reed and the boys visited Currie Technologies to show off the finished product, and Arthur and Sarkis were invited by the company's president — Larry Pizzi — to view the 2015 bikes and take one for a ride.

"It was a fun project," Sarkis said. "We met new people — it was really fun."

Now that the bike is complete, Sarkis will keep it, unlike a few of the projects that have stayed with Reed in the past.

"I opened my big mouth in the beginning," Reed said, jokingly. "I said [to Sarkis,] 'It's going to be your bike.'"

But Reed still has plenty to keep him and his future students busy.

He's overseeing the restoration of 30-year-old Volkswagen van, and it's about halfway complete. The fuel pump, water pump, ignition cables and propane tank have already been replaced.

And his classroom still features the minibike his students restored a few years ago, which Reed often uses to pick up paperwork from the school's front office.

He's often spotted on the bike traveling through crowded hallways bustling with students and staff, and alerting them all with the bike's siren.

"The kids — they're just kind of used to it now," he said. "They just slowly move away."


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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