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Burbank teacher’s lesson roars to life

Take a dilapidated motorbike and an enthusiastic science teacher, add a half-dozen enterprising students and some expert volunteers, and what do you get? An engaging, two-month engineering lesson and one seriously tricked-out ride.

The Luther Burbank Middle School mascot mini-bike project was born out of teacher Joe Reed’s Exploring Technology class, where students study in a hands-on atmosphere of physics, robotics, electronics and forensics. Included in the coursework is disassembling and assembling a 5 1/2-horsepower engine. But students never get to actually see the engine run, Reed said.

The teacher began scouring Craigslist for gas-powered mini-bikes as a means to bring the lesson to life. In November, he came across a 1960s fixer-upper, which he bought for $200.

The four-stroke engine started but was severely rusted, Reed said. The carburetor leaked, and the clutch was seemingly welded into place.


“The principal came in and said, ‘Is it ever going to start?’” Reed said. “It was in a million pieces. It was a rust bucket.”

The student mechanics spent their lunch breaks and after-school hours disassembling the bike and cleaning it up. They used a drill motor and a wire brush to work away the rust, and they removed non-functioning parts and replaced them with new ones.

The clutch was particularly challenging, the students said. They tried for days to remove it, but it remained intact with corrosion sealing it to the frame. Eventually Reed took it to T and G Auto on Burbank Boulevard where a mechanic used heavy-duty tools to break it free.

Other local businesses volunteered their expertise, Reed said. A local paint shop, Unique Twist, painted the frame in accordance with Luther colors — yellow, green and black. And a Luther parent who owns an upholstery business created a cushioned seat.


“It is a lot of fun,” said participant Evan Jensen, 14. “You start out with something that isn’t that valuable, and you end up with something that is awesome. I like seeing the before and after of it.”

Each step of the project, which stretched into January, was a learning opportunity, Reed said. The group found a promising gas tank on EBay, but the ad did not give its volume.

Summer Foyle, 13, volunteered to take the dimensions to her math teacher and work out the calculations. Another student used the Internet to teach himself how to install a kill switch.

And then came the maiden ride. It took three pulls on the starter to get the motorbike in motion.

“The kids were jumping up and down and screaming,” Reed said. “I rode the bike out onto the blacktop, where hundreds of surprised Luther students spontaneously started running after me. It was an amazing moment in education.”

The teacher and his students have already launched into a new project: assembling a scooter propelled by a two-stroke gas engine. And he has his eye on a used Segway.

“The most fun thing was probably seeing it all done and put back together,” Summer said. “Some of us didn’t think it was even going to start, but when we finally got it to start, and it worked, we were excited.”