Tribal volunteer project gets help from industry – April 24, 2006

A trip to a Detroit custom car show two years ago led to an immense volunteer project for Tribal Motorworks.
The Michigan manufacturer of V-twin motorcycles and accessories came up with the idea of creating a student bike-building project. The program would benefit high school students, who would design and then build a bike, and ultimately a community fund-raising group, which could profit from the motorcycle’s sale.
That idea became reality in the fall of 2004 with a joint program between Tribal and a Traverse Bay, Mich., school district and culminated this spring with the finished product, called the Schoolyard Motorworks bike.
The project occurred thanks in part to a number of V-twin industry companies — Kendall Johnson provided the 114-cubic inch engine, S&S Cycle donated the carburetor and Baker Driveline supplied the five-speed transmission. Other part suppliers included Dyna/CDI, Belt Drives Ltd., Santee 200 Series Rigid, American Wire Wheel, Excel Components and Avon. In total, the project had about 100 sponsors, including 10 that donated more than $3,000 each, said Chuck Hunt, the project coordinator and welding instructor at Career Tech Center.
“Most of the people were ready to jump on board with it,” Tribal Motorworks’ co-owner Kip Watkins said of the sponsors. “They did anything they could do for us.”
The tech center, a trade school for high school students in northern Michigan, worked with Tribal Motorworks on the project. Tribal’s Watkins is a graduate of the school, which students interested in a trade career attend in association with their regular high school.
Watkins came up with the project idea after seeing a high school group present a custom-built car at a Detroit car show. But producing a similar program at his alma mater did not turn out to be an easy task. First off, the school did not have a proper bike-building shop and building one would have to be done without school district funds.
“From the get-go, we didn’t want it (the project) to cost the taxpayers,” Hunt said.
Sponsors, including Home Depot and Garage Outfitters, came through as students were able to build a shop from donated building and electrical supplies. Then tech center students interested in the project were asked to submit applications and go through an interviewing process with Hunt and Tribal co-owner Dodd Russell in a process that mirrored a real-life job opening.
Once that was completed, Tribal’s Watkins began working with the students as they designed and built a number of the bike’s parts, including the exhaust, handlebars, fender, fuel and oil tanks and the seat pan.
“He was involved in every aspect of the bike,” Hunt said of Watkins. “He worked with the kids at least once a week.”
Watkins said he spent the first month of the project sifting through design ideas with the students. “We picked out ideas that they had and started weeding them down,” he said, noting his style of building impacted the final design. But, “if they wanted (certain design elements) bad enough, they fought for it,” he said.
The finished bike was taken to where the idea was originally hatched — to the Detroit Autorama. There, it received third place in the North American Custom Radical category. Now, the tech center is selling raffle tickets for the bike, which will be given away on May 19. Proceeds from the raffle will go to a nonprofit organization that serves 200 poor families a week in northern Michigan.
“It’s been kind of fun and challenging,” Hunt said. “The results speak for themselves.” psb

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