By Amy Beth Miller-The Daily Times
Since December teams of students at William Blount, Heritage and Sevier County high schools have been transforming Harley-Davidson motorcycles into their own creations. On Saturday professional bike builders will be judging their work. The third annual Bike Build-Off is part of the Black Dragon Breakdown Vintage and Custom Bike Show at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson. The event kicks off at 1 p.m., with biker games from 2-4 p.m. The high school winner will be announced at 5 p.m., followed by the bike show winner at 6 p.m.
Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson gives each school a motorcycle and $1,500 in store credit, and the students fabricate parts and receive support from local businesses, too. Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson also gives $1,500 to the winning team’s school program, $1,000 to the runner-up and $750 to the third-place team. Sevier County is competing for the second year. About 50 students have been turning their Harley XL1200 Sportster into a sport bike/cafe racer, said Mack Caylor, their collision repair technology teacher. They have been fabricating metal, cutting and shaping it. “Doing that over and over for students to get it right,” Caylor said. The students have worked to create a gas tank that won’t leak and a perfectly aligned swingarm, the main component of the rear suspension.
“It helps them to realize how difficult it is to build things for real,” Caylor said. “It’s not as easy as it looks on TV.”
This week the 15 to 20 students working on a motorcycle for William Blount High School faced a challenge with chain clearance around an oil tank. “We had to start over on it today,” said welding instructor Bruce Suddarth. “There’s always the issue of making something try to fit on the bike,” he said. A core group of five students has been working on the Heritage motorcycle, four of whom are in John Davis’s welding class. “In a welding class, a great deal of hands-on work is weldments that have no life,” Davis said. The students work on small pieces of metal just to show they have mastered a particular technique. With the Bike Build-Off, Suddarth said, “They actually get to see a finished project and show their product off at the show. It’s more than their peers looking at their projects.
“It’s a project that they get excited about.”
In fact, one Willliam Blount student, who worked on the first build-off and graduated in 2014, has come back both years to work with the students. Tyler Gibson has been a welder and fabricator for Cherokee Millwright since he graduated. Watching the students work on the project, Gibson appreciates their initiative. “They try to lend a hand, pitch in and do their part,” he said. It’s also a great opportunity for students to be exposed to different trades, Gibson said.The team at Heritage is building a racing bike. It’s a hooligan-style bike popular in areas such as California and Texas, Davis explained. “We’ve been putting in a lot of late hours,” he said, with students sometimes working until 10 or 11:30 p.m.
The William Blount students also have been working late on their old-school chopper. Suddarth said finding time to work on the motorcycle has been one of the biggest obstacles, with challenges including the TNReady state testing schedule, other projects and students’ procrastination. The first year of the competition William Blount won the overall professional judging, and Heritage took the people’s choice award. Last year William Blount received the only recognition from the people’s choice award. This year professional bike builders will decide the winner. “I hope the competition and projects continue to grow,” Suddarth said. Lee’s Cycle Shop and Salvage in Morristown is among the businesses that have helped the Sevier team.
Both Heritage and William Blount have received help from Turner Hydraulics and Maryville Fastener & Hardware. Randy Byrd’s collision repair class has helped the Heritage team while Joe Byrd’s auto body and collision department have pitched in at William Blount. William Blount has had support also from Sullivan’s Sandblasting in Seymour, ABJ Powder Coating and Sam Day Auto Sales.