As the last of the snow melts, cyclists all over the city are getting their bikes out. For a group of cycling enthusiasts at Beurling Academy in Verdun, this season will be especially meaningful. Students will be testing a bike they built themselves.

The eight members of the Moto Proto Team have been working since October, spending most lunchtimes and weekly after-school sessions designing a motorized bike and building it from spare bicycle and power tool parts.

“Biking and bike paths are some of the unique features of our neighbourhood, and the kids wanted to encourage people to bike,” says faculty advisor Simone Viger. ”They wanted to create an electric, non-polluting bike.”

Working with Carrefour Jeunesse-Emploi (CJE) Verdun, the students wrote and pitched a proposal and secured an entrepreneurship grant from the Lester B. Pearson School Board and guidance from a professional bike mechanic hired by the CJE. The students are preparing to show their progress at Riverview Elementary School’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) showcase on May 10.

At a recent after-school session, one group of students was learning to solder batteries while others tested the motor of the partly-built bike in the middle of the room. Mechanic Emiliano Sanchez and CJE Verdun advisor Robine Kaseka imposed order on the ambient chaos.

Grade 11 Anthony Cheliapin, the senior student on the team, cautiously tested the motor components attached to his old bike, which he donated for the project. “Up until March Break, we just planned out the project,” he explained. “I knew a bit about the technology involved, because of an engineering class I took in Grade 10. “I learned a lot from Emiliano as he was helping us build the bike.”

Learning process
“I know a lot about electric bikes, but I had never made one,” Sanchez said. “I’m learning at the same time as the kids. I had seen some videos on YouTube where people had made motorized bikes with power tool motors…but I noticed they weren’t using the same kinds of batteries as we had. There’s a lot of problem solving involved.”

“I love the idea of getting kids interested in bike mechanics,” he adds. “I have a very long bike commute and work long hours; I would love to have a bike like the one we’re building.”

Team member and Grade 7 student Thomas Claybourn hopes to go in to engineering. “I wanted to get into an engineering activity, and I wanted to do it with my friends,” he says. “I learned a lot about motors and wiring…the only thing is, I wish we had more time.” Time is running short, with the STEAM showcase only a few weeks away, and the students will display a work in progress rather than the finished bike. However, neither the students near Sanchez want to stop there.

“We’re not going to let this stop us,” Sanchez says, as a motor whirls in the background.

“[The students] want to keep going with this project, there’s been some talk about setting up a bike shop in the school,” says Viger, the school advisor. “It’s a dream, but dreams do come true.”

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