Learning the Art of Classic Motorcycle Restoration
Making the grade
Just another evening in the City College of San Francisco motorcycle restoration class.
Photo by Nick Cedar
How do you learn the art of classic motorcycle restoration; how to tune a carburetor, assemble a bottom end or read a spark plug? Some of us were lucky and had a wizard uncle, the guy who could make anything run and shared his secrets. Some of us spent our teenage years trying to work on wrecks, ruining a lot of parts in the process. And some of us have never tried to get our hands dirty.
But some of us, maybe a little bit more organized, took a small engine repair class in high school or at a local junior college, although the class was probably more about lawnmowers than we would have liked. Some junior colleges go a little farther and offer courses in motorcycle repair. These classes are generally supported by the local dealerships, and are intended to train students for a career working on modern motorcycles.
As far as Motorcycle Classics knows, there are only two college classes in the nation that will teach you to restore an old motorcycle. One is at Central Carolina Community College in North Carolina), and one is at City College in San Francisco.
For the last five years, Dave Miller has been running an independent study class at City College. Dave has been teaching auto mechanics for many years, but he’s always enjoyed riding, repairing and restoring motorcycles. He commutes to school on a 1971 Triumph Bonneville.
The class was actually the idea of Mike Lowther, a friend of Dave’s. “Mike works for the district and pitched the idea of a motorcycle class to the administration,” Dave explains. “They said we could do it if I could find a way to finance the equipment I needed. I sold a Suzuki 750 to buy tools, and negotiated for a space. City College decided to try it as an experimental class. On the first day of signups, 150 people wanted to take it.”
You have to be a California resident to apply for the class, but once you’re accepted you can bring in the rusty ruin of your choice and Dave will teach you to restore it back to stock condition. You can also choose to customize a motorcycle for showing or racing. City College offers an introductory class in motorcycle design and maintenance (a prerequisite for all other motorcycle classes) and classes in tune-up and service, custom design and assembly, custom metal fabrication, custom painting and welding. CCSF’s classes are, to put it mildly, popular, and Dave recently had to hire a second instructor, Lisa Duke.
Motorcycle classes are held at the CCSF Evans Campus in an industrial area of San Francisco, in a building that used to be a bulk mail facility. Even with three quarters of the ground floor used for car repair instruction, the motorcycle area is much larger than most shops.
Chain link fence divides the space into smaller areas, lifts are scattered around, workbenches, cabinets and broken motorcycles line the walls, and the room dividers are festooned with exhaust pipes. There is a tool room with specialty tools, cabinets full of manuals covering many different motorcycles, and a parts washer. “But most important,” student Stewart Ingram says, “is know-how and a shoulder to cry on.”
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