For my STEP signature project, I restored a classic 1972 Honda CB350 Supersport. I bought an old CB350 that had been in a crash, neglected, taken apart, and put into boxes in a basement near Columbus. Over the past year and a half, I’ve spent my free time fixing, cleaning and restoring the bike into a functional motorcycle. (It you found this interesting and want to read my blog on the project, it can be found here)
Above: A picture of the motorcycle before it was disassembled by the PO (Above) and a picture of the bike after its restoration (Below)
Throughout the course of this project, I have learned a lot about myself. When I first started this project, I had never even touched a motorcycle, let alone taken one apart. The only knowledge I had going in was a general idea of how an engine worked. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t even a project that I expected to be able to complete. But through the course of the project I had a realization: there are lots of things that people don’t attempt because they don’t think they are capable of doing it – but they are capable. I’m an electrical engineer. I had no clue how a motorcycle worked. There were several times that I almost convinced myself to abandon this project idea because I didn’t think I was capable of completing it. But I threw myself at it. It wasn’t easy. I screwed up plenty of things, wasted my time and my money on failure after failure. But in the end, I was able to push myself through. Now I have not only a customized motorcycle that I built myself, but I have new knowledge that I can keep with me for the rest of my life.
The other big thing that changed about me through this project was the way I handle problems. Before this project, any time I had a problem, there was a person in my life who could help me. In this project, there wasn’t. No one I knew had done anything like this before. As a result, I had to go out on my own and find people who had. I met people on online forums, I called professionals around the world, and I drove to small motor shops all around the state of Ohio meeting new people. Sometimes they could help, and were a massive resource for me. Other times, they couldn’t and I had to brainstorm new solutions. It was a very transformational experience. By the end of the project, I felt more comfortable than I ever have before in facing adversity.
The biggest contributors to my learning were the problems I faced in restoring the bike. For example, I ran into problems in budgeting. I originally planned to restore it to factory condition (same color, same parts, etc.) However, I discovered right away that it was going to be too expensive for me to re-chrome the necessary parts. Also, many of the factory parts were extraordinarily difficult to find, and not even close to being within my budget. So I changed plans. I had to accept that there are factors out of my control and that all I can do is the work around them.
Another big contributor was problems I faces in the engineering of the bike. For example, the cam chain tensioner I had didn’t fit into the channel that was designed for it. To solve this, I ended up finding a machine shop near my hometown that was willing to mill out the channel to new dimensions that would allow me to install the tensioner I had. Another big problem was that my points weren’t contacting, which meant that the spark plugs wouldn’t spark. I bought new points, assuming the old ones were bad, but it didn’t fix the problem. I took the entire advance and contactor assemble out of the engine and checked it for bending or other potential damage that might have prevented it from contacting, but no such luck. In the end, I had take it and drive to several classic motorcycle shops around Ohio, in the hopes that someone could tell me what was wrong. In the end I found a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop in Toledo that miraculously had some of the original points for the CB350. We installed them, and it worked! Turned out that the reproduction points for the CB350 were dimensionally off. These are just two examples of the hundreds of time consuming problems I faced during this project. But what they taught me is that adversity is unavoidable, but it isn’t something that you can’t get past.
Above: A picture of the modified channel for the cam chain tensioner (Above) and the head and valves with the cam tensioner installed (Below)
Another big part of my experience was the networking and getting to know new people. For example, I had the body color parts on the bike painted by Jake Pierson, an automotive painted in my hometown. Before this project, I knew his name (had had done some work for my grandpa in the past), but I had only talked to him once or twice. I got into contact with him, and over the course of our business I like to think we’ve become friends. I also got to closely know John at Motorcycle Solutions in Toledo. I met John during the course of this project, and he was a massive resource for me. They are both examples of people that I wouldn’t have gotten to know if it weren’t for this project. I also feel that getting to know them got me out of my comfort zone. This project forced me to try things and meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I think this experience is massive for me as a person. We all know education is important. It’s why we spend inordinate amounts of money to go to a college. But what I think frequently gets left behind in education is physical experience. There’s something massively different between problem solving with a written problem in a book, and looking at a real life mess and thinking, “what will make this better?” I’ve always been a decent student. I’m not going to claim to be the best (and I’ve got grades to prove it), but I’ve always been able to make it through and learn what I need to to get by. But real life experience is an entirely different thing. When you graduate, it isn’t about the mathematical theorems you memorized, or how to write in iambic pentameter. It’s about learning to solve problems you’ve never had any experience with. It’s about forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things. It’s about new meeting people and learning to work with them. That’s why I think this project is important to me. It’s a part of my education that, without STEP, would have been mostly neglected.
So that said, thanks to everyone who helped me along the way, and a huge thanks to OSU for giving me the support I needed to try something new.