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Home Alumni Alumni News Motorcycle culture thrives on SAIT campus

Motorcycle culture thrives on SAIT campus

It’s been celebrated by the heavy-metal-thunder vocals of Steppenwolf’s John Kay, the easy-riding counterculture stance of Peter Fonda, the creative spark of American Chopper’s Teutul clan and the fierce loyalty of SAMCRO’s social outcasts.

As the saying goes, four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul. And on the SAIT campus, where gearheads abound, the lure of the motorcycle is a powerful attraction indeed.

“It’s an addiction — and as I tell my wife, it’s cheaper and better for me than heroin,” quips Rich Burgess (MWP ’81), an instructor in the School of Manufacturing and Automation. “She has a couple of bikes of her own now, so she totally understands.”

Check out SAIT’s designated motorcycle parking zone, on the west side of the Johnson-Cobbe Energy Centre, on a sunny spring day, and the dizzying array of Harleys, metric cruisers, German classics, crotch rockets and touring bikes is a sight to behold.

From the enthusiasm of students, to the time-tested passion of instructors, to this spring’s introduction of the first motorcycle operation and safety course at a Calgary-and-area post-secondary, it’s clear that there’s a thriving community on the SAIT campus that loves life at full throttle.

“It involves all of your senses,” offers School of Manufacturing and Automation instructor Steve Braun (MWP ‘98), who rides a 2012 Kawasaki Concours sport touring bike, with 1,400 cc’s of power.

“The sounds and the smells, for example, just add to the experience in a way that ‘cagers’ — that’s car drivers — simply don’t appreciate.”

Born to Learn, Born to Teach, Born to Ride

It’s estimated that the SAIT riding community numbers well into the hundreds — which is not exactly news, given the trades-rich offerings on campus that attract mechanically inclined students and instructors.

“I first got into riding because I liked anything with an engine,” notes Dane Bowden (MWTN ’12), a fourth-year millwright apprentice who rides a 2004 Honda CRF250R dirt bike. “The smell and sound have always been like music to me.” While there aren’t any formal motorcycle groups or clubs on campus, networks are alive and well, with groups of instructors regularly congregating for extended trips in the summer and the fall. And even in Calgary’s unpredictable climate, the season is getting longer every year, with the advent of electrically heated riding vests and pants, heated handgrips and adjustable windshields.

“I actually had a student ask me one time if you had to ride a motorcycle to work here at SAIT,” says Burgess with a laugh.

The legendary Journeyman built by School of Manufacturing and Automation staff and students in 2008 to showcase SAIT's trades and technology programs was the brainchild of instructor, Rich Burgess. And then there are those who take the passion one, or even several, steps further.

Burgess, for example, has been riding for four decades; he and his wife Corrine have a garage full of bikes at home in Black Diamond, Alta. — a classic BMW adventure bike, a Harley sportster, a Suzuki V-Strom 650, and a Hayabusa superbike, among others.

He’s a regular correspondent for Canadian Biker magazine, writing articles that focus on the technical: engine rebuilds, product testing and the like.

And Burgess also provided the inspiration, not to mention the design work, behind the Journeyman, a custom bike built by staff and students for the School of Manufacturing and Automation in 2008. The Journeyman prototype showcased the wide range of SAIT’s trades and technology programs, involved input from eight programs (including welding, machining, mechanical and automated system engineering, nondestructive testing, and millwright work) and captured a pair of awards at the World of Wheels show in Calgary that year.

New Con Ed Operation and Safety Course

Seamus Toner is the driving force behind SAIT's new motorcycle safety training program, where riders learn on a fleet of brand new bikes from Blackfoot Motosports and ride the ramp of SAIT's Art Smith Aero Centre - the largest unobstructed motorcycle training space in Alberta.

Fascination with two-wheeled freedom has revved up at SAIT in other ways, too.

Just this spring, through the efforts of Seamus Toner, SAIT’s School of Continuing Education began offering Introduction to Motorcycles (MOTR-119) and Motorcycle Operation and Safety (MOTR-139) courses on a weekly basis.

Developed in tandem with Blackfoot Motosports, these new offerings run through July, and augment SAIT’s already existing Motorcycle Maintenance (MOTR- 118) course.

Several models of motorcycles are being supplied by Blackfoot for these training courses, offering students a chance at learning on the latest equipment, in a safe and controlled environment.

“Because of our association with Blackfoot, our school has a rolling stock of new motorcycles for riders to use,” says Toner, a Health and Public Safety (HPS) project co-ordinator. “Also, we run this course at SAIT’s Art Smith Aero Centre, which makes this the largest unobstructed training space for motorcycle operation in the province.”

Instructors are Alberta Transportation approved, and the operation and safety course will soon be recognized by Alberta Transportation, which can lead to reduced rates for riders from various insurance providers.

Hitting the Open Road

Add it all up, and you’ve got a healthy, robust community of enthusiasts who saddle up every chance they get.

“The roads we travel,” says Braun, “are always the longest distance between two points.”

Written by Todd Kimberley