Bikes and Skills: Building Them Together

June 13, 2023 5 min read

The Calgary Academy Construction Lab is already full of skis, skateboards, metalworks, and other student-made creations. Now, it houses bikes ready to hit the floor of the nearest Sport Chek.

CA teacher Lanny Donde’s latest project has been almost 20 years in the making, applying skills he developed early in his career. Mr. Donde and Construction Lab teacher Graham Diehl are helping students learn hands-on bike skills in the classroom while inspiring their passion.

Offering Access to a Unique Skillset

Unless someone is cycle-savvy, a bike looks exactly like what it is: a bike. With some skill and technical know-how, someone can see it’s an amalgamation of simple machines—levers, pulleys, wheels, and axles working together to push a rider forward.

Mr. Donde understands these inner workings and can teach with ease, learning bike-building long before he started teaching. He worked at a Sport Chek, assembling bikes in the service shop and eventually showing new hires how to do the same.

Mr. Donde is still teaching these skills years later to his students. He remembers how beneficial they were when he first learned them.

“We call this a marketable skill. It’s not just a skill you learn—it’s a skill you can implement… You can’t walk into a guitar shop and say you took one music class and want a job, but you can go to a service shop and say you’ve built five bikes already.” – Mr. Donde

Students are helping Sport Chek stores by assembling bikes during the spring when many shops are busy providing tune-ups to customers. While CA students can help relieve some pressure on bike shops, they also learn valuable skills.

Mr. Diehl notes that working on these bikes is a hands-on lesson in mechanics. It offers access to skills many may not encounter without seeking them out. Working on a bike in class can spark a passion for mechanics in a student’s future.

“The skills students learn on a bike are interchangeable, or at least an introduction to, mechanics.

A lot of bike mechanics progress into car mechanics… So many different small pieces create this machine, and that’s basically what a car is.” – Mr. Diehl

Knowing how to build with your hands, effectively use tools, and work on complex machines opens many opportunities. Besides helping in everyday life when fixing something in the house, Mr. Donde believes these skills give students an advantage when looking for a potential career.

A Brand-New Bike Coming to a Sport Chek Near You

During class, learners get to participate in the entire bike-building process. Each student receives a bike fresh off the loading truck in a box, taking the pieces out before breaking the cardboard down. Then, they get into the gritty details of assembling the bikes before they head to the inventory floor.

A Calgary Academy student removed the wrapping on a brand new bike in the school's Construction Lab. Mr. Donde says that while they aren’t building a bike from scratch, they’re assembling some of the essential pieces.

“The wheels aren’t connected, the brake pads need tuning, and bolts need tightening. Any metal-on-metal connection needs to be greased, and students learn how to do this. The entire process takes about three classes.”

In the first classroom session, Mr. Diehl wrote the entire assembly process on the whiteboard for everyone to follow. With several bikes now finished, students need minimal instruction as they’ve gradually built their expertise.

Besides mechanical skills, students learn about the ownership of their work. The bikes they work on aren’t donated for practice. Students are working with quality products, something Mr. Donde says brings more weight to their work in class.

“There’s more ownership and connection because no matter how connected we want kids to be with a donated bike, they never see them again. With these bikes, students can go in and see their work. It’s the bike’s life cycle from the box to the retail floor.”

At the end of the project, students can see where their hard work goes by visiting a local Sport Chek. The bikes they see on the inventory floor may have been ones they worked on only a few classes ago.

What’s Next for the Future of CA Construction Lab?

Mr. Donde helped build the CA Construction Lab for years, gradually passing the torch to Mr. Diehl, who has incorporated his expertise into the program. Students are now working with metal and incorporating multimedia into their assignments. No matter what students work on, they build skills in a safe, supportive environment.

Looking to the future, Mr. Donde hopes to bring the concept of Construction Lab to other teachers. He wants to empower them to teach hands-on science and mechanics—whether with bikes, birdhouses, balsa wood, or whatever else they’re passionate about.

“I would love it if teachers could just get on the internet, type ‘bike shop curriculum’ and find a curriculum developed, implemented, proven, and refined by Calgary Academy, getting everything they need to make that happen on their own…

The sky’s the limit if teachers can take our foundation to write their own story.” – Mr. Donde