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Bicycle Recycle Project picks up STEAM: Seven Hills students team with local manufacturer, build frame from scratch

Bike manufacturer Chris Kelly of Kelly Bike Company, right, demonstrates brazing to Seven Hills Middle School student Jeremy Case, left, on Wednesday while teacher Steve Davis, center, films the process. Kelly is spending all this week with Seven Hills students, helping them build a bicycle frame from scratch.
Stephen Roberson/sroberson@theunion.com |

For 17 years, Steve Davis’ Bicycle Recycle Project at Seven Hills Middle School has been refurbishing bikes and raffling them off to homeless people every spring.

For the first time this week, his students are actually involved in the process of building a bike frame from scratch.

“What I wanted to do with this week is allow students to see how bikes are made,” Davis said. “Once they saw how bikes are made, I wanted to give them the opportunity to consider the possibility of being involved at some level in that process, be it the welding, be it the engineering, be it the design, be it the material choosing.”

The venture is a project of STEAM, a learning approach that incorporates science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics to guide student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking.

“There are gobs and gobs of opportunity within the industry, and I have people in the industry already from the past,” Davis said. “But this is a first-hand look that kids have never been exposed to, and I think it’s the outlook of the STEAM kind of understanding of education now that we are attempting to provide more opportunities.”

With Chris Kelly of Kelly Bike Company on board volunteering his time, the week started on Monday with bicycle frame design. The class collectively decided on a style and drew the frame.

On Tuesday, Kelly brought in the raw frame materials that were then filed and fitted to the drawing made on Monday. Kelly discussed the various options of material choices — addressing their advantages and disadvantages.

Once the materials were determined, students spent Wednesday building the frame, with Kelly demonstrating the traditional process of brazing, where a filler metal — in this case brass — is heated just above its melting point and distributed over two adjacent tubes. As the metal cools, it hardens, joining the metals.

“It’s an old-tech way of doing it, but it’s still a super cool and fancy way to put together a bike,” Kelly said. “No matter how you make a bicycle frame… you always need to know brazing. It’s a great process for them to learn.”

The other reason Kelly chose brazing over other techniques is for safety. Brazing doesn’t emit ultraviolet rays and is not harmful to the eyes.

But it does involve a torch, and that’s usually a hit with kids.

“Today was probably the coolest part,” student Jeremy Case said. “I liked the fire and wearing the glasses. This is definitely something I’d like to do.”

The building process continues today with cleanup, where students will be hand filing, sanding, shaping and burnishing metal.

On Friday, they will walk to Kelly’s shop on New Mohawk Road, about a mile from campus, and choose a powder coat color for finishing the frame. Kelly also tossed out the idea of having each student sign the bike with a Sharpie pen and then covering the signatures with a clear coat.

To contact Staff Writer Stephen Roberson, email sroberson@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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