STURGIS | Dean Relf Jr., shares more than a name with his dad.

He also inherited the family interest in motorcycles.

“I’ve grown up around motorcycles for most of my life,” Relf said. “My dad does it as a hobby.”

That interest spurred Relf to join other high school students as part of a summer motorcycle build project, sponsored by the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame.

Relf is one of eight Sturgis Brown High School students who will be working with seasoned builders on two separate builds, one a full-on late-model custom show bike; the other an old-school board-track racer from the 1920s.

Getting young people to work with their hands again is the aim of the project, according to Keith Terry, a Museum board member and Hall of Famer, who is heading up the custom project.

Terry, a former minor league pitcher within the Boston Red Sox organization back in the late '60s and early '70s, has long been a motorcycle enthusiast.

For this project, Terry rounded up a slew of donated components from across the aftermarket motorcycle world, from an engine, transmission and belt-drive to a custom-built frame to accommodate two massive chrome wheels.

“This is the beginning, and now we have to build a bike around it,” Terry said.

Heading up the board racer project is Jason Sims, another Museum board member/hall of famer, who also owns and manages the Motorcycle Cannonball, a bi-annual cross country rally for riders of strictly vintage motorcycles.

While Terry is using all-new pieces to build his custom, Sims is scouring swap meets and salvage yards and making deals with friends to gather original parts and pieces for his '20s-era Harley-Davidson racer.

“A lot of this isn’t necessarily manufactured. I had to go out there and find it,” said Sims.

Museum executive director Emma Garvin said students from all Northern Hills high schools were invited to be part of the project, which will take place on Saturdays from now until August, but only Sturgis Brown students applied.

Students in the project include seniors Dylan Janke, Jace Sims and C.J. Murray, juniors Relf, Cody Nelson and Mason Nash, and freshmen Jadon Kaiser and Race Garvin. 

Once completed, the bikes will be displayed at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies during the 79th Sturgis motorcycle rally in August, then sold at a Mecum Motorcycle Auction in January.

“When we’re all done, we’re going to have a motorcycle that can go to any bike show in the United States,” Terry said.

Auction proceeds will fund scholarships for the participating students, who were split by a draw of names for the custom and vintage projects.

Relf was pleased to be chosen to work on the custom bike.

“That’s kind of what I was going for. I’ve always grown up around the new-school bikes. That’s what’s more popular with my family,” he said.

The bikes will be assembled at Competition Distributing Machine Works, a vintage parts and performance shop owned by Museum and Hall of Famer Lonnie Isam Sr., in west Sturgis.

The build is dedicated to the memory of his son, Lonnie Isam Jr., founder of the Motorcycle Cannonball event, who died from cancer at age 48 in 2017.

Sims, Terry and Isam Sr., hope the project will kick-start a resurgence in not just motorcycling, but perhaps learning other trades based on hands-on craftsmanship.

“Maybe they’ll pick up a $500 motorcycle and want to wrench on it themselves, because shops are getting expensive to take it and get it all sourced out. Hopefully the education will make it where they want to do it themselves,” Sims said.

Rick Ball of RC Components donated a pair of machined chrome custom wheels for the late-model bike. He also hopes the project leads to young people someday deciding to open their own businesses.

“Anytime you can help the students learn, I’m all in on that,” Ball said.

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