Jackson Buchanan’s budget and inexperience couldn’t keep him from owning his dream ride.
Most college students who love do-it-yourself projects keep their efforts relatively simple. They might take up cooking or knitting or, perhaps, building birdhouses.
Jackson Buchanan built a motorcycle.
The Augustana senior had long hoped to have a chopper of his own. Unfortunately, he did not have the funds to buy one outright. So, he found an alternative.
In high school, Buchanan attempted to convert his pedal bicycle into a motorcycle, and it worked – for a while. But, as he later discovered, his Frankenstein motorbike was not exactly welcome on city streets.
“I had no formal experience with tools or anything. I just started doing it,” Buchanan said. “Then, next thing I know, I’m cruising around on a bike at 30 miles an hour. That was pretty fun … I got pulled over once.”
Cops or no cops, the experience proved invaluable. Buchanan learned the basic science of how an engine works and began concocting new plans to build an “actual motorcycle.”
He ordered all the necessary components for $800 on eBay. Virtually all of them came from China, which is, by Buchanan’s account, the place to look when purchasing cheap spare motorcycle parts.
When the parts arrived in a box just large enough to fit in a miniature refrigerator, he was somewhat incredulous. Looking at the box, he recalls thinking, “there’s definitely not all the pieces here to do this.”
Once Buchanan began assembling all the different pieces, however, a motorcycle gradually began to take shape.
“It was a tough process. [It] probably took two solid days of just sitting there for eight hours not knowing what I was doing really,” he said. “But I eventually made it work. And I learned a lot in the process.”
Learning is one of Buchanan’s greatest strengths. It is also one of his favorite pastimes, stemming from a deeply ingrained curiosity about how the world works.
“I didn’t start building things for awhile,” he said. “I’d just take them apart and never put them back together. Then I realized I was just breaking a whole bunch of things, and thought: if I’m actually going to be able to use these again, I should actually learn what I do when I take them apart.”
His great moment of realization came in the seventh grade back home in Minneapolis, after he shattered a laptop screen.
“It was $200 to get the screen replaced, or [I could] buy it for $40 on eBay and do it myself,” he said. “That’s just kind of the way I lean.”
Since then, Buchanan has grown increasingly “handy”: a word used by his current roommate, senior Clayton Busch.
Besides building a motorcycle, which Buchanan believes to be his most ambitious undertaking so far, he has also mended computer hard drives and souped up old cars. His next project will be rehabilitating a rundown Porsche, which he hopes to finish over Christmas break.
According to those who know him, Buchanan cuts a rather interesting profile. Brant Baarstad, a former roommate, describes him as a “jokester” and “just a good guy to be around in general.”
Buchanan’s friends and professors have grown to admire and appreciate his technical expertise as well as his humor, camaraderie and frugality.
“He’s not showy at all,” Busch said. “He just wants what’s going to work. He put up a surround sound system in our apartment just by getting some different speakers from a thrift shop.”
For all his rapport with machines and electronics, Buchanan insists working with them is only a hobby. He plans to attend medical school after graduating next spring.
But according to Augustana Biology professor Steven Matzner, who has worked with Buchanan on research the past two summers, having these additional talents will translate well into his future career.
“I really liked hiring him, because he had this different skill set,” Matzner said. “There were all sorts of times where I would get stuck on how to get a graph just the way I wanted it, and I’d say, ‘Jackson! Here’s what I want, here’s what I’ve got, figure it out.’ And he’d do it … He’s very good at thinking outside the box.”
Today, Buchanan can be seen tooling around on his motorcycle – a dirt bike, to be precise – and reaching impressive (but legal) speeds on Summit Ave.
Some fine-tuning is still necessary. The bike’s battery is weak, so if he runs the headlights one night, it will be completely dead the next morning. And every so often, the engine stalls at an intersection and he has to kick it back into gear as a line of cars idles behind him.
Nevertheless, Buchanan will keep tinkering with it.
“He’s always tinkering with something,” Busch said.
Buchanan advises anyone who is curious about how his or her computer or his or her car works – or how to build a motorcycle – to try doing it themselves.
“All your resources are there – you’ve just got to go out and do it.”