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Running on “E”

Students Design and Build Electric Bikes in Engineering Course

By Daniel Oyefusi '19

Students Design and Build Electric Bikes in Engineering Course

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

As a student pedaled outside A. James Clark Hall on a solar-powered, two-wheeled contraption, engineering Professor Romel Gomez said, “In what other class can you just ride bikes?”

Undergraduates in his capstone course this spring are doing more than just riding around—they’re designing and constructing their own cost-efficient electric bikes.

Last year, students designed an e-mountain bike that scaled the Xfinity Center stairs with ease. This semester, Gomez’s students are divided into six groups, each tasked with building an e-bike with one special attribute: solar power, anti-lock brakes, automatic transmission, cruise control, anti-theft and lighting features, and GPS navigation. The project allows them to apply their skills in a way that can’t be replicated in a standard classroom.

“Hands-on experience deepens their understanding of the design process,” Gomez says. “More importantly, it teaches students how to identify real-world problems and how to solve them. In the end, they develop confidence in their abilities.”

While e-bikes are not yet on every street in the U.S., global sales are expected to hit 40 million a year by 2023, according to Statista, with China by far the dominant market.

Inside Clark Hall, teams debate methods for construction; members of one group calculate how much power they need from their battery, while another team struggles to fit lights between the spokes of a wheel.

E-bikes cost anywhere from $1,000 for a low-end commuter ride to $50,000 for an extravagant riding experience. Gomez’s students had to gather inexpensive construction materials from online vendors, local hardware stores and labs on campus. There was no limit on spending, but Gomez approved all budget plans to ensure groups were building within reasonable constraints.

Matt Du ’18, whose group is the constructing the e-bike with anti-theft features, says his team spent almost $300 on materials.

Gomez calls e-bikes a “very hot field,” as avid riders seek faster, more efficient ways to travel through different terrains and adverse weather conditions. 

“In many cases, they outperform traditional bikes,” Gomez says.



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