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Innovation & Job News

Alpha Bike: How a team of local engineering students reinvinted the bicycle

Riding a bike to national recognition, a team of University of Pennsylvania mechanical engineering students created a revolutionary cycle design that propels far more than the rider. Geoff Johnson, Evan Dvorak, Lucas Hartman, Katie Savarise, and Katie Rohacz teamed up on the design and fabrication of The Alpha Bike, which is now getting coast-to-coast attention.

"Bikes have not changed much in the last 150 years," says Dvorak, who explains that Alpha allows the rider to literally flip a switch between freewheel and fixie style, which he compares to driving an automatic versus manual transmission car.

Alpha Bike is elegant. There are no external cables, brakes or hardware. Smooth surfaces were either milled or printed, and it is mindbending technology that allows stainless steel parts and plastic handlebars to emerge from a 3D printer. The seamless result came from thousands of hours of work. Dvorak estimates that the team spent, at minimum, 700 hours each over the course of their senior year, all while pulling full courseloads of up to six classes.

The 28 pound bike incorporates an electronic system similar to that of a hybrid car, with a dynamo, capacitors, an internal drive train, and the option to add even more bells and whistles such as an accelerometer. "We got our inspiration from Apple's design philosophy," says Dvorak, who describes the computer maker's products as almost magical. "The technology is completely hidden." Alpha's elegant and simple profile belies the complexity of the design.

The team estimates cost of the materials at between $15,000-$20,000, with much donated or purchased at a greatly reduced cost. Johnson, who calls this a concept bike, is not interested in selling the Alpha, but estimates the final tab for parts and labor at somewhere around $50,000.

The Alpha team received an initial budget of $1,500 from the School of Applied Engineering and Science; the team was able to fund the rest thanks to several dozen sponsors and suppliers.

The technology that the team developed is ripe for licensing, and after a recent demonstration, Drexel School of Law Dean Roger Dennis offered to handle the patent work. Johnson has been in talks with Specialized, an international cycle manufacturer out of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Source: Geoff Johnson, Evan Dvorak, Alpha Bike
Writer: Sue Spolan
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