The spokeless bicycle designed by nine Yale students was highlighted in Popular Mechanics magazine. Image: Greg Miller
It moves with pedals. It has handlebars. And yet, something's missing. Invented three years ago, the spokeless bicycle put nine Yale University students on the pages of Popular Mechanics but, talking to a couple of them, it brought something more, long after that issue became recycling.
Team member Henry Misas' present occupation as an energy engineer for Bright Power, New York, NY, means that if there are bicycles involved in his day, it's only if he's decided to save the environment and Schwinn it to work. Asked if this was just another hokey college project, something that sounded good at the time, garnered a bit of publicity, and is now just a memory, he says: "I was actually thinking about it in the last few days before you contacted me. I had been a part of other projects dealing with things like a Formula hybrid, but this taught me something else … I developed a process in thinking about products and structure to the component, that they follow a goal and the goal has to always keep in mind the client. Remember that methodology at the top of your whole schedule and always try to steer in that direction. It taught me to have an endpoint in the design process. That applies to anything."
Detail of the single speed setup. Image: Yale
But to get to the endpoint meant rethinking the bicycle altogether. "The back wheel has teeth gears that are in a belt glued to the inside of the wheel, and in order to spin, you had a sprocket attached to it that was attached to a chain. You look at a picture of the bike and see we have this big wheel at the back and a tiny little sprocket working with the pedals. Gear reduction was also necessary because of the design." With a front wheel with spokes, a spokeless back wheel, and a light eight-pound aluminum frame, Misas laughs that it's not exactly something you'd see every day. "And it only has one gear so you won't be racing on it," he says.
Still, as can be imagined, it created opportunities to work with interesting pieces of equipment for its construction. According to Sean McCusker, another student on the project who is now a mechanical engineer at Ion Torrent, Guilford, CT: "We used mechanical hand-cranked lathes, a kind of sandblaster that acted like a laser cutter—it shot water and sand and cut through metal and that's how we cut out our frame. A CNC bed mill was used for handlebars on the encasements and other areas, too."
Detail of the rear wheel which is made of 6061 Al alloy. Image: Yale
For McCusker, the project provided multiple lessons that he uses in his job today. "It provided a real world look at preparing a product for a customer," he says, "but the biggest thing were the machining skills and techniques because right now I do a lot of prototyping in a machine shop and many mockups and designs on a technical level."
What Misas sees in the end, beyond how it improved his eye for design and mechanical aptitude, is how nine people are in that bike. "You see every person's attitude, every part of it is different and you can actually tell who did what if you know these people," he says. "It's the idea that creative competition is usually a good thing and that a good manager, which our professor was, could manage nine crazy Yale mechanical engineering students to do this thing together."
And where does it sit? "Unless one of the team members has broken it out," Misas laughs, "it should be in the Yale engineering library and on display for anyone to come and see it. A nice reminder of what we did together."
Eric Butterman is an independent writer.
It taught me to have an endpoint in the design process. That applies to anything.
Henry Misas, Bright Power
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